Prairie History: Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald's Design Commissions for First World War Rolls of Honour
by Michael Parke-Taylor
Celebrated Winnipeg artist Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald (1890–1956) was the last member invited to join the Group of Seven (1932). While his career from the twenties onwards is now well documented, the work he accomplished before 1921, when he left Manitoba to pursue art school training at the Art Students League in New York, invites further investigation. For FitzGerald and most of his contemporaries, the starting point for a profession in art was employment as a commercial designer. From a financial perspective, an income from the commerce of art was not only expected, but almost always the means of survival for the beginning artist. This was certainly the case with members of the Toronto-based Group of Seven before the Group was formed in 1920. With the exception of Lawren Harris, who was born into wealth, the future Group of Seven artists all began their careers in the early years of the 20th century working as graphic designers for various Toronto print shops. Indeed Toronto had become a magnet for the graphic arts industry in Canada during the second half of the 19th century attracting engraving and printing firms such as Copp, Clark and Company and Rolph Smith and Company which were followed in the 1870s by the Toronto Lithographing Company, Bengough Brothers and the Toronto Engraving Company.  By the time the future Group of Seven members were old enough to enter the work force, they gravitated to printing businesses in Toronto such as Grip Ltd., Rous and Mann Ltd., and Brigdens Ltd.  Group member Franklin Carmichael expressed the economic situation in pointed terms: “In this country an artist has three choices open to him: he can teach, he can go commercial—or he can starve!” 
What distinguishes the attitude of the Group of Seven from other artists in Canada is that they believed that their commercial and industrial designs helped shape a national identity that they forged principally through painting the Canadian landscape. By 1924 Arthur Lismer underlined the importance of commercial skills in art education and how these might be deployed to set national design standards that would reflect “artistic expression” in Canada:
While Toronto by the First World War was the bustling centre of commercial art activity in Canada, Winnipeg had also become a major industrial and wholesale centre demanding skills for a thriving graphic arts industry. Historian Angela E. Davis notes:
Given the opportunity to produce plates for Eaton’s mail-order catalogue, the photo-engraving and printing firm Brigdens Ltd. of Toronto expanded their operation to Winnipeg in 1914. By that time the western city was a significant cultural centre with the founding of the Women’s Art Association in 1892, the Manitoba Society of Artists in 1902, the Winnipeg Museum of Fine Arts (Winnipeg Art Gallery) in 1912 and the Winnipeg School of Art in 1913. Although FitzGerald never worked for Brigdens, despite his close personal friendship with manager A. O. Brigden, the roster of artists who started their careers there, as Angela Davis has recounted, reads like a “Who’s Who” of Canadian artists. “Charles Comfort and Eric Bergman were with the firm from the start, while Victor Friesen, Nicholas Grandmaison, Caven Atkins, Fritz Brandtner, Philip Surrey, William Maltman, Gordon Smith, and William Winter were among those who worked there for various periods during the 1920s and 1930s.”  Looking back in 1940 at the age of fifty, FitzGerald described his own beginnings in the Winnipeg art world:
FitzGerald’s experience as a graphic designer at the inception of his career would inform his evolution into a fine artist.  Writing about the commercial work of the Group of Seven, and J. E. H. MacDonald in particular, art historian Robert Stacey argued that the term “graphic design” should be expanded beyond a limited definition of the term to embrace all two-dimensional applied arts.  With this in mind, FitzGerald’s commercial work as a graphic designer would encompass a variety of expressions including covers for magazines, exhibition catalogues and scribblers; lettering for poetry, ex libris, retirement cards and an alphabet; travel posters for the CPR; window displays for Eaton’s; interior designs, coinage designs for a competition; advertising prints and menu cards as well as Christmas greeting cards. The focus of this study will be yet another aspect of FitzGerald’s graphic activity, his designs for First World War rolls of honour.
