Work & Bio

C.W. Jefferys

Born in 1869
 / Died in 1951

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“Every sincere picture, in addition to any art quality it may possess, has value as a record; a value not subject to the fluctuating standards of taste, or the caprice of fashion in art criticism.”

His historical illustrations have stimulated the imagination and resonated in the cultural memory of Canadians for generations. Sixty years after his death, his images are still being re-purposed in various forms as he continues to be Canada’s most published historical artist. However, his body of work covered much more than just historical illustration in the pen and ink style so familiar to us from our Social Studies textbooks. His Impressionist landscapes, particularly of Western Canada, significantly influenced the artists of his day including the infamous Group of Seven. He was a prolific writer, teacher, and journalist. However, much of his work resides in the private collections of family and other individuals or in public archives and galleries and for the most part, are rarely seen by the general public. Our vision is to tap into these resources to create a comprehensive online archive of the Jefferys legacy providing easy access to this treasure of Canadian heritage.


JEFFERYS, Charles William

Born in Rochester, Kent, England, the son of Charles T. Jefferys, a builder, and Ellen Kennard. Jefferys grew up in an area surrounded by historical ruins and was a neighbour of the great author Charles Dickens. He left England with his family and they settled in Philadelphia, U.S.A., where they were near relatives; later they moved to Hamilton, Ontario, and finally Toronto around 1880. Charles attended the Winchester and Dufferin Street School in Toronto and was often called upon to decorate the blackboards for special occasions. His chalk drawings covered such events as “The Landing of Caesar”, “Wolfe at Quebec”, “The Battle of Queenston Heights” and his school books were filled with his own conceptions of events and how places must have looked. His schoolmates would willingly pay him a few pennies to decorate their books. Also destined to become an outstanding Canadian artist was Frederick Brigden, a fellow schoolmate, and their paths were to cross many times throughout their careers. When Jefferys had finished school his father got him a job with the Toronto Lithographing Company as an apprentice. There he learned to draw on stone and to design show cards, calendars and even labels on tomato cans. His employer later rented his services to The Globe to make sketches of the daily events. About this time (1887) he was taking instruction in drawing with other students (including F.S. Challener) from G.A. Reid who had studied under Thomas Eakins in Philadelphia and Benjamin Constant in Paris. Reid and his wife however, departed for Europe in 1888 so Jefferys, Challener, and other students went over to the Toronto Art Students’ League which had been newly established. There Jefferys met Charles MacDonald Manly who taught him the essentials of water colour painting. Other students at the League included David Thomson, J.D. Kelly, William Cruikshank, Robert Holmes and A.H. Howard. In 1889 he painted and sketched in the Richelieu River country and among other things there did some very fine sketches of old churches which appeared in the League Calendar issues. In the fall of 1892 Jefferys went to the United States where he found a job with The New York Herald. While there he contributed an illustration to the first Toronto Art League Calendar in 1893. His wife Jean F.M. Adams died in 1900 at their home in New Jersey and not long afterwards Jefferys returned to Toronto. His wife had been an artist in her own right and had contributed to issues of the Art League Calendar. In 1889 Jefferys visited the old city of Quebec with Charles MacDonald Manly. There, he made many sketches in black and white of historical dwellings and locations, even the sailing ships in the harbour. In 1890 he toured the Maritime Provinces making sketches of that area of Canada for The Globe. In 1900 he returned to the Richelieu River country and in 1901 was commissioned to illustrate the tour of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York and travelled across Canada with the news party. It was then that he saw the prairies for the first time, a subject to which he would return again and again for his paintings and drawings. It was his paintings of the prairies that were considered to be his best. From 1902 to 1903 Jefferys con­tributed art features to The Moon edited by Knox Magee. The magazine was short lived, perhaps because it was ahead of its time. Magee was an exponent of an independent Canada, and in politics he was a free thinker. But Magee continued to make his contribution to Canadian literature as a forceful writer. Jefferys was active in book illustration and did illustrations for many books including Marjorie Pickthall’s Dick’s Desertion, a boy’s adventures in the Canadian forests (1905); The Straight Road (c1906); Billy’s Hero, or The Valley of Gold (1908); and David Boyle’s Uncle Jim’s Canadian Nursery Rhymes (1908) which Sybille Pantizzi18 felt were his best coloured illustrations. Jefferys married Clara A.B. West of Winnipeg in 1908. The same year he helped found