EMILY CARR: PAINTER & AUTHOR                           

Emily Carr was born on December 13, 1871 in Victoria, British-Columbia.  Her father was a respected English merchant and her mother, from what is depicted of her, was a simple, yet very ill, English lady.  Carr was born into a family of four siblings, three sisters and one brother.  She became a painter and proved herself later on in life as an author.  When she was a teenager, both of her parents died leaving her an orphan.  When she turned 18, she persuaded her guardians to let her leave for San Francisco where she would study art at the California School of Design.  This is when her career as an artist truly began.  She commenced sketching and drawing at a very young age, but it was only when she attended the school of arts in France, the Académie Colarossi in 1910, that she found true inspiration and models to follow.  Throughout her career, as an artist, she taught children’s art.  

The Vancouver Art Gallery’s article on Emily Carr entitled “About Emily Carr” demonstrates how, in 1926, she was at a turning point in her life.  She found herself with very little time to devote to her painting and decided to enrol in a writing course.  This could be seen as a way of putting her work aside for she later returned to painting in the late 1920s.  She was then encouraged by a close friend to gather her writing and to pursue the idea of publishing her work.  This took many years for it was only in 1941 that she published her first book Klee Wyck, which was a recollection of her experiences with natives.  Even though her family was not supportive of her career choice, for they could not understand why she would submit herself to such a poor way of life, she continued her path on becoming the Canadian icon that we know today.

Reviews post-France

Emily Carr received beautiful reviews about her work while she was in France; however, in the eyes of Canadian critics, her work was not perceived in the same manner.  Art at the time was very conservative, which is an aspect that made her style very difficult to accept in Canadian society.  Carr’s opinion was that “[a]rt is art, nature is nature, you cannot improve on it…. Pictures should be inspired by nature, but made in the soul of the artist, no two individualities could behold the same thing and express it alike, […] it is the soul of the individual that counts.” (Tippett, 101).  Emily Carr’s artwork was seen as bizarre, as not being representative of the facts which life provided.  When she came back from France, she used colors in her paintings that were unnatural.  Her style became bolder and more vivid for she used bright colors such as highly pigmented reds, greens, blues and yellows.  She used those pure colors and incorporated notions of contrasts that were deviant to the concurrent conventions used by the art community.  Throughout her career as a painter, she depicted two different themes: native culture and artefacts as well as nature and its beautiful landscapes.  However, this conception of nature being beautiful was shattered by Carr’s artwork.  Certain could simply not understand that she was painting through the eyes of the artist, the artist within.

Carr’s View

Emily Carr was first and foremost an introverted individual.  She was perceived and lived as a person in solitude.  It was through her painting and her writing that she truly expressed herself as well as her view on life and its difficulties.  She rarely relied on the help of others in order to achieve the final results of her paintings.  There is one friend and fellow artist who frequently encourages Carr during her life.  Lawren Harris is to be thanked for it is this support of Emily Carr’s work that pushed the female writer to want to publish her work.  Very few people were able to provide that type of insight when it came to her work, whether it was question of her artwork or her writing.  However, through her work, it is possible to perceive that she was influenced by others for, although her artwork was considered as being mainstream art, it only followed certain forms and principles that she had learned while attending the many art classes in France and England for instance.  Carr was never directly part of the Group of Seven; however, she did work alongside them as being part of the Post-modernist movement that was slowly developing in Canada.  Along with the Group, she helped enhance the mythological aspect that was developing around the Canadian landscape as well as the native population. 

            Why would she choose to depict native culture and its diverse artefacts in her paintings?  Carr, at a very young age, living in British-Columbia, was always inclined to the culture that was not quite familiar to her.  It was an exotic one at the least; however, she felt a certain kinship with the culture and shared strong beliefs.  The European way was not how Carr desired to live her life; she was an introverted individual who felt close to nature rather than to all the conventions and values that brought non-native culture.  “[It is t]hrough Carr’s strong opinion on the Church and fervent desire to locate God in the forest [that her views] are clearly articulated [;] the central notion […] is her life as an artist, not as God’s creature.” (K. Walker 16).  The internal artist is searching for her purpose in life; she will continue to search until she finds it.  Carr was attracted to native culture because she felt as though she had something in common with them.  She felt a connection with the native population from a very young age.  Natives, as outcasts, were appealing to Carr because she too felt as though she was a social misfit (K. Walker 138).  While in their presence, she was free from humiliation that often came with the judgemental Victorians.

