Memorable Manitobans: Goddard Frederick Gale (1858-1938)

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Goddard Frederick Gale
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Artist, engineer, farmer, teacher.

In April 1894, the Manitoba Free Press informed its readers that artist Goddard F. Gale, had just opened the Winnipeg School of Art and Design in Winnipeg’s Ryan Block and that “under the guidance of the best living painters, his whole life has been spent in the studio.” Born in Mitcham, England on 1 October 1858, a suburb of London, Gale was the son of Frederick Gale, a prominent London barrister and world-renowned cricket expert and Claudia Fitzroy Severn, a daughter of Joseph Severn and for twenty years British consul in Rome. The Free Press continued, “On both the maternal and paternal sides of the house he belongs to a race of artists. His grandfather, Joseph Severn, sketched the only portrait ever made of the poet Keats. ... In fact, the Gale family was so intimate with the famous art connoisseur and author, John Ruskin, that when Gale was a boy, his sketches were taken to Ruskin for criticism and correction.” Gale’s qualifications as an art teacher were further certified by the reporter who noted that Gale had studied “at the art schools on the continent under the inspirations of the grand old masters.”

Although the Free Press asserted that Gale “has been a prominent artist for years on the staff of the Graphic,” it did not specifically elaborate on his immediate antecedents, that of having been a southwestern Manitoba homesteader. Ten years earlier, in the fall of 1884, after several years employment as a civil engineer and surveyor with the Canadian Pacific Railway (he often stated he was among the first white men to see Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies) he had took up land on the South Antler Creek, some twelve miles straight south of Pierson. His homestead, located directly on the Canada-US border, soon became the focal point of British settlers, many of them recent arrivals and for the most part ardent members of the Church of England. Here Gale quickly took a leading role in municipal politics, being elected as the local representative on the council of the original Municipality of Arthur, comprising the later municipalities of Arthur, Edward, and Albert. In 1890 he was elected the municipality’s third Reeve.

It was while a resident of this district, then known as Butterfield after the local post office, that Gale’s name is prominently associated with the building of the first church of any denomination west of the Souris River. Lacking the resources to construct a church worthy of the aspirations of their community, Gale communicated with friends in England and approached church societies and individuals to fundraise for construction materials. They responded generously with sums “from ten guineas to one shilling.” At Butterfield all of the work was done by volunteer labour, the finished structure being comparable with many English village churches. In an article written for publication in English papers, Gale’s father, on a visit from England to Manitoba, described St. George’s Church at Butterfield thusly:

The building, which is fifty-six feet long, twenty wide and twenty high, is built of stone quarried by the farmers last year and hauled to the site of the building. It consists almost entirely of grey and red granite and sandstone found in the sloughs—dried up watercourses—all over the prairie. The sidewalls are ten feet high and two feet thick and the east and west walls twenty feet in height. The church is pure Gothic, and the roof of wood, covered with shingles—wooden “slates,” which look much nicer than slate and are almost imperishable in this climate.

Unfortunately, the high hopes of this “British Settlement” were soon crushed by a combination of factors. A general lack of practical farming experience—made particularly evident by its pioneers having chosen a semi-arid corner of Manitoba for their new homes—was soon exacerbated by drought and crop failures. By the turn of the century, many of St. George’s parishioners had come to the conclusion that their homesteads were more suitable for feeding bison than growing crops. The parish was mostly abandoned, some moving only a few miles to the northwest into the Lyleton community where the land was better, a few returned to England, others decided to again try homesteading further west, while others found new homes in other parts of Canada or the United States. Some are reported to even have moved to Australia. By 1903 St. George’s had almost no parishioners. Today, the once magnificent English church graced with “eleven Gothic arches” is a picturesque prairie ruin.

Gale and his wife made their way to Winnipeg—briefly. From here they soon moved to San Francisco, California where a cousin, George Henry Goddard, a gold seeker of 1849, had become one of the state’s most prominent surveyors and cartographers. Their residence in San Francisco was also brief; they soon moved across the Bay to Oakland, thus escaping the earthquake and fire of April 1906, which Gale documented in a series of famous panoramic photographs. However, it was also during this time that Gale renewed his association with Manitoba. Shortly after moving to Oakland, Gale’s wife passed away two months short of her thirty-fifth birthday. Gale was left a widower with two small children, Claudia almost five and a half and Frederick, not yet four. Mrs. Gale, the former Lillian Georgina Sadler, was the daughter of the prominent pioneer settler, Jesse Johnson Sadler, of the Winlaw district south of Gainsborough, Saskatchewan. Thus, when Mrs. Gale passed away, her husband brought her remains back to be buried in the family plot in the Winlaw cemetery. The following year, when he returned to visit her grave and his in-laws, he extended his visit to the Pembina Crossing district south of Manitou to visit, in the words of the local paper, “his old friend, R. N. Lea.”

