Posted by: Kiersten | January 13, 2010

Emily Carr

A few years ago on a sunny Spring day, Kat & I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario, on our first date, to see the work of Emily Carr. 

It’s hard to describe how incredible the collection was.  Her work was displayed in chronological order, earliest to latest, with work studies and sketches included as well as the famous finished works. 

We didn’t know at the time that our first date was one of many.  Emily Carr’s work sparked our first hours-long conversation and drew us together with the subjects we loved: art, nature, camping.  We planned our first canoe trip with Wild Women Expeditions to Temagami, Ontario.  We talked about Emily Carr’s life, about her friendship with Sophie Frank, how her early work was criticized as being “too colourful”.

I don’t remember whether “The Community House, Ucluelet 1912” was included in that collection.  Now here we are in Ucluelet, almost 100 years after Emily Carr, three years after our first date at the AGO.  Life has funny little synchronicities. 

Last Monday, Kat & I took the bus to Parksville to meet a young woman named Bree from Port McNeill and her 1991 Chevrolet Cavalier.  The car was a likely candidate.  Low kilometers for it’s age (170,000) because the car’s first owner, Bree’s grandmother, used it to drive from her house to the mall and back for the first 15 years of the car’s life until she lost her vision and gave the car to Bree.  Bree slapped on a few bumper stickers, hung a pink lei from the rearview mirror and proceeded to trash the car’s interior while she drove it from Port McNeill to Nanaimo and back for college.  Her father, a mechanic, saw to it that the car got regular oil changes and preventative maintenance, so it’s really the best we could hope for a car that’s 19 years old and priced under $2,000.

The pre-purchase inspection revealed some significant necessary repairs in the car’s future.  The water pump, the intake manifold, the right front CV boot and all four tires would need replacing.  The mechanic said the car was in otherwise fine shape, and while he didn’t have a crystal ball he said it was reasonable to expect that if the appropriate repairs were done the car would continue to run for a few years more.  We figured that any car in our price range would have similar issues, so we negotiated the price down to compensate for the cost of repairs and new tires.  Bree even threw in the snow chains, so we had a deal. 

By the time we agreed on a price, the Parksville insurance brokers were closed so we had to drive to Nanaimo to complete the transfer.  By 6pm Kat & I were car owners.  And we had to drive back home.

The rain has been pretty heavy on the Island all week.  Visibility on highway 4 after dark is pretty crappy on a clear night, but when it’s raining you really need psychic intuition to negotiate that highway.  You never know when the next bend in the road is going to appear, or if the next stretch is flooded.  Curtains of rain waved in our headlights, rivulets of water streamed across the road.  Bits of broken branches littered the highway, fog obscured the dividing lines.    

We crawled along the highway at 30 – 40 km/hr the whole way home.  It felt like we were driving in a time warp.  The highway is a straight line, but in the dark there were no landmarks.  After four hours every straight-away started to look like the home stretch, but each one was followed by yet another switchback sign.  We crossed the Sutton Pass (which Kat has dubbed “Sudden Drop”) and inched along the steep and narrow edge past Kennedy Lake.  At the narrowest point, sharpest turn and steepest drop there is a waterfall, which on a sunny day would be a romantic trickle, but after two weeks of rain was a pounding torrent that completely obliterated the oncoming lane.  “Car Wash Rock” the locals call it. 

Through it all, our new car got us home and the music helped the time pass.  The snazzy stereo system played our girly selection chosen for the First Ride Home:  Women and Song, Women of Latin America, Girls Night Out, Indigo Girls – cds with either “women” or “girls” in the title.   The stereo is probably the newest piece of equipment in our car.  The LED display changes colours through a rainbow spectrum, giving the inside of the car a dance club atmosphere.  We remembered how Emily Carr’s work had been criticized as “too colourful,” so we decided to name our 1991 Chevrolet Cavalier after her.  It seemed appropriate.  Besides, who doesn’t love a good pun?

Yesterday, we drove to Tofino just because we could.  We picked up groceries and did not have to worry about whether we would be able to carry it home.  We can buy big bags of dog food and cat litter now.  We can go into Port Alberni and watch a movie.  We can take the animals to the vet or drive ourselves to the dentist or doctor. 

Things I love about our Emily Carr:

  • She starts every time, and runs without complaint.
  • She has a V-6 engine and nice pickup, great for merging on highways and climbing up steep hills. 
  • She’s a wagon and has plenty of cargo space for camping gear and dogs.
  • For a station wagon, she has an amazing turning radius.
  • She has solid brakes.
  • She has big windows all around the back – no blind spot.
  • She has a roof rack.
  • She’s completely paid for.

For better or for worse, Emily Carr is all ours.  We’ll get her fixed up, add a few more bumper stickers and hopefully drive her for years to come.



  1. Love it. I am so enjoying reading your blog, Kiersten. Hope you enjoy riding around in Emily; it sounds as though she will bring an added bonus to your lives.

    • Thanks Aunt Christine, I’m so glad you’re enjoying it. 🙂

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