This Week in History


Show Me Canadian History

For the week of Monday October 2, 2006

October 8, 1951, marked the end of the life of Charles William Jefferys, an artist who immortalized various facets of Canada. Born on August 25, 1869, in Chatham, England, to a businessman father with a passion for architecture, he emmigrated with his family to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1875, later settling in Toronto in 1881. At a very early age Jefferys showed a talent for drawing, which was encouraged by his family.

Jeffreys' "Mackenzie at the Pacific"
© Library and Archives Canada / 1972-26-1393
As the eldest child of a poor family, he had to become an apprentice at age 16 at the Toronto Lithographing Company, where he learned the lithographing techniques he would later use to illustrate history books. He then became an illustrator for the Toronto Globe, where he perfected his drawing techniques. Although he gained significant professional experience through these jobs, Jefferys preferred to depict landscapes.

At that time, Canadian landscape painters drew inspiration from the European style that bore little likeness to Canada’s wilderness. During an exhibition in Chicago, Jefferys saw works created by Scandinavian artists who painted landscapes similar to those in Canada. This discovery encouraged him to develop a style of painting that would better reflect Canada’s environment.

Pen on wove paper « Samuel Hearne on his Journey to the Coppermine, 1770 »
Pen on wove paper "Samuel Hearne on his Journey to the Coppermine, 1770"
© C.W. Jefferys / Library and Archives Canada / C-070250
His passion, however, was to depict episodes in Canada’s history. A pioneer in this field in North America, he conducted thorough research before illustrating books and stories. His meticulous and advanced research methods resembled those of a historian. He often worked together with researchers to draw an image that was as historically accurate as possible. Passionate about Canadian history, he also wrote books on the subject. From 1942 to 1950, more than 2,000 of his drawings were published!

In addition to his illustrations, Jefferys painted a number of historical and scientific murals, including one for the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa and one for the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. He co-founded, co-chaired or was a member of numerous artists’ associations. He also taught drawing and watercolours at the University of Toronto’s School of Architecture.

Charles William Jefferys’ passion, talent and thoroughness led to his designation as a National Historic Person in 1954. His illustrations, which have graced Canadian history books for many generations of students, have become a familiar sight for thousands of us.


Date Modified: