From The Cremation of Sam McGee, acrylic on board, 1986
Yukon Arts Centre Permanent Collection

Ted Harrison, Lone Woman with Ravens, 1991
Yukon Arts Centre Permanent Collection

During my career as a teacher, author and artist, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting students from different parts of the world. Through the years they have influenced my simple artistic style and helped bring my stories and paintings to life. If I have inspired them to find their way as artists, I am truly grateful.
I urge you to keep on reading, writing and painting. Develop your own style and keep it honest and true to who you are. Find inspiration in the world around you, and you will make the world a happier and more creative place.

-Ted Harrison, a Brush Full of Colour: the World of Ted Harrison, 2014

On January 16, 2015, Canada lost a cultural icon, an inspirational educator, and a master painter. We remember Ted Harrison, who passed away at the age of 88, through his artistic legacy, which inspired many friends, students and admirers. Over the next weeks the Yukon Arts Centre looks back on Harrison’s oeuvre and artistic impact in the Yukon.  

Harrison was born Edward Hardy Harrison on August 28, 1926, in Wingate, County Durham, England. He travelled to many parts of the world, beginning with service in North Africa as part of the Intelligence Unit of the British Army, and then began a 28 year teaching career in New Zealand, Malaysia, and Canada.

In 1968, Harrison took a teaching position in Carcross, Yukon, and moved there with his wife Nicky and son Charles. Harrison’s distinctive style emerged following his move to Carcross, a notable shift in his career from educator to professional artist. It is evident that the Yukon landscape was influential in the development of his signature colourful palette, playful designs and cartoonish figures.

This adorable video clip from 'The Land of the Chartreuse Moose' produced by HIFI features a child explaining Ted Harrison's artwork.  

He held his first Canadian exhibition at the Whitehorse Public Library in 1969. In 1993, he moved to Victoria, B.C.where he lived the rest of his life painting, writing, and continuing to create a prolific body of work.

Harrison received numerous distinctions and awards, including the Order of British Columbia, a membership in the Order of Canada for his contributions to Canadian culture, four honourary doctorate degrees and an induction into the Royal Conservatory of the Arts in 2005. He was also the first Canadian to exhibit at the International Children’s Book Exhibition in Bologna, Italy. 

From The Shooting of Dan McGrew, 1988, acrylic on board
Yukon Arts Centre Permanent Collection

Harrison’s works hang in numerous public and private collections around the world, including the collections of Stephen Harper, Pierre Trudeau and Ronald Regan.

Ted Harrison’s artistic inspiration for local artists cannot be overstated. Sandra Grace Storey, a Tagish-based ceramics artist and former student of Harrison told us in a recent blog interview that “He got to know each of his students, where your strengths were and what you liked to do…when you weren’t in a space to produce art work, he would sit beside you and draw and tell stories and all of a sudden something would click and you would say ‘I got it, I know!’ He would encourage everyone to be an individual creative voice, and he made a big difference in my getting into Emily Carr.”

Mary Bradshaw, Gallery Director at the Yukon Arts Centre stated her appreciation for Harrison in a recent CBC radio interview: “I was actually introduced to the Yukon through Ted Harrison myself. I remember as a kid being in the library and reading The Shooting of Dan McGrew and being absolutely mesmerized by the colours and the landscape…could the skies actually be neon green and the snow be pink?!”

From The Cremation of Sam McGee, 1986, acrylic on board
Yukon Arts Centre Permanent Collection

The Yukon Arts Centre is honoured to house a rich collection of Ted Harrison’s paintings. This collection includes the twenty seven acrylic paintings which form the original illustrations from the two children’s books published by Kids Can Press Ltd., The Cremation of Sam McGee and The Shooting of Dan McGrew. These poems, written by Robert Service in 1907, are internationally-acclaimed stories from the Yukon Gold Rush Era.

Pierre Berton, notable Canadian writer and historian, wrote passionately in his 1986 Introduction to The Cremation of Sam McGee on the semblances between Harrison and Service, two Canadian cultural icons. "They have so much in common: a sense of discovery, a brashness, and a feeling of joie de vivre that is to be heard in the driving force of the Service narratives and seen in the dazzling vibrations of the Harrison art."

In September of 2014, we returned to the first painting acquired in the Yukon Arts Centre Permanent Collection to begin a community art project. Lone Woman with Ravens (1991) is a landmark piece in our collection, and a stunning example of iconic Canadian Art. This piece, donated by the artist to form the beginnings of a Permanent Collection at the Arts Centre, was the perfect inspiration for a fun and creative community art project.

The Lone Woman with Ravens push-pin reproduction, 2014, Yukon Arts Centre

In 2009, the extensive biography of the artist, Ted Harrison: Painting Paradise was written by Canadian author Katherine Gibson. Harrison dedicated this book to both his family and to the Yukon, sweetly writing, "... to the people of the Yukon. You are the Muse."

A memorial service for Ted Harrison is planned and news will be released shortly on his website,

A book of remembrance to Ted is available in the lobby of the Yukon Arts Centre, and all are invited to visit and contribute a sentiment or a thought. Selections of the original paintings from The Cremation of Sam McGee and The Shooting of Dan McGrew are now on display in the entrance to the Yukon Arts Centre Public Gallery, and at the Whitehorse Public Library for a limited time. Lone Woman with Ravens is on display in the Box Office of the Yukon Arts Centre.

To learn more about Ted Harrison: Painting Paradise, click here.

Listen to the full interview with CBC Radio’s Dave White and YAC Gallery Director Mary Bradshaw here.

Ted’s legacy to Canadian artists includes the Ted Harrison Artist Retreat in Crag Lake, Yukon, where artists can participate in a residency program. Find our more here.