The University of Guelph Collection was established in 1964 when the founding colleges—the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC, est. 1874), the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC, est. in Toronto 1862, relocated to Guelph 1922), and Macdonald Institute (est. 1903)—amalgamated to become the University of Guelph. As individual institutions, the Colleges each fostered and maintained unique relationships to arts and culture.
Early in their history, faculty, staff, and students of the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) began an initiative to collect and enjoy art works by local artists. In 1926, the OAC purchased a painting by Tom Thomson called The Drive (circa 1916), which today is the keystone piece in the Group of Seven collection at the Art Gallery of Guelph; in 1990, the OAC Class of 1951 marked their 40th anniversary with the commission of Early Morning Sunbreak (1991), a major watercolour painting by Elora artist Barry McCarthy; and in 2005, Kivioq’s Journey Ends by Inuit artist William Noah was commissioned with funds donated by the Class of 1955 on the 50th anniversary of their graduation from Macdonald Institute.
Throughout their history, the OVC has been instrumental in the acquisition of many important works for the University of Guelph Collection including: Evan Macdonald, Killean Cemetery (1970), an oil-on-canvas painting purchased in 1970; and Frances Gage, Mindemoya (1990), a bronze sculpture that was commissioned with funds donated by the Daily Mercury and the Ontario Veterinary College with assistance from the Ontario Government through the Ministry of Culture and Communications, which became the tenth permanently-sited outdoor art work in the Donald Forster Sculpture Park.
In 1903, Macdonald Institute began educating students through a program of applied art in an art-historical context and after the Second World War courses in design and art history were made a compulsory part of the BH Sc. curriculum. To date, Macdonald Institute has supported the acquisition of over 80 art works in the collections at AGG including important paintings by regional artists Gordon Couling (1913-1984, who taught at Macdonald Institute and became the founding chair of the University of Guelph’s Fine Art Department), Evan Macdonald (1905-1972), and Effie Smith (1867-1960). Macdonald Institute has also contributed to the acquisition of art works by major Canadian artists including Lawren Harris (1885-1970) of the Group of Seven whose oil-on-canvas painting Pines, Kempenfelt Bay (1923-1925) was purchased in 1953 and Harold Town (1924-1990) whose oil-on-masonite painting Log Pyre (1956) was purchased in 1956.