Doris McCarthy passed away peacefully on the morning of November 25, 2010, at Fool’s Paradise, her home atop the Scarborough Bluffs. McCarthy was a much loved and celebrated artist, writer, teacher and friend. She will continue to be an inspiration to countless Canadians who have recognized her as one of the most cherished interpreters of our rugged landscape.
McCarthy was born July 7, 1910, in Calgary, Alberta and spent her youth living in the Beach area of Toronto. In 1926 she earned a scholarship to the Ontario College of Art (OCA) where she was mentored by some of the premier Canadian artists of the early twentieth century, including both Arthur Lismer and JEH MacDonald. Soon after graduating from OCA in 1930, McCarthy’s works were exhibited in the 1931 Ontario Society of Artists’ (OSA) Annual Exhibition. She achieved her membership to the Society in 1945 and later went on to become OSA Vice President from 1961 to 1964 and President from 1964 to 1967. She would continue to establish her position as one of Toronto’s major emerging artists and later, as perhaps the foremost, female landscape painter in Canada. With memberships in the Royal Canadian Academy of Artists (1951) and the Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour (1951, and for which she served as President from 1956 to 1958), her receipt of five Honorary Doctorates from five different Canadian Universities from 1995 to 2002, and her induction into the Order of Ontario (1992) and the Order of Canada (1986), her place in the canon of great Canadian artists has been solidified. McCarthy was a lifelong learner and graduated from the Univeristy of Toronto Scarborough in 1989 with an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree.
Though immersed in the dedicated pursuit of her creative passion, Doris McCarthy always made time for other people. She was often surrounded by close family and friends, and shared her zest for life, painting and effervescent conversation. Doris’s sense of adventure and her compassionate encouragement of others created a personal aura dating back to her days as a Canadian Girls in Training camp counsellor, to her forty years of teaching art at Toronto’s Central Technical School (1932–1972), and continuing throughout her lifelong journey. Yet, mirrored in her amiable sociability was also a great appreciation of solitude, most often in the form of the northern Ontario wilderness. Some of her early painting trips involved adventures in Muskoka, Haliburton, Georgian Bay and the Arctic with groups of other devoted artists. McCarthy travelled five continents to paint and to explore, but it has always been Canada that figured most splendidly and most often in her work and in her affections.
When the Doris McCarthy Gallery opened at the University of Toronto Scarborough in 2004, McCarthy stated that the honour was the climax of her professional career. She responded in kind by promising a major selection of her paintings for the Gallery’s Permanent Collection. On the occasion of McCarthy’s hundredth birthday in the summer of 2010, the Doris McCarthy Gallery celebrated with Roughing It in the Bush, a spectacular exhibit curated by Nancy Campbell and co-presented with the University of Toronto Art Centre. McCarthy actively participated in the planning process and was delighted by the updates as they came in. Upon seeing an advance copy of the exhibition catalogue, she clasped the book to her chest and declared it “a triumph!” The exhibition’s opening festivities — including a heartfelt rendition of “Happy Birthday”— were recorded and McCarthy was able to enjoy the events through a live video feed that she viewed from Fool’s Paradise. Doris McCarthy lived every day with a sparkle in her bright, blue eyes. Her personal and artistic legacy will be unparalleled, thanks to the amount of love and dedication with which she lived her life.
From her condensed memoir My Life, Doris McCarthy reflects upon her personal journey:
“So here I am, content to enjoy every day as it comes, and wise enough to thank God for his mercies and rejoice in them. My only regrets are my economies (never my extravagances) – particularly those of spirit and love.”