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Acclaimed Cochrane artist spreads joy with acts of kindness

"Like I said, I’m not making a fortune, but the fact that I’m making people happy— That’s the fortune that I like."

COCHRANE— Glenn Olson is a man known for many things.

Locally, Olson is known as a man of charity and kindness, one who picks up garbage while he walks the pathways around town.

Olson is known as someone who sings merrily while he makes his rounds, delivering flowers throughout the community.

Olson is known as someone who will bring bottles to the depot, matching the refund amount and donating it to one of several women’s shelters.

Locally, Olson is known to many as a man who puts smiles on people's faces.

“It makes them happy, so it makes me happy,” he says like a mantra.

Internationally, Olson is recognized as an acclaimed, award-winning artist. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades— His art has been exhibited all across North America and his paintings hang in houses around the globe.

Despite his many successes, Olson is a man who speaks humbly of himself and his achievements.

He grew up on a farm in rural Saskatchewan, where he lived with his brother and parents. He attended university in Saskatoon, earning himself a degree in Education, with a major in psychology.

Upon his graduation, Olson decided to come to Calgary, drawn to the city by the majesty of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and a desire to ski on Alberta’s world-famous slopes.

Olson began his career as a special education teacher in 1967 when he arrived in Calgary.

By the time he headed westward, he had already taught himself to paint but had not attended any sort of formal art class until he arrived in the city.

Upon his arrival, he decided to enroll himself in art classes, which he attended on the weekends.

In 1985, after some encouragement from his peers, Olson took a year's leave from teaching to pursue art professionally.

“I taught for 18 years, and everybody was saying— This was when Robert Bateman was really becoming famous— they said ‘you’ve got to do your art, you’re better than Bateman,’ blah, blah, blah,” he said with a chuckle. “So, I thought I’d take a year’s leave and do art, and I made more money than I made teaching that first year so I kept on doing it.”

After that first year, his art career took off.

In the Calgary Stampede Art Auction, Olson won Best of Show and Collector’s Choice the first year he entered, in 1993, and Artist’s Choice and Collector’s Choice the following year.

Olson was the recipient of the exclusive Canada 125 Medal for his contributions to Canadian community and culture in 1992. He won the highly competitive Ducks Unlimited Alberta Duck Stamp Competition, and more recently, in 2008, he was chosen as Artist of the Year by Pheasants Forever Canada Inc.

To know that his art has received such recognition and hangs in homes around the world, Olson said, feels good.

“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “I don’t like to brag, but it’s a good feeling that people love my work.”

A large portion of Olson’s body of work depicts scenes that would be familiar to anyone who hails from Calgary.

The Rockies, prairies and many of the creatures that inhabit those eco-regions make frequent appearances in his work.

“The mountains— I don’t know, I just obsess about them,” he said.

As a lover of the outdoors, many of the things he saw during his hikes and climbs made their way into his art.

When he was a child, growing up on a ranch in Saskatchewan, he said he regularly would draw horses, and his love of drawing animals has been a lifelong pursuit since then.

Olson began delivering flowers when he took over for another retired teacher, He heard that Panda Flowers in Cochrane needed a delivery driver, and decided to make the move to a smaller community.

“Driving around Cochrane is easier than Calgary. The thing about it, I don’t make a fortune at it, I pay for my own gas, and I drive my own vehicle and oil changes and all of that— None of that is covered. But, the deliveries, well, they make people happy and that makes me happy. That’s the best thing about it.”

While making his deliveries, if the flowers are for a special occasion, Olson will often deliver them with a rendition of Happy Birthday, or Happy Anniversary to the tune of Happy Birthday.

“They didn’t suggest it at all, but people like it. And if it’s an anniversary I can sing ‘happy anniversary to you,’ and they’re just smiling from ear to ear, and I’m happy to see that,” he said.

“I like to donate to the women’s emergency shelter, there’s one in Red Deer and now there’s one in Calgary, and PETA,” he said. “I pick up these cans and bottles and whatever I collect I double it and pay to, well, the women’s emergency shelter for sure.”

The many things Olson does, the donations, the songs, flower delivery and his art, all have a common thread running between them— They all put a smile on someone’s face.

“It does make me happy. It would make almost anybody happy, maybe. That’s why I enjoy my job so much. Like I said, I’m not making a fortune, but the fact that I’m making people happy— That’s the fortune that I like,” he said. “My art made people happy, or it still does, I guess. I’ve got people who buy my art. They’ve got a house full of it already and they still want to collect more art of mine. But it makes them happy too, so it makes me happy. The money is fine, but still, what makes me most happy is that they’re happy to get it.”

For more information on Olsen's art visit his website at

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