FitzGerald maintained a careful record of his freelance commercial transactions in an account book kept from 1913 to 1926.  His pencil notations are organized in a ledger with the date, name of the commissioner, type of assignment and amount paid. Although most of the work he lists is no longer extant, the notebook is a prime document for understanding the wide-ranging nature of the artist’s earliest commissions. With the onset of the First World War, FitzGerald contributed important work to yet another aspect of commercial art. Beginning in 1915 until early 1920, he was commissioned to design memorial scrolls to commemorate the lives of those who served. In a study of rolls of honour at the University of Winnipeg, Chantel Fehr explains their origins:
On 9 May 1916, FitzGerald’s account book records a roll of honour ordered by Captain Clipperton for LaVérendrye Public School, Winnipeg for the amount of $20. William Henry Clipperton (1886-1917), who was principal of LaVérendrye School from 1912-1916, was appointed to the 203rd Winnipeg Battalion in March 1916 and reached the war front with the 8th Battalion in France in July 1916. He was killed in action August 1917. His name is the first on the list and denoted with a cross to indicate his death. Captain Clipperton will always be associated with one of FitzGerald’s most accomplished scrolls, rediscovered in 2007 as a work by the artist. 
It was natural that the commission for the distinguished LaVérendrye School, founded in 1909 in the Fort Rouge district of Winnipeg, would reflect FitzGerald’s fascination for Canadian history. The French-Canadian officer and fur-trader Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye (1685-1749) is known particularly to Winnipeggers as the explorer who, while searching for the western sea, arrived at the Forks of the Red River on 24 September 1738 and built Fort Rouge later that year. The watercolour illustration in the lunette-like decoration at the top of the roll depicts La Vérendrye as a courtly cavalier posed in front of a limitless prairie landscape and what may possibly be the Red River or Assiniboine River. The model for his figure of La Vérendrye was a 19th-century painting by Ernest Meissonier (French, 1815-1891), A Cavalier: Time of Louis XIII (Wallace Collection, London). Working from a postcard or an illustration in a book or art magazine, FitzGerald copied faithfully the facial features, costume and posture of Meissonier’s cavalier. The hero La Vérendrye, who was memorialized in the annals of Canadian history for his daring exploits, is juxtaposed with the names on the honour roll of those who served fearlessly for their country.
Another roll of honour, commissioned from FitzGerald a few weeks later, is known today only in reproduction. On 27 May 1916, Dr. Henry M. Speechly, Secretary of the War Relief Association, agreed to pay FitzGerald $35 for a roll of honour for Pilot Mound, a town incorporated in 1883 and located about 184 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg. While the scroll has apparently not survived, it was documented for posterity by several contemporary newspaper accounts. The Pilot Mound Sentinel alerted its readers shortly before its public presentation: “The Roll will be twenty-four inches deep and sixteen inches wide. It will be decorated with the arms of Manitoba, supported by two British lions. Beneath this will be painted a scene symbolical of the call of the Empire to the men on the farm, suggesting a landscape with the old Mound in the foreground and Star Mound in the distance.”  When the roll was unveiled on 10 June 1916, the ceremony was reported in the Winnipeg Tribune and the Manitoba Free Press. The latter printed a photograph and noted that the scroll listed the names of 130 men from the town and district who had enlisted in the army: “The roll is surmounted by a panel representing the empire calling the farmer from his plow to take the sword, the scenery showing the old mound and surrounding prairie. The lower panel has the legend, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’” 
FitzGerald’s image may have been inspired by a poster by future Group of Seven member J. E. H. MacDonald which won first prize in a 1914 competition sponsored by the Royal Canadian Academy for a Patriotic Fund exhibition. Canada and the Call 1914 depicts a personification of Britannia who encourages the ploughman to join the troops who march for cause and country. FitzGerald’s illustration for the Pilot Mound honour roll celebrates the patriotic spirit of the prairie farmer who responds to the call of mother country to enlist. What unites MacDonald’s poster and FitzGerald’s Pilot Mound design is the similarity of sentiment as well as conception of the female image of Empire. MacDonald’s poster was reproduced as the frontispiece in the catalogue for the RCA Exhibition of Pictures Given by Canadian Artists for the Patriotic Fund which opened in Toronto on 30 December 1914. FitzGerald was without doubt familiar with MacDonald’s image since the exhibition travelled immediately thereafter to the Winnipeg Art Gallery (within the Winnipeg Industrial Bureau) where it appeared from 16-23 January 1915 with six additional works by FitzGerald. 
