Published: July 18, 2017
By Laura Beach
Two decades ago, my husband and I did something no sensible person should do. We built a summer house a time-zone away, in a bewitching meadow with moody views of the distant Cape Breton highlands. With our Maritime adventure came an introduction to Canadian antiques, enough like New England fare to be familiar, but with a charming accent of their own.
What a pleasure, then, it is to discover Celebrating Canada: Decorating with History in a Contemporary Home by Peter E. Baker, a Canadian antiques dealer with an abiding affection for his nation’s heritage, especially that of his home province of Quebec. To learn more about Baker, see our interview with him on page one.
Emphasizing country furniture and folk art made by Canadians of English, French and First Nations descent between the Eighteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, Baker’s book documents the collection of an Ottawa couple, Derek Burney, former ambassador to the United States, and his wife, Joan, whose passion for the material and predilection for research prompted this labor of love. The volume’s large color plates offer a room-by-room look that is both engaging and disarming.
The publication coincides with Canada 150, the yearlong celebration of the sesquicentennial of the signing of the Articles of Confederation, which joined disparate people and a loose collection of provinces into one, sometimes fractious whole. According to Baker, the Canadian centennial, marked internationally by Expo 67 in Montreal, prompted the last great wave of interest in Canadiana, much as the American Bicentennial did in 1976. The widely traveled Burneys began collecting in 1972, just five years after Expo 67. Baker and the Burneys hope Canada 150 inspires a new generation of Canadians, increasingly affluent and visible on the world stage, to collect.
As New Brunswick auctioneer Tim Isaac said recently, Americans tend to think of Canada as remote. In fact, it is just over the border, for many of us only a few hours away. American and Canadian history and culture have always been closely aligned, our people bound by shared experience and family ties. Baker describes with satisfaction a few of the important but misunderstood artifacts he and the Burneys repatriated to Canada from the United States, sometimes with the help of American friends and colleagues. For this American, Celebrating Canada offers a fresh and inspirational look, not just at our neighbors to the north, but at ourselves.
Celebrating Canada: Decorating with History in a Contemporary Home by Peter E. Baker, with foreword by John A. Fleming, preface by Joan Burney and photography by Marc Bider. Dundurn, Toronto, in association with the Canadian Museum of History, 2017; 238 pages, $53 hardcover, $34 e-book.
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