The pastoral, treed landscapes of Metchosin haven’t changed much in 80 years — a good thing for someone seeking traces of Emily Carr.
A keen eye for detail in Carr’s paintings and West Shore rural pastures has helped Elaine Limbrick unearth new stories about Victoria’s most iconic artist.
She is in the midst of compiling a guide book of West Shore locations Carr visited and painted.
“Out here we have beautiful landscapes and seascapes,” says Limbrick, a Highlands resident and president of the West Shore Arts Council. “We aren’t just sports arenas.”
Following the footsteps of a woman who died in 1945 is not an easy task, but Limbrick has become a sleuth in the process.
She has spent the last three years interviewing people whose relatives or friends had connections with Carr, as well as reading her books and books written about the artist, famous for painting flowing landscapes and First Nations totems.
Through memoirs, dates of paintings and landmarks in the paintings, Limbrick has started identifying exact West Shore locations of many paintings. She has identified about 20 locations.
“There are lots of little clues,” Limbrick says. “I am still discovering them.”
She had already been researching Carr’s life, but Limbrick began to dig deeper when she started working on the Metchosin green community mapping project about two years ago. As she learned more about Carr, the more she was determined to complete the guidebook, which she hopes to compete this spring.
As part of her research, Limbrick studied Carr’s painting titled Mrs. Jones’ Farm, which is on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery. She suspected it was a landscape from Metchosin.
She started looking at land in the area and found a farm, now called Glengarry farm, which was owned by the Jones family when the painting was created, circa 1938.
After contacting the farm owners, Limbrick’s hunch was proven correct. The farm, off Taylor Road, is owned by Douglas and Gretta Ruth. Gretta is the granddaughter of Jones, the woman titled in the painting.
Carr and Gretta’s grandmother were friends from a young age and lived in James Bay. Gretta’s grandmother would help the painter financially when she needed it, and it was Gretta’s job to deliver the envelope of money.
Gretta’s grandmother also allowed Carr to her park her makeshift camping trailer — fondly known as the Elephant — at the farm. The painting Mrs. Jones’ Farm came from one of those times, Gretta says.
“She was always nice to children,” Gretta says. “But I didn’t like the monkey,” referring to Carr’s monkey named Woo.
While Limbrick has tracked down the origin to that particular painting, she has many more pieces to identify. “Emily’s time was 80 years ago. The trees must have been little,” Limbrick says. “You have to remember landscapes change.”
As a tool, Limbrick pays close attention to what mode of transportation Carr would have used at the time, whether it be horse, rail or car, to narrow down where images could have come from.
“When you are working on Emily you have to be like a detective,” Limbrick says. “There is all kinds of new evidence on Emily Carr.”
Carr painted on various farms and seascapes such as Albert Head Lagoon and Esquimalt Lagoon. Carr even skinny-dipped in Goldstream River. Limbrick has discovered Carr spent time painting and travelling in communities now known as View Royal, Langford, Colwood and Metchosin.
“The Metchosin Emily knew was not the same boundaries we know today,” Limbrick says explaining at that time Colwood didn’t exist and Metchosin spanned from Esquimalt to Goldstream park.
As a child, Carr would travel by horse and carriage with her parents from Victoria to Four Mile House in View Royal. As an adult she would park her trailer near Four Mile House for the winter.
Carr would spent two months a year in Metchosin living in her trailer, which doubled as a semi-mobile studio.
“She’d go camping by herself in the forest and never know if a cougar was going to get her. She heard a cougar because she wrote about it,” Limbrick says. “I still do think she was a very courageous woman.”