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Emily Carr: A Canadian icon from Victoria, BC

a group of people walking on the side of a mountain

In the annals of Canadian art history, few figures loom as large or as hauntingly as Emily Carr. Her life was a tumultuous journey marked by sadness, triumph, and an unyielding passion for painting and writing. Born in 1871, the same year that saw the birth of the province of British Columbia as it joined the Canadian federation, Carr’s life would become intertwined with the very fabric of her homeland on Vancouver Island.

a close up of a canyonEmily Carr’s artistic odyssey often led her to the homes and streets where she lived, traveled, and found inspiration. From her early explorations in Europe to her deep connection with the landscapes of Vancouver Island, her name became synonymous with her quest to preserve the vanishing indigenous villages and the majestic landscapes that shaped her artistic vision.

Born in Victoria, British Columbia, Emily Carr spent her formative years surrounded by the lush beauty of the Pacific Northwest. It was here that she first discovered her love for art, drawing inspiration from the towering forests and rugged coastline that stretched as far as the eye could see. However, her early life was marked by tragedy, with the loss of her parents and the responsibilities of caring for her siblings weighing heavily on her young shoulders.

a large lawn in front of a house with Emily Carr House in the backgroundDespite these challenges, Carr’s passion for art remained undiminished. She traveled extensively throughout British Columbia, seeking out remote indigenous villages and capturing their essence on canvas. Her paintings of totem poles, longhouses, and the natural landscape are now considered some of her most iconic works, serving as a testament to her dedication to preserving indigenous culture in the face of encroaching modernity.

One of Carr’s most notable journeys took her to the northern reaches of Vancouver Island, where she documented the abandoned villages of the indigenous peoples in 1912, becoming one of the first artists to post-Haida artwork. These hauntingly beautiful scenes would become a recurring theme in her work, reflecting both the sadness of cultural loss and the resilience of the human spirit.

a pair of blue shoesEmily Carr’s journey into the artistic world began in earnest in 1894 when she embraced post-impressionism and traveled to London to further her studies. Her time in England was transformative, but Carr struggled to conform to the rigid constraints of the art school. Restless and eager for new experiences, she embarked on a journey with her sister, Alice, from Seattle to Alaska, determined to document the First Nations villages that dotted the coastlines along the way. This trip ignited Carr’s passion for indigenous art and culture, laying the groundwork for her future explorations and artistic endeavors.a bunch of bananas hanging on a wall

As she traveled, Carr often found herself struggling against societal expectations and the limitations imposed on female artists of her time. Despite facing criticism and financial hardship, she remained steadfast in her commitment to her craft, eventually gaining recognition as one of Canada’s foremost painters.

Today, visitors to British Columbia can trace Carr’s footsteps through the homes and streets where she lived and worked. In Victoria, her childhood home has been preserved as the Emily Carr House -a National Historic Site-, offering a glimpse into the early years of this remarkable artist’s life. The streets of Vancouver are dotted with galleries showcasing her work, a testament to her enduring legacy in the Canadian art world. Royal BC Museum has one of the largest collections of her work, including over 100 impressive paintings and sketches, and handicrafts.

At EV Tours we offer private tours, customized to your needs with expert local guides. If you would like to know more about Emily Carr and visit her places on the Island, we invite you to visit: