CARR, Emily (1871-1945)

Author Tags: 1900-1950, Art, Essentials 2010, Literary Landmarks, Women

LITERARY LOCATION: Emily Carr Memorial Foot Bridge, Beacon Hill Park; a concrete and stone bridge over the stream between Goodacre Lake and Fountain Lake. Follow Douglas Street to the park; nearest intersection is Avalon.

Emily Carr’s reputation as a visual artist has overshadowed her literary accomplishments, but in 1941, the same year that Victoria-born poet Anne Marriott won a Governor General’s Award for Poetry for her collection Calling Adventurers!, Emily Carr received the Governor General’s Award for her first non-fiction book, Klee Wyck (1941). They were the first two B.C. authors to win one of the country’s top literary prizes (to be followed soon thereafter by Earle Birney and Dorothy Livesay). "I tried to be plain, straight, simple and Indian," Carr once declared, regarding her writing.

There are plenty of locales in B.C. that could serve as literary landmarks for Carr, such as her childhood home at 207 Government Street. The restored, two-story heritage building dating from 1863 was sold by the Carr family in 1938. As well, according to historian Eve Lazarus, Emily Carr's Oak Bay cottage that was located at 494 Victoria Avenue has been preserved at 825 Foul Bay Road, situated behind a Samuel Maclure heritage house at that address. In the late 1930s Emily Carr was living at 316 Beckley Street when she met the French surrealist Wolfgang Paalen when she was sixty-seven years old. But Emily Carr might prefer the stone bridge that was designed and built in her honour in Beacon Hill Park in 1953 at the behest of her sister, Alice, who contributed $1,000 and engaged architect Alexander Robert Hennell for the project. According to the Times, “It is set in one of the late artists’s favorite spots in the park, and it was there she spent many of her leisure hours.” Stones for the bridge came from the nearby beach on Dallas Road. A modest plaque on the north side of the bridge states: “To the memory of my sister, M. Emily Carr, Canadian artist and writer. Born Victoria, B. C. December 13, 1871. Died March 3, 1945. Alice M. Carr.” There is no mention of the architect whose granddaughter, writer/producer Valerie Hennell, is married to B.C. folk musician Rick Scott. Valerie Hennell's father Valentine Hennell escorted Alice Carr to the bridge, along with sculptor and artist Jan Zach, for the official dedication ceremony on February 10, 1953, by which time Alice Carr was blind. She had been a doting nanny for the Hennell family for many years, particularly close to Valentine Hennell, as Emily Carr recorded in her private letters to Ira Dilworth. Before Fountain Lake was created, Emily Carr described the area on page 79 of her Book of Small: “In the woody swamp of the Park millions and millions of frogs croaked through the Spring nights.”

At age 69, having suffered a stroke, Emily Carr began writing 21 vignettes about wildflowers, partly as a tonic while she was bed- ridden. At age 70, Carr published non-fiction pieces based on her visits to First Nations villages, called Klee Wyck. She confided in her diary, “I tried to be plain, straight, simple and Indian. I wanted to be true to the places as well as to the people. I put my whole soul into them and tried to avoid sentimentality. I went down deep into myself.” Carr had enrolled in a short story writing correspondence course in 1926 and taken a similar course at Humber College in 1934. She also benefited from the friendship of Garnett Sedgewick, head of UBC’s English Department, and Ira Dilworth, regional head of the CBC, both of whom read her stories on the radio. Dilworth was her editor and later served as her literary executor. Despite a 20-year-age difference—or perhaps because of it—they were able to sign their many letters to one another “with love.” Carr confessed some of her most private feelings to him and sometimes playfully referred to him as “My Beloved Guardian.”

Encouraged by critical acclaim for Klee Wyck, Carr continued to write memoirs and stories. Her other books include The Book of Small (1942), The House of All Sorts (1944) and various posthumous titles, such as Growing Pains (1946).

