||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
He gave many away and rejected many good ones because he was not satisfied
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
“He was a true Renaissance Man.”
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