Bern Smith and his two sisters, Florence and Elenore, were born in Winnipeg to Katharine Schroeffel and Konstantine Smith, a trolley driver.
Bern studied at the Winnipeg School of Fine Art and St. Paul's College before marrying Carol Gibson in 1956 and fathering three children, Remy, Brett and Paul.
Unfortunately, the marriage didn't last. In the late sixties, prompted by fond memories of travels to the Canadian Rockies, Bern headed west to Salmon Arm, B.C., with three young children in tow. He continued his freelance career in commercial art, illustrating more than 900 Harlequin romance book covers over a 20-year period as well as designing a Canadian stamp commemorating those novels.
Bern also began producing powerful yet delicate watercolour paintings of the British Columbia interior that established such a large following he eventually abandoned the commercial art world for a career dedicated to fine art. He continued painting in the area until 1987 when, frustrated by clear-cut logging practices, he moved to Banff, Alta., a town he would always refer to as his true home. Not known for being subtle on issues that involved the environment, Bern's last painting efforts in B.C. were spray-painted anti-logging slogans on a number of bridges and overpasses, a personal statement he was proud to have made.
Bern adopted a regimen of painting every day, usually in the morning, allowing him to spend leisurely afternoons laughing with friends in the local coffee shops or, more often, hiking and canoeing in the mountains with camera and paints always at hand. His bright yellow canoe, which he dubbed the "banana boat," was so prone to tipping he always joked that anyone joining him should part their hair in the middle … or be a good swimmer.
During these excursions Bern always kept an eye on the capricious mountain light, often returning with photos and sketches that later became larger paintings.
Best known for his beautiful mountain landscapes, Bern was also a master of subjects ranging from trains of days gone by, serene seascapes and gentle prairie scenes to accurately detailed portraits, including many of the chiefs and native people that lived in the surrounding mountains and foothills. His paintings have been acquired by collectors around the world, many of whom became instant and lifelong friends.
Although he took his painting seriously, Bern enjoyed a hearty laugh and was truly a joy to be with. He is very much missed and will be long remembered by his family and many, many friends.
J. Thomas Hinton is Bern's friend, and Brett Smith is Bern's son.