McKay Art Centre
In the early 1950s, Frederick Varley met a woman that would be a major influence towards the end of his life. Kathleen Gormley McKay or Kathy as she was affectionately called, was looking for a tangible way to express her passion for the arts when she met Fred Varley. There are many versions to the story of their meeting, the most common of them being that she had heard of Varley’s reputation as a portrait artist and visited him to commission a portrait of her husband Donald, a retired chemist. Others claim that the McKay’s already knew Varley and contacted him to purchase another painting.
During Fred Varley’s illness in 1952, the McKays provided him with care in their home until he recovered. It was there that their friendship grew and Fred Varley would live with them during final decade of his life.
In 1957 the family moved to Kathleen’s family home; the Salem-Eckhardt House. This Gothic revival style cottage also located on Unionville’s historic Main Street was built in circa. 1835. The McKay’s turned the basement into a studio for Fred, which looks today much as it did over 40 years ago.
Fred Varley was given stability, a home, and a family; while Kathy was introduced to the exhilarating mysteries of modern art, an experience that pushed her to buy works of art by many famous Canadian modernists.
After Kathleen’s death in 1996, The McKay House was purchased from Kathleen McKay by the City of Markham in around 1978. As the McKay House was owned by the City of Markham, upon Kathleen McKay’s death, the large collection came by bequest to the City of Markham.
Today, the house, now named the McKay Art Centre is owned by the City of Markham and run by the Varley Art Gallery. It is used for a variety of artistic pursuits: Varley’s studio is an art class for the Varley Art Gallery’s children and adult programs; the main floor is an exhibition space for local and regional artists; and the second floor is office space.