Merle Acton Bonnick
May 14, 1913 – July 10, 2002
Merle was born in Red Deer, AB on May 14th, 1913. The family resided in the Yorkville and Newmarket areas of Ontario near her larger Bonnick family. Merle’s brother, Charles, died in 1927, and her father Ernest died in 1941. It was after her dear mother, Lillian’s, death in 1952 that Merle again visited the West Coast.
Merle was a tomboy; an athletic child who enjoyed baseball and skating. She was independent and forward thinking from an early age. Merle enjoyed classical literature and autobiographies: and music ~ especially “Chopin”. Here on the coast, she took every opportunity to be out on the water and enjoyed fishing with the Newsom family and Fred Barlow, her Uncle’s father, who was the Comox barber.
Merle attended the Ontario College of Art and was a student of the Group of Seven artist Franklin Carmichael. Merle achieved “Honours” recognition in each of her three years leading to graduation in 1935 with a Commercial Arts Diploma.
Merle was employed to do Mr. Murdison’s artwork at his establishment on David Drive in Newmarket, ON. Merle was told to hire an assistant to operate the felt press to cut her designs. Although it would normally be a man’s job due to the required strength, Merle hired Margaret Price. This was the beginning of a life-long family friendship with Merle becoming “Aunty” to Price’s son “Ted”. Merle was very proud of Ted’s achieving the position of Superintendent of the Toronto Police Force. After her mother’s death in 1952, Merle returned to Vancouver Island making her first trip north of Victoria accompanied by her aunt Bess Arbuthnot and her husband Earl, when they came to visit Earl’s relative Fred Barlow. Merle was totally enamoured by the view of Comox from the Island Highway near Royston, and she knew this was the place she had been looking for.
Merle was introduced to and stayed with Emily Fairbairn, owner of the Lorne Hotel. This was the first of family friends who formed Merle’s extended family.
Merle returned to Ontario, loaded what she could into her car, sold everything else, and drove west again. Comox has been her home ever since. After her accommodations at the Lorne Hotel and in Emily’s cottage (later the library), Merle purchased her home at the end of Pritchard Road where Dogwood Avenue is now.
Merle travelled all over Vancouver Island, but concentrated her excursions around the Comox Valley, Denman and Hornby Islands, and Campbell River to find subjects for her work, including heritage buildings. Merle used her commercial art training to do sign work for various patrons and businesses in Comox, including the Lorne Hotel, the garage and the barbershop.
Merle’s work included charcoals, oils and her favourite medium: Watercolours. Thanks to her diligent work, images of the heritage buildings and locations are preserved for future generations. Merle’s works were displayed at the Comox library when it was housed in the small cottage behind the Lorne Hotel, also at the “Arts Gallery” owned by Art Fulton on Church Street in Comox. Peter Robinson and Merle were the first exhibitors at the then “Arts Alliance”, now the Comox Valley Art Gallery. The commissioned works of the Comox Glacier were presented to retiring military dignitaries and numerous paintings were collected by friends and art enthusiasts.
In the 1960s, an alderman approached Merle regarding the design of a logo for the Village of Comox. It is seen all over Comox from the sign that greets you at the top of Comox Hill to the maintenance and landscaping trucks. A permanent record of the artwork is on display at the Comox Town Hall. “Comox logo” pins are also available at the Town Hall. In 1997, with the assistance of friend and neighbour, Carl & Pat Ackland, Merle donated her original logo artwork to the Town of Comox thus preserving the logo as Comox’s emblem.
Merle was a reluctant resident of Glacier View Lodge since March 30, 2001, but she was very thankful for the good care and friendship extended to her by the staff. Her “from the hip” commentary kept all entertained.
The Comox Archives and Museum Society is most grateful for her generous donation of her collection. Donations in Merle’s memory may be made to the North Island College Foundation, or the Comox Museum and Archives.
Merle is predeceased by her parents Ernest & Lillian; brother Charles; and her pioneer friends: Emily Fairbairn, Hilary Wearne, as well as Emily Cronkite, and her young neighbours Patty Thomas and Neil Ackland. She is survived by her cousins Charles (Monica) Follett, Robert Gibson, Patricia Balance, John (Donna) Bonnick, Betty Niddrie, Irene Budd, James (Marcelle) Follett; and Linda Kehler, and their families. She is also survived by her extended family: Carl & Pat Ackland, Carol & Ernie Linden, Ted & Alice Price, Barbara Tribe, Heather Thomas, Evelyn Smith, Inza Graves, and their families.
A Memorial Tea will be held at a later date in Piercy’s Funeral Home, Piercy’s Funeral Home in care of arrangements.