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Tex Dawson: For the love of art and architecture

If you want to find out what Fred (Tex) Dawson, 93, is up to these days, just drop by the dining room at the Chartwell Le Wellesley Retirement residence on Hymus Blvd. in Pointe Claire.

You will see that this McGill trained architect is anything but “retired” in the traditional sense.

He no longer designs buildings but beautiful examples of his work as an artist are on display at his new home — in his two bedroom apartment, in the hallway outside his home, and on the walls of the collective dining room in this stately senior residence.

They showcase his expertise as a draftsman, his mastery of line and perspective, and his understanding of colour, reflecting his appreciation for monuments, landscapes and architecture that represent Canadian history.

On the walls of the dining room are 13 oil paintings of the Pointe Claire windmill and former residence of Congregation de Notre-Dame nuns, Old Montreal sites such as the Bonsecours Market, Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, and other beloved and familiar institutions.

These wall paintings represent a year and half’s work, but to Dawson, painting is the passion that fills his days, especially since the passing of his beloved wife, Jean Isabelle Townsend, his high-school sweetheart at West Hill High and long-time registered nurse at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

The Dawsons were married for 67 years before she died in January. The paintings inject a classic yet colourful and friendly air to the atmosphere in the dining area we observed, as residents surrounded by Dawson’s art enjoyed lunch in the bright and well-lit room.

His day job as an architect in Montreal began in 1950 after he graduated from McGill, winning second prize when his classmate, the renowned architect Arthur Erickson placed first. (Erickson died in 2009.)

Dawson designed a lot of factories and shopping centres, but is most proud of the Notre-Dame-de-Pompeii Catholic Church at Sauvé E and St. Michel Blvd. erected in 1967 to serve the Italian Canadian community in that area. Its soaring canopies and glassed-in walls represent the modernization and openness then underway as a result of Vatican 2.

“Don’t ask me how a Protestant architect got a Catholic church, but we did,” he says with a grin.

In fact, he has been drawing since he “was a kid” and says his parents encouraged him.

Dawson took a break from his education when he enlisted in the Canadian armed forces during World War II and served in the artillery in Holland and Germany before returning home and entering university here.

When John Collins, The Gazette cartoonist retired, Dawson replaced him, illustrating Edgar Andrew Collard’s weekly All Our Yesterdays column for about eight years. They are now in the Canadian archives in Ottawa. Art was always a pastime, and Dawson used his brushes on watercolours and also pen and ink drawings, with crayon for shading, often of iconic older Montreal street scenes and monuments before turning to oils about 25 years ago. In 1995, Dawson stopped working as an architect, closing his office in the Laird Kenora building in Town of Mount Royal.

By then he was doing so much painting at home, on the bank of the Mille Îles river in Rosemere, in the house they had built in 1956, that the Dawsons had a solarium built for use as an art studio.

“It was quite enjoyable, on the south side, so it was very pleasant,” he says. Aside from painting as a hobby, the Dawsons raised a daughter, Suzanne, a theatre actor based in the US, and a son, Bruce, who lives in Toronto. Two grandchildren, Jeremy and Camille, are in Montreal.

Dawson’s creative work included writing for The Fossils Club, where he sang and danced in their annual musical productions.

“It was a club started in 1926 by some 17-year-old, Westmount High graduates, who called themselves fossils – too old to go to school dances! Any money they made went to charity.”

In 2005, responding to an ad in an armed service newspaper asking for help in advancing the interests of veterans, Dawson decided to paint memorials.

“I started with the one in Westmount on Sherbrooke St., then I got a $5,000 travel grant from a wealthy old soldier in Halifax, and I did about 30 of them, from Halifax to Toronto.” He either takes photographs of them, and the other buildings, or sketches them, and works from there to paint on canvas.

After an article in the Globe and Mail, the monument paintings were acquired by the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., and are on display there.

Tex Dawson moved to Le Wellesley two and a half years ago because “cooking is no longer fun” and selling the house, being a main family asset, was a way to support living in the comfort of a residence with all its conveniences and services, including the cooking. The two-bedroom apartment is filled with his work, covering just about every wall space.

“I also have three lockers full of work,” he adds. He hasn’t planned any exhibition because of all the organizational work it would entail.

“You start to lose incentive to publicize yourself – I just like painting. If a show is available, I’ll take it.” There is a recently acquired keyboard in the room he uses as an office and studio, and he is teaching himself to play. To view or purchase one of Tex Dawson’s paintings, contact him at Le Wellesley: 438-538-8473

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