New Art Gallery of Sudbury exhibit views La Cloche history ‘Through the Camera Lens’

Kerry and Jon Butler of Willisville curated the La Cloche 1900-1950 Through the Camera Lens exhibit at the Art Gallery of Sudbury. photo by Michael Erskine

SUDBURY—The long and storied history of Willisville and the La Cloche area are featured in an innovative exhibit ‘Through the Camera Lens: La Cloche 1900-1950’ curated by photographers Jon and Kerry Butler and currently on display at the Art Gallery of Sudbury. The exhibit grew out of an online Facebook page started by the Butlers featuring the history of the La Cloche region through shared photos, and consists of a selection of 130 photographs selected for their ability to “tell the stories of residents of the eastern La Cloche area of the District of Sudbury.”

“This collection is the result of many individuals and families who were willing to share their stories of this iconic region,” said Ms. Butler. “We are so grateful to everyone who has shared your family photographs and history, they encapsulated the beauty of life in La Cloche.”

Ms. Butler relayed how she and her husband Jon had first visited the area in the early 1980s. “We were awestruck by the mountainous geography of white quartzite and the sparking lakes and rivers,” she recalled. “From the beginning, we were also captivated by the stories of local people such as Harold Golden, a man who spent his entire life in Willisville. His stories took place decades before our arrival and they helped us to learn about the people who had lived, worked and played in our area of La Cloche. It was Harold Golden who sparked this journey of wonder.”

Ms. Butler said that in 2002 the couple began posting photographs of the area on two websites, and The photographs came from those given to the couple by people they knew in the area and each new posting seemed to generate new leads. “These contributions continue to weave an even richer tapestry of the region on our ‘La Cloche History’ Facebook page,” she said. “What you see here tonight is only a small selection of what we have collected and shared.”

Art Gallery of Sudbury Curator Denetra Christakos welcomed everyone to the event and introduced the speakers at the reception, as well as citing the tremendous amount of work and research that went into the exhibit.

Lise Labine, incoming chair of the Art Gallery of Sudbury/Galerie d’Art de Sudbury began her remarks by acknowledging that the gallery resides in the Robinson Huron Treaty territory and “the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg.”

Ms. Labine noted that the photographs displayed in the exhibit explore the lives of residents of the Willisville, Charlton Lake, Whitefish Falls, Bay of Islands, McGregor Bay, Iroquois Bay, Grace Lake and Cranberry Bay “as seen through the eyes of settler and visitor photographers.”

The exhibit, she noted, “provides significant context for future major exhibitions of (Group of Seven member Franklin) Carmichael’s work and that of his contemporaries at the Art Gallery of Sudbury.”

Ms. Labine noted that “Jon Butler has been a volunteer board member of the Art Gallery of Sudbury since 2009. He has been a tremendous advocate of the gallery’s ongoing project of establishing a new gallery building in the name of La Cloche artist Franklin Carmichael.”

Ms. Christakos gave special thanks to a small army of summer students and volunteers who had worked diligently above and beyond to get the exhibit ready for the opening, including “Karley Staskus, Rebecca Black, Damielle Wetselaar, Isabella Scola-Lawryshin, Sarah Blondin, Tadd Tremblay, Nancy Gaveh and Martin Kessler.”

Mr. Butler related the story of a circus truck that had struggled to climb the Highway 6 hill at Willisville containing three elephants. One elephant was used to push the truck up the hill while two others were tied to a tree. The two left unattended made good their escape and proved quite a surprise to the fire tower ranger returning home from a local bar. Super 8 film of the proceedings was lost when family members who did not recognize its significance threw the film out.

Mr. Butler exhorted those in attendance to return home and pore through their photo collections to secure the history contained therein and thanked the significant number of families who supplied photographs for the exhibit and listing their names. That list reads as a Who’s Who of La Cloche and Manitoulin Island’s settler history.

The Butlers both spoke of the invaluable resource of Harold Golden, whose countless stories formed the foundation for the audio presentations accompanying the photographs and presented via iPads mounted on the wall. The Butlers also wrote the scripts for those presentations. From the labels to the scripts, Ms. Christakos suggested that the couple had had probably authored in excess of 50,000 words.

Among the many La Cloche and Manitoulin Island residents in attendance was Dawn Smyth, a Willis descendant. Ms. Smyth said she was very impressed with the scale and scope of the exhibit, and the amount of work and dedication that went into setting it up.

The exhibition was made possible through the support of the City of Greater Sudbury, the Ontario Arts Council, the Canada Council for the Arts and the Northern Ontario Heritage Foundation Corporation for their support for paid internships and federal support provided through the Museums Assistance Program of Canadian Heritage.