Preserving the McNaught Homestead

“This could be like an Emma Lake, only year round.”
By Catherine McLaughlineuphemia.jpg

For over 90 years, the McNaught family fostered a flamboyancy and a spirit of hospitality in the Peace Country. The late Euphemia McNaught, renowned artist and pioneer, built a legacy of culture that influenced many artists in the region.

“Her sole purpose, aside from painting, was to foster an environment in the region that promoted the artistic expression of its people. She kept her eye on the big picture of art,” explained her cousin, Marjorie Henn, an accomplished visual artist from Beaverlodge.

Upon her death in 2002, the family debated how to preserve both the McNaught legacy and the homestead that is a unique and important historical site. “None of us could have afforded to do the work on it,” said Peggy Martin, Betty’s niece who is also an active artist and community volunteer living in Beaverlodge.

Early in 2003, sole heir Noel McNaught, deeded the quarter section of land of the McNaught Homestead, complete with buildings, to The Prairie Art Gallery (PAG) in Grande Prairie.

“The transfer of land from Noel McNaught was basically an offer” said Executive Director of PAG, Trenton Perrott. “Her terms were that it be declared an historic site so that the whole homestead could be preserved and be in the public domain. Preserving the homestead will provide a place for artists. It is part of Betty’s growing legacy for promotion of the visual arts in the Peace Region.”

“I’m grateful that the site is protected from being sold and broken up and, or radically changed. Martin added. “This way it is safe.”

“Euphemia McNaught is an important regional artist. Having that site gives context to her career, her life, her connection with the land, from an artist’s point of view,” stated PAG Curator, John Kerl. “The site enriches the experience of visitors to the area, gives an idea of the artist and how she was a product of this region. And it is valuable to have a place that we can go to, for artists to use for the long term for workshops and retreats.

“A working group was formed consisting of representatives from The Prairie Art Gallery, the Beaverlodge Cultural Centre, the Beaverlodge Art Society, the Beaverlodge Historic Society, the Pioneer Museum (Beaverlodge), the County of Grande Prairie, the Town of Beaverlodge and the Alberta Historical Resources (AHR). In the near future this working group plans to form a society which will allow it to access various types of financial support.

“It will be a challenge to work within the parameters of preserving the land as an historic site.” noted Perrott. A professional study of the site will be done in the next year and that will become the road map for its preservation and development.

Moonlight, McNaught Lake, 1974The historical significance of the McNaught homestead site is outlined in a document from Alberta Community Development, Cultural Facilities and Historical Resources Division. “Architecturally, it is an excellent collection of early homestead structures including a log house, frame pump house, large log and frame barn, small log barn, log chicken coop that date to the initial settlement period of the homestead, …including the former Appleton Log School that was moved onto the property in the 1930s. … The integrity of the collection of buildings is very high.”

Her Horses Are GoneThe historical interest of the McNaught Homestead lies in its direct association with Euphemia (Betty) McNaught, one of Alberta’s most highly recognized artists who lived there most of her life. The McNaught Homestead, and its immediate environs were featured in many of her paintings and the former Appleton School… functioned as her studio. The natural environmental features of the homestead and surrounding property have remained unaltered over the years and contribute greatly to the integrity of the site.”

The designation and preservation of the McNaught Homestead will have a positive effect on tourism in Beaverlodge and area.” stated Randy Boettcher, a member of the working committee. “Betty is a local icon; she multiplied herself through her teaching. We are an exceptional community, with so many artists, because of Betty, because of her selflessness.”For the many friends and relatives of the McNaughts it is the personal significance of the McNaught Homestead that begs to be preserved.

McNaught Barn“This is serendipity.” stated Henn. “Betty talked about an artists’ retreat for years. There was no one place for artists to congregate. Painting and working towards an artists’ retreat was her life-long focus. Teaching need not only teach but inspire. If you don’t become an artist, then become an art admirer. Betty didn’t have a site in mind for the retreat but this is her legacy. The place has roots.”

Doris McFarlane, longtime friend of the McNaught family concluded. “Without Betty’s constant concern about culture, most importantly visual art – for everyone – the Beaverlodge Cultural Centre would not have happened. Those of us who are not artists, absorbed by osmosis the value of culture and art for our community. Betty’s extraordinary contribution of time, concern and talent will long be remembered and respected.”

Cooperation and sharing of work and resources are essential ingredients for the long-term job of restoring the Homestead and for its development into a permanent home for artists and lovers of the arts and culture.

Appleton School/Betty’s Studio“This could be like an Emma Lake in Saskatchewan, only it would be year round.” observed Marjorie Taylor, President of PAG Board of Directors and an active visual artist who lives in Grande Prairie. “It’s a lot of work but 10 years down the road what could occur? We’d like to bring back some of the special activities that took place at the McNaught Homestead – the tennis court, croquet games, special seasonal parties. Meanwhile, we know that some of the buildings will have to be protected, so that they don’t deteriorate any further before they are restored. A spirit of cooperation is very important in a project of this magnitude.”

But the McNaughts knew all about pioneering and perseverance as they made their way here so many years ago. Perhaps Betty’s most enduring legacy was her faith in the power of community which now once again has the opportunity to live on.

Euphemia “Betty” McNaught was born in Glenmorrie, Ontario in 1902 and travelled to the Beaverlodge area with her family in 1912. As a young woman she attended the Ontario College of Art in Toronto where she was influenced by instructors Emmanual Hahn, J.E.H. MacDonald and Arthur Lismer. She graduated in 1929.Teaching art equalled Betty’s love for making art. For her dedication to pioneering art in the Peace she was awarded the Alberta Achievement Award of Excellence in Art in 1977 and the Sir Frederick Haultain Prize in 1982. Betty painted and taught up to the time of her death, at 100 years of age, in Beaverlodge, in May 2002.

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