Although she preferred not to discuss her work, it is evident Carr was a more sophisticated writer than she cared to admit. She once commented, “I did not know book rules. I made two for myself. They were about the same as the principles I use in painting—get to the point as directly as you can; never use a big word if a little one will do.” As a philosophical artist, Carr was very quotable on a variety of topics such as Canada, ageing and her own work. She once wrote, “It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw, not because she is Canada but because she’s something sublime that you were born into, some great rugged power that you are a part of.” As for ageing, she wrote, “It is not all bad, this getting old, ripening. After the fruit has got its growth it should juice up and mellow. God forbid I should live long enough to ferment and rot and fall to the ground in a squash.”

Carr’s dual adeptness at writing and painting once prompted George Woodcock to comment, “She would have made a good sister for William Blake.”


The youngest of five sisters, Emily Carr was born in the year British Columbia entered Confederation, on December 13, 1871. A brother was born several years later. Her mother died when she was twelve and her domineering father died in 1888 when 'Millie' was 14. A much detested and pious older sister made her life miserable, sometimes whipping her, until Emily Carr was able to study art in San Francisco. After returning to Victoria in 1895, she was invited by a missionary friend of her sister Lizzie to make the first of her forays into the primeval rainforests of the West Coast, visiting Ucluelet in 1899 where her sister was becoming a missionary. This trip stirred her interest in Aboriginal villages. On this trip she also gained her name from the Nuu-chah-nulth or Nootka people, 'Klee Wyck', meaning Laughing One.

On her return voyage to Victoria, the ship's purser named William Locke Paddon fell in love with her--but it was "an immense love that I could neither accept [nor] return." Partially to get beyond the persistence of her suitor, she saved enough money to continue her education in England, where she tried unsuccessful to witness Queen Victoria's funeral, and studied at the Westminster School of Art from 1899 to 1904. During this period she reportedly collapsed in the fall of 1902 with acute anaemia and was interned in the East Anglia Sanatorium in Suffolk, England for health reasons that have never been adequately explained or identified. [Carr’s mysterious and possibly damaging treatments for hysteria are at the core of Margaret Hollingsworth's novel about creativity and aging, Be Quiet (Coteau, 2003).] She was not permitted to paint for 18 months during her enforced confinement, so she kept a sketchbook that reflects her experiences in the Sunhill Sanatorium. It became the gist of a book published in 1972 enttitled Pause.

Emily Carr came back to Canada in 1904 and made a six-week stopover with friends in the rugged Cariboo. "Mounted on a cow pony I roamed the land..." she wrote. "How happy I was!" She was relieved to accept an invitation to teach at the Vancouver Studio Club in 1906, escaping the conservative claustrophobia of Victoria and her family. Dissatisfied with teaching 'society ladies' (who included a young writer-to-be named Ethel Wilson), she rented a studio at 570 Granville Street. In the summer of 1907, Carr and her sister Alice took a cruise to Alaska where she was much impressed by the totem poles she saw during a visit to Sitka, an American naval base on Barnof Island. There she discovered an old Tlingit village where carvings remained in their original settings. "The Indian people and their art touched me deeply..." she wrote upon her return. "By the time I reached home my mind was made up. I was going to picture totem poles in their village settings and complete a collection of them as I could."

With her sister Alice as an interpreter, Carr sailed for France in July of 1910 to made a fruitless visit to Paris and study at the famous Colarossi Academy. "I could not paint in the old way - it is dead - meaningless - empty," she once said. "...I wanted now to find out what this 'New Art' was about." But she was not able to understand her instructors. Disheartened, she returned again to Vancouver to paint and teach in 1911, renting at studio at 1465 West Broadway. In 1912, she made her first visit to the Queen Charlotte Islands and the Skeena River region accompanied by her constant companion, a sheepdog named Billie. She first stopped at Kwakiutl villages on the east coast of Vancouver Island, visiting 15 different coastal villages in all. During two months of work, she produced almost 200 works, plus she gave a 'Lecture on Totems'. "These poles are fast becoming extinct," she said. "Every year sees some of their number fall, rotted with age; other bought and carried off to museums in various parts of the world." But Carr's art and vision was simply ahead of her time. By 1913 she was ready to renounce her hopes of becoming a professional artist after renting Drummond Hall in April for a showing of 200 paintings.

