Homer Watson History & Archives

Phoebe Watson: Late Career and Final Years

Despite the loneliness she felt after the death of her brother in 1936, Phoebe still found great joy in her role as a curator of the Watson Art Gallery. She oversaw a steady stream of visitors and informed them of the “sacred memory of a great soul and the results of his labour.”[1] Several comments made in Watson Gallery guestbooks make note of Phoebe’s charming hospitality and personality.

“I will not dread old age if I could grow old like Miss Watson.”

Comment in a guestbook, dated July 18th, 1946.
HWHG Permanent Collection.

She also set about organizing a “lifetime’s correspondence” of Homer’s and her own letters in efforts to preserve Homer’s legacy.[2]  Although she believed in the importance of the work, she had concerns that there would be little interest or appreciation for it. One of her diary entries reads:  

Worked most of the day on management + papers why do I waste my time on them will it do any good to anyone after me at 84 I cannot expect to do much with them + the later generation does not have time to reminiss [sic].[3] 

Furthermore, Phoebe was instrumental in the organization of Homer’s first biography. She chose author Muriel Miller after having read the author’s biography on Canadian poet Bliss Carman[4]. Phoebe complied information on her brother alongside M.E. Becker, and Miller would begin writing just 5 months before Homer’s death in 1936. The finished book was published in 1937 through Ryerson Press.

At the end of her life, Phoebe Watson continued to impress, delight, and capture the hearts of those who met her. Even in her late 80s, Phoebe was described as “alert, still interested and interesting”[5] and her humour never failed even as her health declined.[6] Phoebe died aged 89 at St. Mary’s Hospital on October 22nd, 1947. Her body was held at Schreiter Sandrock Funeral Home and was transported afterwards to the Watson House at Doon, where a service officiated by Rev. H.G Cleghorn took place.[7] She was laid to rest near her brother at Kinzie Biehn Cemetery.

Phoebe Watson standing under the “Watson Art Gallery” sign, c.1941. HWHG Permanent Collection.
Photocopy from the London Free Press, October 23rd, 1947.

[1] Letter from Phoebe Watson to Lorne Pierce, 1942 June 24, Correspondence Series, Lorne Pierce Fonds, F1383-S1-f81-0083, Queens University Archives, Kingston
[2] Letter from Phoebe Watson to Myrtle Bean, 1935 March 6, Homer Watson House & Gallery Archives, Kitchener
[3] Phoebe Watson’s Diary, 1943 February 24, Correspondence Series Vol.1, Homer Watson Fonds, Box 2, File 32, National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives, Ottawa
[4] Muriel Miller, Homer Watson, The Man of Doon, 2nd ed. (Toronto: Summerhill Press, 1988), 13
[5] William Cockman, “Famous Ontario Artist Held in Remembrance”, Family Herald and Weekly Star, 1948
[6] Ibid. Phoebe playfully refers to a case of bronchitis as “brown kittens”.
[7] “Famous Artist’s Sister Taken by Death at Doon”, Kitchener Daily Record, October 22, 1947 

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