Charles William Jefferys 1869 - 1951

Historical Painter and Illustrator

Plaque located at: 390 Wellesley Street East, Toronto, ON, Canada

Called the “Owl House” because of the terracotta owl detail on the side of the house.

Charles William Jefferys was a well-known painter, illustrator, muralist, writer and teacher. He was born in Rochester, England and arrived in Toronto, Ontario with his family around 1880. His formal training as an artist began in 1884 when he attended evening classes at the Ontario School of Art. After attending school, he apprenticed with the Toronto Lithography Company for five years.

Beginning work as a newspaper illustrator and artist, he was with the Toronto Globe from 1889 to 1892 and then served as an illustrator for the New York Herald from 1893-1901. Returning to Toronto, he became a magazine and book illustrator.

During World War I he was given an assignment overseas, but was unable to undertake the job. Subsequently, he was commissioned by the Canadian War Records department to paint soldiers who were training at Camp Petawawa and Niagara, Ontario.

C.W. Jefferys was also an accomplished painter in the English manner. He produced compelling oils and wonderful watercolours. He especially loved the Saskatchewan prairies and painted at Last Mountain Lake and the Battlefords. His work was widely exhibited and collected. He inspired many artists and was instrumental in forming Canada’s most famous group of landscape painters, the Group of Seven.

From 1912 to 1939 he taught painting and drawing in the Department of Architecture at the University of Toronto. He was also a lecturer and part-time instructor at the Ontario College of Art. After his retirement he continued to produce illustrations and murals.

Mr. Jefferys and Ivor Lewis were among the group of artists who founded the Graphic Arts Club (later named the Canadian Society of Graphic Arts), which by the 1940’s became the primary artists’ group in Canada.

Remembered primarily for his bold illustrations of Canadian history and as a well-known painter of military genre, he is one of the most frequently reproduced of Canadian illustrators, and is best known for his visual reconstructions of Canadian history.

C.W. Jefferys was a strong advocate of artistic nationalism, an artist who explored both the nature of our landscape and the historical and pre-historical background that shaped Canadian society. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then his sketches and paintings of bygone events will continue to bring Canadian history to life for many generations.

C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute, a public high school in Toronto is named in his honour.


Laura Secord on her Journey to Warn the British, [ca. 1921] by C. W. Jefferys
Government of Ontario Art Collection, 621223

Share Tweet