the Arts & Letters Club. He made further trips to the prairies and foothills country in 1907 and 1910. For the publisher Robert Glasgow he did illustrations for Makers of Canada published between 1903 and 1911 in 21 volumes; Chronicles of Canada published between 1914 and 1916 in 32 volumes; Chronicles of America and Pageant of America. Around 1915 Jefferys did 102 drawings for Sam Slick by Judge Thomas Haliburton which was to be published by Glasgow, Brook and Company but before the work went to press the firm ceased to operate in Canada and Jefferys’ illustrations were taken to New York City. Robert Glasgow of the firm, died in 1922 and the work for which Jefferys had spent many months of diligent study was forgotten. Dr. Lorne Pierce of Ryerson Press, after the death of Jefferys, provided information on the missing drawings to the Imperial Oil Company of Canada. This company then purchased the drawings which were still in New York. In 1956 Ryerson Press finally published Sam Slick in Pictures by Thomas C. Haliburton, edited by Malcolm Parks, illustrated by C.W. Jefferys. Near the end of the First World War Jefferys, unable to go overseas, was employed by the Canadian War Records to make pictures of military training in Canada at Petawawa Camp and at Niagara. These studies include lithographs, drawings, water colours, and a large oil (60″ x 76″) entitled “Polish Army Bathing At Niagara Camp” now in The Canadian War Memorials Collection (1914-18) at the National Gallery of Canada. In 1921 recognition of him as a historical artist led to his commission by the Ontario Department of Education to illustrate George M. Wrong’s Ontario Public School History of Canada published by Ryerson Press. He produced many other illus­trations for Ryerson and Musson publishers. In 1927 he did pictures illus­trating the history of Canada for the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation published by The Toronto Star. In 1929 he completed two large murals (10 x 14 ft) and was assisted greatly by F.S. Challener, for Manoir Richelieu at Murray Bay, Quebec; one depicting the arrival of Gaultier de La Comporte in 1672; the other of the arrival of Captain John Nairne in 1761 who purchased the seigniory at Murray Bay. In 1930 Jefferys wrote and illustrated Dramatic Episodes in Canada’s Story, a 75 page book published by The Toronto Star. In 1930 and 1931 Jefferys created four panels (7 x 10ft.) for the Writing Room of the Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa, depicting moments in the history of the Ottawa River. While working on the murals he took ill and had to get away to a warmer climate. He stayed in Jamaica while his friends Frederick Haines and Herbert Palmer both R.C.A.’s carried on with the work. Jefferys returned and completed the job and brought back a number of water colour sketches which were exhibited at the Mellors Gallery in Toronto. The four panels were removed from the Chateau Laurier in 1962 when alterations to the hotel were made. Three of the murals were saved by the National Capital Commission and National Gallery Conservationist Nathan Stolow. They were unable to do anything with a fourth panel which was irretrievably damaged. In 1934 Ryerson Press published Canada’s Past In Pictures, a 131 page book written and illustrated by Jefferys. He designed in 1937 four large relief panels depicting historical events for the Memorial Arch at Niagara Falls. The work was then executed by Emanuel Hahn. Jefferys in 1938 was appointed historical consultant for the Dominion Government when they undertook the reconstruction of Champlain’s Habitation of Port Royal on the north shore of Annapolis Basin, Nova Scotia. The architect of this work was Kenneth D. Harris of the surveys and engi­neering branch of the Department of Mines and Resources, Ottawa. Jefferys retired in 1939 from the Department of Architecture of the University of Toronto where he had been instructor of drawing and painting since 1912. In 1941 he was a contributing artist to an excellent book entitled Canada: The Foundations Of Its Future by Stephen Leacock published by The House of Seagram in a limited edition. Other contributing artists were Stanley Royle, A. Sheriff Scott, F.H. Varley, H.R. Perrigard, W.J. Phillips, James Crockart and Ernst Neumann. In 1942 Jeffery’s first volume of The Picture Gallery of Canadian History (268 pages) was published by Ryerson Press, containing drawings taken from old prints and paintings or from surviving objects of the past in Canada, including buildings, furniture, tools, weapons, costumes, vehicles and imaginative pictures of episodes and phases of Canada’s history which he made during his career. An appendix in the volume lists the sources of information including bibliography, list of museums and collections of historical objects and pictures with comments on the material contained in the museums. This first volume covers the period of discovery of Canada to 1763. The second volume, published in 1945, covers the period 1763 to 1830 and shows the events of the period, and scores of long-discarded and for­gotten things of pioneer life (271 pages including source listings). The third volume appeared in 1950 and covered the period 1830 to 1900 in 252 pages. In all three volumes Jefferys was assisted with the illustrations by T.W. McLean. The total