Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Looking at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography

When I recorded the census form of

Rob't C Todd, 52, born England, artist and ornamental painter, married to M A, with four sons aged 11 down to 2.

I found he had not left the reverse of the form blank. He filled in the section

Annual Product of Business or Manufacture:

Quantities: various;

Kinds: various;

Value: from $300.00 to $400.00.

[Further details were not transcribed.]

And ended with the remark, “Toronto is to New and two Poor to suport an Ornamental artist." dated 14 Jan'y 1861.

I felt so sorry. Here was a man for whom the streets of Toronto were not paved with gold. Every time I came across the record I wondered what happened to him. Were things really so bad that he starved, or did he go back to England?

Today I have been checking the people of St Andrew’s Ward against the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and noting matching entries. Imagine my surprise when I found

TODD, ROBERT CLOW, artist and decorative painter; b. perhaps in 1809 at Berwick-upon-Tweed (Northumberland County, England); he was probably the son of John Todd and Alice (Alison) Clow; d. 7 May 1866 at Toronto, Canada West.

The DCB went on to say

Robert Clow Todd spent his youth as a painter of arms on carriages in Edinburgh and London before immigrating to Lower Canada about 1834. He lived in Quebec City and in suburban Montmorency before moving to Toronto in 1853 where he spent the rest of his life. Todd advertised himself during his stay at Quebec as a painter of signs, carriage insignia, and ornamental work, and in Toronto as a “Banner, Herald, Sign, and Ornamental Painter.” He may also have carved and gilded figures in wood. …

Todd is remembered mainly for his oil paintings dating from his Quebec years. These are principally portraits of horses commissioned by local sportsmen. Some picture horses and sleighs posed with their owners before the Montmorency Falls in winter. Typical is The ice cone, Montmorency Falls, now in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. All these paintings are characterized by a vibrant linear quality and overtones reflecting an interest in genre. This same interest is found in works of such contemporaries as Cornelius Krieghoff and James Duncan. Other known Todd paintings give views of the Quebec lumber docks and Montmorency Falls in summer. One copy of an English print has been located. Allegedly he executed murals in at least one civic building in Toronto. …

How wonderful. He may not have lived another decade, but his work has been remembered. He wasn’t just another carriage painter.


  1. I believe I may be a direct descendent of Robert C Todd. Do you know if one of his sons was a William by chance?

  2. Yes. His sons were William, Joseph, George and Arthur. William was 11 in 1861.


  3. I know nothing more about the family than what I have reported. Try inspecting census records on