Piece of RCN history has new home at Naval Museum
By Ryan Melanson,
An original painting created by one of Canada’s most well known Naval artists now has a permanent home at Stadacona’s Naval Museum of Halifax.
Titled Fresh Snow. Bellot Straits, NWT, the piece by Cdr Anthony Law, DSC, is just one out of a collection of works by the naval officer and war artist displayed within the museum’s new Arctic-focused exhibit, titled North Arctic 60. The newly-donated piece, gifted to the museum by the Junior Ranks Mess at CFS St. John’s, is also the most significant of the collection.
“This one stands out because he actually painted in while he was on board HMCS Labrador as the Executive Officer. It’s a beautiful painting and we’ve been able to get some conservation work done to help preserve it,” said museum curator Rick Sanderson.
Law, who joined the RCN in 1940 and retired in 1966, served as the XO of HMCS Labrador, later CCGS Labrador, from 1955-1957, after having already become an Official War Artist during the Second World War years. Labrador was tasked with conducting hydrographic surveys through the Northwest Passage and Canada’s largely uncharted northern waters, and Law’s paintings completed while on board the ship in the Arctic have become some of his most famous.
Law was known to make the difficult climb up the ship’s mast to paint from the crow’s nest, where the unobstructed view and warm enclosure made for ideal, if somewhat dangerous conditions. His Labrador paintings and sketches were also some of the first attempts to capture the region by a Canadian artist since Group of Seven members Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson visited Baffin Island in 1930 aboard the cargo ship SS Beothic.
A small plaque on the original frame for the Arctic landscape piece indicates that it was first presented to the Joint Services Mess at CFS St.John’s in May 1964 by Law himself. The piece remained at CFS St. John’s for more than 50 years before first being loaned to the museum in 2017.
“It was displayed over the years in different locations,” said LCdr Gerry Parsons, the Commanding Officer at CFS St. John’s.
“Originally, the plan was for the museum to take it, display it in the exhibit, restore it and reframe it, and then the painting would be returned to the unit.”
But with changes coming to the unit this summer that will see the RCN transfer control of the Station to the Army, and with the Naval Museum having a proper home for the painting in its Arctic exhibit, the decision was made to make it a permanent donation. LCdr Parsons said he put the idea forward to the mess membership, the owners of the painting, who were on board with the move.
“They agreed 100 percent that it was fitting to donate the piece to the RCN museum. It’s an important piece of historical Navy artwork, and we want to ensure it’s well taken care of.”
As part of the North Arctic 60 exhibit, the painting is now displayed alongside other pieces of Law’s work, as well as photographs, ship logs and other documents regarding the RCN’s early northern trips, gear and tools used by sailors, and even a model of HMCS Labrador. The exhibit can be viewed during the museum’s regular hours, Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
As for CFS St. John’s, celebrations are being planned to mark 50 years since Maritime Command took over the station on June 21, 1968, and the upcoming component transfer is scheduled for July 13.
This original painting by Cdr Anthony Law, painted on board HMCS Labrador during Arctic surveys in 1957, has recently been donated to the Naval Museum of Halifax.
HMCS Labrador, later CCGS Labrador, in which Cdr Anthony Law served as Executive Officer from 1955 to 1957.