In 1968, Joan Murray got her first job in the art field at the Art Gallery of Ontario. She was later appointed the Galleryís first Curator of Canadian Art. In this capacity, Murray organized a major Tom Thomson retrospective in 1971. As she worked on this landmark show, she became interested in the marks people had made on the backs of Thomsonís panels. These gave her the idea of organizing a complete catalogue of the works of the artist, which she has worked on from that time to the present. A Treasury of Tom Thomson picks up on the inscriptions on the backs of Thomsonís paintings. It is a story of the men who worked to make Thomson the national figure he has become.
Murray has written several books on Tom Thomson, including a biography, Tom Thomson: Design for a Canadian Hero, a study of his tree subjects, Tom Thomson: Trees, a study of the last spring of his life, Tom Thomson: The Last Spring, and a survey of the best of his work, The Best of Tom Thomson.
In addition to her work on Tom Thomson, Murray has taped hours of interviews with Canadian artists, which constitute the Joan Murray Collection Ė 750 audio and video tapes housed in Library and Archives Canada. This collection is Canadaís most extensive oral history of art.
Murray was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy in 1992, and in 1993 was honoured with the Senior Award from the Association of Cultural Executives for her outstanding contribution and dedication to Canadian cultural life. She received the Order of Ontario in 2003.