Emily Carr returned to Victoria and managed a family home, Hill House, for lodgers. The ethnologist Marius Barbeau heard of her work and visited her in Vancouver, whereupon Barbeau arranged for Carr to meet Eric Brown, director of the National Gallery. Carr had some of her work shown in a major exhibition called 'Canadian and West Coast Art, Native and Modern' at the National Gallery in Ottawa. At age 56, it was her first major showing and she travelled east for the opening, meeting members of the Group of Seven in the process. This association with the Group of Seven, in particular Lawren Harris with whom she corresponded for many years, boosted her artist's morale. She revisited the Skeena and the Queen Charlottes, but she largely abandoned Native themes in 1929 in favour of painting the forests. In the 1930s, encouraged by Lawren Harris, her reputation as a painter grew. In 1937 she was diagnosed with heart problems. This curtailed her summer painting expeditions. She turned to writing accounts of Aboriginals and their villages, confiding in her diary, "I tried to be plain, straight, simple and Indian. I wanted to be true to the places as well as to the people. I put my whole soul into them and triedd to avoid sentimentality. I went down deep into myself."

At age 69, having suffered a stroke, Carr began work on 21 vignettes about wildflowers, partly as tonic while bedridden. These would be published in 2006, accompanied by illustrations of wild plants by one of her drawing instructors, Emily Henrietta Woods. At age 70, in 1941, Emily Carr published her collection of non-fiction pieces based on her visits to Indian villages, called Klee Wyck. The following year, when B.C. poet Anne Marriott received a Governor General's award for poetry, Emily Carr also received the Governor General's Gold Medal for non-fiction for her first book, Klee Wyck. In doing so, she became one of the first two B.C. recipients of Canada's foremost literary award. She was not a neophyte. She had enrolled in a short story writing correspondence course in 1926 and taken a similar writing course at Humber College in 1934. Carr also benefitted from the friendship of Garnet Sedgwick, head of the UBC English Department, and Ira Dilworth, regional head of the CBC, both of whom read her stories on the radio. Encouraged by critical acclaim for Klee Wyck, she continued to write memoirs and stories. Carr seldom liked to discuss her work but it's apparent she was a more sophisticated writer than she cared to admit. She once commented, "I did not know book rules. I made two for myself. They were about the same as the principles I use in painting--get to the point as directly as you can; never use a big word if a little one will do."

There is an obscure volume called Fresh-Seeing (seldom mentioned in her bibliographies) that contains the only public talks she gave about her craft. As a philosophical artist, Carr was very quotable on a variety of topics such as Canada, ageing and her own work. She once wrote, "It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw, not because she is Canada but because she's something sublime that you were born into, some great rugged power that you are a part of." She could be equally expressive about personal matters. "It is not all bad, this getting old, ripening," she once said. "After the fruit has got its growth it should juice up and mellow. God forbid I should live long enough to ferment and rot and fall to the ground in a squash."

Emily Carr remained aloof, mostly perceived as an eccentric, someone who hung furniture from her ceiling, kept an exotic array of pets, including a monkey which paraded in a baby's pram, while operating a boarding house, making pottery for tourists and breeding bobtail sheep dogs for sale. As an artist, she was rarely satisfied. "You always feel when you look it straight in the eye that you could have put more into it, could have let yourself go and dug harder," she wrote. Although Emily Carr claimed to detest the "rubbish" and "slop" in newspapers with their "beastly empty write-ups" and she maintained she dodged the press, much of her alienation was defensiveness or self-inflation. Maria Tippett's essay '"A Paste Solitaire in a Steel Claw Setting": Emily Carr and Her Public' (BC Studies, 1973-74) affords an excellent summary of her contradictory impulses in this regard. The extent to which Emily Carr wanted to be shunned, or misunderstood, can never be known, but as an artist she definitely did crave acceptance. Hers was a long and painful apprenticeship; after she died on March 2, 1945 in Victoria, she got her wish.

