Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Barry Lord: Museum planner was a pioneer of Canada’s cultural scene

Barry Lord and wife Gail Lord, through their company Lord Cultural Resources, completed more than 1,000 cultural projects worldwide.

© Reuters Photographer / Reuter/Reuters

Barry Lord, who died on March 9 at the age of 77, was a true pioneer of Canada's cultural scene – and one of its most colourful rebels.

Early on in life, Barry perceived the need for a systematic approach to this country's arts world. As explained in the announcement of his death from Lord Cultural Resources, the company he co-founded: "Museum planning as a profession didn't exist, so he invented it."

In 1981, he and Gail Dexter Lord, his wife and business partner, founded the firm with the mission of helping museums – both in Canada and abroad – plan their collections, facilities and financial resources. They spent the next 35 years on the road as consultants.

Story continues below advertisement

In 1967, Barry was chosen to curate the Painting in Canada exhibition at Expo 67's Canada pavilion. By then, he had already been a curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery and the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John.

Back then, Barry was also the editor of artscanada magazine, now called Canadian Art. The latest issue includes an editorial paying tribute to him, recalling how Barry revolutionized the magazine by creating theme issues with multimedia features of the day, such as vinyl recordings. Each issue arrived in a plastic bag, and people jokingly called it "the mag in a bag."

Born in Hamilton on July 8, 1939, Barry graduated from McMaster University. After a stint at Harvard University, he was one of two people selected for the museum training program at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

In 1983, he and Gail published Planning Our Museums, a ground-breaking work on the subject. Putting the public first was a new idea at the time and has been the hallmark of Lord Cultural Resources ever since. That idea quickly found favour with museums not only in Canada and the United States but all over the world. Consequently, the Lords were embraced by museums in Britain, Europe and Asia.

When I visited Gail Lord last week at the downtown Toronto condo that has been their home in recent years, Beth Lord, their daughter, was with her, having arrived from her home in Dundee, Scotland, just in time to see her father before he died.

"Two and a half years ago, I was in Santa Fe, working on a project for a museum, when Barry phoned and said he'd had a diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis, which ends quickly in death," Gail said. He had been coughing for years but seemed indefatigable.

Determined to fight for his life, the family decided to do whatever was necessary to get a lung transplant.

Story continues below advertisement

"Fortunately, Ontario has one of the only health systems in the world that will do a lung transplant on a person over 65," Gail said. "And Toronto General Hospital is a world leader in these transplants."

But to qualify, a patient must be in good physical condition.

"Barry's coughing was getting worse, and so was his breathing," Gail said.

After a six-week rehabilitation stint at Hamilton's St. Joseph's Healthcare – to qualify for the transplant – the Lords got a call from Toronto General that seemed miraculous: a match had been found. The transplant happened within hours.

Barry was in good health through most of 2016. That June, he and Gail were honoured by McMaster with doctor of laws degrees, and they each gave a speech before 2,000 graduating students.

But, in September, he fell ill and had to return to Toronto General for a month. He was able to go home but never recovered his full strength.

Story continues below advertisement

Barry's funeral and burial took place in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., where he and Gail had a second home.

"Behind the grave there is a dedication to General Brock, who saved Canada from the U.S. invasion in the War of 1812," Gail said.

As for the future of the company, Gail said: "We are currently working on 70 projects in 44 cities in 12 countries. We have strong leadership to implement Barry's vision."

As if to demonstrate that point, she flew to Santa Fe, N.M., this week to consult with the directors of a museum there.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles as we switch to a new provider. We are behind schedule, but we are still working hard to bring you a new commenting system as soon as possible. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to