"West and North", 1987, Norman Yates, RCA (B. 1923 – D. 2014), acrylic on crezone plywood, University of Alberta Art Collection (1993.6), University of Alberta Museums, Gift of the artist
Retired University of Alberta professor, world-renowned artist Norman Yates is probably not the first individual you would think of being a Second World War veteran. For those who are not familiar with the name, University of Alberta students, faculty and staff will know him more by his work, West and North – the 5,500 square-foot mural on the Education North Building on the U of A campus.
While most stories of Yates begin in 1951 when he graduated from the Ontario College of Art or even later in 1954 when he accepted a position to become a professor at the University of Alberta for the next 33 years, this particular story starts before his post-secondary career. This story starts during the Second World War.
Born in Calgary in 1923, Yates grew up in Saskatchewan and like most Canadians, in 1939, his world changed with Canada entering the Second World War on September 10, 1939. He spent four years as part of the Royal Canadian Air Force overseas in England.
Yates was not the first in his family to serve. His father, Albert Yates was a decorated First World War British officer and his only brother, Bill, was a casualty of the Second World War. Unlike his father and brother, Yates was not as close to the front, his post was in England as a radar operator, a fairly new job in the military at this time.
The Second World War changed Yates’ life in many ways. Not only did he lose his brother, but he found the love of his life, Whynona, whom he met during a snow-ball fight one day. They were married in England the day after Victory was declared and then took off to tour Europe.
The war continued to affect Yates’ life when he returned to Canada with his new bride. His veteran’s allowance helped his new family afford his tuition at the Ontario College of Art, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Yates retired in 1989 after his time as a professor at the University of Alberta. He then moved to Victoria with his wife. Out of his many donations to the University of Alberta Art Collection, West and North is perhaps his most recognizable on campus and certainly his largest. Comprised of 202 individually painted sheets of plywood, this mural has become a landmark on the University of Alberta campus.
Yates passed away in February 2014. The story of his art, of his life and his duty to his country will continue to live on with great pride at the University of Alberta.