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Heroes of History: Emily Carr| Heros de l’histoire: Emily Carr


Indian House Interior with Totems (1912-1913) Source: Vancouver Art Gallery/Canadian Virtual Museum.

Here at YMCA Exchanges, we’re big fans of travel, especially when it comes to taking those kinds of trips that not only leave you with good memories for years to come, but those that leave you with ideas to improve your life right after you come back. Those kind of trips that make you want to tell everyone else *right now* about what you saw and how they have to see it too (in real life, not just through your Instagram page). Canadians have been taking these kinds of trips for a long, long time, and this month’s hero of history–painter, writer and all-around inspirational person Emily Carr– is no exception. Of all the travels she took in her life (and there were many!) three trips in particular shaped the course of her life and are the reason why she is a Hero of History to us today.

Emily Carr at 21 years old, 1893. Source: Vancouver Art Gallery/Canadian Virtual Museum

Emily Carr at 21 years old, 1893. Source: Vancouver Art Gallery/Canadian Virtual Museum

Emily Carr was born on December 13, 1871 to British-born parents in Victoria, British Columbia, the 5th of 6 children. While growing up, she took an interest in the nature around her, which led her to draw many pictures of the trees, animals and beautiful scenery that was never too far from where she lived, despite no one in her family having any aspirations to making art and a lack of artistic role models. Emily’s parents died when she was in her early teens, and she took comfort in her art. Some time later, she convinced her guardians to send her to the California School of Design in San Francisco, and while there, she built on her artistic talents, learning the basics of painting.  She returned to British Columbia three years later and began using her newly minted skills, teaching art classes for young children.

While living in Victoria, she realized that the art world outside of her hometown was brimming with new styles, influences and potential, far more than the current level of her skills and what her hometown had to offer to improve those skills. She seized an opportunity to travel to France with her sister Alice in 1910, and arrived in Paris to discover the modernist art movement, among the many others that were starting at the time.  Emily took classes at the famous (and controversial for its time, as it was the first to accept female students) Academie Colarossi, but ultimately developed her talents with a British artist, Harry Gibb. Despite the budding art movements of cubism, futurism, abstraction, and fauvism, Emily developed her own post-impressionist style of painting, and returned to Victoria in 1912 with a renewed and improved set of skills to use in her creations.

In addition to the nature around her, Emily had always taken an interest in the Native peoples of the Pacific Coast, who shared much of the same landscape, but were a world away in terms of their customs, lifestyle, and especially art. The goal for the next stage of her artistic creations was to document the various totem poles and other artistic parts of the lives of the First Nations of BC. To do this, she traveled to the Queen Charlotte Islands and the Skeena River area for 6 weeks, documenting the art of the Haida, Gitksan, and Tsimsham people. The drawings and carvings she made from this trip would be the basis of many of her most famous works which showcased two important themes: the life and art of the Aboriginal cultures of the past, and the landscape of west coast Canada.

A Skidegate Beaver Pole (1941-1942). Source: Vancouver Art Gallery/Canadian Virtual Museum.

A Skidegate Beaver Pole (1941-1942). Source: Vancouver Art Gallery/Canadian Virtual Museum.

Though much of her work was unknown to Canada until after her death in 1945, Klee Wyck (“the laughing one”, her name given to her by her Native friends while traveling through the Queen Charlotte Islands) made an impact on many works of Canadian art in the years afterwards, especially those depicting Native culture. She is known as a “Canadian Icon” of Canadian art. From her travels to the United States, France and within Canada, her life is a statement in that travel leads us to open our horizons, to tell our stories and more importantly, to share the stories of others.

