Paul Kane was the most famous of all Canadian artist-explorers. Though not Canadian-born (he was born in Ireland in 1810 and came to York [Toronto] in 1818 or 1819), he was indeed Canadian and referred to York as “my native village.” Kane went to Europe in 1841 to study art, where he was so captivated by an exhibit of George Catlin’s American Indian paintings that he returned to Canada determined to devote himself to “the painting of a series of pictures illustrative of the North American Indians and scenery.”
Kane set out from Toronto in 1845 on his first journey; he ultimately made 700 sketches of western scenery and people from 80 tribes. He settled in Toronto in 1848 to paint canvases, which were often embellished from his more naturalistic sketches. The observations he made during his explorations were published in 1859 as Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America.
Paul Kane lived quietly in Toronto and purchased the property at 56 Wellesley Street, where he built a stucco cottage in 1853, which he enlarged a few years later. He died on February 20, 1871. The house remained in his family until 1903. In 1978, the house was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.
By Laura Neilson Bonikowsky