After a half century lighting up Dundas West, an iconic Toronto stained glass shop is closing

·3 min read
Josef and Annette Aigner in front of their store, Artistic Glass, at 2111 Dundas Street West.  (Submitted - image credit)
Josef and Annette Aigner in front of their store, Artistic Glass, at 2111 Dundas Street West. (Submitted - image credit)

The colourful lights shining from stained glass Tiffany lamps that for years lit up the intersection of Dundas Street West and Golden Avenue will twinkle no more.

That's because the Artistic Glass studio and A.J. Stained Glass Supply, located next door, will both close their doors on Christmas Eve.

Owners Josef and Annette Aigner have decided to retire after 52 years — a difficult decision brought on mainly by age and health considerations.

"We're both very emotional right now," said Annette. "But, you know, we're going to be 80 soon."

The closure of the stores leaves one less place where stained glass artists can go for supplies, where customers can order custom-made stained glass windows, and where budding designers and technicians can learn from an expert artisan.

Master craftsman

Josef, who trained with European masters in the 1960s, moved to Toronto in 1968 and opened Artistic Glass the next year.

He met Annette Morneault, who grew up in a mining town in Quebec, in 1972. The newly-wed couple opened up the nearby supply store in 1982.

Josef has designed windows for more than 265 churches and synagogues, and countless homes across Ontario. His work adorns buildings in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, Windsor, St. Catharines, and Cambridge.

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Submitted

One of his largest projects, at St. Francis Xavier Parish in Mississauga, depicts the Sermon on the Mount, a Biblical story where Jesus Christ delivered some of his most important teachings to his disciples from a mountaintop.

Made up of over 100 panels, the massive 68.3 m by 13.3 m window is visible from the interior and exterior of the church.

"Creating — there is no limit to this. You create and then something else comes in your mind, especially with a big project," said Josef.

Submitted by Jane Nantais
Submitted by Jane Nantais

More than just art

But for the Aigners, stained glass is about much more than art — it's about community.

"Every time we did new windows, Joseph would put them in the front window ... to dry. People got to see the ones we were going to be installing, beautiful spiritual windows," said Annette.

"Lamps lit up all night, all the way around the corner, on Golden Avenue. People felt safe. They're feeling so sad because they said it gave them so much joy to have so much nice light around. It lightened up Dundas Street."

The decision to retire comes after one of their veteran artisans was hospitalized for months with COVID-19. Josef's own health is precarious — he suffered a stroke six years ago — and their adult children have encouraged them to retire.

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Submitted

Now, their main concern is getting rid of a lifetime's worth of unique machines and supplies, including massive panes of tempered glass, soldering equipment, giant kilns and rare hand-blown glass.

The couple is offering a 60 per cent discount off their remaining handmade works of art. Everything from old glass panels, Tiffany lamps, mosaic backsplashes, gothic arches, and etched glass doors must go.

And they found at least one lucky customer — an artist doing restoration work on Parliament Hill and other historic buildings.

"Josef was very sad to let go of this antique glass, but he bought everything we had," said Annette.

"And he said, 'Tell Josef not to worry because they're going to end up in beautiful places — museums, Parliament buildings and churches.'"

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