Born in Fort William (now Thunder Bay), Ontario, Virginia was the daughter of Neil and Violet (Hill) McCoy. She attended school in Fort William, and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Languages from the University of Toronto. She had worked for a few years as a systems analyst for Manulife Insurance, before moving to Cape Breton to focus on her desire to develop as an artist.
Working first in water colour, then in gouache, Virginia gained a following for her art, through which she explored the landscape and culture of the island. Perhaps more personally important, it was through her art that she researched and painted her family’s stories, allowing their influences (Ojibway, French, English) to guide her artistic originality.
In her most celebrated exhibition titled Becoming White, she traced her heritage through those family stories from the early union of a an Ojibway woman and a Hudson Bay explorer through the generations that included the loss of her branch of the family of their Indigenous status. A loss she was able to reclaim in the mid 1990s when the federal government made a change in the Indian Act.
For more than twenty years, Virginia operated Virginia McCoy Artworks, an open studio in Inverness. She also became involved in the community, becoming part of the original Inverness County Council for the Arts, an organization of which she was chair when the board successfully lobbied for the construction of the Inverness County Centre for the Arts, located in Inverness.
For two terms, Virginia served as chair of the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design when the board of that organization was working hard towards acquiring a ‘downtown’ presence, currently located on Charlotte Street in Sydney.
For many years, Virginia was an active member of the Lake Ainslie Weavers and Craft Guild.
Around 2002 Rolf Bouman who was a great admirer of her artwork started to acquire her paintings, mainly the artwork which is part of the “Becoming White” exhibit. Thus more than 40 of her paintings can be viewed at the Friends United International Convention Centre in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada. This constitutes a large part of her life’s artwork.
Virginia McCoy passed away in 2022 and left behind through her artwork a great legacy and is passing on through her paintings many important Indigenous family stories for future generations. Everybody is missing her dearly and she will always be in our hearts.