History of the Gallery Collapse
On Monday, March 19, 2007 at 10 am the historic 1929 Grande Prairie High School that was home to the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie (previously named Prairie Art Gallery) suffered a collapse of the southern wing of the building. No one was injured and no art works were significantly damaged. The building was built in 1929 and is the second oldest brick building still standing in Grande Prairie. The building was designated a historic site in 1984.
For the two weeks following the collapse, there were discussions about safely securing the site and retrieving the art collection. The Gallery sought advice from the Canadian Conservation Institute. Tara Fraser, a paper conservator arrived on March 22 to set up a recovery plan. Engineers, City staff, and crews from local companies worked to remove the snow and planned to remove the 3,000 kg heating and ventilation unit to prevent further collapse to the structure.
Artwork in the basement vault was removed on March 26 by Gallery staff and board members under the supervision of the Grande Prairie Fire Department. All materials in the classrooms directly below the collapsed roof and in the upstairs gallery had to wait for removal of the debris from the surrounding building and were not removed until April 3. On March 28, a controlled demolition was carried out to safely remove the east-side wall of the south wing. Whether or not the historic building would be restored was debated.
Many concerned individuals in the community advocated for the preservation of the historical integrity of the collapsed Art Gallery of Grande Prairie and to continue action of the plan to integrate it into the architectural design of the yet to built Montrose Cultural Centre. In an eight to one vote in June 2007, City council recommended the building be demolished, but needed to wait for provincial approval because the building had heritage status.
Construction moved forward on the Montrose Cultural Centre as the fate of the historic building was discussed with the province. In December 2008, the Minister of Cultural and Community Spirit, Lindsay Blackett, sent the City of Grande Prairie a letter supporting the repair of the provincially-designated historic site. On December 15, 2008, the initial decision to demolish was revoked when City council voted unanimously to begin restoration. In May 2009, the City of Grande Prairie got news of a $5.6 million grant for the Gallery’s repairs from the federal and provincial governments through the Build Canada Fund.
(Below: Interior images of the Gallery after the collapse and just before demolition/restoration began.)
The completed Montrose Cultural Centre opened its doors in June 2009 and is home to the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie, the Grande Prairie Public Library, the Teresa Sargent Hall, and Jeffery’s Café. The inclusion of the historic building would happen after the construction and restoration, but the Gallery opened to the public in the Montrose Cultural Centre in 2009 and continued with programs in one exhibition space, offering art classes, and developing travelling exhibitions through the TREX program.
In August 2010, construction began on the historic 1929 building, which included a new interior steel structure and use of all original bricks. In September 2012, the fully restored building was completed and fully connected to the Montrose Cultural Centre, as it was always intended. The restored space includes the Gallery’s classroom, art exhibitions space, Permanent Collection storage, workshop and loading dock area. The project was designed by Teeple Architects Ltd. of Toronto who also designed the Montrose Cultural Centre.
Grand Opening – September 2012
The Art Gallery of Grande Prairie’s official grand opening reception was held during Alberta Culture Days in September 2012 and included five art exhibitions. It was a very special night with nearly 500 guests who attended, including family, friends, artists, Gallery supporters and community leaders to celebrate the bright future of the Gallery.
Exhibitions During the Collapse
During the two years the Gallery was in a temporary location (April 2007 to May 2009), temporary exhibitions were held in several locations within Grande Prairie. This included the Kin Gallery in Centre 2000 and Northwestern Polytechnic (Grande Prairie Regional College.) Group exhibitions “ARTery” (2008, guest curated by Edward Bader) and “Here Now or Nowhere” (2009, guest curated by Micah Lexier) were located within several storefront windows in the downtown area.
Before the Gallery had full access to the restored building, we hosted several outdoor exhibitions. This included solo exhibition “tenuous” (2009) with artist Tina Martel where she created a paper casting of a full size pickup truck and was featured during the annual Street Performers Festival.
In Fall 2009, the Gallery utilized the unused space in front of the collapsed building to place a sculptural installation (pictured) by artists T&T for a group exhibition titled “The Boundary Layer” during the month of October. The outdoor sculpture, which included two full size cars, remained there for nearly 6 months.
In the Summer of 2010, the Gallery presented an outdoor performance installation “AutoPark’ by artist Laura St. Pierre. “AutoPark” was a portable garden of defunct vehicles that were converted into large-scale terrariums positioned on the Northside of the Montrose Cultural Centre.
Permanent Collection During the Collapse
The Gallery found temporary office space shortly after the collapse and remained there for two years. Over 300 works from the Permanent Collection, all rescued from the collapsed Gallery building on March 26, 2007, were on view in open storage at the Gallery’s temporary location. The portion of the Gallery’s collection that required hanging storage for its safe preservation was fully accessible to the community.
The collection had rarely been seen in recent years became the object of international concern when it was trapped inside the frozen, collapsed Gallery for a week in March 2007. The Permanent Collection, now around 750 works, is currently located in a secure vault within the Gallery and continues to be displayed regularly in exhibitions.
About the Montrose Name
Since 1910, the land has been known as “Montrose” and the name was given by settler and community builder, Agnes Forbes. It was named after her home in a region of Scotland and was the site of the historic Grande Prairie High School that was built in 1929. The site was also the location of other schools, including the Montrose Junior High School, which was torn down and removed in 1994.