Illustrator of the North

Ted Harrison’s iconic paintings rank him among Canada’s finest artists.

Ted Harrison (’77 BEd). Illustration by Jordan Carson.

Ted Harrison (’77 BEd) was one of Canada’s best-known artists, famous for his colourful depictions of life in the Yukon.

Born in Wingate, County Durham, England in 1926, Harrison began painting at the West Hartlepool School of Art in 1943. Interrupted by military service in the Second World War, Harrison received his diploma in design form Hartelepole in 1950 and a teaching certificate from the University of Durham the following year. He came to Canada from the UK in 1967 after teaching in England, Malaysia and New Zealand. He settled in Carcoss, just outside Whitehorse, where he taught art to secondary students and adults.

Two years after graduating from the University of Alberta, Harrison began painting full-time. His paintings can be found in private and public collections around the world, but he is best known for his colourful illustrations of children’s books, including A Northern Alphabet, O Canada, Children of the Yukon, The Blue Raven and Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee.

The recipient of numerous awards throughout his career, he was the first Canadian to have his work selected for the International Children’s Book Illustrator Exhibit in Bologna, Italy, where A Northern Alphabet was selected for the Youth Honor List for Illustrations. In 1986, The Cremation of Sam McGee was the winner of the New York Times Best Children’s Book Selection Prize and the American Library Association’s Notable Book Award.

A Northern Alphabet: Letter I, 1981–1982; Edward (Ted) Harrison (B. 1926 — D. 2015); acrylic on board; University of Alberta Art Collection (2008.27.1.9; University of Alberta Museums; Gift of the artist.

In 2008, Harrison donated a series of 26 original paintings created as illustrations for his children’s book A Northern Alphabet to the University of Alberta through the University of Alberta Museums and Collection Services. These works of art are a part of the University of Alberta Art Collection, a collection of over 10,000 works of art, including paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures by Canadian and international artists.

Harrison was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1987 and was awarded honorary doctorates from Athabasca University, the University of Victoria and the University of Alberta. In 2002 he was the recipient of the U of A’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

Ted Harrison died on Jan. 16, 2015, having illustrated to the world the colour and vibrancy of Canada’s North.


For almost as long as there’s been a Canada, there’s been a University of Alberta. Over the next year, in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary, we’re proudly celebrating the people, achievements and ideas that contributed to the making of a confederation.