Patricia Ainslie was born in England, and raised in South Africa. She moved to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) in the late 1960s to work at the Rhodes National Gallery with Frank McEwen, organizing and promoting the renowned Workshop School where artists produced monumental stone sculpture, featured in exhibits at the Rodin Museum, Paris, Commonwealth Institute, London and MOMA, New York. She lived in Iran and Mauritius before settling in Calgary in 1977.

She joined the Glenbow Museum in Calgary in 1979. For more than a decade, working as the curator of art, she built the art collection at Glenbow, and made regular studio visits to artists. She initiated the New Alberta Art program with six exhibitions per year, both solo and group exhibitions of contemporary artists, a program which ran for five years. Other work included the groundbreaking exhibit and publication Images of the Land: Canadian Block Prints, 1919-1945(1984), which toured Canada, England and Europe. More in depth print exhibitions featured artists Margaret Shelton, Laurence Hyde and Cecil Buller. For her important work in printmaking, she was elected to the Print Council of America. In 1987, she organized the retrospective exhibition, publication and tour forA Lifelong Journey: The Art and Teaching of H.G. Glyde, in 1991, Jack Shadbolt: Correspondences, and in 1998,Frontiers, Frontières, Fronteras: René Derouin. As Vice President of Collections from 1993 to 2006, she worked on innovative museological projects, including deaccessioning, grading of collections and repatriation. She has published in scholarly journals and presented lectures on these topics in North America, England and Europe.

Since leaving Glenbow in 2006, Ainslie has worked as an independent curator and writer. She co-authored Alberta Art and Artists published by Fifth House, Calgary in 2007 and Ted Godwin: The Regina Five Years: 1957-1967published by The Nickle Arts Musuem at the University of Calgary in 2008. She completed a 40-year retrospective exhibition and catalogue Surreal. Real. Ideal: The Paintings of Joice M. Hall for the Kelowna Art Gallery in March 2010.