Ken Tolmie graduated from Mount Allison University with a BFA in 1962. After early experiments with surrealism, conducted while he was travelling and living in England and Spain in the mid 1960s, he returned to Canada and began to develop a realist style. Living and working in Ottawa for a decade, where his work was shown at The Wells, Lofthouse and Wallack Galleries, as well as the National Gallery of Canada, he decided to undertake a long series with a sociological focus, capturing a part of Canadian life which had rarely been explored visually. The result was the Bridgetown Series, a series of over 500 works to date, which occupied the artist for more than twenty-five years and first necessitated the development of his own gallery. He moved to the Nova Scotia village of Bridgetown and chronicled its small-town life in paintings: local people, farms, domestic scenes, animals. As such, the series is a visual record of a small agricultural community of a kind now rendered extinct by the pressures of globalization. The Bridgetown Series participated in a documentary trend in Canadian art of the 70s and 80s dedicated to memorializing regional consciousness; it is a visual analogue to the fiction of Alice Munroe or Margaret Lawrence, although the artistic vocabulary it draws on is American, the tradition of Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper. Many works in this series are featured in A Rural Life, published by Oberon Press in 1986, and the series was featured on CBC and TVO several times throughout the 80s. The Owens Art Gallery of Mount Allison University and National Museums Canada sponsored a trans-Canada touring show of the series 1982-84.
During his residence in Nova Scotia, Ken Tolmie was active in the artistic and cultural affairs of the province, serving on the Board of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, assisting in founding the James House Museum in Bridgetown, and donating many of his works to cultural and medical causes.
Ken Tolmie now lives in Kitchener-Waterloo, ON after operating a large studio, gallery, and film production space in Toronto where he produced his renowned Window Series paintings in which he made use of a wide range of techniques, perspectives, and images, and dealing with the urban experience. The paintings from the first decade of this series are held in private, public, and corporate collections across Canada and the United States, and in Europe and Japan. He has received support from the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation.