History | Since 1887

In September 1887, an enthusiastic group of young women artists organized an art club based on the Art Student’s League of New York. In a studio in the Yonge Street Arcade building they met to work together in painting, drawing, modeling and sketching from still life and living models.

An early studio session

No instruction was given, the objective was to provide an incentive and help towards self-development, to draw out (independent of the instructor) personal resources, which are necessary to individual effort.

By 1890 the informal club had became a “women’s art club” for the purpose of creating general interest in art and encouragement of women’s work, through the exchange of ideas and cooperation among its members, as well as the holding of art exhibitions and lectures.

In 1893 the Association became affiliated with the National Council of Women, founded by the wife of the Governor General, Lady Aberdeen. In the late 1880’s Lady Aberdeen had invited Mary Ella Dignam to Government House to discuss the possibility of continuing to organize groups of women artists and “handicrafters” in order to assist them and promote interest in their work.

In 1907 the association was incorporated by a bill passed in the House of Commons, Ottawa incorporating it officially as the Women’s Art Association of Canada.
Bill No.30 An Act To Incorporate The Women’s Art Association of Canada

“The objects of the Association shall be the creating of a general interest in art and the encouragement of women’s work for the purpose of mutual help and co-operation of its members, the establishment of art lectures and reading clubs, the holding of exhibitions of painting, designs, sculpture, engraving and the industrial arts, and the encouragement and development of the art handicrafts and home industries of Canada.”

The motto chosen was that of the old Plantin Printers of Antwerp “Labore et Constantia” meaning “By Work and Perseverance”. The crest with the motto is still commonly used, the colours of the Association are red and white and the emblem the wild rose.

In April 1930, the Association was affiliated with the Lyceum Club of London, England, and became known as the Lyceum Club and Women’s Art Association of Canada until after the Second World War when the name was changed back to its original title.

You can access the WAAC fonds at the City of Toronto Archives here.


Mary Ella Dignam, was the founder and first president of the Women’s Art Association of Canada, was a pioneer in this country’s arts and crafts movement. She was a versatile artist who studied in London Ontario, New York and Paris in 1886. Upon return to Toronto she founded the Women’s Art Club, later renamed the Women’s Art Association of Canada. She established and maintained close friendships with The Group of Seven, who included 15 WAAC artists in their 1923-30 shows.

The Arcade Building (left) was one of a number of venues that the Women’s Art Association occupied before settling on its current premises at 21/23 Prince Arthur Av. For a short video of its history, please click on the arrow.

The WAAC Library

Guide to the Women’s Art Association of Canada Library

When members visit our Library, they will discover a diverse collection of over 3,500 art books, in a historic 19th century home once resided in by an artist, Anne Langton and her family. The library fulfills an important role in WAAC’s education mandate & members of the public are more than welcome to access our collection for research purposes through prior arrangement with the office OR the first & third Saturdays of every month (1-4 pm).

We are open to members and their guests during regular office hours, 9:30 am – 5 pm, Tuesdays – Saturday. (Gallery hours are 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.) We strongly encourage both to enjoy our library. Members and guests enjoy soaking up the historic atmosphere, working on their creative pursuits, conducting research or sketching in our comfortable chairs.

Art Collection

In addition to our remarkable library, we have a beautifully curated collection of artwork on the library walls, many of which are by former WAAC members.

There is a Guide to the Art Collection in the plastic holder to the left of the entrance.

Frequently Asked Questions

When is the library open?
Regular office hours 9:30 am – 5:00 pm, Tuesdays – Saturdays

When is the library unavailable to visit?
Unless there is a scheduled meeting taking place, the library is available to members to visit. Please check with the office ahead of time.

When is the library available to the public?
The first and third Saturdays of each month, from 1:00 – 4:00 pm. or by appointment.

What is in the library?
Our collection includes:
– 3,500 art books from around the world
– Art magazines
– A small collection of art-related DVDS
– Historical documents

Who may borrow materials?
WAAC members & staff may borrow books & DVDs. Members of the public may arrange to access materials while in the library, but not to remove them.

How long may books or DVDs be borrowed?
Four weeks. If unable to return a book in person, please arrange for drop off.
Books borrowed in June may be held until the first event in September.

Can resources identified as “For Reference Only” OR resources/historical books stored in the alcove in the hallway outside the Library be borrowed?
No. Reference materials including fragile books, WAAC memorabilia, dictionaries, encyclopaedias etc. are available to be enjoyed only while in the library.

How many items can be borrowed at once?
Up to 5 items at a time, with the exception between June – September when you can borrow up to 10 items.

