British Columbia

Book explores complicated story of Emily Carr and her captive monkey

In a new book, author Grant Hayter-Menzies tackles a complicated aspect of renowned artist Emily Carr's life — her relationship with a pet monkey named Woo.

'There was another story than we normally get with Carr. A complex, conflicted story,' says author

Woo, the Monkey Who Inspired Emily Carr is a nonfiction book by Grant Hayter-Menzies. (Dave Traynor, Douglas & McIntyre)

In a new book, author Grant Hayter-Menzies tackles a complicated aspect of renowned artist Emily Carr's life — her relationship with a pet monkey named Woo.

Carr adopted Woo, a Javanese macaque, in 1923. The monkey became deeply connected to both Carr's life and painting.

The artist painted two known portraits of Woo, as well as multiple sketches. 

In Woo, The Monkey Who Inspired Emily Carr, Hayter-Menzies focuses on Carr and Woo's relationship.

"I knew there was another story there than we normally get with Emily Carr. A complex, conflicted story," Hayter-Menzies told On the Island host Gregor Craigie. 

A statue of artist Emily Carr, her monkey and her dog sit covered in snow outside the Empress Hotel in Victoria. (Jeff Davies/CBC)


Hayter-Menzies believes Woo helped Carr get past some of the fears she had from childhood about being an artist and expressing herself.

The legendary painter became sick with heart problems in 1937, and sent Woo to live in Vancouver's Stanley Park Zoo. Woo died there one year after Carr's death in 1945. 

Hayter-Menzies, who loves wild animals and wanted a monkey when he was a boy, says he initially felt some resentment toward Carr for sending Woo to the zoo.

"I had to try to separate the icon from the human being ... There are ways of handling a situation with an animal you can no longer care for ... I have very strong opinions of exotic animals being kept as pets. It's not right."

The author says Carr famously loved animals, and had a hunger to keep wild things. But he believes humans should leave them in the wild.

Artist Emily Carr was born in Victoria, B.C., in 1871. (BC Archive/Royal BC Museum)

Life enriched

Hayter-Menzies says although Woo's fate troubles him, it was unreasonable of him to be resentful of Carr as she was sick, aging and had no one supporting her..

Hayter-Menzies says animals like Woo contributed to Carr's greatness as an artist.

"She needed animals, they didn't judge her. Humans had judged her since she was a child," he said. "There are many artists whose lives have been enriched by having an animal companion nearby." 

Listen to the full interview here:

With files by On the Island


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?