Homer Ransford Watson | 1855 - 1936

Dubbed “the Canadian Constable” by Oscar Wilde

Born in Doon, Ontario, (now Kitchener) Homer was the second of five children: Jude, Homer, Irving, Phoebe and Will. His father, Ransford Watson, owned the nearby woolen mill where they dyed and pulled wool. His mother, Susannah, cared for the home and the family.

Homer Watson’s desire to draw was evident at an early age. He made images from his food before he ate it, carved images on fence rails with a knife and drew sketches all day long. The self-taught artist used his father’s collection of books as teaching examples. At 15 years old, Watson was given his first set of paints from his aunt and he completed the painting “Swollen Creek”.

During his late teen years, Homer spent time in Toronto studying the Ryerson collection of art at the Normal School. Ten years after starting his art career, Homer Watson would rise to celebrity status after the inaugural exhibition of the newly formed Royal Canadian Academy.

Homer Watson in the garden with one of his loving furry companions
Homer Watson in the garden with one of his loving furry companions

It was there in 1880 that Watson sold the painting “The Pioneer Mill” to Lord Lorne, the Governor-General of Canada. He later presented “The Pioneer Mill” as a gift to Queen Victoria. The painting sold for $300. This solidified Watson’s decision to pursue a career as an artist.

Queen Victoria bought a second painting in 1881 called “The Last Day of the Drought”. These paintings were hung in Buckingham Palace, where they remain today as part of the Royal Collection. Following the sale of his paintings to the collection of Queen Victoria, Homer Watson bought his house and married his sweetheart Roxanna Bechtel.

Watson spent his whole life painting the countryside of Doon because it was his favourite place to paint. His favourite subject was the Grand River.

Throughout his career he had the opportunity to travel to Europe, the U.S and all across Canada. Watson always travelled with a paintbrush in his hand. Watson exhibited his paintings in the cities of Paris, London, Glasgow, and Chicago to name a few. All the finest homes in Canada owned a Watson.

As a leader in Canadian art, Watson’s reputation was in good standing with artists in Canada and he was elected the first President of the newly formed Canadian Art Club. He also cared and formed the Grand River Park Company. The Grand River Park Company would purchase Cressman’s Woods and save the land from further development. The park is now known as Homer Watson Park.

After a lifetime of creating and selling his art, Watson had built a small fortune for himself; however, the stock market crash of 1929 wiped out most of his wealth. He was forced to sell some of his favourite pieces from his private collection and was never able to reacquire his fortune.

Homer Watson died May 30, 1936 at the age of 81 and is buried at the Doon Presbyterian Cemetery on Mill Park Drive.

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The Loch Doon area was memorialized in celebrated Scottish poet, Robert Burns piece “Ye banks and braes O’ bonnie Doon”

Ye banks and braes o’ bonny Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae weary fu’ o’ care?
Thou’lt break my heart, thou warbling bird,
That wantons thro’ the flowering thorn:
Thou minds me o’ departed joys,
Departed, never to return.

Aft hae I rov’d by bonnie Doon,
To see the rose and woodbine twine;
And ilka bird sang o’ its love,
And fondly sae did I o’ mine.
Wi’ lightsome heart I pu’d a rose,
Fu’ sweet upon its thorny tree;
And my fause lover stole my rose,
But, ah! he left the thorn wi’ me.