Montreal, July 25, 2021
Looking through our archives, we went on a journey trying to piece together all the important events that happened at La Guilde throughout the years. It turned out to be a tedious assignment and we often got lost in the history as the length of our archives felt like it was never-ending. We are grateful to everyone who deemed that information worth keeping and we couldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for their generous efforts. That being said, there are so many details and gaps in the story that we kept going back-and-forth trying to find the next topic for Did you know… After much consideration, we decided to address our multiple identities and how they all tie together through the locations, renovations, and name changes. Let's hope it helps you understand who we are as much as it helped us make sense of the noise.
*Most of the information is drawn from notes from annual meetings, as well as internal communications and working documents from a specific section of our archives entitled History, Trademark, Briefs, and Surveys.
The Many Changes: A Story of Growth
“People are now asking how this was accomplished…. It meant work, work, work and the love that is born of contact with human beings who want to express the best that is in them and sometimes need a helping hand to do it. One of the deepest instincts of humanity is the desire to leave behind something worth while…”(Peck 1934, 202).
To understand La Guilde’s history and evolution, we must look at two major ideas that are weaved through every event: the definition of a guild and the Canadian Handicrafts Movement. As you will notice, the Canadian Handicrafts Guild’s mission (in 1906) was in direct correlation to the Movement.
We often get asked this question: why a guild? A guild is, by definition, “an association of people with similar interests or pursuits”, which made perfect sense to the women who founded our organization as they wanted to revive, preserve, and stimulate handicraft work throughout Canada (Merriam-Webster.com; Bulletin 1911, CHG). Creating a guild meant offering a space for artists to present and market their work, but also creating a space to share and gain knowledge. It was to be a space for artists and amateurs alike. On the other hand, the rise of the Canadian Handicrafts Movement was stirred by the ideals awoken by our founders. As stated by H. G. Kettle in The Canadian Forum, the movement was “[...] devoted to the development of handicrafts, the training of workers and marketing of their products” (Kettle 1940, 112). Do you see the connection?
The organization went through many changes throughout the years and we noticed that most name changes are punctuated by a relocation, renovation, or new visual identity (i.e. logo and signage). We thought it could be a fun exercise to place all of them on a timeline to see the growth. There have been three names changed: (1) The Canadian Handicrafts Guild, 1906-1967; (2) Canadian Guild of Crafts / Guilde canadienne des métiers d’art, 1967-2017; and (3) La Guilde, 2017- present.
The Canadian Handicrafts Guild
The Canadian Handicrafts Guild had a permanent shop at a few different addresses around Phillips Square for almost 30 years. Other than a few small exhibitions, the space was mostly used by Our Handicrafts Shop. The organization moved to 598a Sainte-Catherine Street [fig. 1] in 1916, it is one of the oldest pictures we could find of the Shop viewed from the street.
There is a common denominator through all of La Guilde’s moves: the difficulty to find the next location. We found years of communication before they finally decided on 2019 Peel Street, where they stayed (with a few relocations and expansions) for about 68 years. As pictured in figure 2, the new Shop was renamed the Canadian Handicrafts Shop, whose interior can be seen in figure 3.
After a few years on Peel Street, The Canadian Handicrafts Guild had become known for its standard of quality and novelty. To translate this notoriety onto the selected works available at the Shop, the women at the time created a design mark—trademark—as seen in figure 4. The “[...] six pointed white star, or snowflake, on a dark blue background, surrounded by reading matter and a yellow circle” (Patent, 1937) indicated that handicraft wares of all natures met the standards established by The Canadian Handicrafts Guild. Not only was the organization applying its approval on the wares, but it was also starting to work on its image. The trademark also acted as the logo of the organization, appearing for the first time on the letterhead, invitations, publications, etc. In addition to promoting and selling the works of artists, they started to promote themselves as an organization in addition to raising awareness to the work they accomplished. We see this as a sign that La Guilde was determined to stay and ready to survive anything. Those women knew how to stay relevant and adapt to their time. It was not until 1938, when they moved next door to 2025 Peel Street [fig. 5], that we started to hear the mention of in-house exhibitions and gallery spaces. We will make a separate entry on the different types of exhibition and gallery spaces.
