Internationally renowned bronze artist Dave Clendining wants to save the art school he’s been building for the last three decades. But newly-drawn cadastre lines by Quebec put those plans in peril.
The province is laying claim to a corner of his land and says if he wants to continue running his Summit Studios art and nature centre, he will have to rent the space from them, buy it or leave.
“It could potentially ruin everything that took 30 years to build,” Clendining, 68, told the Low Down while in his Lac-des-Loups home.
In June 2018, while he was in England, a letter from the Quebec Ministère de l'Énergie et des Ressources naturelles (MERN) arrived at his home stating that a corner of his land along Chemin Pontbriand encroaches on Quebec territory and that he needed to contact MERN. By the time he arrived back in Canada, got the letter and contacted officials, the two-week grace period had passed and the ministry told him that he would either have to rent from them for about $400 a month, buy it from them at appraised value or leave. He said he was blindsided.
He’s completed “99 per cent” of his vision for Summit Studios, a place where up to 19 artists can live, learn and create around the peaceful waters of Lac à Guilbeault in west La Pêche.
“We’re advertising this as an artist residence – not just any artists, qualified artists – and an art school and nature centre,” Clendining said.
All that’s left is some exterior work on some of the buildings.
The school includes his home, two cottages, a school house for mould-making, bronze casting, painting and drawing classes, his workshop and studio, and a Computer Numerical Control – or CNC – machine workshop.
“Thirty years ago I started all this with a chainsaw,” Clendining said, sitting next to the woodstove with his faithful dog Choupette lying at his feet in the home he built.
Clendining has a voice as friendly as his smile, but a handshake that’s a testament to a lifetime of working with his hands. He felled the trees and milled the wood to expand the shack that he bought in 1990. The raw wood walls are adorned with trinkets and art from his travels and work, and he could tell a story about each of them.
Clendining is originally from Calgary, Alberta and has been working with bronze since the ‘70s. He has worked on Hollywood movies such as “Interview With The Vampire” and his art is displayed internationally including in the Smithsonian Institute of Technology in Washington, D.C., at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, and more.
The land at the centre of the dispute is a corner of an eight-acre property across the lake narrows from Clendining’s home. Quebec lays claim to a small corner of it – about 750 square metres – but it’s the corner where a cottage sits.
“[Quebec’s new property] line stops right outside the front door of the cottage. I still have the outhouse, deck, firepit and driveway,” Clendining said.
He bought the property in 2010 for $28,500, but the structure hadn’t been used since the ‘60s or ‘70s.
“It was in rough shape,” Clendining said.
He said that he fixed the foundation, redid the floors, put in new windows, rebuilt the decks, renovated the kitchen and installed new water and electrical systems to the tune of over $26,000.
He said he needs that cottage both as a place for his groundskeeper to live in seasonally now and eventually for artists to dwell.
“Honestly I need [the groundskeeper] here. Sure, I built all of this the last 30 years, but I’ve reached an age and trees are getting heavier,” Clendining said.
MERN denied multiple Low Down interview requests spread over two weeks. But according to the 2018 letter from MERN, the encroachment was a result of a cadastral reform in the Aldfield Township area. Clendining said that, to his understanding, Quebec redrew some property lines on provincial property which impacted his land.
The only hope Clendining said he has is to prove that the cottage is older than 1985. He said that would qualify him for squatter’s rights. A letter from the ministry requested that Clendining provide proof of occupancy of the property before 1985.
Another MERN letter to Clendining – this one is undated but he said it’s from 2021 – states that the ministry looked at historical aerial photos, land title records and municipal property tax records for proof of the cottage’s existence before 1985.
“In all cases, our searches were unsuccessful,” the letter states.
“I’m guessing [MERN] didn’t do their homework at all,” Clendining added.
One visit to the La Pêche municipal office and one $10 fee later, Clendining went home with tax records from 1985 and 1980 and a 1950 building permit for the cottage.
“It was simple,” he said.
He said he sent copies of the documents to MERN in February, but hasn’t heard back.
Clendining also sent these documents to the Low Down.
He said he doesn’t think the fight is over.
“I think there’s going to be a court order to vacate,” Clendining said, despite the requested proof that he sent.
He said he’s willing to fight the ministry in court.
“It’s very unjust and to me it’s bullying, and I can’t stand bullies,” Clendining said.
Visit summit-studios.ca for more information on Clendining’s art and art school.