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Near Okotoks, Alberta, Canada

Formally Recognized: 2009/05/07

Leighton House and Art Centre, near Okotoks; Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management (2008)
Leighton House
Leighton House and Art Centre, near Okotoks; Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management (2008)
Ballyhamage schoolhouse
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Other Name(s)

Leighton Art Centre

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2010/02/04

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Leighton House and Art Centre site contains numerous buildings and trails. The primary building is a one-storey, cruciform plan structure with a two-storey central tower. It was constructed in stages between 1952 and 1960. It is situated on a small rise, which gives it an impressive view of the surrounding landscape. It has predominately white walls, with dark trim and imitation half-timbering. The site also includes a former one-room schoolhouse with red drop siding and a hipped roof that is used as a classroom and studio, and numerous historic trails leading to points of interest on the property. The Leighton House and Art Centre site is located in a rural area near Millarville, approximately 30 kilometres southwest of Calgary.

Heritage Value

The heritage value of the Leighton House and Art Centre lies in its association with the Alberta-based artists Alfred Crocker Leighton (1901-1965) and Barbara Leighton (1909-1986). It also has cultural value as a gathering place and educational centre for Alberta's arts community.

A. C. and Barbara Leighton were two of the most significant figures in the history of art in Alberta. A. C. Leighton was an accomplished painter and contributed greatly to the development of an artistic culture in the province. His paintings were informed by the English watercolour tradition and he is known mainly for his scenic portrayals of the English countryside, the Canadian prairies, and the Rocky Mountains. Born in England, Leighton came to Canada in the 1920s to work as a promotional artist for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He remained in the country and in 1929 he was appointed the Art Director at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art in Calgary. During his time in the province, A. C. also founded the Alberta Society of Artists and an art school at Seebe, Alberta, which eventually became part of the Banff School of Fine Arts. Barbara was a talented artist in her own right and a direct associate in all of A. C.'s undertakings. In 1970, five years after A. C.'s death, she founded the Leighton Centre for Arts and Crafts. Four years later, she established the Leighton Art Foundation to encourage the general public to both produce and appreciate the visual arts.

In 1952, impressed by its inspirational setting, the Leightons purchased property near Millarville, Alberta. A. C. designed a home and furnishings that show the strong influence of the English Arts and Crafts movement. The residence was constructed using local craftsmen. The Leightons named their home "Ballyhamage" after a one-room schoolhouse that had been located nearby. The schoolhouse was later moved onto the property and converted into a studio classroom. The Leightons added more studio and living space to their home as their finances improved. The cruciform plan, central tower, numerous windows and skylights were designed to maximize natural light and to offer numerous views of the foothills, the Rocky Mountains and the surrounding countryside - ideal subjects for landscape painting. The former schoolhouse is a one-storey, wood frame building with red and brown siding and a hipped roof. Also of significance at the site are numerous historic and informal trails that lead to scenic vistas and other sites that have been favoured by the artists and students who have visited the centre.

The Leighton House and Art Centre is important to Alberta for its cultural value as an arts and crafts educational centre. A. C. Leighton's legacy is largely based on his paintings. However, his directorship at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art during a key period in its development and his establishment of the Seebe art school demonstrate that he had a considerable impact on arts education in Alberta. Although Barbara Leighton was a skilled artist, her legacy rests largely in her promotion of arts education in Alberta. She believed that every person could be an artist and encouraged people to develop their artistic skills through training and experimentation. The Leighton House and Art Centre had been used occasionally as an informal gathering place for other established artists during A. C.'s life. After his death, Barbara used the site to more intensively promote, encourage and educate aspiring visual artists. The one-room schoolhouse was converted into a studio and a classroom for arts and crafts lessons. Eventually the main house and studios were integrated into a larger arts training centre. In 1970, the Ballyhamage site was officially opened as the Leighton Centre for Arts and Crafts.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 2261)

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that define the site's heritage value include:

Main Building
- its continued association, through its museum, gallery and educational mission purpose, with A. C. and Barbara Leighton's contributions to Alberta's artistic culture;
- its location on the crest of a hill;
- the cruciform design plan;
- the central two-storey tower;
- fenestration pattern, large windows and skylights;
- imitation half-timbering and imitation wattle-and-daub exterior and interior walls;
- the Arts and Crafts style and Craftsman-inspired interior finishings and furniture;
- exposed interior fir beams;
- polished wooden floors;
- hand-crafted furniture and built-in fireplace and cabinetry;
- embroidered draperies;
- mural painted on the main bathroom walls.

"Ballyhamage" schoolhouse
- form, mass and scale;
- large grouping of wood windows;
- exterior roof and lower portion of the walls clad with cedar shakes;
- interior walls and ceiling clad with cedar shingles/shakes;
- original wood flooring and cast iron stove.

- numerous informal historic trails to popular painting locations;
- unimpeded view of the Rocky Mountains, foothills and surrounding countryside;
- small pump house located immediately to the southwest of the main building.




Recognition Authority

Province of Alberta

Recognition Statute

Historical Resources Act

Recognition Type

Provincial Historic Resource

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)


Theme - Category and Type

Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
Learning and the Arts
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life
Architecture and Design

Function - Category and Type


Public Art or Furnishings


Single Dwelling

Architect / Designer




Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 2261)

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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