CRAIG, JOHN, artisan, artist, art gallery owner, and politician; b. 1804 in Ireland; m. Charlotte, and they had one daughter, Mathilda (b. 1847); d. 25 March 1854 in Toronto.
Little is known of John Craig’s early life. He probably arrived in York (Toronto) early in 1828. By July of that year he was advertising his services in the Colonial Advocate as a painter of portraits, fancy signs, and heraldry. Forced by economic circumstance to ply a varied trade, he soon extended his business to include coach, sign, and house painting. His most notable commission was to design painted altar windows for the second St James’ Church, erected 1831–33 [see Thomas Rogers]. Executed by William Schofield, a glazier and sign-painter, these windows received much local praise; however, according to the more sophisticated eye of Anna Brownell Jameson [Murphy], they were “in a vile, and tawdry taste.” Unfortunately this early example of Craig’s ecclesiastical work was destroyed by fire in 1839.
Craig’s career, which peaked in the 1840s, developed with the architectural growth of Toronto. Through his role as master artisan his name can be linked with most major public buildings erected during that time. He was frequently involved in various aspects of the interior decoration of many buildings designed by John George Howard*, such as Christ Church (Tyendinaga, 1843) and the Bank of British North America (Toronto, 1845). Along with Edward Claxton Bull, Craig executed stained glass windows for Henry Bowyer Joseph Lane*’s Church of St George the Martyr (Toronto, 1844). He was responsible for the decoration and stage scenery for John Ritchey’s Royal Lyceum Theatre which opened its doors to Toronto audiences in 1848, and he supervised painting the interior of St Michael’s Cathedral, Toronto (erected 1845–48 on a design by William Thomas). Also included among his designs were coats of arms for several provincial court-houses as well as banners for many local Orange and masonic lodges, and for Toronto’s “national societies,” such as the St Andrew’s, St George’s, and St Patrick’s benevolent societies.
Craig was one of Toronto’s earliest picture dealers, operating from his “Painting Room” at 229 King Street during the early 1830s. He was a member of Toronto’s first art society, the short-lived Society of Artists and Amateurs. He did not, however, submit any works to its one and only exhibition, held in the legislative buildings in July 1834. He later belonged to the Toronto Society of Arts and contributed works to its two exhibitions, in 1847 and 1848. His design for a model water-wheel was featured in the October 1848 exhibition sponsored by the local mechanics’ institute.
Craig, a tory, was elected a councilman for St George’s Ward in 1834, the year Toronto was incorporated, which may account for his not having submitted works to the 1834 exhibition. Shortly thereafter, he and fellow councilmen George Gurnett* and John Doel* formed a committee to oversee production of a design for the city seal. Craig, in all likelihood, produced the actual design; the engraving of the seal was awarded for a fee of £10 to William Connell, a local engraver, tinsmith, and fellow Irishman. Perhaps as a result of Craig’s influence, Connell’s impressions were displayed at the 1834 exhibition. According to reviews in the Patriot, the committee’s choice of engraver had met with some opposition from Mayor William Lyon Mackenzie*, who would have preferred that the commission be awarded to someone other than an Irish Catholic.
As a political figure, Craig seems to have maintained a low profile, choosing the role of mediator rather than instigator. He voted faithfully with fellow tory Gurnett throughout his lengthy tenure as councilman from 1834 to 1849. Craig and Gurnett, assisted by Ritchey who was also a member of council, were instrumental in securing the position of city surveyor for John George Howard in May 1843. Craig was, as well, an early member of the St Patrick’s Benevolent Society and of the Emigrant Society of Upper Canada.
Craig died in 1854 of pneumatic gout. Shortly after his death, his widow presented a petition to city council requesting a remission from taxes. This, and the fact that his burial costs went unpaid, suggest that he had died heavily in debt. Although Craig’s achievements seem modest when compared with those of many of his contemporaries, he clearly made significant contributions to art, architecture, and local politics. An obituary in the Globe described him as an “old and respected inhabitant.”
[John Craig’s artistic career can be traced through reviews and notices of his designs published in Toronto newspapers. His name appears regularly in the J. G. Howard papers (MTL) with respect to various designs in stained glass, coats-of-arms, and painted interiors produced for Howard’s buildings. Comments on his windows for the second St James can be found in Murphy, Winter studies and summer rambles, 1: 274. Craig’s participation in Toronto’s early art societies is recorded in the Soc. of Artists & Amateurs of Toronto, Catalogue of the first exhibition . . . (Toronto, 1834; [rev. ed., 1848?]), and in the Toronto Society of Arts: first exhibition, 1847 . . . and second exhibition, 1848 . . . , probably published in Toronto in 1847 and 1848. Connell’s impressions of the city seal are mentioned in reviews of the 1834 exhibition which appeared in the Patriot (Toronto), 11 July 1834. For further details see also CTA, Information file, city seal.
Two examples of Craig’s work are known to survive. Three of four stained glass windows designed for Duncan Campbell’s house (now the Lynnwood Arts Centre) in Simcoe, Ont., have been identified as his (see British Colonist (Toronto), 4 Nov. 1851, for a contemporary description). Another work, the Arms of George IV at the Middlesex County Court-house (London, Ont.), is described in MacRae and Adamson, Cornerstones of order, 98.
The most useful sources for Craig’s political career include the City Council minutes, CTA, RG 1, A, especially 8 April, 2 Oct., 22 Nov. 1834; 16 April 1849; 18 April, 1 May 1854; B. D. Dyster, “Toronto, 1840–1860: making it in a British Protestant town” (1v. in 2, phd thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1970); and the local newspapers. c.l.]
ACC-T, Little Trinity Church (Toronto), reg. of baptisms, 1844–61, no.173. MTL, Carfrae papers, scrapbook; Toronto, Mechanics Institute papers, D25 (Exhibitions, 1847–49: accounts and exhibits). St James’ Cemetery and Crematorium (Toronto), Record of burials, 28 March 1854. British Colonist (Toronto), 27 June 1845, 29 Dec. 1848. Colonial Advocate, 5–17 July 1828; 30 Jan., 13 Feb.–27 March 1834. Correspondent and Advocate (Toronto), 11 Dec. 1834. Courier of Upper Canada (Toronto), 5 May 1835. Globe, 30 Dec. 1848, 30 March 1854. Loyalist (York [Toronto]), 6–27 Dec. 1828. Toronto Patriot, 24 May 1833, 5 March 1841. Toronto Star, 20 Nov. 1844. Harper, Early painters and engravers. Toronto directory, 1837–51. W. [G.] Colgate, Canadian art; its origin & development (Toronto, 1943; repr. 1967). MacRae et al., Hallowed walls, 148. Robertson’s landmarks of Toronto, 1: 336. Scadding, Toronto of old (1873). C. D. Lowrey, “The Society of Artists & Amateurs, 1834: Toronto’s first art exhibition and its antecedents,” RACAR (Montreal), 8 (1981): 99–118.