Recording the History of Western Canada


For more than half a century Canadian artist John Crittenden has been the only living artist who has never wavered from painting and recording the early history of Western Canada. “It’s beyond sad to me that there’s not more interest in preserving what’s left of our Canadian heritage.”

Dedicating his entire career to fighting this trend, John’s work records the story of a people who came to Canada to escape the oppression and suppression of the kings and moneychangers of European society and ended up building a new life that was transformed by the land itself and the aboriginal people who lived on it and who so easily accepted them.

Chief Dan George

John has had many one-person shows in venues ranging from commercial galleries to museums, Expo 86, the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede and the National Art Centre to name a few and his work has appeared in many magazines and books over the years.

A unique, one-of-a-kind style

A private and gifted artist, John’s style is traditional, free-flowing and earthy. His strong use of earth colours is what sets his work apart in both his paintings and photography. There is nothing quite like it in contemporary Canadian art today.

Many of John’s paintings have sold over the years to visiting collectors from Europe whose grandparents and great grandparents actually built some of the subjects he paints. Old log homes and barns, country churches, line shacks, and whole settlements that have now become ghost towns, each hand built in the styles and techniques of old Europe, tell a compelling story that begs to be remembered. Since his first one-person show at Lambs Art Gallery in Calgary, Alberta in 1966 John has told this story consistently in his own original style and in so doing has produced and sold more than 1,200 paintings.

Life Happens

After 46 years as a fulltime working artist John was diagnosed with macular degeneration in his right eye in November 2012. Within three months he was blind in that eye and told that he would never see again with it. He was also told that the disease had started in the other eye. Faced with losing his sight completely he developed his own naturopathic Protocol and within eleven weeks improved his sight from 20/400 blindness to about 20/50 vision. You can read about this in his book, BLIND FAITH. Here is his Author Page on Watch for additional books on Health, Western Canada history and Poetry.

Canada West Collection

The early 1900s saw the beginning of the settlement of Western Canada. During these years hundreds of thousands of immigrants chose this area of North America as their new home. Settlers came from all over the world to cross the prairies in search of a dream and freedom from the governments and tyrants of Europe and other areas. They brought their own methods of building homes and barns with them and created a unique history that can still be seen today if one wants to travel the back roads and take the time to look.

Western Canada has a wealth of barn styles

And the silence speaks of love

Many of these new immigrants choose to settle in the grasslands but some pushed on into western Alberta and the foothills. Western Canada is home to an amazing history of barn styles, some of which have their roots in Medieval times.

Driving the back roads of Alberta and British Columbia is a pastime I never tire of. With my Canon camera beside me and a couple long lenses I’m stopped more than I’m driving. Everything seems interesting and often a short hike reveals a scene that somehow I knew was there but just couldn’t see from the road.

To Everything There is a Season

This field I remember but for the life of me I can’t find the pictures I took. This was in the old film days and I’ve gone through several boxes of 35mm slides but no luck. So this is how I remember it. The barn is right and the falling down corral is about where I remember it. The rail fence around the field was in surprisingly good shape. The field itself I felt could have been used for either sheep of a few milk cows. There’s an old rutted trail about where I was standing when photographing this scene. The ruts were pretty close together so they must have been for a wagon or perhaps even an old Model T. The location was the foothills of Alberta 100 or so miles north of Pincher Creek.

The Pacific Coast Rainforest of British Columbia

Sunshine Coast Pine

Bounded by Bute Inlet to the south and the Alaska border to the north, the Great Bear Rainforest comprises about 3.2 million hectares, more than five times the size of Banff National Park. The mainland coast and miles and miles of inlets offer a world like no other. It is simply impossible to explore it all. By boat it’s a year spent in paradise.

Coastal grizzly bears, wolves, mountain goats, coastal blacktail deer, black bear and the mysterious spirit bear live here. Osprey, bald eagle and some of the largest salmon runs make their home in this cluster of pristine rain forests and mighty rivers.

Walk these shores any time of year and you experience a most beautiful and mysterious part of the world. As the waves crash in covering the rocks and shrubs with a sheet of flowing water, I am reminded of how close everything alive really is.

