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June 23, 2000

Mattawa’s ‘Renaissance Man’ rememberd

Gordon Dufoe was one of Mattawa’s most interesting personalities.

Until his death in 1975 at the age of 83. This “Master Painter of the Ottawa Valley” produced hundreds of oils and water-colours for people in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. 

He was a relentlessly curious, hardworking and humble man whose paintings were inexpensive. 

He gave many away and rejected many good ones because he was not satisfied with them. 

After he died, his family donated several of his works to the Mattawa Museum and they were displayed for many years. Dozens of Mattawa families have his works and an exhibition was held at the museum in 1988. 

In 1989 the Mattawa Town Council approved the establishment of a small park on 10th and Bissett Streets on the Mattawa River near his original home and studio. 

The Mattawa Museum recently approached people in the community for donations to re-frame his paintings and the paintings of Tom Cummings and they are now beautifully displayed on the first floor of the museum. 

Photo #1 (above): Gordon Dufoe receiving a citation from S.F. Monestine, the mayor of Mattawa in 1973. North Bay Nugget photo. 
Photo #2 (right): Gordon Dufoe book of stories and drawings published in 1993. Cover painting by Gordon Dufoe. Courtesy of Don Dufoe, North Bay. 

Born in Mattawa

Gordon Dufoe was born in Mattawa and grew up in Des Joachims, Quebec. 

He headed for the bush at an early age where he worked as a trapper, lumber scaler and as a guide in Temagami. His father liked to sketch, and Gordon soon started to draw the landscape and the animals he saw around him. 

When he went into the first world war and was hospitalized at the Christie St. Hospital in Toronto he started to draw to fill his time. 

A Globe and Mail reporter got wind of his work and wrote an article about him. He soon started to paint regularly. 

He settled in Mattawa, married Irene Leclaire in 1922 and they had 7 sons and 2 daughters. They lived in a log house at 6th and Bissett Streets. 

A larger house was later built and the original house became his studio. 

Gordon’s oldest son Frank was a capable painter; Frank’s son, named Gordon after his grandfather, is now also a well-known painter who makes his living in Western Canada from his work. 

Remarkable ability

Gordon had a remarkable ability to capture the essence of a landscape, or the movement of animals and his work remains fresh today. 

Some individual paintings now sell for more than he made in a lifetime as a painter. 

Gordon’s achievement would be memorable if he was just a painter, but he was much more. His driving curiosity led him to explore other areas as well. 

He scoured Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines for all the latest technical ideas. He built several cameras and became an excellent photographer, and painted in the winter months from his slides. 

Original photographs

The museum has some of the original photographs he took of his work in addition to the paintings on display. 

He was interested in early radio and built several. As others got their own radios he became a repairman, and was sometimes called “Dr. Dufoe”-a take-off on Dr. Dafoe, the famous Quint doctor. 

He also built an astronomical telescope, making the lenses himself, and many people got a chance to see the sky close-up through his creation. 

He also built several motor scooters for transportation, including one with a sidecar to carry his painting supplies. 

Gordon often told stories of his life in the bush, and had numerous pencil sketches of animals that he had made there. 

With the encouragement of his family and friends, he finally bought an old typewriter and recorded some of his stories. 

The book was stored until 1993 when his family approached Dr. Pollard at The Highway Bookshop in Cobalt and it was published. 

Drawings make stories come alive

These stories capture the isolation, peace and intimate involvement with animals in the forest. The numerous drawings help make the stories come alive. The book is still in print at The Highway Bookshop and various other locations. (*Now available online from the Past Forward Company Store.)

In addition to having a park named after him, he was well-appreciated by the community. 

The Legion, where he was a charter and lifetime member, honoured him and the town gave him a civic testimonial (see photo above), including a painting by his friend and contemporary, Tom Cummings. 

Influenced others

Gordon influenced several other painters, including the aforementioned grandson Gordon, who spent several months with him as a teenager. 

Armand Emond, who became a full-time painter in Pembroke, also spent several summers painting with Gordon in the 1950s. 

He summed up Gordon’s life nicely when he said:  “He was a gentleman and a soldier He was a self-taught artist, woodcarver, photographer, writer, astronomer, naturalist, woodsman and guide. He was a true inspiration to all artists and lovers of nature. He painted in oils and water-colours for his living. He painted, carved and wrote what he felt and what he knew. He always put life into whatever he touched. 
“He was an inspiration to me and a good friend. He was interested in everything. 
“He was a true Renaissance Man.”

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