In February of 2007, in the hopes that she would be contracted to produce a bronze statue approximately 1.5 times the life size of B.C.'s best-known artist, Edmonton-based sculptor Barbara Paterson unveiled a 60-pound brass maquette at Emily Carr House depicting Carr with one of her dogs and her pet monkey Woo on her shoulder. "I really think Victoria is missing the boat," she told the Victoria News, "if they don't [get it made]. You've got the biggest icon in the world with Emily Carr--she's world famous and a character. So I'm ready, but I can't wait forever." In 2004, the Parks and Recreation Foundation in Victoria created a special fund to generate the $200,000 necessary to complete Paterson's Emily Carr project, which she commenced in 2001. Cheques to the Parks and Recreation Foundation Emily Carr Fund can be delivered to Victoria's City Hall or sent to 633 Pandora Avenue, Victoria, BC V8W 1N8.

The first major international exhibition of Emily Carr's paintings was held at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London in the fall of 2014. Conceived to accompany the exhibit was a lavish coffee table book, From the Forest to the Sea, co-published by the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), the Dulwich Picture Gallery and Goose Lane Editions. It was officially launched at the opening of the AGO’s exhibition of the same name on April 11, 2015. Edited by Canadian art critic Sarah Milroy and Ian Dejardin, Sackler Director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the book features written contributions by acclaimed contemporary artists Peter Doig and Jessica Stockholder; leading Carr scholars Ian Thom, Charles Hill, Kathryn Bridge, and Gerta Moray; Haida hereditary chief and master carver James Hart; Kwakwaka’wakw artists Corrine Hunt and Marianne Nicolson; and anthropologists Robert Storrie and Karen Duffek. Together, they illuminate Carr’s immense legacy and the connections to First Nations culture that inspired her work.


Klee Wyck (Toronto, London: Oxford University Press, 1941; Toronto: Farrar and Rinehart, 1942) - Indian villages. Republished by Clarke, Irwin, 1966, 1971.

The Book of Small (Toronto, London: Oxford University Press, 1942) - memoir of childhood. Republished in two parts, edited by Ira Dilworth, by Clarke, Irwin, 1952.

The House of All Sorts (Oxford University Press, 1944) - landlady days. Republished by Clarke, Irwin, 1971.

Growing Pains (Oxford University Press, 1946) - autobiography. Republished by Clarke, Irwin, 1966; D&M 2005.

Pause: A Sketch Book (Clarke, Irwin, 1953) - sanatorium memoir

The Heart of a Peacock (Oxford University Press, 1953) - stories and prose sketches, edited by Ira Dilworth. Republishd by D&M, 2005.

An Address, by Emily Carr (1955), speech given by Carr to the Victoria Women's Canadian Club in 1930

Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr (Clarke, Irwin, 1966) - miscellany, from 1927 to 1941. Reprinted as Hundreds and Thousands: The Autobiography of Emily Carr (Douglas & McIntyre, 2006), with an introduction by Gerta Moray.

Fresh-Seeing: Two Addresses by Emily Carr. (Clarke, Irwin, 1972) - comments on art

Klee Wyck: Traduit de l'anglais (Collections des deux Solitudes) (Montreal: Le Cercle du Libre de France, 1973).

The Emily Carr Omnibus (Douglas & McIntyre, 1993) - compendium of Carr's writing.

Emily Carr and Her Dogs: Flirt, Punk and Loo (D&M, 1997, 2002, 2005).

Opposite Contraries: The Unknown Journals of Emily Carr & Other Writing (Douglas & McIntyre, 2003). Edited by Susan Crean.

Corresponding Influence: Selected Letters of Emily Carr and Ira Dilworth (UTP 2006). Edited by Linda M. Morra.

Wild Flowers (Royal B.C. Museum, 2006). Illustrated by Emily Woods. Foreword by Kathryn Bridge.

