Doris McCarthy’s Fool’s Paradise will inspire future generations of artists

Doris McCarthy at Fool’s Paradise, May 2005 (Photo: David Lee)

Photo: Doris McCarthy at Fool’s Paradise, May 2005 (Photo: David Lee)


Catrina Colme

Women's heritage, Buildings and architecture, Arts and creativity, Adaptive reuse

Published Date: Jan 28, 2011

With the passing of Doris McCarthy on November 25, 2010, the country lost a revered and talented artist, best known for her landscape paintings. McCarthy’s artworks showcase her love of travel, depicting scenery from across the world, particularly Canada’s Arctic. Another part of her remarkable legacy is Fool’s Paradise – the Scarborough property where she lived – which McCarthy generously donated to the Ontario Heritage Trust before her death.

Born in Calgary in 1910, McCarthy came to Toronto at the age of three. Originally, she planned to be a writer, but after enrolling in an art course at the Ontario College of Art in her teens, she was awarded a full-time scholarship. While there, several members of the Group of Seven were among her mentors and teachers.

In 1939, McCarthy bought a picturesque 12-acre (4.9-hectare) property on the Scarborough Bluffs overlooking Lake Ontario. She paid $1,250 for it, which her mother viewed as an extravagance, referring to “that fool’s paradise of yours.” The name Fool’s Paradise stuck. She designed the house and its additions, and eventually made it her full-time home.

Fool’s Paradise is also an important natural heritage site. The property is perched on a narrow plateau of the ecologically sensitive and geologically significant Scarborough Bluffs. The bluffs and the adjoining Bellamy Ravine – the watershed for a large part of Scarborough – contain deep-stream forested gullies providing habitat for regionally rare plant species, shore birds and small animals.

To help conserve the property, McCarthy donated seven acres (2.8 hectares) to the Metropolitan Toronto Region Conservation Authority under an Erosion Control Agreement in 1986. In her honour, the nature trail running through Bellamy Ravine on the east of the property was officially named the Doris McCarthy Trail by the City of Toronto in 2001.

In 1998, McCarthy donated the remainder of Fool’s Paradise to the Ontario Heritage Trust, along with a charitable remainder trust to maintain the property in perpetuity. She retained a life tenancy, with the intent that after her death it would become a retreat for artists, musicians and writers, and a setting for heritage activities.

“She was a remarkable woman who took great care in planning her estate,” said Richard Moorhouse, the Trust’s Executive Director, who negotiated the agreement with McCarthy. “She has created a legacy for many to enjoy in the future.”

As family, friends and fans mourn her passing, it is also a time to celebrate McCarthy’s life and achievements. In the coming year, the Trust will be planning the retreat McCarthy envisioned – giving other artists the opportunity to be inspired by Fool’s Paradise, just as she was herself. When information about the retreat is available, it will be posted at

“In giving her property to the Ontario Heritage Trust, my great-aunt Doris wanted not only to preserve the land and buildings – which she built herself – but also to help preserve the importance of art and culture in Ontario and Canada. This retreat will provide an inspirational facility for artists and their creative work. Our family and Doris’s many friends are so pleased that the property will be retained and used for future generations.” Beth McCarthy, Doris McCarthy’s great-niece