The Canadian Horse: le Petit Cheval de Fer


Canadian Horse

The Canadian Horse – 24 X 30 collage, gold leaf, on cradled wooden panel

In the summer of 1665, King Louis XIV of France began to send shipments of horses to the colony of New France, a territory now known as the Saint Lawrence Valley of Québec. Approximately eighty-two horses crossed the Atlantic between 1665 and 1671. The exact breeds of these horses are not known. We do know that the shipments included a mix of both light and draft breeds, at least some of which originated from the Royal Stables in Normandy, then the centre of horse breeding in France. A lover of fine horses, King Louis did not skimp.



Portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The first horses were leased by The French Crown to noblemen, military officers, and religious orders through notarized contracts which stipulated the conditions under which the animals were to be maintained and bred. Breach of contract had serious legal repercussions. These horses were working animals of great value, not just nags to pull the plow.

The goal was to create a self-sustaining horse population as rapidly as possible to meet the needs of the colonists in what was, by European standards, a harsh and frequently unforgiving land. Through the breeding program established by The French Crown, the French colonists developed a small, compact, well muscled horse which was strong and agile, had a steady temperament, and could survive cold winters on a scarcity of forage.



Evry at the trot (H. Vachon, owner)

“For almost one hundred years, the horses multiplied in a closed environment without the benefit of other blood lines. Their common source, lack of cross breeding, and their rapid reproduction created a particular genetic group giving rise to a unique breed: the Canadian horse.” (Société des éleveurs de chevaux canadiens)

And this is how The Little Iron Horse – le petit cheval de fer – was born.

From 1760 onward, following the English conquest of New France, many of these tough, all-purpose Canadian horses were shipped from the Saint Lawrence Valley to the American colonies and beyond. When crossed with British, and later American horses, the genetics of the Canadian Horse contributed to the foundation of other breeds such as the Morgan and the Standardbred.

The Canadian’s calm temperament and physical endurance made it an ideal horse for the battlefield. Thirty thousand Canadian horses were exported to supply the Union Army during the American Civil War. Thousands more died on the battle fields of Europe in the First World War.


Canadian royal horse

The massive exportation of Canadian horses in the nineteenth century, crossing with other breeds, losses on the battlefield, and the mechanization of agriculture led to the near extinction of the Canadian. The number of Canadian horses fell to as few as four hundred worldwide as recently as the 1970’s.

While the Canadian Horse has rebounded somewhat in recent years, most conservation groups continue to list it as ‘at risk’ or ‘vulnerable’, with estimates of five thousand pure bred Canadians currently in existence.



And We’re Off!

Today I went with my husband to pick up the plywood to make the supports for the Rare Beasts project. After doing some research, I opted to use 6 mm Baltic Birch which I purchased from a wholesaler in Montreal. Baltic Birch has the advantage of being very durable, fine grained, and smooth. It resists chips and does not splinter. In short, it is an ideal support surface for artwork. Here is the stack of plywood sheets in my woodworker husband’s workshop, waiting to be cut into the correct sizes for the collage supports.


Each panel will be braced with poplar to prevent the panels from warping. My husband suggested poplar because it is strong and light, both of which are considerations when making a series of fairly large artworks which will be exhibited over several years and will need to be moved from place to place.

I know it just looks like a stack of plywood, but I am excited!


Rare Breeds: A Renaissance!

Recently I was invited to attend the Rare Breeds Renaissance Conference to be held on June 10-12, 2016, in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. This conference is being organized by Rare Breeds Canada, a not for profit organization devoted to the conservation and promotion of rare breeds of livestock.

RBC Renaissance

I have been asked to be participate in a panel discussion on the importance of art in the promotion of rare breeds. One of the objectives of my Rare Beasts art project is to raise public awareness about the loss of biodiversity in agriculture, so I am looking forward to this panel discussion and conference and whatever inspiration might arise from them. It will also be nice to connect with other artists who share my interest in rare breeds.


In addition to the panel discussion, I have been invited to exhibit some of my artwork as part of a Rare Breeds themed group exhibition. The conference will be held at the Ross Creek Centre of the Arts.  The gallery space looks quite nice!


Click the links for more information about Rare Breeds Canada and the Ross Creek Centre of the Arts. Tickets for the conference are available here.

The Rare Beasts List (So Far)

My Rare Beasts Project is in its research phase. This is the two month period I allotted myself to decide upon which animals to include in the series and to find the farmers in my region who have these animals. Wherever possible I hope to visit local farms in order to photograph the animals myself. If this is not possible, my plan is to accumulate photo references -either copyright free or which I have permission to use- from wherever I can find them.

If you have breeds of livestock which are currently on the Livestock Conservation List then I would love for you to get in touch with me at or just click the ‘contact’ link on the right of this page.

It has been really difficult to narrow the list down, but these are the breeds I am especially interested in:




Milking Shorthorn

Lynch Lineback

Belted Galloway


Newfoundland Pony

Canadian Horse


Suffolk Punch





Large Black




Light Sussex

Rhode Island Red

Black Jersey Giant

White Jersey Giant

Silver Grey Dorking







Horned Dorset













Silver Appleyard


Ridley Bronze

Blue Slate

White Holland

Horned Dorset Ram - Charcoal and white chalk on grey paper

Horned Dorset Ram – Charcoal and white chalk on grey paper

About this project


When we first moved to this farm almost a decade ago, I decided to buy some chickens. I had raised chickens when I was a little girl and was excited by the prospect of acquiring some of the breeds I had known and loved in my childhood. Little did I know that many of these breeds were now hard to find, and in some cases the breeds had almost completely vanished. Who would imagine that a chicken could be on an ‘endangered’ list? It seems crazy, but it is true.

 [I]t is estimated that about three-quarters of the genetic diversity found in agricultural crops have been lost over the last century, and this genetic erosion continues. For example, today, 90% of our food energy and protein comes from only 15 plant and 8 animal species, with disturbing consequences for nutrition and food security. Wheat, rice and maize alone provide more than 50% of the global plant-based energy intake. (Convention on Biological Diversity)

Almost everything we eat is produced by fifteen plant and eight animal species. Let that sink in for a minute. And the breeds and varieties within those twenty-three species are few. About thirty percent of all livestock breeds face extinction.

Not only is vital genetic information being lost, but we are also losing part of our culture. The farm animals of songs and stories, animals which lived on the farms of our grandparents and great-grandparents, are disappearing at an alarming rate. These animals were not only useful and well adapted to their environments, but they were, and are, beautiful.

“Rare Beasts: A Bestiary of Rare and Endangered Farm Animals” is a project of twenty large collages, each depicting a farm animal which is currently on the Canadian Livestock Conservation List. The aim of the project is to stimulate discussion about the consequences of the loss of these animals and to celebrate their beauty and diversity.


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