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Review in The Daily News, Kamloops

Rainbow Chaser: Captivating life story of B.C. artist full of successes

0f the many funny, poignant and captivating anecdotes Toni Onley includes in his lively and entertaining memoirs, none is more revealing and symbolic of his life than his story of repeatedly flying his Champion SkyTrac airplane through a rainbow and its storm-cloud centre. About the experience he said, “I’ve been chasing rainbows ever since."

As his book amply illustrates with Gregory Strong's expert assistance, the storm clouds were always close by as well. Onley's early life on his birthplace on the Isle of Man had its share of stormy moments. Once when he defended himself by punching a bully in the face, the bully’s glass eye fell to the ground. Another time he blew out the windows for blocks around when he detonated a home-made pipe bomb. Then there was the time he half-filled a school wastebasket with water and papers knowing the teacher's habit of stomping the papers to the bottom of the container.

As Onley tells it, his later life held a number of major setbacks. During his first marriage, for example, he was affronted by his wife's affair and then devastated by her untimely death, leaving him with daughters aged two and four to raise. Realizing the enormity of the task, he moved from Ontario to Penticton to be closer to his mother and father. Later while he and younger daughter, Lynn, were living in Mexico, the older girl, Jennifer, was killed in an automobile accident in Canada. And in Mexico, Lynn was the victim of a botched appendectomy for which the surgeon demanded an exorbitant $3,000. Onley fled the country since he couldn't pay the fee, arriving in North America just in time to save the child's life…

But the rainbow he pursued with the greatest vigour, and Onley makes no bones about it, was his goal of becoming a self-employed, financially independent creative visual artist His pursuit wasn't always held in high regard, however, as he notes when he tells how even after he tallied a large number of sales his mother told him, "That's all very well, Toni, but your father and I want to know when you're going to get a job."

…If there were to be another rainbow to compete with Onley's love of painting it would be his love of flying, which enabled him to cruise North and South America and the Far North in search of unique visual experiences to be painted and shared with others. This love also brought him to the brink of disaster when he crashed his ski plane on Cheakamus Glacier in 1984 -- but managed to wedge the plane into a crevasse so it stayed suspended by its wings until he and his passenger could be rescued 18 hours later.
The first chapter of his book is the spine-tingling recounting of this adventure...As Europeans recognize their artists, so he has become a Canadian treasure, a long way from his early self-description of someone always chasing rainbows. His book, the black and white photographs and the several pages of coloured reproductions form an excellent written and visual record of the chase.
- M. Wayne Cunningham