‘Ottawa’ Portrait of Iconic Lumber Baron J.R. Booth Unveiled
The Bytown Museum on Friday unveiled a recently acquired painting of Ottawa lumber king and builder J.R. Booth, a portrait that will help anchor the museum’s 100th anniversary celebrations next year.
The importance of John Rudolphus Booth to Ottawa cannot be overstated. While the likes of Philemon Wright, E.B. Eddy, W.G. Perley, Erskine Bronson and John Egan were known as lumber barons, Booth was king.
He arrived in Ottawa in 1852 at the age of 25, with just nine dollars in his pocket. He died four months shy of his 99th birthday, working almost to the very end, with an additional $44 million, the equivalent today of more than $600 million. His timber holdings were extensive throughout Quebec and the Ottawa valley, and he was, until the federal government firmly established itself in the nascent capital, Ottawa’s largest employer. He famously supplied the wood used in the construction of the original Parliament Buildings, as well as for the decks of the Lusitania and Mauretania ocean liners.
The identity of the artist who painted the 105 cm x 92 cm (36 inch x 41 inch) oil likeness sometime between 1890 and 1910 is unknown. According to Grant Vogl, the museum’s collections and exhibitions manager, the painting was originally owned by Howard Smith, an accountant who worked for J.R. Booth Limited and the E.B. Eddy Company for 47 years in Fort Coulonge, Que., halfway between Shawville and Pembroke. After Smith retired in 1964, he donated it to Domtar. The painting was eventually hung in the pulp and paper company’s offices on what became known as the Domtar lands, between Ottawa and Gatineau, immediately north of LeBreton Flats, where Booth’s operations were historically centred.
Domtar, in turn, donated the painting to the museum last spring. It subsequently underwent restoration and minor repair at Legris Conservation. Its acquisition by the museum is significant in that few images of the publicity-shy entrepreneur exist.
“We have a section on lumber barons in our permanent gallery, and the current photo we have of J.R. Booth is just a reproduction of a photo that’s been seen all over the place. So when I was offered the painting, it was an opportunity to update the display with an obviously real one-of-a-kind piece. It’s a beautiful painting, it’s iconic and it’s really going to update that corner of our exhibition.
“And the fact that we have it for our 100th anniversary is fantastic, as well.”
The painting will go on public display on Feb. 3, when the museum’s Century of Community exhibition opens.