Reception of her Work

            When Emily Carr was still living, she had achieved much success with her writing and her painting; however, it is regretful that she did not live long enough to see the true extent of her success.  Today, Carr is critically acclaimed for being a Canadian icon, which happens to be far from the description that she would have first received at the beginning.  It is as though people could have never conceived that she would have been so successful.  Before the end of her career, she was accepted by the art community, but her work was not yet seen as innovative.  It had become interested and flamboyant at times; in more words, it was different (Morra 153).  She became an innovator for she brought her teachings from France applied them to the realities of the West Coast.  Through her art, she brought shades and nuances of nature and native culture which is an aspect that has stuck to the land where the paintings were, for the most part, created.

            It is important to acknowledge that Carr was seen as being naïve; however, not more naïve than any other person at that period in time.  Although she did much research on native culture and the surrounding native tribes such as when she went to Coastal British Columbia, visited with the Nootka population and went to Port Renfrew, when she later wrote her books, many of her recollections had been falsified by the many years that had passed and the forgetfulness.  An aspect that is constantly pinned on her is the fact that she used appropriation in most of her representations of native culture.  “[C]ultural appropriation [is partly] a contemporary societal energy brushing across the shared image of [Emily Carr].” (K. Walker 143).  However, critics will never deny nor doubt what Carr brought to the Canadian field of art.  She innovated and brought something new.

Her approach on native culture is one that is seen as being naïve.  It is believed that at the time when she was painting the artefacts, it was not possible for her to truly understand their role.  She is said, by some, to have appropriated elements of native culture in her art.  Unwillingly, she helped promote the idea of the vanishing race.  She would depict images of abandoned native areas, totem poles that were left to rot and of dying nature.

    By Jessica Wilette




                      Truth and Lies in Paul Kane’s Literary and Artistic Work





 J. Russell Harper rightly describes Paul Kane as “[t]he most famous of all Canadian artist-explorers” (Encyclopedia, par. 1). In fact, Kane’s contribution to the study of Native customs and lifestyles has been invaluable, and to this day “[e]thnologists find a wealth of information” in his works (Harper, Dictionary, par. 16). But Kane’s production was not exempt from prejudice and stereotypes. After a short biography of the artist, this essay will address the mixed attitudes towards Natives that can be found in Kane’s travel account and in his artistic work.


            Paul Kane was born in Ireland in 1810. Nine years later, his parents immigrated to York (Toronto). Around 1830, Kane decided to become a professional artist. After working as a portraitist and furniture painter in the United States for 11 years, he realized one of his dreams: traveling to Europe in order to study the works of the old masters. After spending some time in France and Italy, Kane moved to London where he met George Catlin, an American artist who had become famous for his paintings of North American Indians. Catlin’s work produced such on strong impression on Kane that when he returned to Toronto, in 1845, he decided to travel to the West Coast in order to record Native life. He received technical and financial support from Sir George Simpson, the superintendent of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who allowed him to travel with the HBC brigades and stop at company posts. Thus began a long journey that took Kane as far as Vancouver Island and Oregon. When the artist finally returned to Toronto in 1848, he had accumulated some 700 sketches of the landscapes, people, and artefacts of the Canadian West (Harper, Dictionary).

Travel Account

            During his travels, Kane jotted down brief notes in a pocket notebook. These notes were later transcribed, expanded, and embellished to become, in Eaton’s words, “a lengthy and very popular Victorian travel book, replete with the literary conventions and social prejudices of the time” (6). The account, titled Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America from Canada to Vancouver Island and Oregon through the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Territory and Back Again, was published in 1859 under “pressure from influential persons,” including Kane’s patron, Sir George Simpson (Harper, Dictionary, 27). The book reveals mixed feelings towards the Natives.