FitzGerald’s growing reputation as a designer of honour rolls led to more commissions during the War. His account book records that Wesley College (located on the present-day campus of the University of Winnipeg) paid $40 on 27 January 1917 for a roll of honour that would include the names of 300 men. An impressive unveiling ceremony was held on 13 February 1917 presided over by Sir James Aikins, Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba.  FitzGerald’s design is a faithful watercolour rendition of the castle-like façade of the College built in the 19th century architectural style known as Richardsonian Romanesque after the architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886).
The specificity of place which marked the Wesley College commission was to inform another of FitzGerald’s most accomplished rolls of honour. On 16 January 1918, the artist was engaged for $20 by Richardson Brothers to make a scroll of honour for The Red River Chapter of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE). “The scroll, which has a painting in water colors of Upper Fort Garry across the top, lists thirty-four names of husbands and sons of charter members of the chapter and of a nursing sister who participated in or were killed or wounded during the First World War.”  In the lunette at the top of the scroll, FitzGerald painted a watercolour of Fort Garry likely based on a 1910 colourized postcard that reproduced an 1860 photograph. The artist departed from his model by adding a figure driving a Red River ox cart in the middle ground and by embellishing the foreground with a decorative landscape.
Almost every commission that FitzGerald received to design either an honour roll or add names came through Richardson Brothers or Russell-Lang and Company. Arthur John Richardson (1876-1959) and his brother Howard N. Richardson operated as art dealers and framers for forty years on Portage Avenue. Lisgar Lorne Lang (1871-1939) and W. D. Russell, whose bookstore was also located on Portage, were prominent publishers, stationers and distributors of printed material. According to FitzGerald’s account book, these businesses were two of his most prominent conduits of freelance commercial work during the War years. A survey of the account book reveals at least 133 commissions for honour rolls and related lettering between 1915 and 1920.  Yet as of this writing, a total of only five honour rolls signed by FitzGerald and four more unsigned are known to have survived. One hopes that more are yet to be discovered hiding away in archives or in the collections of those institutions such as churches, schools, civic groups, law firms and banks for whom they were made.
I am grateful to Gordon Goldsborough and members of the Prairie History editorial team who discovered honour rolls by FitzGerald during the course of this publication. Thanks are also due to those who assisted in numerous ways: Oliver A. I. Botar, Barbara Butts, Philip Dombowsky, Chantel Fehr, Nicole Fletcher, Caitlyn Gowriluk, David Loch, Brett Lougheed, and Ruth Schappert.
1. Angela E. Davis, 1995. Art and Work: A Social History of Labour in the Canadian Graphic Arts Industry to the 1940s, Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, p. 59.
2. J. E. H. MacDonald was hired by Grip Ltd. in 1907; Frank Johnston was a designer with Toronto jewellers Ryrie Brothers in 1904, worked at Brigden’s Toronto in 1906, Grip Ltd. in 1908 and Rous and Mann in 1912; Arthur Lismer and Franklin Carmichael joined Grip Ltd. in 1911; Lismer, Carmichael, Johnston and Frederick Varley began work for Rous and Mann in 1912. A. Y. Jackson was employed by printing firms in Montreal between 1895 and 1906 and Chicago from 1906-1907. A. J. Casson joined Rous and Mann in 1919.
3. Franklin Carmichael to A. J. Casson in Margaret Gray, Margaret Rand and Lois Steen, 1976. A. J. Casson, Agincourt: Gage Publishing, 1976, p. 6.
4. Arthur Lismer in Charles C. Hill, 1995. The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation, Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, p. 179.
5. Davis, Art and Work, p. 101.
6. Davis, Art and Work, p. 115.
7. L. L. FitzGerald application for John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, 1940 in Helen Coy, 1982. FitzGerald as Printmaker, A Catalogue Raisonné of the First Complete Exhibition of the Printed Works, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, p. 3.
