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Detail of a photo of the artist Emily Carr at a tennis party. Carr is on the far left, with her mystery man leaning against her legs. (City of Victoria Archives)
Detail of a photo of the artist Emily Carr at a tennis party. Carr is on the far left, with her mystery man leaning against her legs. (City of Victoria Archives)

Visual Arts

In the search for Emily Carr's mystery man, clues start to emerge Add to ...

Emily Carr’s love life became the subject of intense speculation leading up to the opening of the exhibition The Other Emily: Redefining Emily Carr at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria earlier this year. Curator Kathryn Bridge became fascinated with two photographs, which had been kept in separate archives, both taken at a tennis party circa 1895. One photo shows a man gazing at Carr while everyone else is looking at the camera. In the other, the same man is leaning up against Carr.

Combined with Carr’s story Stone and Heart, in which she writes about a tennis party where a man lifts her down from a ladder and kisses her, breaking her “perfectly whole good heart,” Bridge felt she had a pretty good love mystery on her hands.

When the curator went public with appeals for the mystery man, she received an inbox full of suggestions.

Now, with the exhibition in its final days in Victoria, she’s got five top candidates.

Bachelor No. 1: Charles James Prior

A lawyer who came to Canada from England in 1891 and was related in some way to Edward Gawler Prior, Premier of B.C. in 1902 and 1903. C.J. Prior appears in the Vancouver Island directory in 1902, boarding at the Badminton Club – a common home for single male professionals who didn’t have family homes and were from somewhere else. The home and work addresses on record for Prior, who was a member of the Church of England, were not far from the Carr home.

Advocate: Greg Evans, archivist with the Esquimalt Municipal Archives, uncovered a photograph of Prior, who had a similar build and facial features to the tennis party guy. He was sporting the same type of hat and, most importantly, Evans is convinced, the same tie. “We think it’s a club tie or a school tie of some kind,” says Evans. “We kept thinking it’s the same tie and it might be the same guy.”

Bridge’s assessment: The tie could be an excellent clue, and if it’s determined the pattern is in fact the same, this could be the guy. She has always suspected the mystery man was a visitor from away, not a local whom Carr would have known all her life.

Bachelor No. 2: Chartres Cecil Pemberton

Another lawyer, C.C. Pemberton attended the Church of Our Lord in Victoria, where the Carr family also worshipped. He was born in 1864, the son of an important pioneer magistrate.

Advocate: Sylvia Van Kirk, heritage co-ordinator at the Church of Our Lord and professor emeritus of history at the University of Toronto, points out the physical similarities between Pemberton and the tennis player. “The features: the cut of the mustache, the shape of the nose, the big ears,” she says. “To my mind, that’s him.” She notes that Carr and Pemberton were in the same social circle and another family in that circle was reputed to have one of the first tennis courts in Victoria. In another photo, Pemberton is wearing the same sort of cap as the mystery man – and holding a tennis racquet. “I rest my case,” says Van Kirk.

A photo of Chartres Cecil Pemberton: Notice the big left ear.

Bridge’s assessment: What’s particularly intriguing about Pemberton is that in many of the photos she dug up, he was not looking straight at the camera, but had his head slightly turned – as if he had a good side and knew it. In the Carr photos, the mystery man isin profile both times, his left side turned away from the camera. As Bridge has determined from this photo of Pemberton looking straight on, “he’s got ears that stick way out” – the left more than the right – and this is the side Pemberton tends to hide from the camera. It’s a fairly exciting clue, Bridge says, but she still has her doubts. “I just get the feeling that this fellow that she met when she played tennis wasn’t a Victoria chum; wasn’t somebody that had always lived there, that all of a sudden at a certain time of her life she became infatuated with.”

Bachelor No. 3: Alistair D. Macdonald

A member of a wealthy family whose home, Armadale, was a castle-like estate that encompassed most of what is now thought of as James Bay, not far from where the Carrs lived. The Macdonalds attended the same church as the Carrs. Younger than Carr by 2 1/2 years, Macdonald was the grandson of a senator and eventually went into the army.

Advocate: Bruce Davies, Director of Craigdarroch Castle, a historical museum in Victoria, came across a photo of Macdonald and detected some physical similarities, including the mustache and the shape of the ear.

Bridge’s assessment: “I’m not convinced,” she says, repeating her doubts that it was a local boy who stole Carr’s heart. Though she does point out that as a member of such a wealthy family, Macdonald would have been educated outside of British Columbia, likely in England, and may have picked up that school tie there.

Bachelor No. 4: A.C. Anderson

A basketball-playing member of the James Bay Athletic Association, A.C. Anderson was probably Alfred C. Anderson, a lawyer who lived in a large Victoria rooming house in 1901, having immigrated from New Zealand in 1886.

Advocate: John de Goede with the JBAA noticed a resemblance between the men at Carr’s tennis party and a photo of basketball players hanging on the wall of the JBAA clubhouse – one of the players in particular. “I went back and looked at the basketball photograph and thought, ‘Yeah, that looks like the guy,’ ” says de Goede. Looking through census records and directories of the time, Bridge determined that A.C. Anderson was likely Alfred C. Anderson.

Bridge’s assessment: There’s potential here. Anderson was athletic, which fits the profile. If he played basketball, perhaps he enjoyed a game of tennis as well. And he’s from away – which also fits Bridge’s theory.

Bachelor No. 5: James Anderson

Born in Scotland in 1867, Jim Anderson was a lawyer who spent a few years in Victoria, and later in the Kootenays, working for a Richard Davis, likely in mining.

Advocate: Kathryn Bridge has felt all along that this was Carr’s heartbreaker, but given his very common name, she has been unable, as of yet, to track down a photograph. She points out that during a turn-of-the-century trip to England, Carr connected with an Anderson family in Scotland that had a son in British Columbia. James had a sister, Polly, and a brother, Sandy. Carr, as late as 1944, received a letter from her friend Polly Anderson. Some believe Polly was a London art-school friend of Carr’s, but the fact that Carr’s sister Alice also stayed with the Andersons during a later trip to England suggests Alice may have known the family from Victoria as well. Says Bridge: “I have a gut feeling that he might be the guy.”

The Other Emily: Redefining Emily Carr is at the Royal BC Museum until Oct. 16 and a version of it will be installed at the museum’s new satellite gallery in Vancouver, The Rennie Collection at Wing Sang, in June, 2012.

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