I was walking my dog this morning at Lynn Valley’s Head Waters and stopped to check out Fred Varley’s North Vancouver digs. The old brown house is across from the pipeline bridge on Rice Lake Road and Varley, one of the Group of Seven’s most notorious painters, lived there in the 1930s.
Always broke, Varley moved to BC in 1926 to teach at a Vancouver art school and lived briefly at Jericho Beach with his wife Maud and their four kids. Soon after arriving, Varley began an affair with Vera, a former student and art model and the same age as his daughter Dorothy.
By 1933 he is out of a job and the family are kicked out of their house for non-payment of rent and they move again. Then in 1934 Varley is on one of his painting trips on the North Shore when he finds the house on Rice Lake Road. “I’d been sketching in the hills and I’d seen this little place from above, nestled on the side of the hill, but I’d never been able to find the road to it. Then one day when I was walking someone had cut the weeds along the side of the road and revealed the hidden path leading to the cottage,” he told a reporter in 1955. “I walked around the place, peering in the windows. It was deserted. Finally I found a way of climbing up on the veranda, which looked out over the valley. I knew I’d found the place I was looking for.”
To his delight, it also had a piano and was available for $8 a month.
The House on Rice Lake Road
Varley lived here from late 1934 to 1937 and the period is said to be his “spiritual” high point. Paintings from that time include Bridge over Lynn Canyon painted from his second floor studio window, Lynn Creek, The Trail to Rice Lake and Weather-Lynn Valley.
Varley returned to Ontario in 1937 and Maud and two of the boys moved into the Lynn Valley house. Maud’s mother died the following year and left her enough money to buy the house. She added a bathroom and a bedroom.
I’m not sure how long the family lived in the house, but city directories only list them until 1941.
Emily Carr apparently visited Varley in the house and I have an image of them looking out on Lynn Canyon and sipping tea, although in Varley’s case, it would likely be Chianti or something stronger.
See the full story of Fred Varley’s house and family in Sensational Vancouver.
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