OTD: Emily Carr born in Victoria, B.C.

On today’s date in 1871, Canadian painter and author Emily Carr was born in Victoria, B.C.

Carr was one of the first painters to adopt a modernist, post-impressionist style in Canada and went largely unappreciated; however, despite experiencing setbacks throughout her life, she was eventually acknowledged as one of the country’s most significant contemporary artists.

Her haunting portrayals of the landscape of the Pacific Northwest Coast created a new mythos of the Pacific Northwest wilderness. Today, her depictions of native coastal villages and artifacts help to preserve these cultures’ changing ways of life.


In 2014, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a three-coin set commemorating Carr’s totem-themed work.

The set includes:

  • a $20 Fine silver coin featuring a detail from her 1930 oil painting, Totem Forest;
  • a $200 pure gold coin featuring a detail from her 1930 watercolour and graphite work, Zunoqua; and
  • a $300 pure platinum coin featuring a detail from her 1941-1942 oil painting, A Skidegate Beaver Pole.

The obverse of each coin features the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II by Susanna Blunt.

A $20 Fine silver coin depicts Carr’s 1930 oil painting, Totem Forest.


Carr’s earliest encounters with the monumental totem poles of the northwest oast began on her early trips to the British Columbia coast.

From these journeys, Carr produced sketches and on-the-spot watercolours that inspired or became many of the works for which she is now famous.

Rarely working from photos, Carr based her art on totem poles she stood before in person—studying, absorbing, and becoming “personally acquainted” with them, according to her own words.

It was on her well-known 1912 trip she committed herself to preserve these First Nations artifacts through her work.

She undertook a further painting trip in 1928, from which she produced several major totem works, including Totem Forest.


A coin featuring Carr’s watercolour, Tsatsisnukomi, B.C., 1912, was issued by the Mint in 2013.

In 2013, the Mint commemorated Carr on an ultra-high relief collector coin composed of five kilograms of Fine silver.

This coin celebrates Carr’s watercolour Tsatsisnukomi, B.C., 1912.

“The Vancouver Art Gallery is thrilled that one of the Carr paintings in the Gallery’s permanent collection has been celebrated by the Royal Canadian Mint on such a remarkable coin,” said Kathleen Bartels, director of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Today, Tsatsisnukomi, B.C., 1912 is housed at the Vancouver Art Gallery, which maintains the world’s most important collections of original Emily Carr works.

The 2013 Carr coin was created by engravers Christie Paquet and Stan Witten. The central image of a mystical bird makes the totem pole rise from the coin’s surface. In the background, a combination of frostings captures the masterful shading of the original painting. The image is surrounded by an outer band evoking the cross-sectional grain of a cedar log, over which Emily Carr’s name and lifespan (1871-1946) appear. Only 100 coins were minted.

Carr suffered a heart attack and died on March 2, 1945, at the James Bay Inn in her hometown of Victoria, B.C.

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