Canadian Museum of History acquires outstanding collection of antique decoys

October 16, 2015


For immediate release

Gatineau, Quebec, October 16, 2015 — The Canadian Museum of History has acquired an exceptional collection of antique hunting decoys that beautifully illuminates an important aspect of Canadians’ early and enduring relationship with nature and the wilderness. The 150 duck and goose decoys were donated by Dr. Jim Stewart of Etobicoke, Ontario, a respected collector of wildlife Canadiana. Jim is a retired business executive, consultant and writer on business and outdoor collectibles. He is the author of two reference books on wildfowl decoys.

Dating from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, the decoys were produced by carvers in Ontario’s Prince Edward County and the Thousand Islands region. The decoys are both hunting tools and works of art. All bear the marks of use, and all represent the pinnacle of decoy carving. The collection is enhanced by a wealth of documentation relating to each decoy’s carver and its history of ownership and use. Stewart’s collection of County decoys is considered the best from that area of Ontario, which is widely known as a source of high-quality antique North American decoys.

Three of the top ten auction records for Canadian waterfowl decoys are for decoys made in Prince Edward County, including the top price of US$203,000 for a William Hart merganser. Jim Stewart has an enduring relationship with the Thousand Islands. At one time he lived in Kingston, and he, his wife Maryln and their family have a cottage on Wolfe Island, where he has hunted waterfowl for more than 50 years. In his youth, Stewart used some of the decoys from his collection while he hunted.

Throughout the 19th and well into the 20th century, most rural households had waterfowl decoys, which were usually made by a member of the family or a local carpenter or boat builder. Decoys remain a standard part of a hunter’s gear to this day, and almost all are now made of plastic. In recent decades, carved decoys have become coveted as iconographic folk art. The Stewart Collection of Waterfowl Decoys will be an invaluable resource for the Museum and for others interested in discovering and exploring this aspect of the Canadian experience.

“This outstanding collection of beautiful and functional cultural artifacts will help document and present the important role that wilderness sport and outdoor pastimes, and their associated arts, have played in the history of Canada and still play in the lives of Canadians.” said Jean-Marc Blais, Director General of the Canadian Museum of History.

“We are grateful to Dr. Jim Stewart for building this unique and significant collection over the past 30 years and for donating it to the Museum, where experts in the field will use it as a research reference for years to come.”

The Stewart Collection of Waterfowl Decoys has been recognized by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board (CCPERB) as a collection of outstanding significance and national importance. Dr. Stewart previously donated to the Museum a unique collection of early 20th century shotguns made by the Tobin Arms Manufacturing Company of Woodstock, Ontario, the only Canadian factory to ever make high-quality, double-barreled shotguns. CCPERB has certified the combined value of both collections at more than $1 million.

“I am really pleased that the two collections that I have built over the years — the collection of waterfowl decoys and the collection of Tobin guns — will be in the Canadian Museum of History,” said Dr. Stewart. “I am certainly sad to see them go. Collectors will recognize the syndrome: each item has become a ‘personal friend’. But I am happy that they have found such a good home, where they will be safeguarded on behalf of all Canadians and available to view and study for generations to come.”

The announcement of this acquisition by the Canadian Museum of History is particularly timely as members of the Canadian Decoy and Outdoor Collectibles Association will gather for their annual show on October 17 and 18 in Kingston, Ontario.

Located on the shores of the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec, the Canadian Museum of History is Canada’s largest and most popular cultural institution, attracting over 1.2 million visitors each year. The Museum’s principal role is to enhance Canadians’ knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the events, experiences, people and objects that have shaped Canada’s history and identity, as well as to enhance Canadians’ awareness of world history and culture. Work of the Canadian History Museum is made possible in part through financial support of the Government of Canada.

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