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The International Writers Magazine: Canada Arts

Shurniak Art Gallery plays host to Canada's Pioneers
Habeeb Salloum

"You will not believe it! It’s one of Canada’s great museums here in the heart of the prairies." Patricia, a Saskatchewan tourist official commented as we stopped in front of the Shurniak Art Gallery, in Assiniboia, - a small town of some 2,305 souls that caters to a farm population in the surrounding countryside. She went on, "Would you have thought that this small town would have a fine art gallery?"

The Shurniak Art Gallery would not exist today except for the vision of one man: William Bill Shurniak of Polish heritage born near Assiniboia. He grew up on a family farm south of the town of Limerick, and began his illustrious career in Assiniboia as a junior clerk in the Imperial Bank of Canada. In the ensuing years he held various positions in this bank across Canada and later assuming international positions in numerous countries. In 1984 he became Executive Director of the Hutchinson Whampoa Ltd. in Hong Kong working for this firm for 20 years.

During his distinguished career Shurniak’s love for art never was far away from his mind. Throughout the years he collected an enormous amount of antiques and artwork pieces. However, while collecting these precious pieces he always had his place of birth in mind and after he retired he decided to bring his collection back home.
When Shurniak retired from the world of banking and finance he decided to build an art gallery in Assiniboia, about an hour’s drive south of Moose Jaw. He dedicated it to the memory of his parents, John and Anna Shurniak and other pioneers that suffered the hardships of homesteading in the Saskatchewan prairies, especially during the Great Depression of the 1930s. He donated $1 million to build the gallery that houses his collection of some 500 valuable artefacts, paintings and sculptures amassed during a lifetime of world travel.

The gallery consists of seven excellent exhibit rooms, a tearoom, landscaped courtyard, gardens, offices and outdoor sculptures. All offices and rooms are named after former and existing villages as well as municipalities in the area. As an example, the Marita’s Tearoom is named after the Rural Municipality of Old Post where Bill's parents homesteaded.

With the opening of Shurniak Art Gallery on July 30, 2005, Assiniboia left its former unsophisticated small town image behind. The gallery became the most important tourist attraction in the area, attracting art lovers even from overseas, making the town an art mecca on the map of southern Saskatchewan.

The relatively small town of Assiniboia in rural Saskatchewan has suddenly become very important in the world of Canadian art. The gallery features the works of important artists from the four corners of the world such as A.J. Casson, A.Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris, Arthur Lismer and Allen Sapp. As well, there are on display a fine collection of Canadian contemporary art by south Saskatchewan artists featured on a rotation basis. The displays are changed from time to time to give different artists a chance to be seen by the public.

Visitors enjoy an ‘all around the world art experience’ - a blend of international and Canadian art and artefacts such as the Group of Seven paintings, as well as art works from Asia, America and Europe.
Even though Bill Shurniak retired in 1997 he is still actively involved in the directorship with the companies for which he worked. As well, he enjoys classical music, reading and the outdoors - his love of nature has taken him hiking through most of the mountain ranges in the world.

When we chatted with Bill Shurniak he imbued an aura of maturity, kindness and gentleness. A fine distinguished man loaded with history, he believes in humankind and wanted his gallery to reflect himself. In his own words: "I want the gallery to be a place where people will feel free to visit frequently; [a place] a place they will be able to linger, relax, and enjoy the paintings." He continued, "Art is to be appreciated by people of all walks of life."

Today, Bill resides at times in Australia but mostly at his family’s farm near Limerick. Several years ago he restored the original family home located on 30 acres of land but he also had another home built on the property as his retreat and for family gatherings.

He wanted to spend his life near his art gallery in which he and the town of Assiniboia have a deep interest. The memory of the early settlers in the Assiniboia area who came from very diverse backgrounds from many countries, by way of the art collection in the Shurniak Art Gallery will be preserved. The museum is an enshrinement of the history of pioneering on the south Saskatchewan prairies.

For More Information, Contact:
Shurniak Art Gallery, 122-3rd Avenue West, Box 1178, Assiniboia, Saskatchewan Canada S0H 0B0. Tel: (306) 642-5292. Fax: (306) 642-4541. Email:

Shurniak Art Gallery’s Marita’s Tearoom, in addition to the displays, the Gallery’s tearoom offers light lunches as well as homemade cakes and pies, herbal teas, and specialty coffees - the only true cappuccinos and lattes in town.
Note: There are no fees to tour the Shurniak Art Gallery, which is open six days per week year round.
© Habeeb Salloum September 2008

Freelance Writer and Author
(Toronto), Ontario

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