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BEHIND THE SCENES: Sault man walks into bar with century-old painting, makes international headlines

SooToday's Alex Flood takes us behind the scenes

In each “Behind the Scenes” segment, Village Media's Scott Sexsmith sits down with one of our local journalists to talk about the story behind the story.

These interviews are designed to help you better understand how our community-based reporters gather the information that lands in your local news feed. You can find more Behind the Scenes from reporter across Ontario here

Today's spotlight is on SooToday's Alex Flood, whose story "Sault man walks into bar with century-old painting, makes international headlines" was published on May 1.

Below is the full story, in case you missed it.

John Marrack travels back to his home country of England every year to visit friends and family, but his most recent trip to the UK was extra special.

Three weeks ago, the local doctor presented the Claydon Greyhound, a pub located near Ipswich, with a painting of their building that dates all the way back to 1892.

The 132-year-old painting had previously belonged to Marrack’s late mother before it came into his possession after she had passed.

“I thought of giving it back as soon as I obtained it from my mother,” he told SooToday.

Previous reports from overseas news outlets said the painting dated back to 1872, but after further observation, Marrack said the piece is actually 20 years younger.

It is believed to have been painted by Suffolk artist Henry John Wykes, who moved to Ipswich as a young man with his family, as reported by the East Anglian Daily Times.

While he’s not entirely sure how his mom originally acquired the artwork, Marrack believes she could have purchased the piece up to 60 years ago before the family moved to North America.

“She was a collector, so anything that took her fancy, she bought it — particularly if it wasn’t expensive,” he said. “She would have found it in a gallery or junk shop most likely. She was a bit of an artist, as am I.”

“I remember my mother had it on her wall at her home,” he added. “It was an attractive little painting; it was well done. It wasn’t something I was going to throw away. This was certainly worth hanging on to.”

Admittedly, Marrack didn’t know where Claydon was at first.

After doing a search, he realized the pub was only a ten-minute drive from a cousin he visits in Suffolk on his annual trips.

“It’s a bit of an out of the way place, it’s not somewhere I would call on the tourist route,” he said. “But I drive past the pub from visiting one cousin to another cousin. The road goes right by it.”

“England’s not a terribly big country, so if you’ve got ten relatives, there’s going to be one close to somewhere,” he laughed.

After phoning the Claydon Greyhound and travelling overseas last month, Marrack presented the painting to an appreciative group of pub staff members.

Pub manager Rachael Howlett told SooToday they were incredibly grateful for the special gift.

“It’s an absolutely amazing and wonderful gesture that Dr. John Marrack made by travelling to find our pub in Claydon,” she said. “We are very honoured to have the painting.”

While the pub is protected by law and remains very particular with physical alterations, everyone involved still couldn’t believe how little the building had changed over time.

“It really hasn’t changed much at all,” Marrack said. “In 130 years, you’ve still got exactly the same pub in exactly the same place looking exactly the same way. It’s just what you’d like to see when you go to England.”

The story was originally picked up by the East Anglian Daily Times, which eventually led to a much bigger story on BBC News.

Marrack was shocked — and so were a lot of other people. It's not every day Sault Ste. Marie gets a mention on the BBC.

“It took me back a bit,” he said. “I wondered: ‘How on earth did you get on this story?’ I guess it had gone up through the ranks so to speak. It was such a treat.”

Family and colleagues in town have been congratulating Marrack since the story was published overseas, most notably during Monday's annual general meeting of the Sault Golf Club, where he sits as a director and secretary.

Across the street at Mulligan’s Irish Pub, the doctor even has paintings of his own that hang around the restaurant.

“They’re up all over the wall; there’s ten of them,” he said.

When asked if he thought it was amusing that Sault Ste. Marie’s junior hockey team bears the same name as the Greyhound pub, Marrack admitted he hadn’t made that connection initially.

“I really hadn’t thought about it, it is a funny coincidence,” he said. “I suppose I could have donated it to the Greyhounds, but I think it’s better off where it is.”

At 74, Marrack is still looking forward to making more trips to England, which will now include a new stop on his travels.

“I’ll have to go back in and say hello and see it on the wall. If I go back there, I’ll be famous,” he laughed.