8. See Michael Parke-Taylor, 2019. Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald: Life and Work, Toronto: Art Canada Institute, pp. 87-89.
9. In his analysis of J. E. H. MacDonald, Stacey considered graphic design to include “advertising brochures and catalogues, book and periodical illustration; bookplates; coinage and medallion designs; exhibition catalogues; greetings cards; heraldic devices; lettering, illuminations and inscriptions; posters and broadsides; press advertisements; theatre programmes; typography; and window displays.” See Robert Stacey, The Art of Drawing for Profit: Graphic Design and the Group of Seven, its precursors and associates, 1880-1950. Unpublished manuscript for proposed exhibition at McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, 1988, Art Gallery of Ontario Reference Library, Introduction, p. 9.
10. L. L. FitzGerald Account Book 1913–1926, L. L. FitzGerald fonds, University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, Winnipeg, A.09-16, MSS 287 (1-0184), Box 1, Fd. 5.
11. Chantel Fehr, “Cool Things in the Collection: Rolls of Honour at the University of Winnipeg,” Manitoba History, no. 86, Spring 2018, pp. 47-48. In this article, Fehr discusses the Wesley College roll of honour signed by FitzGerald, and another for Manitoba College (lettering only) which is unsigned but attributed to FitzGerald. An unsigned watercolour/gouache roll by FitzGerald for the Pharmaceutical Association of the Province of Manitoba belongs to the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. This work (66 x 80 cm framed) is not recorded in FitzGerald’s account book. The signed preparatory pencil drawing for this honour roll (20 x 16 cm framed) is located in the collection of the School of Art Gallery, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg (FSC-11-0121). Gordon Goldsborough brought to my attention (email 29 December 2020) an unsigned honour roll for Starbuck, Manitoba with title lettering, borders and the Coat of Arms of Manitoba in each upper corner designed by FitzGerald for a commission he received 20 October 1919 for $8.00. The names of the military who served were presumably added by another hand. Another honour roll by FitzGerald commissioned by Russell-Lang & Co., 10 November 1917 has been identified for the Young Peoples (?) Branch of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union at Sidney, MB (Gordon Goldsborough email 2 January 2021). Most recently, Dominion Auctions in Winnipeg sold an honour roll by FitzGerald commissioned by the Grain Growers’ Grain Co., 5 January 1916, 61 x 44.5 cm (sold 6 October 2021, lot 11, Loch Gallery, Winnipeg).
12. Gabrielle Giroday, “Lucky Seven: School has a FitzGerald,” Winnipeg Free Press, 26 November 2007, p. A7. Nicole Cadotte-Worden, a former teacher at the school, is credited with the 2007 discovery of the scroll.
13. “Honor Roll is Being Prepared,” Pilot Mound Sentinel, 11 May 1916, p. 5.
14. “Pilot Mound and District has Long Roll of Honor,” Manitoba Free Press, 20 June 1916. A photograph of the scroll was also published in the Pilot Mound Sentinel, 29 June 1916. For another account of the unveiling, see “Pilot Mound Unveils Hero Roll of Honor,” Winnipeg Tribune, 13 June 1916, p. 5. The biblical phrase on the scroll is from John 15:13 which FitzGerald recorded on a back page in his account book.
15. For an account of the exhibition, see “Open Unique Art Exhibit at Bureau,” Winnipeg Tribune, 14 January 1915, p. 6. For a listing of the six additional works by FitzGerald, see Liz Wylie, 1981. “The Development of Spirituality in the Work of Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald 1890–1956,” MA thesis, Concordia University, p. 162. A large watercolour honour roll by J. E. H. MacDonald commissioned by and now in the collection of the Toronto Dominion Bank features Britannia holding a Union Jack while trumpeting the Canadian troops to war.
16. Chantel Fehr, “Rolls of Honour,” p. 49.
17. “Gallery Gets FitzGerald Scroll,” Winnipeg Free Press, 13 March 1968.
18. A transcription of entries from FitzGerald’s account book that record the honour roll commissions for which he was paid $2 or more can be found here.
Page revised: 2 September 2023