Artist Ken Danby drew inspiration from many Canadian icons: The goalie in his crease, the force of Lake Superior and the Calgary Stampede stand as some of his world-famous images.
But no landscape appeared more often in tableaux by the late realist painter than his surroundings at the restored 19th-century flour mill in rural Ontario where he lived with his wife Gillian until his death in 2007.
Mr. Danby often captured in oil and tempera the Speed River - frozen solid in winter and gently flowing in dappled summer light.
During a recent tour of the property, Ms. Danby pointed to a rusty gate hanging precariously at the top of a set of stone steps.
Mr. Danby depicted his small son Sean gently swinging in the painting titled On the Gate .
The weathered stone steps have made many appearances. And there's the recurrent theme of the picturesque stone mill itself, which was built in 1856 and renovated by the artist over three decades.
The 47-acre estate near Guelph is currently for sale. In addition to the mill, which has been transformed into a five-bedroom, five-bathroom house, the miller's original stone house still stands. The old barn provides the foundation for a studio and office building, while a separate stables, paddock and indoor arena accommodate the horses.
Peter Bowers of Moffat Dunlap Real Estate Ltd. has listed the property with an asking price of $3.7-million.
The land includes 2,000 feet of river frontage, walking trails and woods.
Mr. Bowers says the artist bought the property in the 1960s when he was 27. At the time, the building was slated to be torn down.
"The locals used to come and shoot rats here."
Mr. Danby, who was working as an artist at the time, saw historic buildings worth preserving and stepped forward to buy Armstrong Mill, as it was known.
"The roof collapsed the next year," Mr. Bowers says. "It was derelict."
Records show the mill was built by John S. Armstrong, who was born in 1829 within walking distance of the site. The mill was a massive limestone building built into the bedrock beside the Speed River using stone quarried from the site. A water wheel powered three pairs of stones for grinding flour and one pair for feed.
The mill was known for its high-quality flour and Mr. Armstrong's business prospered. The mill housed the post office and a stage coach stop. Farmers would deliver their grain and stay overnight at an inn across the road before returning to pick up the flour or feed the next day.
The Armstrong family operated the mill until 1903. It changed hands a few times before George Parkinson purchased it in 1931. The vibrating machinery and severe weather had caused the structure to deteriorate over the years, and Mr. Parkinson removed the top 11/2 storeys, reducing the mill to its current proportions.
Work at the mill came to an end in the spring of 1950 after the dam burst in heavy flooding.
Ms. Danby says she thinks of the refurbished mill as the embodiment of Mr. Danby's artistry.
"He was a man with a vision at 27 years old. It's his creation."
Ms. Danby says the limestone required extensive repair.
"He had a full-time stone mason here for 10 years."
Inside, Mr. Danby had massive beams taken down, numbered, refinished and reinstalled. The room that serves as a large living room today consisted of four crumbling stone walls open to the sky when Mr. Danby started his overhaul.
Throughout the house, Mr. Danby incorporated as much of the wood, stone and machinery from the historic mill as possible into the new design. Wide floorboards are built into the kitchen island, for example, while another artifact was used as the newel post in a stairway.
In the garden, Mr. Danby created a sculpture from the mill's grinding gear.
A third-floor studio was one of several spaces designed to accommodate Mr. Danby's prolific output.
"A lot's gone on here," Mr. Bowers says.
Today, paintings and sketches by Mr. Danby hang throughout the house and provide a record of his life in the bucolic landscape.
Ms. Danby recalls the family waking up one Christmas morning to the first big snowfall of the year. Mr. Danby rushed everyone outside so that he could capture the scene of his grandkids skating in front of the mill while their Mom and Dad pulled a Christmas tree on a toboggan.
She adds that the painter's young grandson was becoming unnerved by the cracking sounds coming from the ice on the mill stream.
"He was afraid he was going to fall through and he was not very happy," she says.
Meanwhile everyone was keen to get back indoors to celebrate Christmas.
But Mr. Danby persuaded them all to stay in place until he could capture just the light and shadow that he was looking for. The painting later became the cover image for the Sears Wish Book.
A stand of trees on the former mill's race must show up in many living rooms.
"Those trees are quite immortal because Ken painted them a number of times," Mr. Bowers says.
He imagines the property as a family compound or a corporate retreat. Buyers from Europe have been interested because they are attracted to the large spread of land, he adds.
Guelph and nearby Elora offer a fine arts community.
Ms. Danby says leaving the land and her home of many years will be difficult.
"I'm fortunate that I've had 28 years here."