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Leighton House and Art Centre

Okotoks, Near

Other Names:
Leighton Art Centre

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Leighton House and Art Centre site contains numerous buildings and trails. The primary building is a one-storey, cruciform plan structure with a two-storey central tower. It was constructed in stages between 1952 and 1960. It is situated on a small rise, which gives it an impressive view of the surrounding landscape. It has predominately white walls, with dark trim and imitation half-timbering. The site also includes a former one-room schoolhouse with red drop siding and a hipped roof that is used as a classroom and studio, and numerous historic trails leading to points of interest on the property. The Leighton House and Art Centre site is located in a rural area near Millarville, approximately 30 kilometres southwest of Calgary.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Leighton House and Art Centre lies in its association with the Alberta-based artists Alfred Crocker Leighton (1901-1965) and Barbara Leighton (1909-1986). It also has cultural value as a gathering place and educational centre for Alberta's arts community.

A. C. and Barbara Leighton were two of the most significant figures in the history of art in Alberta. A. C. Leighton was an accomplished painter and contributed greatly to the development of an artistic culture in the province. His paintings were informed by the English watercolour tradition and he is known mainly for his scenic portrayals of the English countryside, the Canadian prairies, and the Rocky Mountains. Born in England, Leighton came to Canada in the 1920s to work as a promotional artist for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He remained in the country and in 1929 he was appointed the Art Director at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art in Calgary. During his time in the province, A. C. also founded the Alberta Society of Artists and an art school at Seebe, Alberta, which eventually became part of the Banff School of Fine Arts. Barbara was a talented artist in her own right and a direct associate in all of A. C.'s undertakings. In 1970, five years after A. C.'s death, she founded the Leighton Centre for Arts and Crafts. Four years later, she established the Leighton Art Foundation to encourage the general public to both produce and appreciate the visual arts.

In 1952, impressed by its inspirational setting, the Leightons purchased property near Millarville, Alberta. A. C. designed a home and furnishings that show the strong influence of the English Arts and Crafts movement. The residence was constructed using local craftsmen. The Leightons named their home "Ballyhamage" after a one-room schoolhouse that had been located nearby. The schoolhouse was later moved onto the property and converted into a studio classroom. The Leightons added more studio and living space to their home as their finances improved. The cruciform plan, central tower, numerous windows and skylights were designed to maximize natural light and to offer numerous views of the foothills, the Rocky Mountains and the surrounding countryside - ideal subjects for landscape painting. The former schoolhouse is a one-storey, wood frame building with red and brown siding and a hipped roof. Also of significance at the site are numerous historic and informal trails that lead to scenic vistas and other sites that have been favoured by the artists and students who have visited the centre.

The Leighton House and Art Centre is important to Alberta for its cultural value as an arts and crafts educational centre. A. C. Leighton's legacy is largely based on his paintings. However, his directorship at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art during a key period in its development and his establishment of the Seebe art school demonstrate that he had a considerable impact on arts education in Alberta. Although Barbara Leighton was a skilled artist, her legacy rests largely in her promotion of arts education in Alberta. She believed that every person could be an artist and encouraged people to develop their artistic skills through training and experimentation. The Leighton House and Art Centre had been used occasionally as an informal gathering place for other established artists during A. C.'s life. After his death, Barbara used the site to more intensively promote, encourage and educate aspiring visual artists. The one-room schoolhouse was converted into a studio and a classroom for arts and crafts lessons. Eventually the main house and studios were integrated into a larger arts training centre. In 1970, the Ballyhamage site was officially opened as the Leighton Centre for Arts and Crafts. The centre has played an important role in Alberta's arts community ever since.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 2261)

Character-Defining Elements
Key elements that define the site's heritage value include:

Main Building
- its continued association, through its museum, gallery and educational mission purpose, with A. C. and Barbara Leighton's contributions to Alberta's artistic culture;
- its location on the crest of a hill;
- the cruciform design plan;
- the central two-storey tower;
- fenestration pattern, large windows and skylights;
- imitation half-timbering and imitation wattle-and-daub exterior and interior walls;
- the Arts and Crafts style and Craftsman-inspired interior finishings and furniture;
- exposed interior fir beams;
- polished wooden floors;
- hand-crafted furniture and built-in fireplace and cabinetry;
- embroidered draperies;
- mural painted on the main bathroom walls.

"Ballyhamage" schoolhouse
- form, mass and scale;
- large grouping of wood windows;
- exterior roof and lower portion of the walls clad with cedar shakes;
- interior walls and ceiling clad with cedar shingles/shakes;
- original wood flooring and cast iron stove.

- numerous informal historic trails to popular painting locations;
- unimpeded view of the Rocky Mountains, foothills and surrounding countryside;
- small pump house located immediately to the southwest of the main building.


Street Address:
Community: Okotoks, Near
Boundaries: Portion of SE-21-21-2-W5
Contributing Resources: Building: 2
Landscape(s) or Landscape Feature(s): 1
Structure: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
50.795563 -114.212344 Secondary source NAD83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2009/05/07

Historical Information

Built: 1952 to 1960
Period of Significance: 1952 to 1974
Historic Function(s): Residence : Single Dwelling
Current Function(s): Community : Public Art or Furnishings
Context: Two of the most influential individuals in the history of painting in Alberta were Barbara and Alfred Crocker Leighton. Alfred was born in Hastings, England in October 1901. He attended the Hastings Grammar School, and the Hastings Municipal School of Art, where he studied architecture. He served with the Royal Flying Corps in World War I, and was severely injured after a crash. Following the war, he began to paint landscape scenes and was encouraged to submit his work to the Royal Society of British Artists. He became influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, established earlier by William Morris, and his paintings in this genre began to draw attention in the early 1920s. In 1924, the Canadian Pacific Railway commissioned him to do paintings about the western Canadian landscape in order to attract potential immigrant farmers. In 1925, Leighton was sent out to paint the scenic Canadian Rockies. He produced paintings exclusively for the CPR until 1929, when he resigned and accepted the position of Director of Art for the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and Art, a position he held until 1935, when he was forced to return to Britain due to ill health with his wife, Barbara (Harvey), an art student whom he had married in 1931. Barbara was born in 1909 in Plymouth, and would become a direct associate in all of Alfred's undertakings.

While at The SAIT, Alfred Leighton had been instrumental in founding the Alberta Society of Artists. In 1933, he established a summer school in the Kananaskis which was the precursor to the Banff School of Fine Arts. Upon returning to Canada in 1938, he resigned from SAIT and moved with Barbara to southern British Columbia. Here he tried farming at Chilliwack, but soon moved to Crescent Beach, where he and Barbara did commercial art work.

In 1952, the Leightons purchased an acreage near Millarville, where they designed and built a one-room dwelling with the idea of having it serve as a art studio, with adjoining rooms to be added later. It was named Ballihamish after the school district of which it was a part. The structure was designed in the form of a cross, which allowed painters to focus on different perspectives of the Millarville Valley and Rocky Mountains at different times of the season. It was completed over the course of many years, with the inheritance from Arthur Leighton's father in 1960 being a major contributing factor.

Following Alfred Leighton's death in 1965, Barbara Leighton established the Leighton Center for Arts and Crafts, which was officially opened in November, 1970. The 1928 Billihamish School was also brought in to become part of the complex. In 1974, she established the Leighton Foundation for the encouragement of art, and an arts and crafts center for all people to engage in landscape painting. The Foundation is currently housed in the Leighton Center, which includes a museum, art gallery, and educational programming.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-1349
Designation File: DES 2261
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 82358
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 2261)
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