Stain glass artist left his mark on Petrolia

Christopher Wallis, the stained glass artist who created windows in both Petrolia's Town Hall and this one in Christ Church, has passed away.

Pat McGee/Special to The Independent

His artwork is seen by tens of thousands across Canada but his name is virtually unknown. Christopher Wallis, the nationally distinguished stained glass artist who produced all 13 windows in Petrolia’s Christ Church Anglican and the two Heritage Windows at Victoria Hall, has died at the age of 90.

In Petrolia, his Memorial Window at the church depicting the entire oil history of Enniskillen Township is his best-known work.

Reaching a commanding height of nearly five metres, the central figure of Christ is flanked by four historic depictions of pioneers drilling, refining, and transporting oil, and working in foreign lands.

Wrapped around the window is a timeline of 30 oil history milestones in Enniskillen between 1846 and 1899.

Wallis completed the church’s 13 windows over 22 years, culminating in the Memorial Window in 1983. Much earlier, in 1957, a devastating fire at the church destroyed all but the bell tower.

The new church opened in 1959 with plain windows. Reverend George Menzies arranged for Wallis to create stained glass windows as funding became available. All Wallis’s work was in a non-traditional style and used hand-blown glass, revered for its rich colours.

In 2010, the book Wonders of Light celebrated the church history and the Wallis windows. Written by Patricia McGee, the photographs were by Carol Graham.

Also in 2010, Charlie Fairbank commissioned him to create three solar-powered/electric stained glass panels on the Evolution of Oil for VanTuyl and Fairbank Solarware.

In 2011, a large crowd gathering was held at Victoria Hall for the unveiling of Wallis’ two new Heritage Windows at the entrance, which encapsulated the town’s rich oil history. The panels were a gift to the Town of Petrolia from Fairbank Oil, which was celebrating its 150th anniversary.

Since immigrating from London, England as a well-trained stained glass artist in 1956 and establishing himself in London, Ontario and later Grand Bend, he created more than 800 stained glass windows across Canada. He helped found the Environmental Art Program at Fanshawe College in 1968 and worked full time there until 1979.

Prolific as he was, he was known as a modest gentleman despite many prestigious national awards. Wallis was soft-spoken with a trace of a British accent. He made few public comments, preferring his windows to speak for themselves.

The stained glass windows of Christopher Wallis have been unveiled by the queen, photographed by Yousuf Karsh, exhibited in the Museum of Civilization and chosen by Canada Post for an international stamp. His windows grace Rideau Hall in Ottawa (two unveiled by the queen), Osgoode Hall in Toronto, Government House in Victoria as well as the University of Western Ontario and the University of Alberta. His list of noteworthy commissions is extensive.

Most of his works for churches, universities and other institutions were in Ontario – London, Ottawa, Brantford, Forest, Grand Bend, Arva, Cornwall and Toronto. Petrolia’s Christ Church Anglican is the only church with windows exclusively created by Wallis. His massive stained glass work at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria, BC comprises three Gothic arched windows, each measuring an incredible seven metres high and three wide.

To accommodate the vast size of his projects, he and his second wife Geri Binks, a multi-media artist, converted a barn that once housed 10,000 chickens, creating the two-storey Lakeside Studio just north of Grand Bend.

Chris was predeceased in 2019 by Geri Binks, his wife of nearly 40 years, and by his first wife, Clarice, in 2018. He leaves behind his son Simon, daughters Sarah and Elizabeth and his grandchildren. In his memory, charitable donations may be made to any Art for Youth initiatives.