work consists of 2000 separate drawings giving us one of the finest sources of infor­mation of our frontiersmen, settlers, explorers, pioneers, farmers, trappers, woodsmen, roadbuilders, surveyors and homemakers. In 1948 a retrospective show of his work was held at The Little Gallery in Toronto just next door to G.A. Reid’s old residence. Viewing this show The Toronto Telegram noted, “The delicately detailed black and whites, ink and pencil, seem mostly to be earlier work; some of the larger oils belong to the early 40’s. The occasional historical drawings recalls Mr. Jefferys’ authority as an historical artist, a field in which he has been a muralist as well. There is an almost lyrical quality in such landscapes as ‘Maples and Beeches’ with its soft suffusion of light on the tender palette of nature.” In 1949 a stamp based on his painting “The Founding of Halifax, 1749” in the Art Gallery of Ontario, was released by the Canadian post office department to commemorate the biennial of Halifax, 1749 to 1949. Following Jefferys’ death in 1951 the Saint John, N.B., Telegraph Journal in an editorial wrote these words, “What probably has struck hundreds of thousands of Canadians most forcibly about Mr. Jefferys’ work is its realism. He made the history of this land come alive again in the minds of school children and of grown-ups alike. He eschewed any excess of formality and splendor, in vivid contrast with the heavy drama of most great historical paintings, to leave us and our posterity with the feeling that Canadian pioneers were not so much demi-gods and king-makers as plain people full of courage and hope Canadian history would be much less interesting to contemporary students if the pedestrian prose of our historians had not been relieved by the living art of Mr. Jefferys. Himself an immigrant from England, he enriched this country’s heritage by dramatizing it for the nation’s people.” In 1958 Fences by Harry Symons, illustrated by Jefferys, was published by Ryerson Press (a magnificent study of the history of fences in Canada). Just before his death Jefferys had been working with the Imperial Oil Company in the gathering together of his life’s work. Today Imperial Oil has 1,200 of his drawings and paintings including the portfolio of 102 drawings he did for the Sam Slick stories. Reproductions have been made available to cultural and educational organizations by this firm. A plaque to honour C.W. Jefferys was unveiled on August 30, 1960, on the grounds of his former residence at 4111 Yonge Street, North York township. The ceremony was sponsored by the North York Historical Society. Mr. Robert Stacey, grandson of the artist, unveiled the plaque. Jefferys was survived by five daughters: Mrs. Charles Thompson (Toronto); Mrs. Edward Helm (California); Mrs. Alexander Fee (York Mills, Ont.); Mrs. Harold Stacey (Long Island) and Mrs. O.W. Allen (Edmonton). A listing in 1951 by the Ontario Library Review showed the following private collectors of his works: F.B. Bowden, Esq. (Toronto); William Colgate (Toronto); W.H. Cranston, Esq. (Ottawa); Mrs. E.F. Ely (Toronto); Dr. & Mrs. G.A. Fee (Toronto); Dr. T.H. Hogg (Toronto); Dr. K.G. Makenzie; the late Lorne Pierce; Mrs. H. Stacey (Long Island, N.Y.); Mrs. C.A. Thompson (Toronto); F.G. Venables (Toronto); Mrs. Robert Glasgow (Montreal); Mrs. R.J. Dilworth (Toronto); A.B. Fisher, Esq. (Toronto); Ivor Lewis (Toronto). Jefferys is also represented in a number of other private collections including that of Mr. & Mrs. Jules Loeb. The public collections in which he is represented include: Art Gallery of Ontario; City Hall, Toronto; Faculty Union, University of Toronto; Hudson’s Bay Company, Winnipeg; National Gallery of Canada, General Collection; Normal School, Ottawa; Peel County Art Collection (W. Perkins Bull), Brampton, Ont.; Provincial Government of Ontario; Public Archives of Canada; Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Queen’s University at Kingston, Ont.); R.C.A. Diploma Collection at the National Gallery of Canada; Saskatoon Memorial Art Gallery at Nutana Collegiate Institute, and elsewhere. Jefferys was a member of the following societies: Ontario Society of Artists (1902 – Pres. 1913-1919); Royal Canadian Academy (A.R.C.A. 1912 – R.C.A. 1925); Graphic Arts Club which became the Canadian Society of Graphic Art (Pres. 1903-4); Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour (founder member 1925 – Pres. 1928-31); Toronto Art Students’ League (1886-1904); Arts and Letters Club, Toronto (founder member 1908 – Pres. 1924-26); Canadian Society of Applied Art; Ontario Historical Society (honorary life member – Pres. 1942-43); Canadian Authors’ Association (founder member); Champlain Society (council member); Faculty Union, University of Toronto (honorary life member); Our Club, Toronto (a discussion group composed of outstanding men in the fields of the various arts and sciences). Jefferys exhibited many times with the various art societies of which he was a member. During his career he was awarded the following honours; LL.D., Queen’s University, Kingston, 1931; honorary chieftain of the Mohawks of the Grand River Valley and was given the name Ga-Re-Wa-Ga-Yon.

Colin S. MacDonald
A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker
National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada