Jackson’s Wars: A.Y. Jackson, the Birth of the Group of Seven, and the Great War


Part of the McGill-Queen’s/Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation Studies in Art History Series 

520 Pages, 6.5 x 9. 65 photos, colour insert. ISBN 9780228010760. Release date: May 15, 2022. Formats: Cloth, eBook

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Or purchase it wherever fine books are sold.

Read the excerpt Losing Tom or “Blinded, Deaf, and Half Crazy.”

Listen to my conversation with Greg Marchildon in the Champlain Society “Podcast Witness to Yesterday”


“masterful and meticulously researched” –Chris Sanagan, coauthor of Group of 7: A Most Secret Tale

“a gripping story, skilfully told and beautifully illustrated” –Mark Bourrie, winner of the RBC Taylor Prize for Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson

This is a story about an artist’s coming of age, of Jackson’s progress from art student to struggling professional. It is also a story of combat, commemoration, camaraderie, artistic vision, and loss, in which two of the most compelling Canadian topics of the early twentieth century, the Great War and the Group of Seven, converge and intertwine. It is about bands of brothers, about artists and soldiers (and artists who were soldiers) and their causes, the battles they fought in peace and war. The result I hope will be a rich and informative reader experience not otherwise available, and it is set in a Canada where class, ethnicity, privilege, and duties to empire are dominant themes.

“Douglas Hunter offers a fresh narrative that deepens our understanding not only of A.Y. Jackson’s personality and artistic development but also of the broader cultural history of Canada before and during the First World War. Meticulously researched, full of sharp insights and compelling, little-known details, Jackson’s Wars is a wonderfully immersive read—and a huge contribution to the study of Canadian art and history.”

Ross King, author of Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven, and Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of Water Lilies

The Great War remains one of the most controversial and actively debated episodes in Canadian history—alternately decried as a senseless slaughter waged in the name of empire and celebrated as a bloody birthplace of Canada as a nation. This book aspires to reach beyond typical books about Canada in the Great War, which focus on military strategies and experiences of the battle front, or alternately on its political dimensions such as the conscription crisis. The narrative captures the horrors (at times literally visceral) of that war, but it also draws connections between the battle front and the home front, where men like Jackson had felt overwhelming pressure to volunteer, in the face of a relentless call for fresh recruits to replace the fallen. Through the stories of Jackson and other figures, we see how Toronto and Montreal experienced the war—especially how Montreal, then Canada’s largest and most prosperous city, responded with enthusiasm to the call to arms and reeled from the devastating losses that began to mount from the moment the country’s troops entered combat around Ypres in April 1915.

Jackson’s Wars is another fine offering from McGill-Queen’s University Press’s Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation Studies in Art History…Hunter argues for the importance of Jackson’s war experience in propelling him forward and compelling him to think of what could be depicted on the canvas and this is a worthy read for both art and military historians.”

Tim Cook, Canadian Military History

More than one war is being fought in this narrative. The Great War may be the most obvious, but in the years before hostilities broke out, A.Y. Jackson was waging another one, on multiple fronts, against art critics, private collectors, fellow artists, and gallery curators over what constituted fine art, and how Canadian artists should contribute to it, be recognized—and above all, be supported. Jackson was struggling to establish himself as a landscape artist and change the conservative tastes of Canadian collectors, especially the moneyed families of Montreal’s Golden Square Mile, who preferred (often second-rate examples of) the nineteenth-century Barbizon and Hague schools of European landscape painters. Probing the foundational years of Jackson’s career with unprecedented detail, including his education in Chicago and Paris and the connections he forged with international artists in Europe, this book details how Jackson envisioned a new “Canadian school” of landscape painting that was more daring, more vigorous in its approach to colour, composition, and form, than Canada’s moneyed families were willing to hang on their walls.

“Providing much of the book’s original content is Hunter’s impressive use of unpublished archival materials, featuring samples that are new, compelling, and important to our understanding of A.Y. Jackson. Hunter’s flair for narrative carries the reader along while Jackson’s remarkable writing eloquently and movingly details his experiences as a veteran.”

Irene Gammel, author of I Can Only Paint: The Story of Battlefield Artist Mary Riter Hamilton

The key figures in what would become the Group of Seven had all just found each other when the war interrupted their artistic progress. Jackson was the only one to enlist and serve overseas, as a private in the 60th Battalion raised in Montreal in the summer of 1915. Wounded at Sanctuary Wood in June 1916, Jackson found a new role in the conflict, as an artist in the War Memorials project. Most of the future members of the Group of Seven collective were also recruited as war artists.

“Hunter has certainly done his research. The snippets of detail, windows into conversations and personal letters — even gossip from the early group and their friends, family, neighbours, and colleagues — give the reader a feeling of being a fly on the wall, as Jackson and artists of his era went through the early stages of joining forces…I used to work at the Art Gallery of Ontario and spent much time researching details about the AGO Collection. I had many stories to share, but this 488-page book boggles the mind with the amount of new information Hunter has brought to light.”

Hilary Slater, artist, in The Tiny Cottager

This project employs an array of illuminating documentary evidence, some of it never applied to treatments of Jackson’s life, the formation of the Group of Seven, and the Canadian war art program. It explores how one of Canada’s best-known artists became a working artist, then a soldier, a casualty of war, an artist of war, and a founding figure in the Group of Seven. It recreates Jackson’s formative years as an artist, his experiences of (and response to) war, and the lives of men and women caught up in a shared narrative of tragedy and inspiration.

•To order, request an exam copy, recommend to a library, and more, visit McGill-Queen’s University Press

•For media enquiries, contact Jacqui Davis

•For speaking engagements, contact the author

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