Artist Charles Pachter, second from right, pictured in his Moose Factory of Orillia studio, has a vision of turning the former Huronia Regional Centre into an art centre that would attract art lovers from across the world and make Orillia a cultural powerhouse. (GISELE WINTON SARVIS/THE PACKET & TIMES)
Orillia is wholly attractive to renowned Canadian artist Charles Pachter. He has fond childhood memories of the area, he is currently working to support the arts in Orillia and he has a grand vision of making Orillia an international cultural powerhouse.
“Pachter is passionate about Orillia,” said Mark Fletcher, co-chair of the board of directors with the Orillia Museum of Art and History (OMAH). “He's a huge fan of what we are doing and he puts money behind that support.”
Most recently, Pachter donated 44 works of art to OMAH that were auctioned off July 19 at his Moose Factory of Orillia studio. The auction raised about $60,000 for the Charles Pachter Endowment Fund for OMAH.
“We have to work hard all the time to fundraise and it was so cool and encouraging to have Charles once again host an event where we could raise that amount of money in one night,” said Fletcher.
A similar art auction held at OMAH last year raised more than $40,000, for a total local arts contribution of more than $100,000.
Money is needed to support OMAH, which reopened last year after a $2-million renovation, Fletcher said.
“We have increased operating costs and we have new programming that requires more funding, so this financial support goes a long way in helping us,” he said.
Pachter, 71, is an officer of the Order of Canada and said part of the mandate in being an officer is to “raise the bar,” and that's what he's trying to do in Orillia.
The painter, sculptor, children's book author and lecturer has come a long way in his life and career.
“As a young kid, in the summers, I grew up on various cottages on Lake Simcoe. I remember walking on hot asphalt pavement at five years old, listening to the frogs by the side of the road,” he said.
The real-estate “junkie” in the 1970s was one of the first people to see the potential in the Queen Street West area of Toronto. He purchased a dozen buildings in the area that became the artistic hot spot in the city. But then his empire collapsed due to interest rates topping 20%.
The silver lining was people took his art more seriously. But he hit the proverbial brick wall in the world of art. He couldn't survive after art dealers took up to 50% of the sales of his work.
He again saw the potential in Toronto real estate in Chinatown that others didn't see.
“I opened my own art gallery in Toronto called the Moose Factory in 2003 in a former funeral home right in the heart of the city and I never looked back.”
However exciting his life in Toronto had become, he pined for his childhood lakeside life. He bought an old house with an icehouse on Lake Simcoe in 2003.
“The place was a wreck, but it's right on the water and the view is stunning,” he said.
The renovated home has been featured in a variety of magazines, including Chatelaine and Cottage Life.
Pachter likes to work at the quiet studio in the spring and summer and come into Orillia for Wilkie's butter tarts.
“I don't believe how much potential there is in this town. It's charming. It's got history. It's got architecture. It has all kinds of famous art stars who came from here, who made an impact on the rest of Canada,” he said.
When he bought the old Western Avenue building in March 2013, he again overlooked the shortcomings of the dirt and lack of plumbing.
“... I could see the potential and the price was right,” he said.
He furnished his Orillia studio with furniture from the Goodwill, including a couch he purchased on seniors' day for $30.
Artists have transformative vision and are ahead of their time, and that's the type of vision needed in Orillia, he said.
The greatest untapped feature of the city is the former Huronia Regional Centre waterfront property.
“What if it could become a new international art centre like the Banff Centre or the Chautauqua Institution in western New York state, which gets 100,000 people every summer for lectures, concerts, symposiums, art exhibitions?” he said.
If the Huronia Regional Centre could be acquired and built by a consortium, it would change Orillia forever and provide employment for the region, he said.
Last November, Pachter gave Gail Lord, founder and co-president of Lord Cultural Resources, a tour of the property. Her company repurposes old buildings for art usage all over the world and was involved in the first plan to build OMAH at the former Samuel Steele Building in Orillia in the 1990s, said Pachter.
“It took her breath away, with thousands of feet of lakefront and the buildings. She said, 'This is a natural for an international centre,' and her first thought was a sculpture park,” said Pachter.
Foundries could be set up in the old buildings and sculptors could come from around the world to work. Students from universities and colleges across the province could come and study visual and performing arts at the centre during the summer.
“And the big one would be the Toronto Symphony Orchestra summer concerts at an outdoor amphitheatre. The Tanglewood Music Center (in Lenox, Mass.) has this,” he said.
Pachter said he realizes an international art centre in Orillia is a long-term vision, but it has been accomplished in several other places in North America. “I have a heartfelt belief in the validity of turning this into a destination.”