Searching for an interesting weekend getaway, I have been studying a map of Ontario, looking for places that are just an hour or two outside of Toronto. In a recession year, staying close to home is one of the ways of saving money on travel while still exploring interesting destinations. One place for a suitable “staycation” jumped out at me: Brantford, a community of around 90,000 residents just about 110 kilometres west of Toronto.
Brantford’s elegant Federal Building
Brantford is most well-known as the home town of hockey great Wayne Gretzky. As a matter of fact, his father, Walter Gretzky, still lives in the city and participates actively in the community. Brantford is also renowned for the invention of one of the world’s most important technological innovations: the telephone. In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell made the first long distance call between downtown Brantford and nearby Paris, Ontario. During the late 1800s and early 1900s Brantford become one of Canada’s most important manufacturing centres, particularly for agricultural equipment made by companies such as Massey Ferguson.
A view of Harmony Square in downtown Brantford
So to explore the concept of vacationing close to home, I contacted Brantford Tourism to find out more about this city. In response they sent me an entire information package about the local attractions and activities. On October 9, 2009 I set off with a friend on a two-day first-hand discovery of Brantford to see for myself what this city has to offer.
The Brantford Arts Block next to the Sanderson Centre for Performing Arts
Finally after a long rainy drive we arrived in Brantford in the mid afternoon and stopped off at the modern tourism information office, just off Highway 403. We were meeting Melissa Stephens, our local tourism expert, who was going to show us around her home town. On this rainy afternoon we made a stop at the Glenhyrst Gallery of Brant, a public, non-profit art gallery housed in a striking historic mansion surrounded by extensive manicured grounds that house a sculpture garden.
Karen Bell, our expert guide at the Glenhyrst Art Gallery
Karen Bell, the gallery’s educational coordinator, showed us around the property, a stunning 1920s mansion, originally owned by Edmund Cockshutt, a member of a wealthy family of industrialists in the agricultural machinery business. Mr. Cockshutt bequeathed the mansion to the City of Brantford in 1957 which has turned it into a stunning art gallery and special events venue.
The Glenhyrst Art Gallery
On our tour through the property, Karen showed us the current exhibition by local artist David Hind. This artist uses reclaimed materials such as coloured aluminum siding to create oversized canvases. His technique utilizes coloured aluminum pieces that are pasted or riveted onto canvas. Also on display were several unique pieces of furniture made of reclaimed wood.
A huge canvas and bench by David Hind
What makes David Hind’s art so unique is that he so successfully turns discarded materials into stunning art, and he often does so using a collaborative process. One of the giant size canvasses, for example was created with a group of school children who had the opportunity to create designs on small aluminum pieces that were later riveted onto the canvas.
Another colourful canvas by David Hind
The physical facilities of the gallery are stunning. An impressive entrance area with delicately carved wooden doors and bevelled glass welcomes the visitor, and other interesting features of the property include wooden panelling, original fireplaces and an airy conservatory that now houses the gift shop. The gallery offers a wide selection of classes and workshops, offers tours to the public as well as to school and community groups and often hosts special events. The extensive, carefully manicured grounds and some of the adjacent buildings, such as the Coach House/ Studio can be rented. The beautiful gardens are often used for weddings and large gatherings.
The Glenhyrst Art Gallery’s gift shop, located in the conservatory
Down in the basement Karen introduced me to Glenhyrst’s Shop & Rent Art Program: members of the public can rent original works of art from the gallery at reasonable prices. Average pieces rent from about $15 a month, a very reasonable way of changing your paintings on a regular basis. The gift shop, housed in the mansion’s light-flooded conservatory, offers a wide selection of unique artistic gift items that include jewellery, scarves, sculptures and home décor items at affordable prices.
Some items from the Glenhyrst Art Gallery’s gift shop