Posted by: lmcg1 | November 29, 2009

Remembering my Uncle George

Last week my Uncle George died in West Vancouver. He had been ill for a year and a half, so it wasn’t unexpected. Still it has brought to an end a treasured 50 year relationship, an even longer one than I had with either of my parents, who both died when I was 34. Even though, over those years, I wouldn’t always see him often, when we did visit, it was like a true friend, you just picked up where you left off.

George married my aunt Shirley, my Dad’s youngest sister, when I was about 12 or 13. I remember their wedding as it was the first one I had attended. I wore a red wool suit that I had made, and it was the first time I wore stockings (pre-pantyhose days). I felt so grown-up. Shirley and my Dad were about 18 years apart, Dad being the oldest in the family. The thing that stood out for me, even in those early years, was that George always talked to me like I was an adult. And the fascinating thing was that he was a painter, an artist. You see, my uncle was George Bates, who became a noted BC artist. Originally from London England, he settled in Vancouver in the late 50s and became known for his marine paintings and also for paintings of favourite places in Europe. He became a Senior Signature member of the Federation of Canadian Artists.

Whenever we would visit, we would always take time to see what George was working on. I didn’t know much about art, but I always enjoyed seeing his work. Later, he would talk about how capturing the light was so important. That was something his paintings were noted for. He would talk about other artists whose work influenced him, and whose work he liked. It was like a mini art education. When they moved to their house in West Van, George had a place to paint, and by this time was working as a professional artist. I loved to visit and prowl through all the things he was working on.

Among the many things he told me, this one stayed with me particularly. We were talking about being an artist, and he said that anyone can learn to draw and paint. The person might never become a famous or professional artist, but could learn to be proficient enough to enjoy working at it. I didn’t realize then that he was planting seeds for my future.

In 1992, we were out in Vancouver for a 6 month sabbatical leave, and we got to visit frequently. I decided to take a community centre watercolour class. Unfortunately, the instructor wasn’t too helpful, but I did have fun making mud (watercolourists will know what I mean). I didn’t understand anything about how watercolour worked and didn’t find out then, for sure. However, I also had the opportunity to visit lots of the galleries in Vancouver. George was a long-time exhibitor at the Harrison Gallery, which was on south Granville St then. One day I walked in to see what was on. There was a watercolour show by an artist named Kiff Holland. I had never seen anything like the kind of painting he was doing in watercolour. It was a show of his works of glass bottles (unfortunately, Kiff doesn’t have a web site at this time). When I talked to George about them, he told me that Kiff was a friend of his, and that Kiff had an annual painting workshop in France. So another little seed was tucked away.

The other thing that George did was play piano. Self-taught again, as with his painting, he loved to play Bach. It was always such fun to see him play those complex pieces. And another seed was planted.

Nearly 10 years later, I took another workshop and this time, it stuck. I became hooked on watercolour. Three years later, I went to France for the workshop with Kiff. And I took up piano.

I owe so much to George, who always took the time to talk about his passions, which have become mine. He always encouraged me and that meant so much. He’d have a scotch and, when I was older, I’d have a sherry. Shirley would bring out her great cookies, and all of us would sit around and talk about all kinds of things. Everyone got into it, regardless of age. The cousins, Nancy, Dave and Alison were always fun to be with and talk to. I always thought they were so lucky to have George and Shirley as parents. Generously, they hosted my brother and his new wife as our parents were gone by then. Also, we had a couple of Christmases with them over the years. There are a lot of great memories. And I have a small watercolour painting too. There is a story to that, but, another day.

Thank you George. I’ll miss you.


  1. That was a lovely post. I’m so sorry for the loss of a wonderful mentor.

  2. Hi . My grandfather was Ed Lockey a good friend of George’s. It sounds like you had the conversations with George that I would have liked with my grandfather.A few years back I bought one of George’s paintings of the Oregon coast on Ebay from Toronto. The ironic thing is that my mom has the identical painting by Grandpa on a trip they took together to Oregon. Just got another painting of Caulfield. I was amazed when George said he would go weeks without painting and than on one weekend paint many pictures. Our family has one he painted of the Bluenose, my mom said it was part of a trade.

  3. You can view all of George’s available artwork at

  4. Some artists say I paint like George. I grew up knowing Kiff Holland and his parents. Snap. What a small world. George was great. Be proud.

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