Thursday, December 2nd 2021
Honouring Fred Mendel's Gift: a Lesson in History PDF Print E-mail

As the only surviving grandson of Fred Mendel and the son of Johanna Mendel Mitchell (Fred Mendel's daughter), who was Honourary Chair of the Mendel Gallery for approximately twenty-five years until her death in 1999, I am in complete shock.

The communication from Mendel director Gregory Burke dated June 5th states that "many people have asked me about the Mendel's legacy and even probed about the Mendel family's thoughts on Remai Modern. I'm happy to share the Mendel family's support of our project with them."

This is emphatically not a true nor a considered representation of the entire Mendel family's feelings about this Sunday's closure of the Mendel Art Gallery. The Mendel/Mitchell/Merchant side of the family, which includes seven direct bloodline descendants of Fred and Claire Mendel, have always been extremely vocal about their displeasure regarding the "cultural corporate hijacking" of Fred Mendel's legacy and great gift spanning fifty years to the citizens of Saskatoon.But what I find particularly distasteful is the attempt to politically whitewash this "cultural genocide" and somehow alter the actual history and spirit of Fred Mendel's vision for Saskatoon and the Gallery.

Apart from the fact that both myself and my sister Camille Mitchell (also a major donor and former Honorary Chair of the Mendel Foundation), whose letters to Saskatoon's City Council asking to be heard at a critical juncture in the decision-making process regarding the expansion and preservation of the Mendel were completely ignored by the Mayor and Council; and apart from the fact that the Mendel/Mitchell/Merchant descendants of Fred Mendel were not consulted, nor invited to the fiftieth anniversary of the Mendel, nor solicited by the StarPhoenix as to their input regarding the milestone closing of this institution to which my family and my family's business (Inercon/Mitchell's Gourmet Foods) had made the largest and most significant longstanding financial contributions for most of the Mendel's fifty-year history, there is a huge breach of the original vision and cultural spirit of the Mendel, which have seemingly now lost their firm rooting in the community.

The reason my grandfather founded the Mendel Art Gallery, that he decided to donate one third of the cost of construction of the Gallery and also gift the crown jewels of our family's "Group of Seven Collection", was to give something back to the community that had supported him in the form of a celebration of Canadian cultural identity. The purpose of the Mendel was to highlight the very best of what Canadian art had to offer, and to ensure that a uniquely Canadian voice, indeed a Prairie voice, indeed a Saskatchewan voice of local artists could be given birth and nurtured to grow and evolve in the community. This was the mission and success of the Mendel Art Gallery. Prominent Saskatchewan artists who Fred Mendel mentored and aided, like Bill Perehudoff, Ernest Lindner, and Eli Bornstein, were given opportunities and supported by the Mendel family. Even Joni Mitchell was influenced by Fred Mendel's art consciousness and her own art was shown at the Mendel Art Gallery.

This community spirit and engagement started in Fred Mendel's personal art gallery above the family meat packing plant in the 1940's, some 20 years before the The Mendel Art Gallery opened and is a strong part of my family's story and cultural heritage. Rather than buying Picasso prints, Fred Mendel opted instead to focus his attention on encouraging and supporting the young, hungry and developing artists of the Prairies, thereby helping to give birth to a distinctive Prairie voice. With the closure of the Mendel Art Gallery, I fear this spirit, which is the great and valuable gift of my grandfather and the true birthright of the Mendel Art Gallery, is threatened to be lost forever in Saskatoon if it is not an integral part of the Remai Modern's founding principles.

StarPhoenix: 'It's like a funeral': Mendel closes for final time as an art gallery PDF Print E-mail

As hundreds of people made their way through the doors of the Mendel Art Gallery one last time, the mood was bittersweet.

The Mendel served as the city's premier art gallery for more 50 years.

On Sunday, that legacy ended as the doors were closed to the public permanently.

Read the article on the StarPhoenix website...

Saskaboom PDF Print E-mail

From the United Airlines Hemispheres Inflight Magazine

The Mendel, it turns out, has been at the center of a bitter dispute, one rooted in Saskatoon's burst of good fortune.

A few years ago the Mendel board of trustees announced plans to expand and, in conjunction with the city council, decided to relocate the Mendel to ritzy River Landing, a $93 million project that would also include changing the name of the 49-year-old institution to the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan. Camille Mitchell, a granddaughter of gallery founder Fred Mendel, was furious. "By basically stealing the paintings of the Mendel Gallery and stripping the Mendel name," she told a local newspaper, "[the board] has a great way to get more money in their pockets."

Read the original article...

Mayor's numbers don't add up - Letter to the Editor PDF Print E-mail

Letter to the Editor, Saskatoon Express, published in the June 17-23, 2013 edition:

In Mayor Don Atchinson's column (Let's turn the sod for new gallery, June 3 - 9), the numbers cited for the Remai Gallery compared to the Mendel gallery expansion are different from those previously cited.

In the interests of clarity, following are the actual numbers, easily found in newspaper and City Hall documents online:

According to the City of Saskatoon's budget for 2009, the city's financial commitment to the 45,000 square-foot $24-million Mendel renovation/expansion was officially $4.6 million, not $26.6 million as stated in Mayor Atchison's Express column. The Mendel expansion plan would create a state-of-the-art facility that would serve a city of 500,000 and accommodate large "A-list" exhibitions previously unavailable here. It would be almost double its existing size, store the entire collection, and have a river-view restaurant,. No parkade would be required.

This $4.6 million is a mere fraction of the city's commitment for the Remai gallery/event centre. The civic taxpayer is by far the largest investor in the Remai project, contributing (as noted in the mayor's column) $42 million towards the gallery and parkade when combined.