This and That (Victoria: Ti-Jean Press, 2007). Short stories, edited Ann-Lee Switzer. $17. 978-1-896627-14-4


Browne, Colin. I Had An Interesting French Artist To See Me This Summer: Emily Carr and Wolfgang Paalen in British Columbia (Vancouver Art Gallery / Figure.1 2016)
Carter, Laurie. Emily Carr’s B.C.: Book One, Vancouver Island (Little White Publishing 2015)
From the Forest to the Sea (Goose Lane Editions 2015)
Bridge, Kathryn. Emily Carr in England (RBCM 2014)
DeSoto, Lewis. Emily Carr (Penguin, 2008).
Moray, Gerta. Unsettling Encounters: First Nations Imagery in the Art of Emily Carr (UBC Press 2006).
Thom, Ian M. & Charles C. Hill & Johanne Lamoureux. Emily Carr (Douglas & McIntyre, 2006).
Linda Morra. Corresponding Influencee: Selected Letters of Emily Carr and Ira Dilworth (UTP, 2005)
Susan Crean. The Laughing One: A Journey to Emily Carr (Harper-Flamingo, 2001)
Kate Braid. Emily Carr: Rebel Artist (XYZ Publishing, 2000)
Anne Newlands. Emily Carr: An Introduction to her Life and Art (Firefly, 1996)
Stephanie Kirkwood Walker. This Woman in Particular: Contexts for the Biographical Image of Emily Carr (Wilfrid Laurier University Press 1996)
Maria Tippett. Emily Carr: A Biography (Stoddart Publishing, 1994)
Doris Shadbolt. Emily Carr (Douglas & McIntyre, 1979, 1990)
Paula Blanchard. The Life of Emily Carr (Douglas & McIntyre, 1987)
Ruth Growers. Emily Carr (Berg Publishers, 1987)
Kerry Mason (Dodd), Michael Breuer. Sunlight in the Shadows: The Landscape of Emily Carr (1984)
Marion Endicott. Emily Carr: The Story of an Artist (Women's Educational Press, 1981)
Doris Shadbolt. The Art of Emily Carr (Douglas & McIntyre, 1979)
Doris Shadbolt. Seven Journeys (Douglas & McIntyre).
Doris Shadbolt. Emily Carr (Vancouver Art Gallery, 1971. To accompany the retrospective exhibition to commemorate the 100th birthday of the artist's birth.
Edythe Hembroff-Schleicher. M.E. A Portrait of Emily Carr (Toronto: Clark Irwin, 1969). Edythe Hembroff-Schleicher. Emily Carr: The Untold Story (Hancock House Publishing, 1978).
Carol Pearson. Emily Carr As I Knew Her (Clarke, Irwin & Company Limited, 1954 / Touchwood 2016)
Emily Carr--Her Paintings and Her Sketches, with a foreword by Ira Dilworth (Oxford University Press, 1946)


The Forest Lover, by Susan Vreeland (Viking Canada, 2004). Historical fiction
Four Pictures by Emily Carr, by Nicolas Debon (Groundwood, 2003). Children's book.
Be Quiet, by Margaret Hollingsworth (Coteau, 2003). Fiction.
Emily Carr Country, by Courtney Milne (McClelland & Stewart, 2001). Photography.
Inward to the Bones: Georgia O'Keeffe's Journey with Emily Carr, by Kate Braid (Polestar, 1998). [See Kate Braid entry]
Dear Nan: Letters of Emily Carr, Nan Cheney, and Humphrey Toms, edited by Doreen Walker (UBC Press, 1990) ISBN: 0774803487

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Sister and I from Victoria to Londons

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2016]

What Art Do We Want?
Speech, March 4, 1930, at Crystal Gardens

"What about our side of Canada--the Great West, standing before us big and strong and beautiful? What art do we want for her art? Ancient or modern? She's young but she's very big. If we dressed her in the art dresses of the older countries she would burst them. So we will have to make her a dress of her own. Not that the art of the Old World is not great and glorious and beautiful, but what they have to express over there is not the same as we have to express over here. It is different. The spirit is different. Everyone knows that the moment we go from the Old Country to the New, of from the New to the Old, we feel the difference at once. European painters have sought to express Europe. Canadian painters must strive to express Canada. Misty landscapes and gentle cows do not express Western Canada, even the cows know that. I said to a farmer in Scotland once: 'That fence wouldn't keep out a Canadian cow.' 'You are right,' he replied, 'it would not. Your cows are accustomed to fighting their way through the bush. When they are shipped here it takes twice as many men and twice as high a fence to make them stay put.' So, if the country produces different cow-spirit, isn't it reasonable that it should produce different artist-spirit?" -- Emily Carr, from Fresh Seeing.