            On the one hand, many phrases attest to a belief in the cultural inferiority of Natives, who are sometimes regarded as barely human. Examples can be found very easily throughout Kane’s book, with references to the Native as an “untutored savage” (33), “one of the most dangerous animals in existence” (35), leading a “wild” life full of “vicissitudes” (81). In some instances, Kane does not seem to have any respect at all for Natives. This is revealed in an especially shocking sentence where he tells about replacing one of his Native guides: “One of my Indians falling sick here, I procured another Indian….” (Kane 201). Here, Native men are depicted as mere commodities that are interchangeable and can be disposed of when they are no longer useful. Apparently, describing Natives as animals was not enough: they had to be reduced to objects.

            But on the other hand, other excerpts suggest a more open mind that is not as quick in dismissing Natives as uncivilized savages. The most striking one is certainly the one about cannibalism. After telling that some Natives have been known to eat their own relatives for want of food, Kane contrasts the horror of the fact with the following opinion:

I do not think that any Indian, at least none that I have ever seen, would eat his fellow-creature, except under the influence of starvation; nor do I think that there is any tribe of Indians on the North American continent to whom the word “cannibal” can be properly applied. (61)

Coming from a nineteenth-century European male, this is a surprisingly positive view.

            Was this discrepancy in the treatment of Natives present in Kane’s mind, or did it arise in the editorial process? Any answer to this question would be mere speculation: as Kane’s original travel notes are not widely available, the published book cannot be compared with any other material.

Field Sketches and Studio Paintings

            Still, we do have access to other things that can be compared: Kane’s field sketches, which he drew quickly as he was traveling, and his large and better-known oil paintings, which he created in his Toronto studio many years afterwards. Whereas the former display an impressive amount of detail and were drawn with documentary precision, the latter were “[c]arefully composed and executed in accordance with nineteenth-century standards of taste” (Eaton 5). And these standards were not always consistent with documentary realism. For example, Kane readily paints Natives hunting buffalo with bows and arrows whereas his written account of the hunt reveals that the actual weapons being used were guns.

            According to Ann Davis and Robert Thacker, quoted by Eaton, the discrepancy between the sketches and the oil paintings can be explained by the different functions that the works served in Kane’s mind:

Kane was the recorder in the field and the artist in the studio. He seemed content to concentrate on the mirror—to “imitate”—when sketching, but felt the need to be a lamp—to “create”—when working up his canvases. (ix)

In other words, sketches had to be primarily accurate whereas paintings had to be primarily aesthetically pleasing. Jonathan Raban has a different theory, one that challenges the very notion that Kane’s paintings are about the Canadian West:

Kane's journey is the real subject; his Pacific Northwest is an adequately wild backdrop for a sequence of pictures in which one's attention instinctively fastens less on the land than on the personality of the painter. (43)

The paintings, as opposed to the very detailed and realistic sketches, would then be similar to the published travel account: more entertaining than didactic, more focused on Kane’s adventures than on the people he met.


            In conclusion, it is important to recall that although Paul Kane’s work has often been analyzed (and criticized) as anthropological work, Kane was not an anthropologist: he was a professional artist who made a living by painting the works that people commissioned and abiding by the conventions of his time. Only by taking these factors into consideration can one truly appreciate how impressive Kane’s travel account and field sketches are. They may not be perfectly accurate, they may not be exempt from bias, but they display a sincere will to be fair to Natives and describe their customs and lifestyles in great detail. And by the standards of nineteenth-century amateur anthropology, this is certainly a remarkable achievement.


