Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Doris McCarthy 1910-2010

Doris McCarthy           

When I was in Can Serrat in Spain, I learned that my old friend, Doris McCarthy died on November 25th at the age of 100.  She was an icon in the Canadian art world, honoured and loved for her constant, dedicated focus on painting the landscape of this country that she loved so much.  

In 2005, in honour of her 95th birthday,  Toronto's acclaimed Amadeus Choir, paid tribute  Doris McCarthy in a special multi-media concert - "Amadeus and the Artist - A Portrait of Doris McCarthy" - on October 22 at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church in Toronto. The program featured the world première performance by the Amadeus Choir and the Bach Children's Chorus of 'Salutation of the Dawn' by Canadian composer Eleanor Daley, commissioned by the Amadeus Choir.

Along with three of her friends, I was invited to give a speech about my travels with her.  Here's the speech I gave that day.

"It’s not the journey you take with Doris; the adventure is being with her and feeling the largeness of her spirit. Doris has an infectious joy in greeting each new day. She silently whistles as she prepares her art supplies to head outdoors, forever hopeful that TODAY will produce the best painting ever.

In 1993 we shared a magical sailing trip down the east coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands, stopping at the abandoned Haida villages, where Emily Carr once painted.  On every shore excursion, Doris, then 83, jumped out of the dinghy, set up her equipment and began painting with that determined focus we all admire.

She is a delightful blend of dedicated focus and joyful playfulness.  When a couple of us picked up a 10’ long tube of seaweed and began to twirl it like a skipping rope, who should jump into the rope and begin skipping, but young Doris McCarthy.

Doris has such a positive way of being in this world.  When I complained on the sailboat of feeling very claustrophobic in my small upper bunk with 6” of air space, Doris jumped up into it and said, “I’ll take it, I don’t mind it a bit.”

My most memorable adventure was our trip to Pond Inlet in 1992, in the dark of Arctic winter. The adventure began before we even arrived there.  Between flights on our way to Pond, we took a short walk to stretch our legs. Suddenly we heard our airplane engines revving up.  OH NO! All our stuff was on that plane..purses, cameras, even our airline tickets!  Everything. We ran onto the tarmac in front of the plane, madly waving our arms and screaming Stop! Stop!  Mercifully, the propellers stopped, and the stairs were lowered.  As we climbed onto the plane, a small Inuit man, one of the ground crew said sternly to Doris, “Grandma, don’t ever do that again!” 

Doris’s attitude toward life continues to inspire me in my life.  She is my hero, the kind of person I want to be when I’m 95. She lives in a small body, but her spirit fills this room.  I am privileged to know you Doris." 



  1. I am so thankful that you took the time to write about our-Canada's-Doris--and I so envy you your journeys with her. You write so beautifully so thank you for sharing your words about your adventures.
    And so many of us I'm sure feel what you have articulated:
    'She is my hero, the kind of person I want to be when I’m 95. She lives in a small body, but her spirit fills this room.'

  2. Thanks Jan. Doris will be missed. She inspired a lot of people with that big spirit.

  3. Thank you Janice. I am inspired by reading about Doris. In my minds eye I can see the Inuit mustering all he had to admonish an elder, and calling her "grandma." Sweet!