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New release for Annora Brown’s ‘Old Man’s Garden’

Rocky Mountain Books has republished Fort Macleod artist Annora Brown’s book, ‘Old Man’s Garden.’

A book published 66 years ago by famed Fort Macleod artist Annora Brown has new life.

Author and art curator Mary-Beth Laviolette of Canmore oversaw the republishing of Old Man’s Garden: The History and Lore of Southern Alberta Wildflowers by Rocky Mountain Books.

Originally published in 1954, Annora Brown’s Old Man’s Garden tells the story of southern Alberta’s native plants and wild- flowers through art and in consideration of Indigenous traditional knowledge from the region.

“Old Man’s Garden is a Canadian classic because of its unique point of view,” Laviolette said. “A perspective that included not only an entertaining study of wildflowers and native plants but also the legends and uses of this flora by the Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) — whom she knew and respected — and those of early settlers and oldtimers. Old Man of course refers to the Niitsitapi spirit, Napi, who is responsible for the beautiful terrain of southwestern Alberta and its original people.”

“Long before we started to use the word ‘multicultural,’ Annora Brown felt it in her heart and was able to create a very different book because of it. Is Old Man’s Garden a guide? In a way it is. But it is much more than that. The historical content and anecdotes she weaves into Old Man’s Garden are terrific. She is an excellent writer and her black and white illustrations of 169 native plants are strong.”

“I was thrilled that Rocky Mountain Books wanted to reissue it again and put a lot of effort into its design,” Laviolette said. “It’s beautiful to hold and look at.”

Brown wrote Old Man’s Garden in the 1930s after she moved back to Fort Macleod to care for her elderly parents but it took time to find a publisher. It was first published in 1954 and then 1970. 

Brown, who was born in 1889 and died in 1987, was one of Alberta’s foremost early artists. She trained at the Ontario College of Art in the 1920s, and received instruction from the Group of Seven and Robert H. Holmes, one of Ontario’s foremost wildflower artists.

While living in Fort Macleod for most of her life, Brown worked as an artist from the 1930s to the mid-1980, teaching at Mount Royal College, the University of Alberta and the Banff School of Fine Arts, illustrating books and magazines, and selling her paintings in watercolour, tempera, and oil, and later, serigraph prints.

Mary-Beth Laviolette is an independent art writer and curator

Brown’s work is represented in private collections and various public venues such as the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, and Calgary’s Glenbow Museum.

According to Brown, Old Man’s Garden is a “book of gossip about the flowers of the West.”

Old Man’s Garden features 169 black-and-white drawings of flowers and native plants.

The new edition includes a foreward by Bishop Sidney Black of the Anglican Church about Brown’s writing and art in relation to the Blackfoot.

Rev. Black was elected and consecrated in 2017 to be the Indigenous Bishop of Treaty 7 territory, within the Diocese of Calgary.

Rev. Black is a member of the Blackfoot Confederacy from Siksika First Nation and has served in ministry with Indigenous peoples for many years, including leadership roles at the national level of the Anglican Church, where he helped to facilitate the on- going movement towards an autonomous Indigenous Church within the Anglican Church of Canada.

Old Man’s Garden features an introduction by Laviolette describing Brown’s contribution to Canadian art.

Laviolette is an independent art writer who specializes in Albertan and western Canadian art and is the author of A Delicate Art: Artists, Wildflowers and Native Plants of the West and An Alberta Art Chronicle: Adventures in Recent & Contemporary Art, 1970–2000, and co-author of Alberta Art & Artists: A Survey.

Recent exhibitions Laviolette has curated include Reckonings: Michael Cameron & Karen Maiolo (Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Banff); Pulse: Alberta Society of Artists at 80 Years (Triangle Gallery of Visual Arts, Calgary) and Alberta Mistresses of the Modern: 1935 to 1975 (Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton).

The new edition of Old Man’s Garden features full-colour images of Annora Brown’s later paintings of Blackfoot lodges and regalia, the dramatic landscape of the Oldman River and Waterton National Park, and her abiding, lifelong regard for the flora of her homeland.

Old Man’s Garden can be ordered by calling 1-800-665-3302 or by e-mail at It is also available in the Galt Museum book shop and from Amazon.

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