Barker Fairley was born at Barnsley, England in1887. He graduated from the University of Leeds.
He was the author of two books on Goethe, "Goethe as Revealed in His Poetry" in 1932 and "A Study of Goethe" in 1947. He was a scholar of German literature, he wrote articles and books on many writers as well as columns in Canadian Forum.
Fairley was co-founder of the Canadian Forum, and a friend and promoter of the Group of Seven.
He began his academic career at University of Jena from 1907-10 and was then invited to join the newly founded U of A in Edmonton from 1910-15. From 1915 until his retirement in 1957 he taught at University College, University of Toronto.
In retirement he devoted his time to painting. His subjects were portraits, landscapes and still lifes. He used primarily oil paints. He is a member of The Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
He died in Toronto, Ontario in 1986.