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Icon of Canadian visual art, painter and educator Doris McCarthy, dies at 100


On the morning of November 25, one of Canada’s most treasured visual artists and one of UTSC’s dearest friends, Doris McCarthy, passed away peacefully at her Scarborough home. The trailblazing landscape painter, teacher, mentor and advocate for the arts recently celebrated her 100th birthday.

“Over a career that spanned more than seven decades, Doris McCarthy was an inspiration locally and across the country,” says Bill Bowen, chair of the Department of Humanities at UTSC.  “She produced an unparalleled body of work, and taught and mentored some of Canada’s most distinguished creative people. The art world – and all of her friends here at UTSC – will miss her deeply.”

McCarthy first became involved in the Canadian art scene in the mid-1920s, when she studied at the Ontario College of Art under Group of Seven member Arthur Lismer. Upon graduating, she began teaching in order to fund her obsession with landscape painting, a fixation that would lead her on countless adventures to some of the most isolated and beautiful regions in Canada and around the world.

For Doris McCarthy, teaching wasn’t just a means to an end. It was an obsession all its own. In 1972, at the age of 62, she retired after forty years of teaching at Central Technical School in Toronto. That same year, she paid the first of many visits to the Arctic, a place that would become the inspiration for some of her most iconic paintings.

A bold adventurer and visual arts pioneer, McCarthy was also a big believer in the importance of lifelong learning. She earned a Bachelor of Arts from UTSC in 1989, when she was 79 years old.

“Doris McCarthy has left a lasting mark at the University,” says Franco Vaccarino, principal and vice-president (academic) of UTSC. “Her commitment as an educator and mentor is respected and admired, and her contributions as an artist will continue to inspire new generations of artists and art lovers.”

Among the many accolades bestowed upon Doris McCarthy throughout her remarkable career are the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario, five honourary doctorates and an honourary fellowship to the Ontario College of Art and Design. She is the namesake of the Doris McCarthy Gallery on UTSC campus, a leading exhibition space for contemporary art that is home to a permanent collection of over 1,500 works by Canadian and international artists, as well as McCarthy’s personal and artistic archives. In honour of McCarthy’s 100th birthday and inspired by her practice, UTSC has created the Doris McCarthy Award, a $500 Visual Arts Award for students whose process indicates an admirable degree of innovative thinking, rigour, tenacity, and sense of adventure, and whose work culminates in artistic production that is deemed excellent.

“The feeling of collective loss that accompanies the passing of a person as remarkable as Doris McCarthy is soothed by the knowledge that her legacy will be far reaching, and will extend beyond the one hundred years that she has lived so vibrantly,” says Ann MacDonald, Director/Curator of the Doris McCarthy Gallery. “Hers was a life filled with passionate, artistic production, as well as a deep love of nature and compassion for family, friends and strangers.”

Funeral services will be held at the Church of St. Aidan's, 70 Silver Birch Avenue at Queen Street East in Toronto, on Thursday, December 2nd at 10:30 a.m. If desired, and in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Doris McCarthy Gallery (at University of Toronto Scarborough), the Ontario Heritage Trust or a charity of your choice. Condolences and memories may be forwarded through Humphrey Feneral Homes (416-487-4523,

To learn more about the Doris McCarthy Gallery, click here.

© University of Toronto Scarborough