What is the procedure for borrowing books or DVDs?
There is a “sign out” book in the library, to the left of the entrance in which you record the date, title, name, email address or phone number. Please print.

What about renewing borrowed items?
Items can be renewed twice unless there is a request for them from another member.

How do I renew items?
Please sign the item out again in the “Sign Out” book OR e-mail the Library Chair (cherylgorman150@gmail.com) or her designee who will either do that for you or inform you if someone is waiting for that item.

How do I return materials?
Place the items in the basket on the table outside the library door. A member of the Library Committee will collect materials from the basket and record that it has been returned in the “Sign Out” book.
Please do not leave returning materials on tables, shelves or anywhere else in the Library.

Can anyone donate to the collection, if so, how?
Donations of art-related books and DVDs are welcome. However we have limited space and are concentrating on building our collection in under-represented areas: Africa, the Middle East, S.E. Asia, Central & South America and 21st century art.

Why should I donate to the Library Fund?
Donations are much appreciated and allow us to continuously improve our Library!
Please speak with Cheryl Gorman, the Library Chair, to discuss Library Priorities.

Who do I contact for donations, borrowing, renewing or any other concern?
The Library Committee Members:
Cheryl Gorman, Chair
Marsha Brown; Gillian Morden; Sandra Pappas; Geri Sadoway; Don Wilkins and Karen Zavitz.
For more information, please email Cheryl Gorman at cherylgorman150@gmail.com or call/text her at (416) 458-1136.

How do I navigate the library content & in finding what I’m looking for?
A Placement guide to the collection is located in a plastic holder on the wall to the left of entrance.

WAAC Library Online Catalogue

In addition to our physical collection, we offer a catalogue of our collection online, which can be accessed anytime from home or on the laptop provided in the Library.

To access the catalogue, https://www.librarycat.org/lib/WAAC, OR through the link in the Library section of the WAAC website.

Where is the laptop located?
The laptop is always on the desk located on the south wall under the right window.

How do I locate books in the cabinets?
Each cabinet is numbered sequentially and labelled. If the subject matter of a book is specific to a country or region, it is located in the cabinet so named, i.e. U.S.A is Cabinet #7.

Organization: Each country cabinet follows the same order as below

General History, art movements, art specific in that region/country
Arranged alphabetically by book title

Artists Artists of that country
Arranged alphabetically by artist’s last name, not book title

Groups of Artists Arranged alphabetically by book title

Collections Catalogues of private & public collections and/or exhibitions held within that country
Arranged alphabetically by book title

If a book addresses a general topic not specific to a country, then it will appear in the cabinet labelled with the CATEGORY to which it belongs.
Ie. Cabinet #10 is Art Theory & Techniques; Art General is Cabinet #4

List of Cabinets, location & contents:
Meanings of arr. = arranged, alpha. = alphabetical


WAAC member BOOK CLUB 2021 -2022

ZOOM BOOK CLUB 11:00 a.m.


May 12, 2021
Thomas King

September 22, 2021
Beverley McLachlin

November 24, 2021
Margaret Atwood

January 12, 2022
Nicholas Sparks

March 9, 2022
Alistair MacLeod

May 11, 2022
Tracy Kidder


The Women’s Art Association of Canada offers a variety of arts-related educational programs to the public and to our members. The Association hosts lectures throughout the year presented by members and outside individuals and groups, such as the Artist’s Voice Lecture Series. The majority of these events are open to the public. For further information on what’s on and upcoming events, please visit the Events Calendar. Members of the public are welcome to access the Library Collection for research purposes.

Members have a number of special resources available to them including a printing press, a Library with a broad collection of materials related to the arts, information on current arts activities in the Greater Toronto Area, and discounts at local art stores.

Board of Directors

Anita Stein


Alexandra Bratton

Co-President, Finance

Ingrid Hamilton

1st Vice President, Chair Marketing

Barbara Mitchell

Permanent Collection, Secretary

Marilyn Halley

Chair Membership

Nina Tschupikow

Scholarships & Awards

Marion Yanase

Chair Events

Helga Scott

Co-Chair House

Sara Petroff

Co-Chair House

Meral Atlinbilek

Chair Programs

Suzanne Miller


Jocelyn Shaw


Virginia Trieloff


Joanna Taylor


Past Presidents

Maggie Broda

President 2019-2023

Danielle Fraser

Co-President 2018-2019

Dale Butterill

President 2013-18, Co-President 2018-2019

Barbara Mitchell

Co-President 2009-10, President 2011-2013

Heather Beecroft

Co-President 2009-2010



Assistant Manager