Sonia

The Life of Bohemian, Rancher and Artist Sonia Cornwall, 1919-2006

Sheryl Salloum

After Sonia Cornwall’s father died in 1939, her mother inherited the Onward Ranch and a huge debt. To make the ranch viable, a nineteen-year-old Sonia traded paintbrush for pitchfork, labouring alongside the male ranch hands. But after marrying Hugh Cornwall in 1947, Sonia had time for painting once again. She learned techniques from some of Canada’s most celebrated artists who came to visit the Onward Ranch, and later her home at the Jones Lake Ranch, such as Peter Aspell, Molly Bobak, Jack Hardman, Herbert Siebner, Group of Seven member A.Y. Jackson, Joe Plaskett, Cliff Robinson and Zeljko Kujundic. Tales from renowned Cariboo Chilcotin personalities bring Sonia’s story to life: old-timer Willie Crosina recalls pitchforking hay to seven hundred head of cattle in sixty below Fahrenheit, and filmmaker Peter Elkington describes the now-defunct  home veterinary procedures practised by Sonia’s husband, Hugh.

Independent and driven, Sonia developed a distinct style that captured the nuances of the rugged interior in oils, mixed media, pastels and watercolours, doing for British Columbia’s Central Interior what Emily Carr did for the Coast. The Honourable Judith Guichon, Lieutenant-Governor of BC, describes Sonia’s paintings as “very real, warm, alive.” Sonia Cornwall died in 2006, but her paintings continue her important legacy of connecting us to rural life and the beauty of simple and unexpected places.

“I was all over it … I could hardly put it down … it was great read […] I found it amazing that I knew so many surnames of people that work for or were friends with the Cornwalls over so many years. Many of these names are still in the area today … kids, grandkids and great grandkids.”
— Mark McMillan, President of the BC Cowboy Heritage Society