Fonds LA.SC065 - Van Horne family fonds

Identity area

Reference code



Van Horne family fonds


  • 1876-1999 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

326 cm of textual records and graphic material 1148 photographs 75 paintings 14 prints 10 drawings 1 technical drawing

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Sir William Cornelius Van Horne (1843-1915), principal builder of the Canadian Pacific Railway and prominent businessman, was an important collector of paintings and Japanese ceramics and an accomplished amateur painter. Born in Illinois, he worked for American railway companies in various capacities until 1882, when he was appointed general manager of Canadian Pacific Railway, the construction of which was completed under his direction. In 1888, Van Horne was elected president of the company, and in 1899, he became president of its board of directors. He retired from active work in the company in 1910. Van Horne incorporated the Cuba Company in 1900 following a visit to that country; under its operations he built and operated a railway, sugar plantations and hotels. In North America, Van Horne was executive or director of more than 40 companies, and was considered one of Canada’s most successful businessmen. William Van Horne married Lucy Adaline, daughter of Erastus Hurd of Galesburg, Illinois, in 1867. They had 3 children: Adaline (1868-1941), William (1871-1876), and Richard Benedict (1877-1931). The family lived principally in Montreal, and also had residences in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, and in Cuba. Van Horne was knighted (KCMG) in 1894. Sir William’s art collection is considered to have been the most prominent pre-First World War collection in Montreal. It contained Old Master and 19th-century European paintings and Japanese ceramics, and also featured ship models and European decorative arts. Van Horne lent regularly to the Montreal Art Association (precursor to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) from 1887 to 1912. His reputation as a collector resulted in his appointment to the consultative committee of the Burlington Magazine in London from 1905 until his death in 1915. Following Sir William’s death, the bulk of his ceramics collection was left to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the art collection passed to the joint ownership of Lady Van Horne and her children Adaline and Richard Benedict, according to terms of Sir William’s will. Lady Van Horne died in 1929. Under the terms of her will, a portion of the art collection went to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the rest was shared among her children. Richard Benedict Van Horne died in 1931. His widow, Edith Molson, had no claim to any share in the remains of the art collection; subsequently she married R. Randolph Bruce. A fire at the Van Horne mansion in 1935 did not damage any paintings. Adaline Van Horne, who had been managing the collection through the 1930s, died unmarried and childless in 1941. Ownership of the collection then passed to Richard Benedict and Edith’s son William C.C. Van Horne (1907–1946) and his wife Margaret (d.1987), familiarly known as “Billie” (née Hannon). When William died, leaving no heir, ownership of the collection remained with his wife. Margaret Van Horne managed the art collection for over forty years, corresponding with art dealers and conservators in order to achieve optimal values for paintings. Numerous paintings were sold in several different auction sales over the course of this time. She continued to live in the Van Horne mansion until 1972. The house was demolished the following year to great protest in the architectural conservation community. When Margaret Van Horne died in 1987, the remainder of the collection passed to her brother Matthew Hannon. Upon Matthew Hannon’s death in 1988, the remainder of the art collection passed to his heirs.

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Biographical history

Archival history

The papers now constituting series 1–5 (and items in later series) of the Van Horne Family fonds were inherited from her husband by Lucy Adaline, Lady Van Horne and her children Richard Benedict (d. 1931) and Adaline on Sir William’s death in 1915. When Adaline died in 1941, her nephew (Richard Benedict’s son) William inherited the papers. On his death five years later they became the property of William’s wife Margaret who subsequently augmented them with series 8–14. In 1987, on Margaret Van Horne’s death, her brother Matthew Hannon took possession of the papers until his death the following year, when they passed to his heirs. Matthew Hannon’s daughter Janet further added to the papers (series 15) and in 2000 transferred them to the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Records were transferred to the E. P. Taylor Research Library and Archives by Janet Hannon, July-October 2000.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Fonds consists of correspondence with art dealers, experts and auction houses; photographs of artworks; hand-painted illustrations of ceramics; inventories of art and ceramics collections; descriptive catalogues of the art collection; research notes on the provenance of works of art; art-related publications; and wills pertaining to the development, maintenance and dispersal of the Van Horne family collections of paintings and ceramics over the course of three generations in Montreal from late 19th to the end of the 20th century. Fonds is comprised of the following series: 1. Sir William Van Horne’s notebooks 2. Sir William Van Horne’s files 3. Sir William Van Horne’s collections record books 4. Photo reproductions of works of art 5. Illustrations of ceramics by Sir William Van Horne 6. Note card collections inventories 7. “Dummy” catalogue 8. Division of collection records 9. Miscellaneous documentation of collection 10. Adaline Van Horne’s correspondence 11. Miscellaneous inventories 12. Robert J. Wickenden catalogues 13. Margaret Van Horne’s files 14. Margaret Van Horne’s binders 15. Janet Hannon’s provenance notes

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


No further accruals are expected.

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Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Access to Series 16: Janet Hannon’s provenance notes is restricted until the death of Janet Hannon; otherwise access is open. Access to Special Collections is by appointment only. Please contact the reference desk for more information.

Conditions governing reproduction

Sir William Van Horne’s papers are in the public domain. Copyright belonging to other parties, such as that of photographs, may still rest with the creator of these items. It is the researcher’s responsibility to obtain permission to publish any part of the fonds.

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Notes area


In English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese.


Previously known as the Sir William Van Horne Papers.

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Archivist's note

Prepared by Gary Fitzgibbon, 2008.Revised in 2012 and 2016.
Uploaded and adapted by Nirvana Chainani, 2019.

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