Born in 1863 in London Ontario, John Innes was educated at Hellmuth College in London, England, at King's College, Sherbourne, and at the Dufferin Military Academy, where he excelled in design, drafting, and painting. Upon returning to Canada, Innes headed west, to join a survey party in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, where he created maps and sketches. Stopping in Alberta, Innes took up ranching and raising horses. In 1885 he was drawing cartoons for various periodicals, and later published his own newspaper in Banff titled “Mountain Echoes.” After twelve years in the West, Innes moved back to Toronto where he worked as a writer and illustrator while he studied under William Cruikshank and where he showed with the Ontario Society of Artists. In Toronto, he also mass-produced and marketed postcards from his original paintings romanticizing life on the Canadian Frontier.
The following years saw Innes travel widely in search of adventure and subject-matter for his art, including a trip to South Africa with the Second Canadian Mounted Rifles in 1902. On a voyage to Vancouver by pack train over the Rockies in 1905 he created a series of art works that he called “Epic of the West.” The series accurately portrayed “the era of the Indian, the fur trader, and the buffalo” and was so popular that after its exhibition in Vancouver, it travelled to Montreal, Toronto and Leipzig, Germany. The spectacular collection was purchased by the Hudson's Bay Company, and in 1994 was donated to the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg. In the 1920s, Innes produced a collection of eight paintings designed to illustrate British Columbia's history. The series was commissioned by the Hudson's Bay Company with a grant of $10,000, which was a substantial amount of money at the time. Called by many “the Remington of the Canadian West," John Innes works have been widely collected.