Cochrane Roots of Roland Gissing

pg 56 A Peep into the Past Vol 2 1994 Gordon and Belle Hall

Roland Gissing was born in England in the year 1895, the son of Alyernon Gissing. He was a nephew of the well-known English novelist and critic George Gissing and a brother of Alvin Gissing, who, for a short time was in 1927 owner and editor of the Cochrane Advocate. 

Roland came to Canada in 1913 hoping to make living as a cowboy. He worked at various ranches in the district and even tried homesteading in the Raven River country west of Innisfail. In 1916 Gissing went to the western United States. There he became friends with Will James the writer and cowboy artist. Here Roland became interested in sketching cowboys and horses. 

In late 1918 Roland Gissing joined the forces but contacted the Spanish flu in Quebec and was discharged. In 1919 he was back in Alberta where he had many friends who called him Gus. Gus worked at Delbecks and Brooks sawmill and D.P. McDonald calf camp. 

Gissing bought some land just north of the Ghost Lake bridge on the east side of the lake. He helped Major Mortimer who ran a roadhouse on the south of Gissing’s property. He was rewarded with a set of oil paints that had once belonged to Lionel Barrymore. Gissing started to paint in earnest at this point. He sketched cowboys and horses but his main interest was oils. In 1925 myself and my father went to the West Coast with the Peter Welsh stable of show horses in which father was a trainer. Gus gave us 25 pencil and ink sketches to take with us to try and sell them at $1 each. There were two left and Gissing gave them to us and I still have them. 

“If you see an oil painting so truly beautiful that it makes you proud, and perhaps a little homesick for the Alberta foothills, then it is probably a Gissing landscape.”

Roland Gissing courtesy Glenbow Archives

Gissing’s first exhibition was held in Booths Galleries in Calgary in 1925 and was quite successful, but it was not until 1932 that he was able to make a good living at art. His art has been exhibited and sold all over the world and has won many awards. In 1933 Roland married Enie Gillies, one of his nearest neighbours. Some of his hobbies included weaving on a loom he built himself. He prepared and dyed wool and wove saddle blankets. He made model trains, exact in every detail and with every type of passenger and freight cars. He built lengthy railway tracks beside his house with bridges and tunnels. His four-wheel-drive locomotives of the British type were a wonder to behold. 

Disaster struck on Friday, March 3, 1944, when Gissing’s house and studio burned. They lost their home, art, library and steam trains. Gissing built a new home but soon sold out and went to Okotoks. Enie Gissing passed away in the 1960s and Roland remarried. His new wife was Ester Glockgin (nee Skogheim), a native of Hardisty. Roland died in 1967 and Ester still makes her home in Calgary

Frank Hennessey, Gordon Davies & Hamish McNaughton Kerfoot with unknown Gissing painting

Additional reading

2 thoughts on “Cochrane Roots of Roland Gissing”

  1. If I remember correctly there were Gissing paintings in the Andison Store, perhaps even a couple of wall size murals. I may be mistaken but it would be interesting to know what became of those.


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