March 25, 2004 by

Toni Onley

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Categories: Artists

tonley.jpgToni Onley, an experienced pilot and well-known Canadian painter, died on Feb. 29 in a plane crash near Vancouver. He was 75.
Onley was practicing landings and take-offs in his LA4 Buccaneer amphibious plane when it went down. The aircraft plunged into the Fraser River, floated for a bit then submerged. The cause of the accident is under investigation. Onley previously survived the crash of another plane several years ago when it struck the side of a glacier.
Born in England, Onley studied painting under landscape watercolorist John Nicholson and attended the Douglas School of Fine Arts. He moved to Canada in 1948 and continued his education at the Doon School of Fine Art.
To support his artistic endeavors, Onley worked as a surveyor, draftsman, commercial artist and teacher. In 1957, he won a scholarship to the Institute Allende in Mexico, where he studied mural painting and fresco. During the 1960s, the prolific artist completed a 300 sq.ft. mural for the Queen Elizabeth Playhouse in Vancouver, and was one of seven artists chosen to represent Canada at the Paris Biennial.
Onley sold a painting for $500 in 1965 and used the money to learn how to fly. Wherever he traveled — Italy, England, Japan — Onley captured the landscape in his art. Inspired by the wilderness he viewed from the air, many of Onley’s later pieces focused on the coastal and mountainous areas of British Columbia. He also donated artwork to raise funds for environmental groups that worked to save some of the area’s old growth forests.
Onley earned $930,000 for a single canvas in 1981, which at the time was the highest price ever paid to a Canadian artist. His work was shown in galleries around the world and featured in his autobiography, “Flying Colours.” He was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1999.
Watch Video Interviews With Onley

2 Responses to Toni Onley

  1. Norm Watts

    I was one of Toni’s students way back in the early 70s at UBC. I have very fond memories of him in our painting and printmaking classes. He was a gentle man with a very sensitive view of life and the environment. His tragic passing is a great loss. I own a copy of his book “British Columbia, A Tribute” which I read and admire often. Although I did not Know Toni very well I still feel a sense of loss knowing that he is no longer with us. NW

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