top of page
  • Writer's pictureCEWS

Common Raven (Corvus corax) and the abandoned house on 9th Line


This painting is very different from the vast majority of my works. It does include a Common Raven (Corvus corax), but in the distance, not “up close and personal”, the way I usually portray birds and other animals. Someday I’ll do a painting featuring the raven up close in my usual manner, it being a bird of great interest and importance to me, with a little more “realism” than in this painting. And I will describe some of the fantastic things about this incredible bird. But the Common Raven is integral to the motivation that inspired the painting.

This abandoned house has been that way for several years and is located on the east side of 9th Line, a once rural road running north and south, near my home, that I frequently drive on. In summer it has the nearest farmer’s market. A few years ago it was widened (in spite of protests) from two lanes to four, putting this old farm house that much nearer the edge of the road. This is prime farmland, will soon be turned into subdivision. The house is a little more decrepit each time I drive by (the painting shows it more or less as it was about two winters ago) and I know one day I’ll drive by and see it being demolished, or gone. I may even live to see the inevitable subdivision that will replace it (and be called a “development”). But I am already seeing the price of food go up in the store, and to me the house is a symbol of the adage, “change is the only constant.”

My paternal grandfather was the only doctor for this whole region from around the late 1930s, maybe earlier, into around the late `50s, or so. I remember him well. He lived on Main Street, Unionville (that house still stands and is now the United Church manse), where I lived for the first three years of my life, and visited, and sometimes stayed overnight, thereafter through my childhood. There was a small barn in the back where he kept a horse and cutter (before my time, but I loved to explore it) to make winter house-calls when snow blocked the roads. 9th Line would was a lonely, dirt road, but farm country.

Before that, of course, it was boreal forest and if you go back not all that far, it was inhabited by, among other things, wild elephants. People arrived and that was the end of the elephants – we now call them mammoths and mastodons – and other wildlife species. Before elephants roamed those forests there was – not much, since it was all under a massive weight of ice – the last ice age, petering out some eleven thousand years ago, allowing the arrival of various new wildlife species, and humans, with change, always change, the only constant.


As a kid growing up we never, ever saw Common Ravens this far south. They have a massive range throughout so much of the northern hemisphere, but although they were found to the south, in the mountains of eastern U.S., to the east, on the coast, and just a two hour drive to the north, not here.

But all that has changed, too. The box alders and phragmites reeds and other weeds and grasses in the painting are not native. Common Ravens are, and while they are not common locally, I now do see them with growing regularity, here in Markham, and in Stouffville, the next town north, on the 9th Line, and in the farm country in between, as it turns into residential subdivision, as winters grow shorter, extreme climate events more frequent, wild fires burn and my grocery bill increases, and I don’t want to imagine, nor will I be here to see, what is to come.

This is in oils, on compressed hardboard and is approximately 16 by 20 inches. And I wonder if, as seems possible, one day a long time ago (as we tend to measure time), a young doctor, my grandfather, visited this house, then new, perhaps in winter in his horse and cutter, warm under a buffalo robe, maybe to deliver a baby or aid an injured farm hand? Now, on 9th Line, walking distance north of me, a few miles south of the house, is a big hospital, where my mother died, where we all now go for help…a big change from the days of the country doctor, where shaggy elephants once roamed through dark forests.


Barry MacKay

Director, Animal Alliance of Canada

4 views
bottom of page