Gordon Appelbe Smith was born in East Brighton in England in 1919. His father, William George Smith, was an amateur watercolour artist and would often take Gordon and his brother to the Tate and the National Gallery in London.
Smith's parents separated in 1933 and Gordon was taken to live in Winnipeg, Canada by his mother. A visit to the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco introdued Smith to the work of American, Canadian and European modernists.
He visited Vancouver prior to the war where he met his future wife Marion Fleming. He was injured overseas whilst stationed abroad during the war and returned to Vancouver in 1944. That year the Vancouver Art Gallery held an exhibition of works that Smith had produced whilst overseas.
In passing credit to those who have influenced him, Smith is noted for saying "I am a hundred artists deep."