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Honorary degree citation - Charles C. Hill

By: Sandra Paikowsky, November 2007

Mr. Chancellor, it is an honour for me to present to you Mr. Charles Christie Hill, the eminent art historian and the Curator of Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada and a Member of the Order of Canada.

For over thirty-five years, he has presented the art of this country to both Canadian and international audiences through his organizing of exhibitions, his development of the Gallery's permanent collection of Canadian art, and his writing of major catalogues, essays, and articles. Mr. Hill's enormous dedication to the history of Canadian art is evident in his exacting and inspired research, and in the public dissemination of what we clearly recognize as his extraordinary knowledge - and all for the betterment of our understanding of Canada's cultural achievements.

After studies at the Université de Grenoble and McGill University, Mr. Hill obtained his MA in Art History from the University of Toronto in 1969. He then joined the curatorial staff at the National Gallery, becoming the Curator of Canadian Art in 1980 and has worked tirelessly ever since. Charles Hill came to national attention with his 1975 exhibition and catalogue of Canadian Painting in the Thirties, which remains a singular accomplishment. A rich array of major NGC exhibitions and catalogues followed, including studies on the photography of John Vanderpant to the first examination of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts; and then onto the paintings of A.Y Jackson, James Wilson Morrice, and Tom Thomson, where his major catalogue essay won an award. Most recently he has provided us with new perspectives on the art of Emily Carr, which was also honoured. Internationally, his exhibition on Canadian Landscape and the Group of Seven has travelled to Mexico, Scandinavia and China.

Mr. Hill has also contributed to exhibitions and catalogues at other institutions, including the True North, Canadian Landscape Painting in London, England and closer to home, the Louis-Philippe Hebert and Louis Muhlstock shows, among others. His learned articles in the National Gallery Review, RACAR and our own Journal of Canadian Art History (where he also sits on the Advisory Board) have also added to the wider appreciation of Mr. Hill's wisdom and scholarship. We now eagerly await his current independent project, a biography of the late Dr. Max Stern, one of this country's most important art dealers and collectors.

Another aspect of Charles Hill's curatorial accomplishment is his remarkable contribution to the steady growth and enhancement of the National Gallery's Canadian art collection. This is demonstrated by his eye-opening presentations of the collection and the stimulating texts, which accompany these exhibitions. His work in bringing the work of Native artists together with that of other Canadians has given the collection and its exhibitions, a particular expressiveness and inclusivity.His co-editing of the important text on the NGC's permanent collection of Canadian art and his tireless contribution to the holdings of the gallery's library and archives are further testaments to his scholarship on behalf of all Canadians. As well, almost every Canadian museum and public gallery as well as numerous learned associations and the public have had the privilege of hearing his talks and refreshing insights. It is for all these reasons and more, that he was awarded the Order of Canada in 2001.

There is not sufficient time today to truly pay homage to the contribution of Charles Hill to the national and international recognition of Canadian art. Nevertheless, any one here today, faculty and students, or indeed anyone else with an interest in Canadian art has benefited both from his impassioned commitment to the history of our visual culture, and from his extraordinary, uncompromising scholarship, which is a model of excellence for us all.
We must also salute Charles Hill for his pioneer role in the gay rights movement in Canada. This began with his founding of the University of Toronto Homophile Association when he was a graduate student and his commitment to the community has continued unabated ever since.

The Department of Art History considers it a privilege to sponsor his nomination for an honorary degree.

Mr. Chancellor, for his dedication to Canadian art history and his work at the National Gallery of Canada on behalf of this entire country, and on behalf of the Senate and the Board of Governors, may I present Charles C. Hill, so that you may confer on him a Doctor of Laws degree from Concordia University.

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