    By Marie-Christine Gingras





History of reserves

Reserves were created for many different reasons and in a number of various ways. Before Confederation (1867), missionaries and colonial administrators established reserves to try to assimilate the natives and to get rid of their nomadic way of living (Shewell, 1954). Reserves were also established through treaties 4, by “grants” from the Crown, or through special arrangements with individual First Nations groups.  The first Canadian Indian reserves were recognized in 1637 and are said to have been established on seigniorial holdings by Catholic missionary orders and private persons in New France (Maccue, 2008). In 1871, the Canadian government began to settle Indians on reserves so that they would not interfere with the spread of agricultural settlement. The government signed treaties, surveyed reserves, and offered agricultural instruction to encourage the Natives to take on farming (Sproat, 1878). Most Natives had no other choice than to accept their new way of life. The Government had planned to “assimilate” the Indians into the Canadian life but the isolation of the “Prairie Indians” lasted 15 years (Mcquillan, 1980). Many questions had to be taken into consideration before making a piece a land a reserve. E.g.: “What proportion is it woodland, for buildings, fences and fuel? What proportion is it unavailable from rocks, lakes, streams or very wet swamps? What proportion is it natural hay land? What proportion is it arable land capable or tolerable of easy cultivation with or without water?” (Mcquillan, p.7).  After Confederation, reserves were formed either under the numbered treaties or by special arrangement with individual bands (a body of Indians in a community, residing on one or more reserves).


Indian reserves are lands that are put aside exclusively for the use of Status Indians (indigenous person recognized by federal government) and they make up less than 1 percent of the land base in Canada. With a few exceptions, only Status Indians can live on reserves. In Canada, an Indian reserve is specified by the Indian Act as a "tract of land, the legal title to which is vested in Her Majesty, which has been set apart by Her Majesty for the use and benefit of a band" (Maccue, p.1). There are many Indians who believe that reserves are legally their property, but in reality, the Indian Act states that the possession of reserves is entitled to the Crown. The Indian Act prohibits the "surrender and sale of reserve land by an Indian or a band to anyone other than the Crown" (Maccue, p.1) First Nation reserve lands and the personal property of bands and resident band members are not taxed other than for local taxation. The absence of taxation has permitted band members operating in proprietorships or partnerships to sell heavily taxed goods, such as cigarettes, on their reserves at very low prices compared to those found in stores which are situated off of the reserves. There is a strong competition to become chief of a band since it is one of the few jobs that are found on Native reserves (Desjardins, 2007). Many bands have leased or given portions of their reserve lands to non-Indians for various purposes including natural-resource exploitation, rights of way for transportation or transmission, farming, ranching, and recreational land use. Within the reserve, the band may lease the land and use it to develop economic opportunities for band members. Reserve bylaws only apply within the boundaries of the reserve but most provincial laws apply to the residents of the reserve. Generally, provincial laws govern all residents of that province or territory, on and off a reserve (Land Claims, 2008).

Reserves today

There are nearly 2,500 reserves in Canada. 58 percent of the Status Indian population (over 650,000) live on reserves. Of these, there are 540 occupied reserves in Canada where First Nation peoples now live. The total area of the reserves represents over three million hectares, of which 1.4 million are forested (Statistics Canada, 2006).  

Unfortunately, most Canadians have limited knowledge on Indian reserves. More often than not, the only exposure they have comes from the media. Many reserves are cut off from the rest of the nation, and since Confederation, provincial and federal governments have faced challenges to address the unique legal, historical and cultural issues affecting First Nations. The segregation of reserves, and many other factors have caused high levels of unemployment, chronic housing shortages, a variety of health and social problems and low rates of education. 80 percent of natives living on reserves are on welfare. There is an average of 8 persons per household and the suicidal rate is 6 to 7 times greater on reserves than it is throughout the nation (Desjardins, 2007). Even with these hard living conditions, the reserves, especially in the southern regions, remain the physical and spiritual home for many Indians. Many Natives see their reserves as being the only piece of history they have left that show they were the original people of Canada. It remains a location where their tribal language, spiritual beliefs and values are shared. There are extreme economic, health and housing problems, but the reserves still contribute to Native identity.

    By Marianne Laramée