This was a friendship which had extended back to the first days of Gale’s arrival in Manitoba. In the fall of 1880, at Emerson, Gale had made the acquaintance of R. N. Lea, an artist by avocation, a prosperous English tenant farmer by profession who had decided to enrich his life—and perhaps even his bank account—by pioneering in western Canada. The two quickly became fast friends, and Lea soon persuaded the young man, whose original intention had been to secure a civil engineering job with the Canadian Pacific Railway to instead accompany him to his new home in the Pembina River Valley, Fairbrook Farm. Here, Lea suggested, Gale could be the tutor to the older of his eight children during the winter months. Gale agreed. In July 1904, a quarter century later, he paid a visit to Fairbrook Farm. In June of the following year he and Lea’s eldest daughter, Ada—his favourite pupil when she was nine years old—were married in the old log church at Pembina Crossing.

Although Gale occasionally did works on religious and historical studies (in 1894 when the Free Press reporter had visited him in his Main Street studio, Gale was completing an oil on the early Christian martyrs) his preferred subjects were found in nature. The Free Press noted that Gale had been busy on “Rocky Mountain scenery and Canadian landscapes for the Graphic.” As a young man, Gale had mastered floral painting; engineering studies in England had perfected his drafting and mechanical drawing skills and in California he became famous for his landscapes and coastal scenes. He often using the San Francisco Bay and Carmel Coast for inspiration. In addition to having his own studio, Gale also taught art in Oakland public schools where he was warmly appreciated for his artistic gifts.

Gale was a contributor to many competitions on the Pacific coast. In September 1908, according to the Manitou Western Canadian, “Mr. G. Gale, son-in-law of Mr. R. N. Lea, was a successful competitor in the recent art exhibition held in Sacramento, California. Gale’s works in watercolours carried off two blue ribbons against the leading artists of the Pacific States.” Of course it was not just small-town Manitoba newspapers who acclaimed Gale’s artistic gifts. An article in the December 1924 issue of the California Overland Monthly is representative when it noted:

The work of a California artist attracts such attention in Europe that the editors of La Revue Moderne and La Revue du Bom et du Beau write for material for critical and biographical articles; when the art critic of the London Post commends the work as among the most striking at the autumn exhibit at Liverpool, Californians are interested but not surprised. Goddard Gale’s paintings have long been known to lovers of art. The painter has won medals at various exhibits, notably the Grande Prix at the Alaskan-Yukon Exhibition [1909, Seattle Washington]. His paintings of Carmel, Point Lobos, and the Sierras are in the permanent exhibit at the Oakland Auditorium and in other collections around the Bay.

From more than fifteen hundred pictures in the autumn exhibit at Liverpool, which is considered one of the most important in Europe, the judges selected thirty-four, including the paintings of Sargent, Sorolla-y-Bas-ticla, Pissarro, Aman-Jean, and Charles Sims, R.A. Among them was “On the Trail to Paradise” by Goddard Gale, a scene in the Kings River Country of the Sierras. The picture shows the late afternoon sunshine red on the snowy peaks in the distance and the blue and violet shadows on the canyon wall shaded with oaks and pines.

Goddard Gale is a versatile painter in watercolor and in oil; a conservative who has never forgotten his early training at South Kensington. He greatly admired the work of his friend, Sidney Yard, the California watercolorist, and the same poetic and romantic atmosphere pervades the pictures of both these artists. Of the Keith school, as was Yard, Gale also has the warmest admiration for the paintings of George Inness, and his oils show in the warmth of color and arrangement of masses the influence of the earlier painter.

In June 1930, Mr. and Mrs. Gale observed their silver wedding anniversary and eight years later and in the same month two years later Gale retired as an art teacher although he continued to paint virtually until the time of his death. That took place on the morning of Friday, 12 August 1938, when Gale passed away in the Peralta Hospital in Oakland. He was seventy-nine years of age. His funeral service was held the following Monday from the Telegraph Avenue Chapel of the Grant D. Miller mortuaries in Oakland. He was survived by his widow as well as his son, by then a prominent Oakland businessman, and his daughter, a teacher in the California public schools.

Mrs. Gale survived her husband less than a year, passing away in her home at 20003 East Twenty-Ninth Street on 4 August 1939 at the age of sixty-six years. Mr. and Mrs. Gale’s remains rest in the Evergreen Memorial Park in Merced, California. Gale had been predeceased, in addition to his first wife, by his mother in 1874, his father in 1905, his first son, Claude Stanley Gale who died at the age of one year in October 1892 and his brother Arthur Stanley Gale who died on his homestead in the Lauder Sandhills of Manitoba early in 1890 under strange circumstances. Both Gale’s son and brother were buried in the cemetery of the Butterfield Anglican Church in the Copley district of southwestern Manitoba.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Copley Anglican Church and Cemetery (RM of Edward)


“Obiter dicta,” Manitoba Free Press, 21 April 1894, page 10.

This page was prepared by Felix Kuehn.

Page revised: 26 June 2015

Memorable Manitobans

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