AmblesideOnline in Canada: Artists and Composers

Canadian Artists for AmblesideOnline Students

The following are several possible term programmes of Canadian art, aimed particularly at elementary-level students.

1. Canadian Folk Artists

One possible text: Canadian Folk Art: Old Ways in a New Land, by Michael Bird.
Choose pieces in the categories that interest you (e.g. Sculpture, Toys and Games, Religious Objects). You may find opportunities to see their real-life counterparts in local museums and historical sites.

2. First Nations Art (past/present)

Choose a good resource book on this topic. One out-of-print example is The McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition (1990), by Jean Blodgett, Megan Bice, David Wistow, and Lee-Ann Martin, which includes large sections on "The Art of the Inuit" and "Canadian Indian Art." This older book has now been replaced by McMichael Canadian Art Collection: Director's Choice, by Ian Dejardin; which, according to its description, also contains works by "many historical and contemporary Indigenous artists." For current artists, websites such as will be helpful.

One artist to be studied under this topic is Norval Morrisseau (1932-2007).
Sample works:
       Adam and Eve and the Serpent, 1974
       Devoured by His Own Passion, 1974
       Shaman Talking to the Animals, 1990
       Otters, 1993
       Man Changing into Thunderbird (multi-panel piece)
       The Masterpiece, 1982

3. Group of Seven (collective) plus Tom Thomson: J.E.H. MacDonald, F.H. Varley, Frank Johnston, Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, Lawren Harris Website

The popular route in books and lesson plans is to look at the Group of Seven collectively, often including Tom Thomson, and there are reasons for that: they worked together, and they often painted the same landscapes (was Jackson's Bent Pine that different from Casson's White Pine?) However, it is worthwhile going on to learn more about at least a few of the individual artists.

4. Cornelius Krieghoff (1815-1872) Website

       The Passing Storm, Saint-Ferréol, 1954
       Tobogganing on the Citadel, 1856
       Early Canadian Homestead, 1859
       Habitants on a Trip to Town, c. 1861
       On Lake Laurent, 1863
       The New Year's Day Parade, 1871

5. Robert Harris (1849-1919) Website

School at Canoe Cove, P.E.I., ca. 1880
       Cartoon for Meeting of the Delegates of British North America to Settle the Terms of Confederation, Quebec, October 1864, 1883. (The painting is better known as "The Fathers of Confederation." A cartoon, in this sense, is another name for a drawing made in preparation for the final painting; which was, unfortunately, destroyed in a fire in 1916.)
       A Meeting of the School Trustees, 1885
       Harmony, 1886
       Lesson based on images from Harris' nature notebook
       Portrait of Sir John A. Macdonald, 1890 ("Sir John A Macdonald was quoted as saying 'Paint me, warts and everything,' and that is what Harris did for this most impressive portrait.")

6. Emily Carr (1871-1945) Biography at Emily Carr University of Art and Design

Books: Emily Carr: An Introduction to her Life and Art, by Anne Newlands; Emily (poems), by Florence McNeil, available online; Emily Carr's own books, such as The Book of Small. The paintings listed here are just a brief selection.

Early works, looking at her developing style.
       Look at Cumshewa, c. 1912, compared with Big Raven, 1931.
       Old Time Coast Village, 1929-30
       Skidegate, 1928
       Indian Church, 1929
       Edge of the Forest, 1935
       Reforestation, 1936
       Optional: Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky, 1935

Suggested art activity: Choose something outdoors (maybe a tree?) to paint or draw in Emily Carr's later style. Try and paint its "inside" more than its "outside."

7. Maud Lewis (1903-1970) Website

There have been many books written about Maud Lewis in recent years. Some of them include Christmas With the Royal Mail, by Lance Woolaver (picture book using Lewis' paintings as illustrations); Maud Lewis 1, 2, 3 by Carol McDougall; Christmas with Maud Lewis, by Lance Woolaver (this is one we used ourselves); Capturing Joy: The Story of Maud Lewis, by Jo Ellen Bogart and Mark Lang.

Sample works:

       Two Oxen in Winter Four Legs, 1960-1969
       Hauling Logs, 1962
       Covered Bridge with Three Sleighs
       Two Horses Pulling Logging Sled in Winter, 1963
       Red House and Covered Bridge
       White Cat with Yarn and Butterflies

8. David Alexander (Alex) Colville (1920-2013) Website

       Horse and Train, 1954
       Family and Rainstorm, 1955
       Infantry, near Nijmegen, Holland (1945?)
       Man on Verandah, 1953
       To Prince Edward Island, 1965
       Main Street, 1979 (especially appropriate for Remembrance Day)

9. William Kurelek (1927-1977) Website

With younger children, an easy option is to study William Kurelek's work through his books such as Lumberjack, A Prairie Boy's Summer, A Prairie Boy's Winter, and A Northern Nativity. Lumberjack can be borrowed online at

10. Rabbit trails for further study:

Paul-Émile Borduas, Clarence Gagnon, David Brown Milne, Paul Kane, James Wilson Morrice, Joe Fafard (sculptor), Paraskeva Clark, Daphne Odjik, Mary Borgstrom, Gathie Falk, Homer Watson, Woldemar Neufeld, Yousuf Karsh (photographers count!)

