2017.04.13

First we pretended that Epping Forest was our Canadian woods, but it was no good, there was not one bit of similarity. We gave up and sipped England’s sweetness happily. Here were trees venerable, huge and grand, but tamed. All Englands things were tame, self-satisfied, smug and meek—even the deer that came right up to us in the forest, smelled our clothes. There was no turmoil of undergrowth swirling round the boles of trees. The forest was almost like a garden—no brambles, no thorns, nothing to stumble over, no rotten stumps, no fallen branches, all mellow to look at, melodious to hear, every kind of bird, all singing, no awed hush, no vast echoes, just beautiful, smiling woods, not solemn, solemn, solemn like our forests. This exquisite, enchanting gentleness was perfect for one day, but not for always—we were Canadians. (179)

Emily Carr, in GROWING PAINS, her autobiography. She wrote it in the last years of her life, but didn’t want the book published until after her death. She wanted to write her life in her own way, as she lived it, but she didn’t want to hurt any feelings either.

This passage comes from a story called “Martyn” about Emily’s time studying art in England in her early 20s. Martyn was actually Mayo Padden, a sailor she had met in Victoria. He had fallen in love with her there and followed her to England to ask her to marry him. She said no. He asked her every day of his visit, and every day, she said no. She asked him for just one day when he didn’t ask. This day, when they explored the Epping Forest. Emily said it was the best day.

Even though Emily went to London to study art (earlier: San Francisco; later: Paris), she resented how the British saw Canada as a backwater. She had grown up in a deeply British house; her father had chosen Victoria exactly because it was the most British city in Canada. But to the people Emily met in England, she was a poor country cousin.

She went there to study art, but what Emily learned in England was how much she loved Canada. She saw Victoria differently when she went home. She didn’t stop painting totem poles, but she started painting more trees. After being elsewhere, she knew now our forests were better. The British said the west was unpaintable. Emily Carr went home to prove them wrong.