Add to this figure the $16 million in related "outside costs" as cited by the city planning department, reported in the local media and mentioned in Elaine Hnatyshyn's recent Express column and one realizes that the civic taxpayer is on the hook for $59 million of the total project cost of $110 million. So far.

That's enough to replace the Traffic Bridge twice over.

Mayor Atchison refers to unanticipated rising costs of certain renovation projects (like the proposed Mendel plan), but fails to mention the wildly expanding capital construction costs of the Remai gallery/parkade project. Before a shovel even hit the ground, the cost went from its original estimate of $55 million to almost $93.8 million.

David Geary

Edifice complex - G&M Letter to the Editor PDF Print E-mail

Letters to the Editor, Globe and Mail, Wednesday, May 1, 2013, p. A10

Re Housing Great Art, At The Cost Of Renouncing It (Arts, April 27):

The problem Lisa Rochon cites exists in Saskatoon also, where the renovation/expansion plan for the much-beloved, architecturally significant, structurally sound Mendel Art Gallery has been jettisoned by council in favour of a far costlier alternative.

Once finished, the renamed and relocated gallery/event centre would be an overscaled, multi-utility, undistinguished boxy structure jammed behind a theatre complex and up against an elevated freeway.

Like the projects mentioned in the article, this initiative is highly controversial and divisive.

The Freudian-sounding "edifice complex" – defined at as "the tendency of politicians to have large buildings and stadiums built as a concrete reminder of their 'legacy' " – is one explanation at work in these cases.

A headline on a column in The Guardian put a finer point on it: "Size is everything to a mayor consumed by edifice complex."

David Geary, Saskatoon


By Charles Hamilton, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, March 15, 2013

Building prices increasing

The Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan project at River Landing is going to cost the city $9.7 million more than originally anticipated, but Mayor Don Atchison says higher construction costs are just a reality of doing business in a booming city.

“We are totally open and transparent. There aren’t numbers being hid or covered up,” Atchison said in an interview Thursday.

The art gallery project, which includes an underground parkade at River Landing, was originally pegged at $84 million, but a report going before city council on Monday puts the total cost of the art gallery and the underground parkade at $93.7 million. At a total cost of $74.2 million the art gallery itself is going to need an additional $3.5 million, but the majority of new cost will be driven up by the 160-stall underground parkade. Labour costs and the rising price of concrete mean the parking structure will cost id="mce_marker"9.5 million — $6.2 million more than expected.

“The price of construction is higher here now than it is in the rest of Western Canada. Those are things that one didn’t foresee occurring,” Atchison said. “You have a River Landing parkade that is literally all concrete. The highest concrete prices are here in Saskatoon. If it’s almost all concrete there isn’t much you can do.”
$9.7 Million MORE???? Time to stand up and voice your disapproval! PDF Print E-mail

Write to your government at:

Kevin Doherty
Minister of Parks, Culture and Sport
Legislative Building
Regina, SK S4S 0B3

Although I'd remind you that, in his February 19 letter to me, he re-committed to the provincial government's financial pledge to the Remai Gallery.

The Hon. James Moore
Minister of Canadian Heritage
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0M5 ............ no postage is necessary.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6 ................... no postage necessary

The Hon. Denis Lebel
Minister of Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities
c/o Infrastructure Canada
180 Kent Street, Suite 1100
Ottawa, ON K1P 0A6

Premier Brad Wall
226 Legislative Building
Regina, Saskatchewan S4S 0B3

Mendel Supporters : Do you know where your donations went? PDF Print E-mail

From the StarPheonix, January 12, 2013

When Camille Mitchell donated to the Mendel Art Gallery expansion back in 2007 she thought the money would go directly to the gallery named for her grandfather, Fred Mendel. She was surprised, then, when her name showed up on a website listing her as a donor to the Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan - a project she strongly opposes. 

"I don't know where that money went or why I was on that list," the prominent actress said. "I didn't want anyone in Saskatoon to think I was supporting this move." 

Mitchell has been a leader in the movement trying to save the existing gallery and has been funding the group's website at When she donated money, she says, it was to help expand and renovate the existing Mendel, not to help fund the building that will replace it.

Read the rest of the article on the StarPheonix website.

Referendum petition to save the Mendel and stop the Remai. Will you help? PDF Print E-mail

An ad hoc "Save the Mendel" lobby is organizing a referendum petition to force a binding referendum on the Mendel/Remai issue.

Our goal: To enlist 240 or so citizens to each obtain 100 signatures, thereby surpassing the required 23,660 total (i.e., 1/10th of the population) as specified by the city clerk.

With 2,600 signatures already on the website and two media polls indicating roughly 70% of respondents against the proposed Remai Gallery, we anticipate plenty of support for the petition.

If you'd be willing to take a petition sheet, send an e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Simply provide your name, address, and phone number and we'll get back to you. Meanwhile, please spread the word about this pro-Mendel initiative.

At issue: Would you rather have $4.6-million in civic taxes go to an expanded, refurbished Mendel (see city's 2009 Budget) or $34-million in civic taxes toward the $84-million Remai Gallery (parkade included). That cost-differential would bankroll a new Traffic Bridge - or a lot of road maintenance.

No politician could publicly oppose an initiative that seeks to find out whether or not there's grassroots support for the Remai Gallery. If there is—fine. Let it proceed. If not, the civic administration could then re-direct its energies where it was a few years ago—i.e., to enlarging and renovating the Mendel Gallery on the riverbank—as per 111(1) of The Cities Act.

Please consider taking one of our petitions. It's not too late to stop the un-wanted, un-needed, and unaffordable Remai. And may the voice of the people be heard.

The Mendel Renovation... PDF Print E-mail

The Mendel Expanded on Spadina : What Our Landmark Mendel Art Gallery could be...

Mendel Art Gallery Renovation Rendering

Click on the image above to view a larger version.

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