1905 - 1983
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Ralph Wallace Burton was born in Newington, Ontario in 1905. He studied in Ottawa from 1923 to 1924 and attended the Banff School of Fine Art, studying under A.Y. Jackson in 1947. The two artists became friends, and, over a period spanning more than 20 years, they travelled throughout Eastern Ontario and Quebec, Alberta, Alaska and the Yukon territory together, depicting the environs and physical structures of the regions they visited.
Burton was widely regarded in the Ottawa region as a was a well known Ottawa Valley artist and skilled art teacher. Despite his successful art career, Burton often had to juggle jobs to support his family. During World War II, Burton enlisted in the RCAF and worked in Ottawa as an administrative war art officer.
Burton is often thought of as a Canadian landscape painter, yet he was also inspired by city scapes and capturing the play of colour, form and light of exterior structures. He is most well-known for his paintings from the Lebreton Flats series. Lebreton Flats was once a working class neighbourhood in Ottawa’s west end whose land was expropriated in the 1960s by the Federal Government for urban renewal. This inner city neighbourhood was referred to as a ‘slum’ to be eradicated from an otherwise blossoming city, but Burton appreciated the beauty inherent in this vibrant and hard-working community that many people called home. He produced a series of small oil sketches that document the final months of Lebreton Flats.
Burton’s works are held in several public collections including the Ottawa Art Gallery, the Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery, the Dawson City Museum and Historical Society and the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C. Selections from more than 30 of his paintings from the Lebreton Flats series are hanging in the hallways of Ottawa City Hall.