Although the gallery was first formally recognized as the Sarnia Public Library and Art Gallery (SPLAG) in 1961, the story goes back nearly 50 years earlier. The public art gallery that we all enjoy today was made possible by the incredible insight of a number of significant individuals over the years. Some of the first were Norman Gurd, an important member of the Library Board from 1898-1943, and the Sarnia Women's Conservation Art Association (SWCAA).
Established in 1916, the SWCAA's mandate was to raise money for the war effort by the collection and sale of newspapers and rags. After in the Armistice of 1919, the SWCAA sought another focus for their organized efforts. Gurd had the idea to begin collecting Canadian art with the purpose of educating the public and providing a lasting legacy for the community. The first exhibition was held in March 1920 at the Sarnia Carnegie Library, with four of the eleven artists in the show becoming members of the Group of Seven. These early exhibitions, purchases, and excitement about revolutionary Canadian art in a largely rural (and otherwise industrial) community earned the nickname The Sarnia Movement. Norman Gurd was largely responsible for the correspondences back and forth, organizing the exhibitions, and contacting artists regarding loans and purchases of work. It was not until 1955 that the Sarnia Library Board established an Industries Art Fund with the idea of continuing the work the SWCAA. A number of works came into the collection as the direct result of this fund between the years 1956 and 1983. These pieces included beautifully rich Group of Seven work like Franklin Carmichaels' Autumn Woods (formerly Sketch for Leaf Patterns) (1921) to brightly coloured, abstracted Painters Eleven work like the towering Harold Town canvas, Monument to a Politician (1956).
The newly constructed Sarnia Public Library and Art Gallery was opened in 1961 and included a staff to organize year-round exhibitions and art classes for the public. Acquisitions of Canadian works continued and the collection grew. In 1991, the SPLAG came under the jurisdiction of the County of Lambton and the gallery was formally distinguished from the Library as Gallery Lambton. Despite additions like UV filters to the windows, the facilities at Sarnia Public Library became insufficient to operate a public art gallery of such calibre and breadth, prompting the move to the Bayside Centre in 1994.
A grand vision and relentless efforts continued at the gallery, and the hope for a purpose-built, Category A facility to house our permanent collection and display premier exhibitions soon became a reality. A feasibility study identified what was commonly referred to as the 'Thom Building' as an ideal opportunity for redevelopment, and the wheels were set in motion. Construction began, a fundraising drive was coordinated, and some 92 years after that first exhibition came to Sarnia, the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery welcomed its first patrons the weekend of October 5, 2012.