The Pump House
Gallery Stratford is a leading visual arts destination and an important cultural resource for the Stratford community and the counties of Perth and Huron.
Gallery Stratford’s mission is to present changing exhibitions of visual art, with a focus on contemporary Canadian art. Through responsive programming and innovation, Gallery Stratford strives to engage the public, create dialogue, and offer dynamic opportunities for education, exploration, creation, collaboration, and interactive learning. Gallery Stratford is committed to building its permanent collection as a resource for the community and future generations.
Built in 1883 on the banks of the Avon River, Gallery Stratford is located in Stratford’s former historical pump house.
The building’s Queen Anne Style architecture contains Gothic Revival Style elements that are seen in architecture throughout the city. The character of the former Water Works building reflects the designs of George F. Durand, a prominent London architect who designed the Perth County Courthouse.
Durand, one of Ontario’s leading architects of the time, felt very strongly that architecture was an art, not an engineering project and his hallmark style reflects a combination of designs associated with the Queen Anne Style.
Features such as pairings of lancet or narrow, pointed windows and the polychromatic effects in the brickwork are characteristic of Durand as are the remnants of the once monumental entranceway with its wedge-shaped gable and the arch within an arch motif.
While the Gallery’s exterior appears cottage-like, the building was never designed for domestic living. In its original state, the pump room had 16-foot high walls decorated, in places by a “wandering artist.” It had a brick floor and an oiled hardwood ceiling.
Two other men responsible for the construction of the Waterworks in Stratford were W. Perry, Jr., who was responsible for putting the pumping machines in place and William Roberts, who was the building contractor. Roberts was not only a builder, but he was also a brick manufacturer and the pump house was built using his “celebrated superior white patent pressed brick.”
By 1964, the historic building became obsolete when the Stratford Public Utilities Commission opened a new pump house across the street. At one point there was even a possibility that the buildings would be demolished. The Stratford Art Society (founded in 1945) prepared a feasibility plan to convert the buildings into an art gallery.
In 1966, the Stratford Art Society became known as the Stratford Art Association and its director was Robert Ihrig. With receipt of financial backing in 1967 from Rothman’s Pall Mall of Canada Limited, The Stratford Art Association renovated and opened the doors of the Rothman Art Gallery.
The Rothman Art Gallery was an active cultural centre for the region, with exhibitions by Canadian and International artists. In partnership with the Stratford Festival, a ‘Music at Midnight’ series flourished at the Rothman Art Gallery from 1969 until 1976; presenting unscheduled appearances by guest musicians and chamber concerts by members of the resident Festival orchestra.
By 1974, Rothman’s underwent internal organizational changes that altered the way the company supported the arts. Rothmans eventually removed themselves from this project, but they left a legacy of more than a million dollars to renovate the art gallery.
Withdrawal of Rothman’s sponsorship resulted in the gallery’s renaming – Gallery Stratford.
In 1985, Gallery Stratford’s unique architectural exterior was recognized by City of Stratford, designating it a Heritage Building.
Over its 50 year history, Gallery Stratford has established itself as one of the region’s leading public art galleries, organizing and presenting exhibitions by regional, national, and international visual artists.
Learn more about the Pumphouse here, courtesy of the Stratford-Perth Archives.