Get to Know Tomtu Huron Roberts (1859-1938)


Tomtu sitting on the left in photo below
{Diaries and notes edited by Dale Bertrand}
I was born in Collingwood, Ontario in 1859 and shortly after my birth my parents and two sisters went to Wales. We returned to Canada in 1866 and after some travels to areas in Ontario and Iowa we settled in Toronto. I used to take walks every day with my father who had a great love and understanding of nature which he passed on to me. And when given the opportunity to attend the Odell and Trout Commercial College to study art, at great expense to my family, I jumped into the study of art and design.

My mentors are the great British painters Turner, Ruskin and Constable and I studied everything I could about them and their techniques of oil and watercolour painting. A fine Canadian/German artist, Otto Jacobi, roomed in one of our houses in Toronto and he gave me great insights into marketing my work. Portraits and art lessons seemed to be where most of my efforts went in those days 1877 - 1882.

My parents and sisters and I left Toronto in 1882 for the west and after spending a year in Winnipeg we continued overland to Vancouver, having to travel down into the United States as the railway was still not through the mountains, and arrived in New Westminster. (Vancouver was still not incorporated as a town) We settled at Quebec and 9th Avenue where my parents built a sizable house. I was enthralled with the views of the mountains and the landscape around and went out most days with sketch books in hand and took down these visual "gems".

Shortly after our arrival we ended up fighting the great fire and both my father and I had burns from the fire and smoke to our faces and eyes, in protecting our home from the fire. It was quite some years later that my eyesight came back enough for me to continue to paint.

I began to teach and continued to paint portraits and landscapes. I even advertised myself as an artist. I believe I was the first artist to settle in Vancouver. As we lived above the False Creek area overlooking Hastings we had a spectacular view of "the Lions" with the great forest behind us. One of the trees cut down on our property was over 800 years as both I and my father discovered when we counted the rings in the tree. It was a spectacular place!

I lived with my parents until they passed away in the early part of the twentieth century. In the later part of my life I enjoyed raising various breeds of dogs. Eventually I moved over to Caulfield, North Vancouver and lived there until 1938. What a great view to the southwest of the Islands and the ocean
Sketch above, by Tomtu, looking north from Broadway and Quebec in 1885. Sketch is approx. 3" x 3" from a lesson book by the artist.


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