One of the delights in attending the Whitehorse Elementary High School on Fourth Avenue, back in the fifties, was taking art class. Strangely, as I recall, art was a mandatory subject until about grade ten. I can’t imagine why because I doubt there many students that would decline to take art class.
After all, the art teacher was one of the Yukon’s great treasurers, Miss Farley. Oh, how we all loved Miss Farley. Now there was a teacher who cared if we cared. And in the spring, she made sure the arts classes were held outside the classroom. What a delight to spend part of the school day down by the river under the watchful eye of Miss Farley, as we tried to capture on paper the Yukon’s flora and fauna.
Lilias Farley’s background in art was something we never knew until we were long graduated and gone. She was born in Ottawa in 1907. She moved to Vancouver with her family in 1924, when she was seventeen, and attended the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied arts. In her own right, Miss Farley was an accomplished painter and sculptor who studied with the best in Vancouver and counted among her friends, famed Group of Seven artists Fred Varley and J.W. MacDonald.
In the mid-1930s, she taught at the BC College of Art, which was founded by these two men. She also worked in theatrical design. It is said that in 1937 she designed the first uniforms for stewardesses for Trans-Canada Airlines (now Air Canada). During WWII she worked for Neon Electric Co., which was manufacturing depth sounders for the British navy.
She moved to the Yukon in 1948 and taught school until her retirement in 1972, while continuing to exhibit her sculpture in Vancouver. In 1967 she was awarded the Centennial Medal for service in the arts.
When she passed away in 1989, many a Yukon student of an earlier time fondly recalled the impact Miss Farley had on their careers even if they did not become artists of renown. The memories of outdoor art excursions were enough.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin