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Walker's Fine Art & Estate Auctioneers
Walker’s – The Corporate History William Scott Walker, the founder of our family owned & operated company, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1910. In 1929 William’s uncle Peter Fyfe offered him an entry level position with his firm, Fyfe’s Antiques whereupon he would start his apprenticeship at their antique shop in Vancouver, B.C. According to Fyfe “The streets in Canada are paved in gold”. So Bill left home, after attending Edinburgh University and joined the company only to have the great depression of 1929 hit just a few months after his arrival. Although gold was something of a myth during these trying times William realized that this business was his calling and he found solid footing in Canada. His apprenticeship duties included traveling from coast to coast, coordinating the handling, promotion & sale of monthly antique shipments from the UK. For sixty years Fyfe’s were to send hundreds of thousands of objects in the form of complete auctions of period furniture, fine British & European art and decorative accessories to major cities in Canada & the US including Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, London, Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver & Seattle, Washington. In 1937, having chosen Ottawa as his home & with a passion for the arts, Bill founded “W.S. Walker Auctioneer”. While establishing his firm he relied on the close, existing relationship with Fyfe’s. Ottawans, in an active market with varied tastes, were highly receptive to the catalogued fine art & antique auction shipments. The client base expanded rapidly and William was well respected for his gentlemanly demeanor, code of ethics & good humour. Until 1942, these popular sales and local estate auctions were conducted with maturing experience and enthusiasm. But due to the inherent dangers of transatlantic shipping during the war years, antique deliveries were put on hold. William volunteered for service with the Canadian forces and remained on active duty until leaving as Captain at war’s end in 1945. Upon his return, William reopened the firm as both a retail antique gallery & auction house, with headquarters on Laurier Avenue, Ottawa and then later with expanded premises on Somerset Street. During the late 1940 & ‘50’s a number of prolific sales were conducted. Most notably, the auction of the Booth estate which was awarded to Walker’s after having been pursued by firms across Canada & the US. This monumental, single owner collection included wedding gifts & property from the Lois Booth marriage to Erik Frederik Christian Alexander, Crown Prince of Denmark. These major works by 19th artist Fantin Latour, Barbizon school, English Impressionism, signed 18th French furniture, Ming porcelain & palace carpets took three months to catalogue and 5 complete days to sell. Many trend setting prices were realized. During the late 1950’s and the first part of the next decade, Walker’s also conducted sales in Montreal for Fyfe’s antiques as their bi-monthly shipments would arrive. It was during these sale preparation that William was introduced to Charles MacKenzie; a Scottish cabinet marker who had newly arrived in Ottawa. Charles began with Walker’s at the Booth auction and remained an active & lively component in the company for decades. He is also well known as a professional antique furniture restorer & wildlife artist. Charles remained with Walker’s until his retirement in 2004 and was so devoted to our firm that during this 48 year association, he did not miss one auction. The Fyfe antique shipments, our ability to set record prices for rare art & the patronage of Ottawa’s society and political personalities helped to secure Walker’s reputation as trusted and able estate auctioneers. During the 1960 Walker’s conducted such notable sales as the complete collection of the Roxborough & Lord Elgin Hotels and collections of many distinguished Ottawa residents. As the company grew in scope & reach William’s son Peter joined the firm, marking the beginning of a family business “W.S. Walker & Son, Auctioneers & Appraisers”. A partnership was formed and Peter worked with his father both managing the sale logistics and eventually conducting live auctions. Over time and with expert tutelage Peter specialties grew to include period silver & antique furnishings. Through the 1970’s and 80’s father & son arranged many historic sales of importance. These included the Dr. Gilhooly & O’Brien estates, Meech Lake, Quebec, the estate of Graham Towers, President of Bank of Canada, & the Mr. Graham Kerr collection (Galloping Gourmet). Our rooms filled with rare objects and the devoted collectors who vie for their ownership. Up until William’s passing in 1987 he maintained such an unwavering interest and passion for our business that never once was the term retirement mentioned. Infact, one would say that the treasure hunt became woven in his very self. Peter then became sole director and soon after, organized the sale of the Rochester family collection located at Maple Lawn, Ottawa. The Rochester’s were one of Ottawa’s settling families and their stately stone mansion was tastefully appointed with period English furniture & associated decorative arts. The success of this sale led the trustees of the Billings Estate to choose Walker’s as their estate agents. The Billings were another of Ottawa’s respected, founding families. Their residence & expansive property, which today is operated as a museum, affords expansive views in the centre of Ottawa. That magnificent sale is still remembered by many today. In 1995 William’s grandson (Peter’s son) Jeffrey showed an emerging interest in learning the family business and joined the firm in an entry lever position. Within three years and having worked in each post, Jeffrey spearheaded the return to the catalogued auctions. His specialization in the field of 19th & 20th century paintings enables Walker’s to hold two international art auctions annually. The myth that rare art must be sold in larger centres to maximize return was shattered. Walker’s are the fourth largest Canadian fine art auctioneers and the second largest sellers of European art in Canada. Although the larger firms sell more artwork, like pieces are not sold for more money. Over the course of the following 20 international sales our established client base grew from the pre-existing number to include more than 140,000 clients. These collectors eagerly bought the storied contents of the Laurentian Club, the Country Club and the summer residence of a Union Carbide founder. Through these sales Walker’s established new price points for both Canadian & European paintings including household names such as Jean Francois Millet, J.B.C. Corot, Franklin Brownell, F.S. Coburn, Paul Caron, Frederick Banting (artist & inventor of insulin), Hague school works by the Famous Anton Mauve & J.H. Weissenbruch, Barbizon painted Felix Ziem and a myriad of others. The institution of the semi-annual fine art auctions saw its 20th sale in June 2007, which also coincided with the company’s 70th anniversary. Walker’s are now a consignment point for collectors, families & museums around the globe. One recent inclusion of four paintings by Canadian artist Albert Robinson from a Florida collection realized $420,000. It was just after the launch of their first fine art auction that Christine, William’s granddaughter, joined the company. Christine now holds the position of office administration & logistics and her pleasant nature creates a very positive environment. Our company is now well into the third generation of ownership with Christine, Jeffrey & Peter working in unison and today, seven decades since our inception we constantly adhere to the original values and ethics that William instilled. From his humble beginnings to the international scope our firm now encompasses it is these values that will be taught to the next generation to carry us forward. With this in mind, each new or established client is provided with the experience earned over the decades coupled with a level of service comparable to or exceeding their expectations. The combination of extensive knowledge and the use of every modern marketing tool allow Walker’s to effectively compete on a global scale. Moving into the next chapter of our business we welcome the opportunity to share our experiences with you, our clients, who are the true key to our success.
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