William Nicoll Cresswell
Canadian (born in England), 1818–1888
The Building of Fort William, 1871
oil on canvas
41 x 72.5 cm
Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery; Acquired with funds from The Winnipeg Art Gallery Foundation Inc. in honour of the appointment of Dr. Ferdinand Eckhardt as a Fellow of The Winnipeg Art Gallery Foundation Inc.
While it is not known if he actually made the trip himself, William Cresswell’s luminous depiction of the water transport of timber for the building of Fort William presents a gleaming, romantic view of a hinterland post. The fort would eventually become a thriving community centred on the lumber industry, and the basis of present-day Thunder Bay, Ontario. At the time of Confederation in 1867 and into the twentieth century, much of Canada’s economy was based on primary resources and physical labour, such as the hewing of lumber and the drawing of water. The business and political elite of urban centres in Ontario and Quebec was lured by the promise that westward expansion and settlement offered new natural resources and markets for them. Construction in the wilderness was a challenging undertaking, and for many artists, including Cresswell, it became a potent embodiment of fledgling Canadian national identity.