Alec and the Firestone Family

In the early 1950s, federal economist and avid art enthusiast O.J. Firestone was beginning to seek out artists from across the country, including A.Y. Jackson in Toronto in 1954.

When Firestone learned that Jackson had moved to Manotick, he arranged to visit Jackson’s studio. They spoke extensively on the subject of Canadian art and the Group of Seven and developed a relationship that lasted for more than a decade.

During this time, O.J. and Isobel Firestone collected hundreds of works by Canadian artists that would later become the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art that we know today.

The Firestone home, named “Belmanor” after Isobel, was designed to function as both family residence and art gallery. Certain rooms in the house were dedicated to the display of artwork of a single artist, and the “Jackson Room” held some of the 250 works by the artist collected by the family.

Firestone introduced Jackson to figures in his Ottawa social circle and occasionally acted as a chauffeur. They also threw Jackson elaborate multi-day birthday celebrations which brought the entire arts community together in their home. Jackson often joined the family for lunch. While his wife Isobel addressed Jackson as “Alec,” and the four Firestone children (Brenda, Catherine, Bruce, and Peter) admired him greatly, Firestone continued to call him “Mr. Jackson” for many years, indicating how he regarded the artist as one of Canada’s greatest painters. In 1979, five years after Jackson’s death, O.J. Firestone wrote a memoir titled The Other A.Y. Jackson, which documents their friendship as well as other notable events of Jackson’s life that occurred during the thirteen years he spent living in the Ottawa region.11

11. O. J. Firestone, The Other A. Y. Jackson, Toronto, The Canadian Publishers, 1979, p. 63-77.

O.J. and Isobel Firestone’s son Bruce Firestone speaks about his experience of his family’s art collection and encounters with A.Y. Jackson.