What’s Behind the Hammond Gate?

Nearly eighty years ago, in 1924, the Mount Allison Board of Regents Grounds Committee concluded that something had to be done to enhance what was then known as the York Street entrance to the Ladies College Park. It was located directly opposite the entry to Lansdowne Street.

A decision was made to seek the advice of Professor Emeritus Dr. John Hammond (1843–1939). This was logical, since Hammond had been involved for years in the field of architecture and design.

At this point in his career, Hammond was enjoying retirement from earlier duties with the Owens Museum of Fine Arts [now Art Gallery] and as Director of the School of Art. Although aged 81, Hammond was still sketching, painting and exhibiting his work. He suggested the erection of two gate posts constructed of red sandstone trimmed with white. The overall design should follow the same stone and style as that of Hart Hall.

The Board approved construction of the gate posts and agreed that they would impart a dignified and academic tone to the entrance. The gate was officially opened on Friday Oct. 3, 1924. Over the years, the Hammond Gate has been a silent witness to much of Mount Allisons 20th century history. Unfortunately, few people who pass through these sentinel posts, are aware of their significance; or for that matter, the importance of the artist who designed them.

All of this should change next weekend Nov. 23 24, 2002, when Sackville will hold a Celebration of John Hammonds Cultural Gifts. Details of these events will be found elsewhere in this issue of the Tribune Post.

One highlight will be an exhibition of paintings by John Hammond at the Owens Art Gallery. The opening of the Sackville Art Associations Annual Members Show will also be held at the same time. This joint opening is appropriate, since Hammond not only served as Honorary President of the SAA; he did much to encourage the development of local art and artists. The featured SAA artist this year will be Joyce Stevenson.

Born in Montreal on April 11th 1843, John Hammond once recalled his earliest childhood memory. The year was 1849, and he was lifted to his fathers shoulders to witness a riot that included the pelting with rotten eggs and stones, of Governor-General Lord Elgins carriage. The day culminated in the burning of the parliament buildings by an angry mob. This crucial event in Canadian history was actually an affirmation of the principle of responsible government. Lord Elgin had courageously accepted the advice of his ministers, in spite of contrary public opinion.

Hammonds childhood was like no other. When nine years of age he began working as a marble cutter with his father. With little formal education, and nothing approaching art training in his early life; he did, however, dream great dreams. Also early on, he demonstrated a passion for travel and adventure.

.In 1866 Hammond volunteered for militia service during the Fenian Raids. Shortly thereafter John and his brother Henry sailed for England. Visits to Londons numerous art galleries and salons reinforced his interest in art. Then, the venturesome brothers set out in search of further exploits; traveling by Clipper ship to take part in the New Zealand gold rush.

Such voyages lasted three to four months. We have no way of knowing whether this long period at sea helped form Hammonds later interest in seascapes, mist and fog. Certainly there would be adequate time to sample the seafaring life and to sketch, on the long route around Cape Horn.

We do know, thanks to the research of the late Dr. George F. G. Stanley, that about this time a pivotal event took place in his life. Hammond was converted to Christianity and became a member of the Plymouth Brethren. Stanley concluded: His religious conviction was permanent and provided an inner serenity that became obvious in his later paintings The landscape was Gods work and in Hammonds hands, each painting was a religious poem in paint.

By 1870 he was back in Canada and in the employ of noted Montreal photographer William Notman (1826–1891). Once again, adventure beckoned and Hammond along with a fellow Notman employee, Benjamin Baltzly, accompanied the Geological Survey of Canada, then engaged in determining a westward route for the Canadian Pacific Railway. The mission of Hammond and Baltzly was to secure accurate illustrations of the physical features of the country and of other objects of interest that may be met with during the exploration.

This trek proved to be a milestone in Hammonds career, as he became totally captivated by the Rocky Mountains. For him: the scenery was so grand and novel that it seemed to lift me out of the gloomy state of mind caused by the difficult and disagreeable passage. There was to be no turning back. This venture confirmed what he had known for sometime. Now in his late twenties; the remainder of John Hammonds life would be devoted to Art.

In 1878 Hammond made another trip destined to have a major impact on his career. This time he traveled eastward, first to New England and then to the Maritimes. Along the way he sketched, painted and accepted occasional commissions. Smitten this time with the mystique and varied moods of the Bay of Fundy, Hammond established an art and photography business in Saint John.

By now, he was being noticed as an artist. His interest in travel continued and he made several trips to Europe during the 1880s. While overseas he had the opportunity to paint and study with greats such as James Whistler (1834–93) in Dordrecht, Holland. He also visited Barbizon, near Paris; home of the famous school of French landscape painters.

