Chedoke’s Inuit art finds new home at AGH

Chedoke’s Inuit art finds new home at AGH

A unique collection of art, including many pieces crafted at Hamilton Health Sciences’ (HHS) Chedoke Campus is going to be unveiled at the Art Gallery of Hamilton

In the 1950s and early 1960s, when Chedoke was still known as the Hamilton Mountain Sanatorium, close to 1,300 Inuit people were brought down from the eastern Arctic to be treated for tuberculosis (TB). TB had been largely eradicated in southern Canada so the Sanatorium became a treatment centre for Inuit patients.

During the long hours they spent at the Sanatorium, carving sculptures became occupational therapy for them. They began with wood but found it too easy to work with. Dr. Hugo Ewart, Medical Superintendent of the Sanatorium, began shipping soapstone down from Northern Ontario for them to use instead.

The carvings depict different elements of traditional life in the Arctic including a large number of Arctic animals. Staff at the Sanatorium would often purchase them from patients and keep them as ornaments or give them as gifts. Over the years, many people have donated their pieces back to the hospital.

an Inuit carving done at Hamilton Mountain Sanatorium, now known as Chedoke Hospital
HHS art moves to AGH

Because HHS is vacating the Chedoke site at the end of 2016, the art collection needed to find a new home. “When the time came for us to vacate the Chedoke site we had the question in mind, what will we do with this tremendously important legacy,” says HHS President and CEO, Rob MacIsaac. “It transcends the importance of the hospital and really has become part of the city’s heritage.”

Thanks to an anonymous donor, the sculptures will soon be part of the Art Gallery of Hamilton’s (AGH) collection of Canadian art. A donor purchased the art from HHS at its appraised value and then donated it to the AGH.

Shelley Falconer, President and CEO of the AGH says the collection will constitute a major public exhibit at the gallery in 2017. “The gift of this significant collection to the AGH ensures a broader and more profound recognition of Inuit art,” says Falconer. “The Chedoke Collection’s important ethnohistory, from Canada’s largest and principal Inuit hospital treating tuberculosis in the 1950s and 60s, reflects a range of creative ideas and experiences. The AGH is deeply grateful to all the Inuit artists who embraced and created this distinctly characteristic expression. The acquisition is an important first step in our commitment to broadening the Canadian mandate and integrating Indigenous voices into our permanent collection and program.”

In its new home, this collection will reach a greater audience, sharing Hamilton’s history of Inuit art and its role in saving Northern communities from the scourge of TB. “We’re very proud of the hospital’s history and the story behind this collection,” says MacIsaac. “Looking forward we felt that the city and the AGH are the most appropriate custodians of the art so that the public will have better access to it.”

The funds from this sale will be dedicated entirely to enhancing care and creating welcoming environments for indigenous patients and their families. One of the first of those projects will be a family room created at McMaster Children’s hospital.