Canadian Composer and Musician Study for AO Students

"List C." Those of us who took music lessons through the Royal Conservatory know what that meant. "List A" pieces were Baroque; "List B" were Classical; and "List C" included anything from Romantic composers on, including 20th-century (and now 21st-century) pieces full of baffling atonal harmonies and other strange things. Dimitri Kabalevsky, Barbara Pentland, Tālivaldis Ķeniņš. (There is a "List D" in the advanced years so that the Romantics can have their own space.) Most Canadian composers, belonging to the last hundred and fifty years, fit into "List C" (or "D"). Most of those are not exactly household names, unless you are a musician. Do you know which of the three I just named are Canadian?

My point exactly.

How does that fit in with the usual Charlotte Mason emphasis (at least in the elementary years) on the older, very standard composers? Cedric Howard Glover, in the introduction to his book The Term's Music (a collection of term music programmes for PNEU schools), defended the Bach-Beethoven-Schubert loop by saying that, with a short cycle of composers, "all pupils at some period of their school life should make acquaintance with the work of the greater composers; to extend the number far beyond that selected would probably result in some pupils studying a string of minor composers and never reaching Bach and Beethoven at all." There is also the problem, as noted above, that much of Canada's "serious" music is not as accessible for young listeners.

And yet Canadian parents want their children to know that we too have a musical heritage. Part of that, of course, is folk music, including the music rooted in all our various ethnic traditions. Another part (which cannot be totally ignored, even in this context) is popular music: Canadian bands, songwriters, and vocalists are often better known (or at least get more airplay outside of the C.B.C.) than our "serious" musicians. A third part of that heritage would be the best-known interpreters of older music: Glenn Gould is an obvious example, or the operatic contralto Maureen Forrester.

So where do we start? How much time do we spend on Canadian music without missing out, as Glover said, on the core composers; and particularly if our children are not otherwise much exposed to it through outside musical training? In our own family, we took one term approximately every other year to focus on someone who was part of the Canadian music story, often a performer or performer/composer such as Glenn Gould, Liona Boyd, and Oscar Peterson; and that seemed about the right amount of time for us.

However, I would like to suggest something a bit more systematic for those wanting a Canadian alternative to the standard AO composer cycle. The 2011 Queen's Quarterly article "Six Canadian Composers You Should Know," by Colin Eatock is available on the Vancouver Classical Music website; and it seems to touch many of the bases for Charlotte Mason educators. Eatock says he wanted to name "Canadian composers who have succeeded in creating beautiful, fascinating and moving works. These are composers who deserve to be known, heard and admired by audiences." He also says something which may give us a response to Glover's position, "If it's better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness, let's light half a dozen candles." Here are five of his six choices (see the article for specific CDs and recommended pieces):

Healey Willan (1880-1968) Quoting Eatock: "While he was alive, Willan was known as 'the Dean of Canadian Composers.' Yet towards the end of his long teaching career, he came to be regarded as a dinosaur, and he knew it. However, it didn't seem to bother him much. 'Music has been my chief delight,' he observed, 'and if at any time I have been able to share that delight with others, I am content.'"

Colin McPhee (1900-1964) "The first Canadian composer to make an ethnomusicological study of Bali."

Jean Coulthard (1908-2000). Eatock says, "There's an underlying strength in her works, which comes from a thorough knowledge of classical form and a firm sense of organic inevitability."

Ann Southam (1937-2010) Eatock says of her, "Yet unlike some minimalists, Southam is neither obsessive nor oppressive: rather, her music is fresh, chromatically enriched and bursting with ideas."

Jacques Hétu (1938-2010) "My structures are classical, my expression is romantic and my vocabulary is contemporary."

Further Suggestions

Eatock's sixth suggestion is Claude Vivier (1948-1983); but he also offers some cautions which should be considered before committing to a full term of his music. If the Eatock list inspires you to go further, you may want to look at the music of Barbara Pentland, Violet Archer, Tālivaldis Ķeniņš, Srul Irving Glick, or Leonard Enns.

A Bonus Study: How We Learned About Liona Boyd

Our family did a study of Liona Boyd's guitar pieces in the weeks leading up to Christmas one year (so there are a few carols included).

       1. Fantasy for Guitar (Barnes) and Gymnopédie No.1 (Satie)
       2. 2 pieces by Paraguayan composer Augustine Pio Barrios
       3. 2 pieces by Ecuadorian composer Carlos Payet
       4. The Little Shepherd (Debussy)
       5. Prelude on The Huron Carol (Robertson), and possibly Parade of the Toy Soldiers (Robertson)
       6. Spanish Carol (Robertson) and Blessed Jesus (Bach)

Canadian Poetry

AmblesideOnline has selections from these poets on our website. Bliss Carman is another you might consider.
       Arthur Bourinot
       Isabella Whiteford Rogerson
       Archibald Lampman
You can purchase AO's Canadian Companion in paperback or Kindle ($amzn) (K)

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