Canadian Guild of Crafts
From Our Handicrafts Shop to The Canadian Handicrafts Guild, the organization evolved with the Canadian Handicrafts Movement and, in 1967, it was felt that the “[...] word ‘Handicraft’ as currently used, no longer fits the objectives of [the] organization, in fact, it detracts from the public’s understanding of [its] objectives” (Annual Meeting, 1965). It was moved to change the name to the Canadian Guild of Crafts and, in French (for the first time!), Guilde canadienne des métiers d’art. The shorter version “The Guild” remained in use. The term ‘Handicraft’ felt limiting as it more strongly related to the workmanship of a piece (the act of making) as opposed to the trade in a more general sense. It was a direct connection to the idea of the craftsmen or women, as opposed to the artists, a term that represents our current view. Letting go of ‘Handicraft’ also meant elevating the status of the work and the skills required to achieve it. It was a way for the organization to be more contemporary.
Along with the first name change, the organization undertook a substantial restoration of the gallery spaces at 2025 Peel Street. This also aligned with Expo 67 and a major exhibition entitled Crafts Canada ‘67. The changes done on the inside of the building allowed the option to offer more services to their artists, including more space for contemporary pieces in the Shop [fig. 7] and a larger exhibition space reserved for the permanent collection (Sklov, 1967). We see these changes as the beginning of the structure we currently follow where the exhibitions, the gallery (Shop at the time), and the permanent exhibition coexist in a more equal fashion. After all, La Guilde was founded at the beginning of the 20th century to preserve Canadian Crafts and encourage the blossoming of new talents in the field. As shown on the blueprint [fig. 10], one of the main adaptations of the space was the addition of signage to define the different galleries, such as the Galerie d’art esquimau, Galerie décor, and Galerie des artisans [fig. 9]. At that time, the term Eskimo was widely used to refer to the indigenous people of the Arctic regions. The Canadian Guild of Crafts used the term more specifically to refer to indigenous people living above the polar circle within Canada. Used by the colonizers in racist ways, we acknowledge the derogatory and degrading connotation of the term and today, we use the term Inuit, which means “people in Inuktitut (Hersher, 2016).
La Guilde underwent yet another big expansion on Peel Street. In 1974, it opened its new home at 2019-2025 Peel Street, allowing even more space for the exhibition and storage of the permanent collection, as well as an expansion of the amount of works that could be presented at all times. The creation of specific galleries, which began with the renovations in 1967, meant being able to present, for instance, Inuit art all year round, and be more mindful of the way the works were presented. The archives testify to a lot more exhibitions exploring specific themes and mediums. As space expanded, a more holistic approach was adopted and, with the decluttering of the space, works were allowed to breathe and were highlighted as the main focus in the space [fig. 8]. A big change from the floor to ceiling presentation as seen in the first exhibition in 1902 (see Love Letter To Our Founders: The Beginning)! This was, of course, also influenced by the evolution of the market and the type of works that people were looking for. As shown in figures 11-12, the signage also went through this transformation, resulting in a cleaner, simplified version showing only the name (new sign in figure 13). These changes to the space and visual identity were also accompanied by a new logo, a bold, black and white hand [fig. 14], which won a certificate of excellence “[...] for its superior standard of design amongst the most impressive contemporary trademark to be included in Top Symbols and Trademarks of the World published by Deco Press” issued in Milano (Certification, 1974).
The end of the 90s was particularly difficult for La Guilde as an eviction notice was issued for their home on Peel Street. After over 60 years, the city forced La Guilde to leave because the building wasn’t deemed structurally sound. It took a few years to find a new home as no space answered all the required needs. In 2001, the inventory and collection were packed, and a new home was established at 1460 Sherbrooke Street West [fig. 15-16]. The space wasn’t perfect, but La Guilde had to move quickly. A more uniform space, ideally on one level, was the goal. Do you see where I’m going with this? The multi-levels meant it was extremely difficult to move works from one floor to another, and that the spaces and works were clearly divided, completely isolated and deprived of being in a fluid dialogue with one another. With such separate spaces, it was also challenging to provide a seamless experience to visitors. The architectural aspects also presented its load of challenges, with very few walls to display framed works. The wood structures didn’t allow for a modular display as everything was fixed in space. When La Guilde left in 2017, the wood was donated to the École d'ébénisterie de Montréal and thankfully repurposed. From all the stories heard from colleagues, it is impossible to imagine how the work we do today could exist in that space. It was a different experience, but one that is so important to our current situation.
