Homer Ransford Watson | 1855 - 1936

Dubbed “the Canadian Constable” by Oscar Wilde

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

Homer Watson’s interest in the arts was evident at an early age. He made pictures in his food, carved images on fence rails and made sketches of the world around him. At the age of 15, his aunt gifted him his first set of paints.  He continued to develop his skills and in the same year he completed his painting Swollen Creek, depicting his sister Phoebe and a young neighbour. Watson explored painting figures in his early works but soon realized his greatest inspiration was the natural world around him. Predominantly self-taught, Watson copied prints of the old masters in books from his father’s library and later the Ryerson collection at the Toronto Normal School to further develop his skills.

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

Ten years after starting his art career, Homer Watson rose to celebrity status after the inaugural exhibition of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1880. At this exhibition, Watson sold his painting The Pioneer Mill to the Marquis of Lorne, Governor General of Canada as a gift for Queen Victoria.  The painting sold for $300, reassuring Watson in his decision to pursue art and cementing his place in the Canadian and International art world. 

The following year, Queen Victoria acquired a second Watson painting titled The Last Day of the Drought. Both pieces remain part of the Royal Collection Trust and now hang in Buckingham Palace. Following the sale of these pieces, Watson bought the house that is now Homer Watson House & Gallery and married his sweetheart, Roxanna Bechtel. 

Throughout his career, Watson travelled to Europe, the United States and across Canada. He exhibited his paintings in cities all over North America and Europe including Paris, London, Glasgow, and Chicago. In Canada, Watson had a positive reputation amongst his peers and was elected the first President of the Canadian Art Club.   

Beyond his interest in visual arts, Watson was also an avid canoeist, spiritualist, musician and environmentalist. He was a founding member of the Grand River Park Company, which formed to purchase Cressman’s Woods to prevent it from being sold to sawmills. The initiative was successful, and the land is now known as Homer Watson Park.  

After a lifetime of creating and selling his art, Watson had built a small fortune for himself. Unfortunately, most of this wealth was lost in the stock market crash of 1929. 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.

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