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Near Red Rock
Annie Sheila Boyd was a self-taught ‘Sunday Painter,’ she painted purely for pleasure, and also a very memorable figure in Bobcaygeon’s history. As an artist she has a good sense of colour and is adept at tone, capturing the feeling of what she paints. She lightly applies her paint in a style reminiscent of the Canadian artist David Milne. As a neighbour, Sheila took a sincere interest in improving her community, ensuring that Bobcaygeon had a space for art and letters. She donated the building that had been her father’s office so the village could have a permanent library.
Growing Up at the Big House
Annie Sheila Boyd was born in 1894, the daughter of Mossom Martin and Ida Lillian deGrassi Boyd, at the moment when the Boyds’ commercial empire was at its peak. Her family owned much of Bobcaygeon, and operated one of the most conspicuously successful lumber businesses in Canada. They were multi-millionaires in an era when a dollar a day was a common wage. This success made her family part of the Canadian elite, associates of the Prime Minister. She was raised in the Big House, located on the waterway at the heart of Bobcaygeon, having many opportunities that other young girls would lack, but also the responsibilities that came with being a member of such a prominent family.
A Talented Youth
Sheila received her primary education along with her siblings in the front room of the library, which was then the office of the Boyd Lumber Company. Her teacher was Walter Comber, a young Englishman who had answered Mossom Martin Boyd’s advertisement for a tutor for his children in Canada. Sheila went on to continue her education at Wycombe Abbey in England and later at Havergal College in Toronto. Early on, she demonstrated an unusual aptitude for mathematics.
Coming of Age
Being born into such a successful family gave her the opportunity of private tutelage, but also came with expectations. It was expected that Sheila would grow up to marry a successful man and raise a family of her own. So her tutor, would not expect her to need the same kind of education as her brothers, who became engineers. She may have preferred to have a professional career, but this was not an option for her. She travelled about Europe until the Great War broke out, making many friends in England, France and Germany, returning to Bobcaygeon in her twenties. She was engaged, but broke this off when her father died in 1914, aged 59. She felt, as the youngest daughter, that she should stay home with her mother, Ida Lillian.
Sheila enjoyed the time she had together with her mother, travelling together extensively throughout Europe, purchasing art, clothing and other treasures. They both were intrigued with motor cars and purchased a variety of automobiles. When overseas they would often buy a vehicle and sell it before returning home. They lived together in the Big House until Lillian died in 1942. Sheila continued to be part of the residual of the Boyd Empire, going to see the cattle at the farm and looking after the family estate. By then the core of the lumber business moved to British Columbia, as her brothers also moved on. Sheila lived alone, in a small corner of the mansion, surrounded by its beautiful stone walls, a symbol how prominent her family had once been.
Having chosen not to marry, Sheila lived a solitary life at Bobcaygeon. She did not seek the companionship of other villagers—it may not have been appropriate for someone who was born with her social standing. Very few locals ever had the opportunity to visit the conspicuous home at the centre of the community. Sheila loved to travel, and while in Banff took a few lessons to improve her technique. While she was visiting, she producing an interesting depiction of Canmore.
Sheila loved flowers, spending countless hours ensuring that gardens around the Big House were truly magnificent. Looking after the plants and animals in the world around her was important to Sheila. One groundskeeper who worked for her wanted to remove the dandelions from her lawn. But Sheila explained that if there were no yellow flowers, there would be no yellow birds, so the dandelions lived on. Flowers were one of her favourite artistic subjects.
Sheila loved tulips, being some of the first flowers to grace her gardens in spring. In this painting she beautifully captured the warmth that they brought to her life.
Shiela also admired her Zinnias, with their striking summer colours. When Sheila painted a picture that she liked, simply initialed it, “ASB.”
Sheila also tried her hand at still life, producing this interesting composition.
Across the Canal
Sheila lived at a particularly beautiful spot, where the Bobcaygeon Canal met Big Bob Channel. Looking out from her home, she watched one of the focal points in the summer playground that was the Kawarthas. When the boats and swimmers (Yes, people did swim with the boats in the canal!) went home for the winter, she was presented with a very different scene, looking out towards Gordon Boat Works, a business that served so many families.
Over Pigeon Lake
Pigeon Lake was also nearby, just at the end of Big Bob Channel. It was a long, slender lake that had many family connections for the Boyds. A lot of logs came down Nogies Creek at the north end on the way to the sawmill. Their animals pastured on Big Island, and the sawmill had once stood on the mouth of Little Bob to the south. It was also a lake with a particular beauty, being home to a lot of aquatic vegetation, including wild rice that had been so important to local Mississauga communities. With oils, Sheila created a unique representation of the feeling of being on Pigeon Lake.
Painting was a wonderful companion to Sheila’s lifelong interest in travelling and enjoying the world. One memory that many local shared, was seeing Miss Sheila happily setting out in her 1952 Woody Wagon on another painting adventure. Her instantly-recognizable station wagon carried her to paint the beautiful landscapes of the Kawarthas. One autumn jaunt to Catchacoma inspired her to capture the vibrant forests surrounding a little cabin.
The Bobcaygeon Library was special to Sheila, she loved books, and built the third room and her art room. There Sheila taught art, and brought in guest instructors so local residents could learn the arts of painting. She staged a new showing of these paintings and visiting artists once a month in the Art Room, a tradition that lives on to this day. Each month the Boyd Museum hosts a new art show, exhibiting painting, carving, pottery and many other arts. Amy Cosh was the much-appreciated librarian, who was devoted to preserving the community’s history and helped bring to life Sheila’s interest in cultivating arts and literature in Bobcaygeon.
Things are not quite the same in Bobcaygeon after Sheila died in 1982. Without her loving care, the Big House fell into disrepair, caught fire a few years later, and has become a very different central space in the community. Though Sheila is no longer there leading her art sessions, her legacy lives on. She donated the buildings so the community could have a library, and the A. Sheila Boyd foundation ensures that they are cared for.