Homer Watson House and Gallery
Greetings, and welcome to the WRX Property Group website and blog! Today, we’ll be taking a look at one of the Waterloo Region’s most famous painters, and the museum and gallery that is now one of the finest places in Kitchener-Waterloo to visit.
The painter is Homer Watson, of course, and the museum is Homer Watson House and Gallery (which holds the unique and coveted position of earning a mention in both the Top 5 Museums in Kitchener-Waterloo and the Best Parks in Kitchener WRX Property Group Top 5 lists).
So without further ado (and with nary a “d’oh!” – this is Homer Watson, after all), let’s get started!
Homer Watson was born on January 14th, 1855, in the village of Doon – an area that now makes up the southern portion of Kitchener. He showed promise as an artist from a young age, and upon receiving a set of paints from his aunt (an arter-starter set, you might say), Watson set about learning the craft through self-teaching, experimentation, and plenty of reading.
He spent some time in Toronto, and then a brief stint in New York, but Watson was always drawn back to his home in the Waterloo Region – most of his life was spent in Doon, and he purchased the house that would go on to become Homer Watson House and Gallery in 1883.
Once Homer Watson had sold two paintings to Queen Victoria, he realized that he could actually make a living as an artist, so he committed his time and energy to honing his craft.
Watson’s true love, and perhaps his greatest talent, was depicting the natural landscapes around the Grand River. He saw a distinctive beauty in the untapped expanses of the Canadian countryside, and he has been credited as one of the first painters to break away from European traditions and carve out a distinctive Canadian artistic perspective.
Contemporary admirers of Watson included Oscar Wilde, who was also an avid fan of Walt Whitman (that’s a lot of famous W’s), and Lord Lorne, Canada’s 4th (and, to this day, by far youngest) Governor General, who, along with his wife Princess Louise (Queen Victoria’s daughter) did much to support Canadian art.
After living in England for a little while, Watson spent his final years in Doon, where he fought to protect the Waterloo Region woodlands that he loved so dearly (and painted so clearly). Homer Watson died in 1936 in Doon; his paintings are celebrated to this day, and they’re particularly special to the region for capturing and preserving the landscape and what life was like along the Grand River (they have been depicted on Canadian stamps, too).
Homer Watson Boulevard, one of southern Kitchener’s primary arterial roads, proudly bears his name, as does the spacious, beautiful Homer Watson Park.
Homer Watson House
Homer Watson Park is among Kitchener’s larger natural areas, and its location right along the Grand River is a fitting tribute and testament to Homer Watson’s legacy. At 1754 Old Mill Road, right between the limits of Homer Watson Park and the Grand River, is Kitchener-Waterloo’s other tribute and testament to Homer Watson’s legacy: Homer Watson House and Gallery.
This historic home is perfect not just for art-lovers, but also for anyone interested in the Region’s history, or simply those looking for a fascinating place to spend an afternoon. First, let’s speak a bit about the house itself.
The house is quite distinctive, stylistically: Adam Ferrie, a wealthy Scotsman, built it in 1834, in the Gothic Scottish fashion. The home is quite large, and being so old, it naturally stands out today; but it stood out back then, too, as most of the homes in the Waterloo Region were built in the Mennonite style (if you’ve read our profiles of Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge, you’ll know that the Mennonite settlers were incredibly influential in shaping the early history of the Tri-Cities).
The house became known as Ferrie house, and after admiring it from afar for a few years, Watson rented the third floor in 1881 and purchased the whole thing in 1883. He owned Ferrie house until his death in 1936, spending many years living there (and after his death, Watson’s sister Phoebe lived there until 1947).
The house passed hands and changed names a couple times (including a stretch as the Doon School of Fine Arts) until 1981, when the City of Kitchener purchased it and turned it into the Homer Watson House and Gallery.
Homer Watson House and Gallery
At present, Homer Watson House and Gallery serves two important functions: it is a museum cataloguing Homer Watson’s life and art (and, by extension, what life was like in the Waterloo Region in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries); and it is a site for the exhibition of modern art and the education of future artists and art-enthusiasts.
Indeed, not only does the Gallery feature a wide range of Watson’s works (presented in a variety of unique exhibits, such as the 2018 Spring Exhibition and Interpretive Tour entitled Journey of an Artist: Watson’s Road Taken), but it has also preserved his personal studio, historical items, and much more.
This alone would make the Gallery worth a visit (or even repeat visits – their rotation of exhibits keeps things fresh, after all); but it is the two further functions that truly make Homer Watson House and Gallery such an incredible place.
First is its function as a modern gallery that celebrates current artists, such as the April 29th – June 3rd, 2018 “Quilt and Fibre Exhibition,” in which a variety of award-winning quilts will be displayed.
At many exhibitions, you can even meet and chat with the artists themselves! Second is its function as a school of art. At Homer Watson House and Gallery, children, adults, and seniors can attend an incredible variety of classes and courses (everything from pottery to watercolours), and you can also rent one of its five spacious galleries for an art-filled birthday party.
In this way, Homer Watson House and Gallery continues the legacy not only of Homer Watson, but also of the Doon School of Fine Arts.
Homer Watson House and Gallery is located in southern Kitchener (the old Doon area, near the neighbourhoods of Doon South and Pioneer West), at 1754 Old Mill Road. The nearest major street is (appropriately) Homer Watson Boulevard, and there are on- and off-ramps to Highway 401 quite close by.
The Gallery Hours are Tuesday to Sunday, from Noon to 4:30 pm. Admission for adults and guests aged 13+ is $5.00; children 12 and under can enter for free, if accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Keep an eye on the Gallery’s website (click here) for upcoming events and exhibits; you can also find further details on classes and current exhibitions.
Homer Watson was a talented painter who captured much of the natural beauty that the Waterloo Region has to offer. His paintings remain striking and captivating to this day, and there is no better place to immerse yourself in Watson’s world than Homer Watson House and Gallery.
So if you’re struggling with the question of where to spend some time in Kitchener: it’s elementary, my dear Watson. Visit Homer Watson House and Gallery!
Written by Will Kummer