David P. Silcox, Writer, Administrator and Deputy Government Minister, Passes Away at 87

As well as receiving honorary doctorates from Victoria University and University of Windsor, he was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 2006.

By: Mar. 01, 2024
David P. Silcox, Writer, Administrator and Deputy Government Minister, Passes Away at 87
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On Tuesday, David P. Silcox, whose long and distinguished career in the arts made him an influential figure in Canadian culture, died February 27, 2024 in Toronto. He was 87 years old. 

On January 28, 1937, David’s father, United Church minister A. Phillips Silcox wrote: "David Phillips Silcox was born in the General Hospital at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, early in the morning today.  The temperature outside was approximately 35 degrees below zero.  The girls at Miller’s printing shop had fun knotting the short ribbons which tied his calling card to that of his proud parents”.  

That was the first of David’s calling cards in a remarkable life of work in the arts. 

The Silcox family of 4 boys, David the eldest, moved a few times after the Reverend Silcox left formal ministry work. Before a move to the Toronto area (Port Credit High School for David), this included an unusual few years at the Burwash (Sudbury) Ontario Industrial Farm (Prison), where David’s father was Assistant Superintendent.  Perhaps Burwash instilled a love of remote places in him, but the wilderness and a youthful devotion to the Boy Scouts were always part of David.  He loved telling of his first adventure in Europe as a “Queen Scout” sent to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953.   

That scout spirit continued with David’s love of canoeing.  He accompanied an intrepid group of friends, the “Arctic and Rideau Canal Canoe Club”, on a dozen treasured Arctic trips over the years.  

The close bonds formed on these trips were enhanced by a love of eating well – freeze dried meals were eschewed as David explored being a gourmet wilderness chef. 

At Victoria College David received a B.A. and an M.A. at the University of Toronto. During his two years as resident and undergraduate secretary of Hart House he loved swimming in its beautiful pool late at night.  In a more intellectual pursuit, he oversaw the art gallery and developed his love of visual, especially contemporary, art. The Globe and Mail nominated him “Art Man of the Year” in 1961.  A formative year at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and travel, followed.  

David once said “The world of art chose me, in a way. I never got a job I applied for, but I was able to do things I enjoyed and was always amazed to get paid for doing it.”  This included, amongst other positions:  Senior Arts Officer Canada Council; Associate Dean and professor of art history at York University; Director of Cultural Affairs, Metro Toronto; Assistant Deputy Minister (Culture) Ottawa; Deputy Minister (Culture and Communications), Province of Ontario. 

He was a senior fellow at Massey College, beginning in 1991.  Most important for David was his writing about artists.  His major publications included the best-seller, Tom Thomson: The Silence and the Storm (with Harold Town); Christopher Pratt (with Mariké Weiler); Painting Place: The Life and Work of David B. Milne.  His proudest accomplishment was the first published catalogue raisonné of a Canadian artist, David Milne (with David Milne Jr).  His last major book, The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, was published in 2003.  

At the age of 63, he returned to the workplace, as President of Sotheby’s Canada for 12 years. Commerce was never David’s strongest interest, but he loved the challenge and especially ‘seeing what people have on their walls’. His own interest in collecting contemporary Canadian art lasted throughout his life. 

David’s volunteer life was vast. Some of his board memberships included:  founding director of the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition; various committees of the Art Gallery of Ontario; Massey Hall/Roy Thomson Hall; The Stratford Festival; founding board member of the Festival of Festivals (now TIFF); Gardiner Museum; PEN Canada; Victoria University; Royal Conservatory of Music; Canadian Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery (London); and the Art Canada Institute.  

As well as receiving honorary doctorates from Victoria University and University of Windsor, he was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 2006, and in 2007 received the Governor General’s Award for lifetime contribution to the arts, recognizing his work as a champion of artists in all disciplines. 

Into his 80s, David retained a boyishness with a touch of mischief.  In February 2023, living with advanced dementia, he moved to long term care at Belmont House in Toronto. He still had a bright smile, engaging blue eyes, a beautiful mop of silver-gray hair, and a kind and happy nature. He died comfortably at Belmont House after a very short illness. 

David was pre-deceased by brother Graham and survived by his brothers Ken of Cochrane, Alberta and Louis of the Waterloo Region. His sister-in-law, Nancy Silcox, is working on David’s biography. 

He was the best and dearest friend, travelling partner, and champion of his wife of 40 years, Linda Intaschi. They shared not only a keen interest in art, but a love of the outdoors, manifested in a couple of long northern canoe trips.  They met by chance in Los Angeles, introduced by mutual friends, one being a theatre colleague of Linda’s.  David, however, preferred the short version, “We met in a bar in Beverly Hills”.   

David requested no funeral. 

If you wish to remember him, please consider a donation to an arts organization of your choice.  Or, listen to any beautiful recording of David’s favourite music, Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs.