During repeated visits to the recent Alex Janvier exhibit at the Art Gallery of Alberta, I heard conflicting things about Janvier’s Gallery in Cold Lake. I knew that a number of years ago he had opened his own gallery in downtown Cold Lake, but now there were rumours of a new gallery, of a move, perhaps incomplete, that the new gallery was open, that it wasn’t yet. . . . Well, I decided that on the last day of August I’d make the drive out to Cold Lake to see for myself.
I’ll settle the rumours at the outset: The Janvier Gallery has moved; the collection is not completely settled in, but the new gallery is open. Most important for potential visitors: at the moment visits are by appointment only. I made my appointment by email the night before my visit. Jacqueline Janvier responded remarkably promptly and the appointment was settled on in no time. Mr. Janvier’s official web-page has current contact information for both email and telephone and I will repeat them at the end of this post.
Now, to the road trip and the visit:
Wrangling an eighteen year old with special needs is a challenge at the best of times. With an appointment 300 kilometres away over an unfamiliar route and with said eighteen-year-old already fed up with summer road trips and not in the best of health, the morning’s preparations can be, in a word, stressful. But, we managed to get on the road by noon for the 4 pm appointment and happily learned later that none of the things we had left behind proved indispensable.
Anxiously (well, I was anxious) we worked our way through construction on Fort Road and under the Anthony Henday (speed trap under the overpass — we were right on the limit) and then north and east on Highway 28. Inevitably we took some whimsical detours: a cruise through Radway, which sadly seems on the verge of ghost town status; a quick drive south from Smoky Lake, the Pumpkin Capital of Alberta, to the peaceful Victoria Settlement Provincial Historic Site on the left bank of the North Saskatchewan River. Also innevitably, the words “Bathroom Break” were uttered just after the beginning of the long stretch of “No Service” east of Bonnyville.
Despite all, we were approaching Cold Lake around 3:30 and it was time to pull out Mrs. Janvier’s final road directions which, although they struck me as incomprehensible the night before, even with the help of GoogleMaps, made absolute clear sense on the ground.
The new Janvier Gallery is not in the town of Cold Lake. It is, rather, in the heart of the northern section of the Cold Lake First Nations, in beautiful aspen forest a stone’s throw from the lake that gives the First Nations and the town their names. Mr. Janvier has hand lettered a little sign at the end of the residential road leading off English Bay Road. With the benefit of Mrs. Janvier’s directions, we arrived only a few minutes late and were greeted by three very friendly dogs. Mrs. Janvier welcomed us at the door with totally unnecessary apologies for the unsettled state of things after the move, bringing us on a tour of the entire building, including areas one would expect to be behind doors sternly marked “Staff Only”.
The New Gallery is a Douglas Cardinal design, warmly curved and coloured in earthy red and yellow ochres on the exterior. It is beautifully at home in its setting. Inside the gallery space is bright, and the art fairly glows and leaps off the clean white walls. Some might quibble that the space is too small considering Mr. Janvier’s vast output over his long career, but I would argue it is the perfect size for a visitor to admire and react to Mr. Janvier’s work’s different sizes, themes and palettes without being overwhelmed. With Mrs. Janvier’s experienced advice and memory, I was able to appreciate a large number of works on the walls and perhaps an equal number brought out of the vault for me to consider.
In short order I had arrived at a pair of pieces that were the sort of things that balanced my desires and my budget. Mrs. Janvier went back to the vault and found three more pieces of the fairly unusual sort I had noticed. In the end, I settled happily on the original two. My daughter managed to come away with a number of reproductions, cards and a key-chain with a tiny reproduction of Morning Star on it as a generous bonus.
An hour or so into our visit, Mr. Janvier arrived looking well rested after what I’d been told had been a late night of painting. He had fresh paint still on his hands from the day’s session. We had a most enjoyable chat that touched on Expo’67, rodeo, Peter Lougheed, the great potential of Alberta, and, now and then, Art. Mr. Janvier expressed strongly his feeling that Alberta is the place to be for artists (and every other occupation). With our business and our visit coming to an end, we all walked outside into the incomparable aspen forest, Mr. Janvier chuckled over his dogs a moment and then drove off with a wave to check out the rodeo on the south side of the Reserve. We waved goodbye to Mrs. Janvier and drove off to find some dinner in town. I felt like I had just spent a couple of hours with old friends in their very comfortable and beautifully designed home. The Janvier Gallery is one of the warmest and most peaceful place I’ve ever had the good fortune to visit.
Unfortunately, I was so stressed on arrival and so comfortable during the visit, and floating so high as we left, I never took a single picture of the Gallery, inside or out, despite having two cameras on my person through it all. That fact is my only regret of the trip.
A few hours later, night had fallen and we were again in the traffic of the construction of Fort Road with another twenty minutes or so ahead of us to get across town home. I was struck forcibly by the contrast between the absurd bustle of Edmonton’s streets, in which I felt so at home, and the peace of the woods beside Cold Lake, where I also had felt so comfortable. I had realized earlier in the day, and commented on it to Mrs. Janvier, that I feel strongly that the Janvier Gallery, now that it is on a quiet residential road beside the Lake on Cold Lake First Nations land, is in exactly the place it should be.
Again, the new Janvier Gallery on Cold Lake First Nations #149 B is open, and it is a quietly unrivalled destination for any lover of Canadian Art. When I told them that I would be writing about the visit, Mr. and Mrs. Janvier both asked me to emphasize that for the the time being, until things are more settled from the move, visits are by appointment only. Please call or email before making the trip.
The Janvier Gallery can be contacted at:
Phone: (780) 639-4545
E-Mail : firstname.lastname@example.org