Joan Heriot will be remembered for as long as people love her paintings of the Okanagan.
“I know I am not alone in my grief and in missing her and her friendship, humour and kindness. So many people appreciated and admired her,” said longtime friend Sharon Lawrence, of Heriot, who died July 29 at the age of 101.
“She never stopped questing for knowledge and sharing knowledge and it was my honour and privilege to know her.”
Heriot was born in what was then the new hospital in Vernon Jan 7, 1911 to Allan and Jessie Heriot and grew up in Coldstream.
“The family lived near the creek and her aunt had a house on Kalamalka Lake, so Coldstream was her playground. She was always outside,” said Lawrence.
Her father was an entomological researcher and did drawings to go with his work and Heriot was fascinated, declaring her intention to be an entomologist when she was six-years-old. She attended St. Michael’s Girls School in Vernon and went on to get her degree from UBC.
She was told that a woman would never get a job in science in Canada and that she would have to go to England. So she worked in the orchards and saved for two years for her fare. By 1936, she had a master’s degree from the University of Liverpool, a teaching diploma and a job teaching at Brighton Technical College, where she stayed for 30 years.
She came back to Canada in 1966, via New Zealand, where she met relatives, then settled in Coldstream. She became a member of the North Okanagan Naturalists Club, where she was happy to share her knowledge of the natural life of the area.
“Her interest in science never left her. She showed people, especially children, how to look at a pond in a whole new light. My children and so many others got interested in science because of her and some went on to make careers of it. She was a good mentor, very patient,” said Lawrence.
Heriot used her skill in drawing for illustrations of her work in science and when she retired, she decided to try painting. She renewed her friendship with school friend Sveva Caetani and took lessons from her former art teacher, Jesse Topham Brown. Oils and watercolours didn’t work out, but she found her passion in pastels.
“She decided that someone should paint the Okanagan and that she would be the one to do it,” said Lawrence. “She did mostly landscapes. She loved painting and she loved to sell her paintings for low prices so that others could enjoy them. She was very generous with donating work to support the Vernon Public Art Gallery through the Midsummer’s Eve of the Arts.”
Her work was so much in demand that she had a long waiting list. Heriot’s list gave people the right of first refusal on her next painting and some people waited up to 10 years to get a painting.
Heriot was honoured with an Arts Council of the Central Okanagan special tribute award in 2010. There was a retrospective of some of her more than 250 paintings at the Vernon Public Art Galley in 2007. Heriot was also an accomplished needle work artist and her altar hanging of the arrow-leafed balsam root (wild sunflower) is used at All Saints Anglican Church.
“Joan always wanted to learn and try new things. She went whitewater rafting after she had had both hips replaced when she was in her 70s,” said Lawrence, who became closer to Heriot when she started to help her get ready for bed each evening while she still lived in her own home.
When Heriot moved to Polson Extended Care, Lawrence visited almost every day and they formed an even deeper and more meaningful friendship.
“I am so privileged to have known Joan. She would challenge me and all who visited her, saying, ‘What do you have for me today, dear?’ She cared very much about all her friends and remembered the details of their lives and families. She kept in touch with her goddaughters, who are now in their 80s,” said Lawrence.
“I would read to her from biology, geology and archeology magazines. If I was reading something she found really interesting, she would lean in closer so she wouldn’t miss anything. Sometimes, the next visit, she would say, ‘You know, I’ve been thinking about… (whatever was read the last time).’ She had a wonderful memory and would fill in the details of the articles if she thought there was something that should be added. When I would leave, she would say, ‘Goodbye, dear girl.’”
Heriot also loved poetry and for years kept a commonplace book where she wrote things that interested her, including poetry in perfect, clear handwriting.
“She had a quote for every occasion and could recite long poems. She loved life and embraced people. When she was living in care, she would arrive at the dining table in her wheelchair and put out her hands to others and say hello,” said Lawrence.
“Even in her later years and things were more difficult and restricted for her, she was never a complainer. She always made the best of everything. I was inspired by her. I was so lucky. Goodbye, dear girl.”
The Joan Heriot Centre for Environmental Studies at Mackie Lake House provides education on the natural world while the Joan Heriot Studio at Caetani Centre, Sveva Caetani’s former home, is available to artists.
The funeral service for Joan Ethewyn Heriot will be held Friday, Aug. 24 at 2 p.m. at All Saints Anglican Church in Vernon.