Memorable Manitobans: Harry Gutkin (1915-2004)
Graphic artist, historian.
Born at Winnipeg on 10 August 1915, he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and became a magazine illustrator and a political cartoonist before he was 20. Then, having been rejected for military service in the Second World War, he partnered with David Simkin in founding Contemporary Publishers, which issued paperbacks on social subjects. His skill in the graphic arts and his talent for management led in 1948 to the founding, in partnership with John Phillips, of the advertising art and photography firm of Phillips Gutkin and Associates. It served national and international clients, among them Canada Post that commissioned a stamp honouring Lord Selkirk’s Red River Settlement. Four years later, PGA Films was established. With the cooperative movement as one of its chief clients, he wrote and directed several documentaries to dramatize the social significance of the movement. With the arrival of television, PGA Films moved into animation to produce commercials. The firm has been recognized as one of the pioneers of animation in Canada.
Around 1946, he married Mildred Shanas and they had three children.
Accepting an invitation by the newly-constituted Jewish Historical Society (now the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada), he produced Journey Into Our Heritage, an exhibit on the Western Canadian Jewish community. The exhibit was displayed for six months in 1976 at the Museum of Man and Nature and later was displayed in museums across Canada, and finally in the Museum of the Diaspora in Israel. He served nineteen years as President of the Jewish Historical Society. Under his leadership, exhibits were mounted, a program of lectures was offered, two films were produced, and a collection of historical documents and artifacts was amassed. He played a leading role in organizing the conference “Building Bridges” at the University of Manitoba in August 2001. The event, which attracted academics and lay people from across Canada and the United States, as well as Israel, brought together Jews, Mennonites, and Ukrainians to discuss their differences and common experience.
Following the success of the 1976 exhibit, he drew on its material to publish in 1980 the full-length book version of Journey Into Our Heritage, recording the people and places of the Jewish community from Manitoba to the west coast, their background and their role in the country’s development. The publishing house of Nelson Canada then commissioned The Jewish Canadians for its Multicultural Canada Series for junior high schools. His wife Mildred became a close collaborator in the two books which followed. The Worst of Times, The Best of Times: Growing Up in Winnipegs North End (1987) offered an incisive study of that formative enclave during the middle decades of the twentieth century; Profiles in Dissent (1997) mirrored the human face of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike in a series of biographical sketches of its leaders.
A long-time member of the Manitoba Historical Society, he served on its governing Council. His volunteer achievements as an historian were recognized by Margaret McWilliams awards and, in 1997, by the Prix Manitoba.
He died at Winnipeg on 17 May 2004.
His articles for the Manitoba Historical Society:
Birth registration, Manitoba Vital Statistics.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 25 May 2004.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 26 December 2014