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My SWSE Summer Experience: Ajay’s job at the Canadian Railway Museum |Mon expérience EéÉé : Le travail d’Ajay au Musée ferroviaire canadien


Ajay at the Exporail Museum, summer 2014.|Ajay au Musee ferroviaire canadien, ete 2014


Just a short while ago, the shortest six weeks of my life came to a close. Even though this exchange was the longest I’ve ever been away from my family, the experiences I’ve had over the past few weeks have made me enjoy close to every second of it.
My name’s Ajay and I’m a 16-year-old French immersion student from Victoria, British Columbia. This summer, as part of the YMCA Summer Work Student Exchange, I got placed at an incredible job: A “public agent” at the Exporail Museum. Exporail, also known as the Canadian Railway Museum, is a train museum located near Montreal, Quebec. With over 50,000 yearly visitors, 160 trains, and over 250,000 artifacts, it is the largest train museum in Canada. As this was my first job, the lessons I learned at the museum were extremely valuable, both to my future in employment, and to my future in general. At the museum I learned how to operate a cash register, how to operate a movie theatre, and I also did a lot of site surveillance. I learned how to answer questions for people, and how to deal with discontent visitors, but, above all, this opportunity greatly improved my French. After just one week in Quebec, due to the fact that I was conversing in French with virtually everyone I interacted with, I became very comfortable in the French language, and began to correct grammatical errors I’ve been making for years. I even started having dreams in French!

I benefited greatly from this job, and the total immersion opportunity it provided me with. I learned so much during my time at Exporail, and I can’t believe it’s already over – part of me wants to stay behind and continue working for the museum. As for my fellow staff at Exporail, they were all hard-working and helpful people, and whenever I needed help or was confused, as I often was in my first few days, they never hesitated to help me. The museum also had a big sense of community between it’s staff, and, when the weather was nice, we’d all eat lunches together outside. Many of the employees were also each other’s best friends. The supervisors were all excellent as well, and I feel like I was working in a very relaxed – yet at the same time professional – environment.

Thanks so much to the YMCA and to Exporail for providing me with this opportunity; I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better job. I only wish I could have stayed a little longer.



Il a très peu de temps, les six semaines les plus courtes de ma vie se sont terminées. Même si l’échange constituait le moment où j’avais passé le plus de temps loin de ma famille, les expériences que j’ai vécues pendant les dernières semaines m’en ont fait apprécier presque chaque seconde.
Je m’appelle Ajay, j’ai 16 ans et je suis un étudiant en immersion française de Victoria, en Colombie-Britannique. Cet été, dans le cadre du programme Emplois d’été Échanges étudiants du YMCA, j’ai occupé un poste incroyable; celui de « fonctionnaire » au musée Exporail. Celui-ci, également connu sous le nom de  Musée ferroviaire canadien, est un musée ferroviaire situé près de Montréal. Comptant plus de 50 000 visiteurs chaque année, 160 trains et plus de 250 000 artéfacts, il s’agit du plus important musée sur les trains au Canada. Comme il s’agissait de mon tout premier emploi, les leçons que j’ai apprises au musée ont été très précieuses, tant pour mon emploi futur que pour mon avenir en général. Au musée, on m’a enseigné à utiliser une caisse enregistreuse, à faire fonctionner un cinéma et j’ai également beaucoup surveillé le site. J’ai appris à répondre aux questions des gens et à gérer des visiteurs mécontents, mais cette occasion m’a surtout permis d’améliorer grandement mon français. Après seulement une semaine au Québec, je suis devenu très à l’aise avec la langue française puisque je devais converser en français avec presque tout le monde avec qui j’interagissais. En outre, j’ai commencé à corriger des erreurs grammaticales que je faisais depuis des années. J’ai même commencé à rêver en français!

J’ai grandement tiré profit de cet emploi et de l’occasion d’immersion complète qu’il m’a offerte. J’ai tellement appris pendant mon séjour au musée Exporail. Je peine à croire que c’est déjà terminé; une partie de moi souhaite y rester et continuer à travailler au musée. Pour ce qui est de mes collègues de l’Exporail, ils étaient tous très travaillants et aidants. Peu importe si j’avais besoin d’aide ou si j’étais confus, comme je l’ai été dans les premiers jours, ils n’ont jamais hésité à m’aider. Le personnel du musée avait aussi un grand sens de la communauté; quand il faisait beau dehors, nous mangions tous ensemble à l’extérieur. Bon nombre d’employés étaient aussi de meilleurs amis. Les superviseurs étaient également tous très bons. J’ai l’impression que je travaillais dans un environnement très détendu, tout en étant professionnel.

Je remercie grandement le YMCA et Exporail de m’avoir offert cette occasion. En toute honnêteté, je n’aurais pu demander un meilleur emploi. J’aurais seulement souhaité pouvoir rester plus longtemps.