Born in Paris, Ontario, Duncan studied in Hamilton, and at McGill University in Montreal. She also studied painting and drawing under Adam Sheriff Scott [1935-36] and took life studies with Ernst Neumann and Goodridge Roberts [1940-43]. In 1943 Duncan received permission to sketch Canadian war industries, and to document the life of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. Often considered an unofficial war artist, she followed in the ranks of artists Caven Atkins, Dorothy Stevens, and Lilias Torrance Newton. Her interest in war and industrial images continued throughout her career and was useful in her later work at the Canadian War Museum and National Gallery of Canada.
Alma Duncan worked for a Montreal advertising firm from 1936-43 and for the National Film Board from 1943. At the NFB she designed posters and publications and worked for the animation department. Her first film “Folksong Fantasy” was shown at the Edinburgh Festival in 1951. She became a partner of photographer Audrey McLaren and together produced animated films under the name of Dunclaren Productions (their film “Kumak the Sleepy Hunter” was nominated for a British Film Award). She served on Canadian Film Award juries for many years, and herself won a number of Canadian and international honours. From the 1960s onward she devoted most of her time to painting and drawing. Her drawings of plants and rural landscapes were usually done in pen and ink on location, often in the woods near her studio.
Duncan participated in numerous Canadian and international exhibitions. She exhibited at the RCA, AAM. CSGA, CGP, The National Gallery of Canada, Le Cercle Universitaire d’Ottawa, Manitoba Society of Artists, Winnipeg Art Gallery, and London Regional Art Gallery. She also received solo shows at The Academic Hall, University of Ottawa , Isaacs Gallery, Toronto , and Galerie Anne Doran, Ottawa . In 1942 she won Honourable Mention at a poster competition in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. She won the President's Award for Best in Show at the 4th Rodman Hall Annual Exhibition ; the Purchase Prize, at the International Exhibition of Drawings & Engravings, Lugano, Switzerland ; and had a work selected, for the “IX Joan Miró International Show of Drawings”, Barcelona . She was also commissioned by Canada Post to design stamps and produced the popular "Maple in Four Seasons"  and "Floral Aerogrammes" .
She taught at Laval University, & MacDonald College ; the Ottawa School of Art [1962-66], Rockcliffe Public School Art Club , After Four Centre, Ottawa , Lindenlea Community Centre, Ottawa [1971-73], and Arnprior Art Club [1978-81].
Through the years Duncan traveled to Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Costa Rica, and spent two months in the Canadian Arctic. She also traveled to Islamic countries on a 1968 Canada Council grant to study Islamic art and design.
She has work at The National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, Canadian War Museum, Canada Council Art Bank, External Affairs Department in Ottawa, London Regional Museum and Art Gallery, Il Museo Caccio, Lugano, Brooklyn Museum, and in many municipal galleries, universities, private and corporate collections. A fine modernist artist and filmmaker, who lived near Cumberland Ontario, Alma Duncan died on December 15th, 2004 after a long illness.
Bibliography: MacDonald, A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, [vol 1, pp. 662a-664a]; Ottawa, Catalogue of the National Gallery of Canada, [vol. 1, p. 291]; McMann, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Spring Exhibitions… [p. 108]; Oshawa, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Alma Duncan, [exhib. cat.].