Photo: Archives of Ontario 10007968
Vancouvers Robert Watt, a stained-glass enthusiast,
says that if you stand in Holy Trinity Cathedral in New Westminster
on a clear, early morning you will see the three great stained glass
windows there on the east wall behind and above the altar begin
to glow. The window on the left as you face the altar is a
memorial to the late Dr. A. W. Sillitoe, the first bishop of the
New Westminster Diocese. On the right is a pentecostal scene (depicting
the descent of the Holy Spirit on to the apostles) . . . and in
the middle is a portrait, in rich reds and golds, of Christ in Majesty.
The effect as the sun rises behind those windows is extraordinary.
The man who designed the windows, the late James
Blomfield, has more work in stained glass all around the Lower Mainland,
and much more in Ontario. The large window illustrating this article
is in Guelph, Ontario. Another of his more spectacular and well-known
achievements is the beautiful representation of the Three Graces
that visitors to the Mansion (now called Romano's Macaroni Grill)
in Vancouver's West End admire while they dine. Those three windows
were designed and installed in 1901 when the house, built by sugar
magnate B. T. Rogers, was known as Gabriola. Also Blomfield's
work is the Queen Victoria window in St. Paul's Anglican Church
in Vancouver's West End.
Perhaps unfairly, the evidence of Blomfield's artistic
talents most often seen by us was the coat of arms for Vancouver
that served as the city's emblem for more than 60 years. He designed
it in 1903, and it was used until 1969. Today's coat of arms, although
different and much simpler in design, is based on Blomfield's original
conception. His paintings, too, are charming and accessible. The
cover of James Delgados recent book, Waterfront, is
a lovely, gentle item, circa 1910, titled Old Prospect Point
Blomfield's stained glass windows were an important
part of a special exhibition called Rainbows in Our Walls
held at the Vancouver Museum back in 1978.
What's extraordinary is that all of this gorgeous work came out
of a rough workshop in what was then bush at West 10th Avenue and
Columbia Street. This was the firm of James' father, Henry Bloomfield.
(Sometime around the turn of the century, James dropped one of the
'o's from his surname.) Henry Bloomfield started the first local
art glass firm in New Westminster in 1890, and moved in 1898 to
Vancouver with his two sons, Charles and James.
Robert Watt learned that James Blomfield was buried
in the Hamilton Mausoleum in Hamilton, Ont. But, in a tour of the
building with the owner, he also learned the artist's crypt was
unmarked. The owner, W. Stoneham, opened the Blomfield crypt and
handed the urn containing the artist's ashes to a mildly startled
Robb Watt. That was my closest contact to the man, Watt
says. (The crypt also contains the remains of Mary Blomfield, the
former Mary Augusta Diamond, whom he married in Vancouver in 1903.)
On his return to Vancouver, Watt began a low-key
campaign to get that marker. He contacted various nieces and nephews
of the artist and, eventually, a memorial plaque was commissioned
for the man Watt describes as the outstanding Canadian stained
glass artist of the pre-1950s period.
In 1982,Watt had the satisfaction of standing in the central court
of the mausoleum, which stands in a park on the high ground on the
north side of Hamilton Bay, and speaking to a group gathered there
for a ceremony to install that memorial plaque.
The Joseph Brant Museum in Burlington,
Watt told me, has become very interested in the mausoleum,
largely because of all the magnificent stained glass in it. The
mausoleum and the museum organized a special ceremony for unveiling
the plaque and asked me to make the main address outlining the significance
of the building and the importance of Blomfield.
A nice touch: The stained glass windows of the mausoleum were
designed by Blomfield in the early 1920s, nearly 30 years before
(Incidentally, Robb Wattonce the director of the Vancouver
Museumis today the Chief Herald of Canada, appointed to oversee
and approve the use of coats of arms in Canada.)
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Stained glass window by James Blomfield