Corresponding Influence: Selected Letters of Emily Carr and Ira Dilworth
Info 2006

The lack of recorded intimacy in Emily Carr's life has long been a troublesome subject. Was she the victim of abuse as a child? Was she a lesbian? Was she overwhelmingly egocentric as an artist? The reasons for her prickly surface manners will likely never be unravelled, but Linda Morra has at least revealed the extent to which Carr yearned for, and appreciated, friendship and intimacy by gathering the twilight correspondence between Carr and her literary mentor, Ira Dilworth, regional director of CBC radio, for Corresponding Influence: Selected Letters of Emily Carr and Ira Dilworth (UTP 2006). Of more than 440 extant letters written between early 1940 and Carr's death in March of 1945, 195 were written by Dilworth and 250 by Carr. With encouragement and direction from Doris Shadbolt and research advisor Eva-Marie Kroller, Morra has selected 142 of them to represent the heartfelt neediness of the pair. "God bless you, Emily!" wrote Dilworth, while sending her "oodles of love." For five years they were devoted to one another, linked as if they had been lovers in the flesh. Carr's often hasty and randomly punctuated letters to her editor and confidante reveal her intrepid and uncompromising nature. She once told Dilworth that for a "letter to be a correspondence [there] must be a spontaneous loving outpour from one to another[.] How can you 'respond' if there is not a 'co'?" In Carr's last will and testament, addressed to Ira Dilworth, she concludes, "Forgive me dear for all the times I have been unreasonable or petulant or weepy. I have loved you truly & shall as long as I can [.] Thank you for the love you have given to me. God bless you--goodbye." An unpublished story by Carr entitled Small's Gold is also included in Morra's volume.

Wild Flowers

Catkin -- Poor old Willow how they sentimentalize, how they exploit you through your catkins. Even standing ankle deep in water as you do in spring, human hands reach to grab the army of furry coated little catkins that you send out while it is yet cold to drive away the end of Winter. Your wrenched and broken boughs people take home and stick in jugs where they collect household dust. Perhaps the catkins will sit there till you make more next spring. They cannot go on with flowering, they cannot die, they are paralyzed. People prattle about “swamp kitties” and paste one fat catkin for a body and one smaller on top of it for a head, onto cardboard pencil a tail and whiskers to the thing and call it a cat. Please notice these pigmy monstrosity, catkin cats always have their backs turned as if they intimated, “Pshaw! can’t we be honest catkins? Why must we mock cats.” – by Emily Carr in Wild Flowers, writing about Scouler’s Willow (Salix scouleriana) as painted by Emily Woods

Emily Carr & Wolfgang Paalen
Catalogue 2016

In connection to an exhibition he curated at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2016 called I Had An Interesting French Artist To See Me This Summer: Emily Carr and Wolfgang Paalen in British Columbia, Colin Browne wrote the text for a book catalogue of the same name in which he recounts and explores the relationship between Carr and surrealist painter Wolfgang Paalen who was member of the Paris avant-garde in the 1930s. The pair met in the summer of 1939 when he travelled to North America with his wife, Alice Rahon, and their friend, Eva Sulzer. As an artist and collector, Paalen was keenly interested in the art and culture of indigenous peoples of North America, later settling in Mexico where he published an art journal Dyn in which he continued to investigate the integration of "the enormous treasure of Amerindian forms into the consciousness of modern art." The catalogue also records the correspondence between Paalen and West Coast collector William Arnold Newcombe (1884-1960) who served as go-between for Carr and Paalen. In a letter to a friend Carr wrote, "I can't get the surrealist point of view most of their subjects revolt me." But Paalen evidently saw similarities with Carr's approach the she failed to appreciate. Colin Browne's study examines the stylistic synchronicity of their paintings, evidenced by a melding of a painting by each artist to serve as the cover of the catalogue.