Exploring the Life of Emily Carr

British Columbia's capital city celebrates the life of iconic Canadian painter Emily Carr in a variety of ways.


If you had to pick Canada’s most famous female artist, who would it be?

Emily Carr, the painter who brought First Nations totem poles and West Coast rainforests to the rest of the world, would probably top most people’s lists. Last year, her painting Wind in the Treetops, sold for more than $2 million.

And yet, in Victoria, British Columbia—Carr’s birthplace and where she lived most of her life—there hasn’t been much to commemorate this creative and somewhat eccentric artist. (Carr would often push a baby carriage with her easel and paints and even her pet monkey Woo.)


But suddenly, it seems, Emily is everywhere. Here’s your guide to experiencing Carr in her own hometown.

View Her Art

First on your list—find out why Carr is such an important figure in modern Canadian art at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. On top of the gallery’s permanent Carr exhibit, there’s a special presentation of her work until June 30th, 2013. 

About three times bigger than the permanent exhibit, On The Edge of Nowhere brings together some of her best loved pieces from other art galleries in the country.

My favourite is Big Eagle, a watercolour from 1929 of a fearsome and frowning carved eagle, set against a dark, geometric sky. Totem and Forest, and Sea and Sky are also huge draws for Carr admirers. Wild Lilies is from Carr’s student days and is very different from anything else in the exhibit.

Emily Carr Statue

Next, head to the Inner Harbour, specifically the corner of Belleville and Government Streets (beside the Fairmont Empress hotel).

Here’s where you can come face to face with Carr, or at least a bronze likeness of her, sitting with a notepad on her lap, her monkey Woo perched on one shoulder and dog Billie by her side.

A two-year fundraising campaign raised $400,000 for the statue, along with plenty of interest in Carr locally. (Sculptor Barbara Paterson also made the statue of the Famous Five suffragettes on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.)

Emily Carr House

Now, walk a few blocks south to Emily Carr House, where Emily grew up and was orphaned at the age of 16. (She lived from December 13, 1871 to March 2, 1945.)

The first floor of the house has been restored to look as it would have when she lived here in the late 1800s.

Carr’s books, letters and pottery are also on display. Watch The Life and Times of Emily Carr while enjoying tea and cookies.

Admission for adults is $6.75. The house is open Tues-Sat from May 1 to Sept. 30 and by appointment year-round.

Drink and Be Merry

If you’re still thirsty, catch a harbour ferry, get off at Songhees and walk the rest of the way to Spinnaker’s Gastro Brewpub. Even though Carr herself would not likely have tried beer, Spinnaker’s has created one in her honour (available in the summer, but the brews are delicious here throughout the year).

Spinnaker owner Paul Hadfield describes Our Emily Summer Ale as “very light, very pale and very typical of the German-style beer that would have been around Victoria during Emily’s time.”

And finally, no Emily Carr-themed tour is complete without a visit to her gravesite.

Victoria’s Ross Bay Cemetery is the final resting place of many famous citizens of British Columbia, including Sir James Douglas (BC’s first governor) and coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. But according to resident curator of Emily Carr House, Jan Ross, Emily Carr’s “is the most sought out gravesite” in the cemetery.

Considering all that Emily Carr has done for the Canada’s art landscape, it’s no wonder.

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