In 1893 the Owens Art collection, the legacy of a wealthy Saint John shipbuilder and merchant, John Owens (1790–1867) was transferred to Mount Allison. The complicated negotiations and details of this move plus the building of the splendid Owens Art Gallery have been well told by University historian John G. Reid. It was Reids conclusion that By virtue of acquiring the services of John Hammond, even more than by securing the Owens collection, Mount Allison became a centre of the Fine Arts in the Maritimes and in Canada as a whole.

Proof of Hammonds talent came with the acceptance of his work at the Paris Salon Exhibition, the Royal Academy in London and the National Academy of Design in New York; among other important artistic venues. He made further overseas trips in the period 1899–1901; not just to Europe but also to China and Japan. He was in Canton in 1900 and narrowly escaped death during the Boxer Rebellion. Following his return from Japan he was asked how he managed to communicate, since he was unable to speak the language. He responded that since he was never without a sketch pad; he simply navigated his way by drawing pictures!

Without question Hammond was stimulated by his many and varied foreign travels; however, of equal importance, he had by this time, acquired an influential patron. Sir William Van Horne (1843–1915) is best known as a railway baron and president of the Canadian Pacific Railway. What is not so well known is that Van Horne was himself a painter and collector of Art. He first met Hammond on a visit to Saint John, when he bought one of his marines or seascapes. From then until Van Hornes death in 1915, the two remained close friends.

Since Van Horne was a keen businessman, he immediately spotted a way to harness Hammonds talent. Why not commission this gifted artist to paint scenes of the CPR route and especially the section through the picturesque Rocky Mountains? John Hammond fitted the job description perfectly. Soon Hammond paintings and murals graced CPR hotels and board rooms; while reproductions were to be found in almost every railway passenger car and train station on the CPR line. Incidentally, it was Van Horne who sponsored Hammond’s trip to the Orient as part of the companys expansion to include trans-Pacific travel by ocean liners.

Dr. George F.G. Stanley once lived in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Of Hammonds Mountain Series he wrote: Hammond captured spontaneously the immensity, the timelessness, the vivid contrasts of light and colour and mood the bare rock faces and tumbling water. Mountains like these are meant to be admired [and possibly painted] but never taken for granted.

Each year at convocation, it was Hammonds custom to showcase his work in progress with an open invitation to visit his studio. Heres one contemporary account of the scene: The walls were covered with landscapes and marines of distinguished and harmonious colour. On the easel there was a lovely seascape in grey gold and dull green; full of air and mist so characteristic of the Bay of Fundy. Other subjects included a group of quaint Brittany cottages, in airy blues shot with red; there were also sketches of the Tantramar marshes and aboiteau near Sackville.

We have traveled a long way to answer the question: Whats Behind The Hammond Gate? However, the best solution will be found by participating in the numerous Hammond related activities taking place over the next few days. All are open to the public. Only in this way will you be able to form an opinion of this artist of many talents.

Then, if you are an optimist, mark on your calendar, the date October 03, 2024; the centennial of the Hammond Gate. While researching another column, I stumbled upon a final glimpse of John Hammond. In proposing the erection of the two sandstone pillars, he suggested that a time capsule be inserted in one of them.

He also provided a list of objects for inclusion in a sturdy tin box. The most interesting and unusual was an essay predicting what Sackville would look like in 2024. To whet your appetite, I will reveal only a small portion.

In 2024 all Mount Allison students will arrive by air. They will land at [what appears to be a helicopter landing pad on the site of Fawcett now Convocation Hall.] Students luggage will be transferred by trolley to the residences All buildings will be lighted and heated by electricity. There will be a telephone in every room with a photographic attachment for callers to see and hear each other.

Following this discovery, I immediately telephoned Jeff Lamb, the current Director of Facilities Management, to find out if the time capsule had been uncovered in the summer of 1998, when one of the pillars underwent repairs. He assured me that it was not in the reconstructed pillar; and that the workmen were very careful in their task. This is why you will have to wait until 2024 for a further look within the Hammond Gate. The artist has willed it so.

In 2002 there are few people with personal memories of John Hammond. Dr. Gwen Black relayed to me one story of a conversation that her husband Laurie had with the artist. Hammond was well known as an avid gardener. One day Laurie began a conversation with him by saying: I see you are working in your garden. Back came the reply. Working? I’ve never worked a day in my life. I have always done what I wanted to do, and that’s NOT work. Not a bad epitaph for any artist.