The Sunshine Coast Pine I painted on a trip up the Sunshine Coast by car by myself one weekend. I was kinda looking for a good place for a week’s fishing for salmon when I passed this beautiful old tree right down on the water. After I took some pictures and did a quick sketch I travelled on and discovered Pender Harbour. I wanted to name this painting ‘Great Bear Pine’ but the location is up the Sunshine Coast, well south of Great Brear Rainforest.

History of Transportation

Imperial Limited Steam Engine, 1900
Imperial Limited Steam Engine, 1900

This major collection includes a new release of signed and numbered limited edition Giclées on paper and canvas from “the official portfolio of limited edition prints for Expo 86.”

This collection received the endorsement of Expo 86, the Government of British Columbia and General Motors of Canada and was presented to their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales by the Honourable Claude Richmond, Minister of Tourism, on behalf of Expo 86 and the Government of British Columbia. It was featured in many shows across Canada including the Expo 86 site in Vancouver, the McLaughlin Museum in Oshawa and the National Art Centre in Ottawa among others.

Mountain Man, Alberta foothills, 1785

The Mountain Man, or fur trapper, roamed the North American Rocky Mountains from about 1810 to the early 1840s. Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith, Jim Clyman and Edward Rose are names that, to this day, are still associated with this tough, romantic era in history.

This printing, also shown as the primary image on the masthead, represents the individuality and spirit of the early Canadian West before the settlers arrived. It is one of my favourites.

“The History of Transportation chronicles the early history of man’s attempts to move about this land called Canada, from the first visit of the Vikings in their ship, the Karv, in AD 900, to the first mercy flight in Canadian aviation history in 1930. It conveys the romance, mystery and dedication of man’s constant commitment to master the great distances of his world as a personal activity, a social service and an industry.” Claude Richmond, Minister of Tourism.

Night Photography

After painting more than 1200 paintings I yearned for something new. Not that I wanted to stop painting, I just wanted a new challenge. Then, after losing part of my sight I was forced to make a decision because I could no longer paint. I’ve always loved night photography so I started photographing the streets of Vancouver at night, then flowers at night. Now, after regain my sight and making plans to paint again, I’ve decided to do both. I’ve always done photography as reference for paintings. Now I’m doing it as art too.

A Walk Around Vancouver at Night

It has been said that the beauty of old Europe knows no equal. This ongoing collection proves that to be incorrect. Even before the camera Vincent knew: “It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly coloured than the day.”

Evening in Granville Island

There is a magic and mystery about Granville Island that I can’t put my finger on. But it keeps drawing me back. I walk through it and around it and then just want to continue. I’ve sat with the seagulls and a friend until midnight, long after the sun sets, after many late evening shots and the munchies we picked up in the market are gone. Then I put my camera away and head up to Broadway to catch a bus home.

The challenge for the photographer is to compose as much as possible in the camera. Nothing is staged and you often have to return to a location when conditions seem right, when the sun is low in the sky, or when someone is available to “turn on some lights”. The term “Night photography” is a misnomer. It should rightly be called “available light photography”.

Photography in its purest sense is an artistic medium and is accepted as such around the world today. Many fine art photographers are also artists. “Fine art photography is sometimes so challenging, at least for me, that I often think it would be easier to just paint it…”

Fine art photography stands in contrast to photojournalism and commercial photography. It is as much a creative process as is painting and sculpture. Limited edition photography is now accepted as an art form worldwide.

I hope to continue this collection by visiting as many cities and towns as I can beginning in Western Canada and continuing on to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Flowers at Night

Explosion of Colours
Explosion of Colours

I’ve heard some say that flowers don’t bloom at night. I’ve come to realize that they do. Nature keeps to her own timetable and flowers in particular seem to decide on their own about a lot of things.

Many will close up when it gets dark, perhaps for protection, perhaps just for a rest. But I’ve seen several that stay open for an hour or so after it gets completely dark, some even longer. Flowers at Night are some of those. You just have to be there at the right time I guess.

Some flowers even remain in bloom all night, and disappear as soon as the first rays of sun hit them. Evening Primrose is indigenous to North America. Moon Flowers, Night Gladiolus, various Lilies to name a few. Some Cactus can also be found blooming at night. The night truly is a magic time for a photographer and you just never know when you might see one of those little fairies some people I know talk about.