Varley Art Gallery of Markham

The Varley Art Gallery of Markham in Markham, ON, which honours the works of founding member Frederick Horsman Varley, is one of several galleries dedicated to keeping the Group of Seven alive in Canadian hearts.

The Varley Art Gallery of Markham, which opened its doors in 1997, features both historical and contemporary art by regional and national artists and is located on Main Street in Historic Unionville. “We have a special focus on Frederick Varley, an artist who lived in Markham in the last part of his life and was a founding member of the Group of Seven,” says Rachel D’Oliviera Fell, the gallery’s Public Programs Coordinator. “We are delighted to offer his work permanently as a result of the donation of the McKay family to the gallery.”

The Varley Gallery offers a variety of community programs in addition to exhibitions. Live performances and family-friendly activities like fortune-telling and hands-on art making are among the highlights. Rachel says PechaKucha Night Markham is the most popular event. “The event is held in partnership with the Markham Village Library. Residents are invited to present on topics of interest to them. They have about twenty seconds each, so it’s a very fast-paced and exciting game. One of our recent events was LunarFest 2019, an event to celebrate Chinese New Year.”

As Frederick Varley was an open-air painter who spent much of his time working outdoors, the gallery’s summer programming focuses on encouraging people to engage with the outdoors. Even an open-air competition with exhibits at Frederick Varley’s old home, the MacKay Arts Centre, that will be held in September, will be held nearby.

Canadian heritage is integral to the gallery’s programming as well as to the Varley Gallery itself. “We feel so connected to Fred Varley,” Rachel says. “He lived in Unionville, after all. It’s important to us to keep this close connection.” The Varley Gallery also explores what Canadian heritage means to different people. Because Markham is so culturally diverse, staff are enthusiastic about the different understandings of what it means to be Canadian, and what Canadian art looks like.

The Varley Art Gallery of Markham has been a wonderful experience for Rachel, who has worked for the public sector for over ten years. „People who participate in these events are genuinely interested in getting to know one another, networking, and developing a sense of community in their community,” she says. “I’m so honoured to be a part of that. I am passionate about bringing the arts to a broader audience and anything that makes the arts more accessible is welcome.”

Unionville has been used for many films, television shows, and commercials, and you may not know it. Stars Hollow, the fictional setting of the hit television show Gilmore Girls, is probably its most famous feature. Because of this, Unionville often attracts tourists who wish to see the recognizable features of their favourite television show’s town, including the Varley gallery. “It is exciting when people recognize the Varley’s in shows and commercials,” Rachel says. “But we’re also excited to feature artists who work in film, and that’s an upcoming exhibition in 2020. The BIA does a great job of hosting events to bring these interest groups out.”

“What I think is great, though, is that they come for one thing, and they realize that main Street and the Varley Art Gallery, in particular, has so much more to offer,” she adds. “It’s a community-based hub for activity. It’s warm, inviting, and a genuinely great place to spend your afternoon.”