A major turning point for La Guilde was when our current space at 1356 Sherbrooke Street West became available. Unlike any other space we occupied in the past, this space was on one level and every “gallery” could be connected to each other. It finally allowed us to present everything we do in a unified space. The openness of the layout allows us to create connections and conversations between the La Guilde’s collection, temporary exhibitions, and gallery. The new space also meant that, for the first time, we could offer a completely different experience: the white cube. It underwent a lot of renovation to become the magical place that we love so much today. Fun fact: the unit was originally occupied by Holt Renfrew. For many years, the president of our Board had an eye on this specific location, and it was a dream come true when it finally became available. You can see in figures 17 and 19 how our now iconic rounded display was adapted from the already existing infrastructure. The high ceiling and the floor plan [fig. 18 and 20] meant that we could do new projects that weren’t possible before, host installations, have a wider inventory, but also accept much larger pieces that we previously couldn’t move up and down the stairs.
Similarly to the name change of 1967 when “Handicrafts” no longer replied to our needs, the Canadian Guild of Crafts (both French and English) didn’t feel as accessible. The shorter version of “The Guild”, which was commonly used since its creation in 1906, felt like an easier and more memorable name. It was also felt that the name in French could reach a wider audience as it was easily pronounceable in both languages. Having one name also meant strengthening our identity, thus it was decided to use La Guilde as the new official name. The new logo proudly wears the year of our foundation, 1906, as a reminder of our history and evolution from The Canadian Handicrafts Guild to the Canadian Guild of Crafts to La Guilde. It embodies the origins of the organization—preserving crafts of all kinds, sharing knowledge, exchanging with each other, communicating with the public, creating connections and collaborations through our actions. La Guilde is, and will always be, a place to learn and share your experience.
Programming and Communications Manager
- Bulletin: Self Help - Not Charity, What the Guild is? Issued by The Canadian Handicraft Guild, 1911. C11 D1 059 1911. La Guilde Archives, Montreal, Canada.
- Certificate of Excellence, 1974. La Guilde Archives, Montreal, Canada.
- Hersher, Rebecca. "Why You Probably Shouldn't Say 'Eskimo'." NPR. April 24, 2016. Accessed July 21, 2021. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/04/24/475129558/why-you-probably-shouldnt-say-eskimo.
- Kettle, H. G. “The Canadian Handicrafts Movement.” The Canadian Forum (1940:112-114).
- Peck, Alice. Handicrafts From Coast to Coast. Montreal: The Canadian Geographical Society, 1934. Reprinted by the Canadian Handicrafts Guild.
- Merriam-Webster.com, s.v. "Guild," accessed July 19, 2021, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/guild.
- “Notes.” The Canadian Handicrafts Guild’s Annual Meeting, Montreal, 1965. La Guilde Archives, Montreal, Canada.
- Trademark Registration Patent, 1937. La Guilde Archives, Montreal, Canada.
- Sklov, Shirley. “Agrandissements et transformations.” News release, 1967. La Guilde Archives, Montreal, Canada.
IMAGES(1) Photograph of 598a Sainte-Catherine, 1927, C16 D3 002 1927.
(2) Photograph of Front of 2019 Peel Street, 1935, C16 D3 006 1933.
(3) Photograph of Inside of 2019 Peel Street, 1933, C16 D3 008 1933.
(4) Photograph of Trademarks, 1936.
(5) Photograph of Front of 2025 Peel Street, 1969, C16 D3 029 1969.
(6) Details of Letterhead, 1967.
(7) Photograph of Inside of 2025 Peel Street, 1968. C16 D3 033 1905-78.
(8) Photograph of Inside the Galerie des artisans, 1968. C16 D3 033 1905-78.
(9) Photograph of Gate to the Galerie des artisans, 1978. C16 D3 033 1905-78.
(10) Photograph of Blueprints for New Signage 1967. D3 006 1974.
(11) Sketch of the Facade, 1952, C16 D3 017 1952.
(12) Photograph of Front of 2019-2025 Peel Street, 1971, Published in Craft Dimension.
(13) Photograph of Blueprint for New Sign 1974, C16 D3 006 1974.
(14) Canadian Guild of Crafts Logo, 1988. C13 D2 661 2001.
(15) Photograph of Front of 1460 Sherbrooke Street West, 2005.
(16) Photograph of Inside of 1460 Sherbrooke Street West, 2014.
(17-18) Photographs of 1356 Sherbrooke Street West Under Renovation, 2017.
(19) Photograph of Front of 1356 Sherbrooke Street West, 2017.
(20) Photograph of view from Prix François-Houdé 2020, 2021.
© La Guilde, La Guilde Archives, Montreal, Canada.