Emily Carr: brilliant painter, terrible landlord
“Oh dear, oh dear, all the wickedness in me rebels at the beastly, rotting house.”
Emily Carr (1871–1945)
The Canadian painter has become something of a national icon in the decades since her death in 1945; in her own lifetime, however, Carr’s paintings received a mixed reception at best, and they never earned enough money for her to live comfortably. Fortunately, Carr did have one major financial asset: In 1912, after their father’s death, she and her sisters inherited a plot of land in Victoria, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, where Carr spent most of her life. Carr decided to build a small apartment house on her parcel, reasoning that she could have a light-filled painting studio, a large garden, and living quarters for herself, and fund this pleasant arrangement by renting out two suites on the main floor.
It didn’t quite work out that way. Carr put her plan into motion just as World War I broke out, which severely depressed the economy and caused unemployment to skyrocket. Suddenly, the respectable, reasonably well-to-do tenants that Carr had envisioned were in short supply. To keep Hill House (as it was named) afloat, Carr was forced to divide her own apartment into rentable suites, moving first into the attic and then out of the house entirely, setting up a primitive camp for herself in the backyard, where she slept in a tent and cooked meals in a lean-to.