March 6, 1917
The 45th Spring Exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists is all set to open this upcoming Friday, March 9th.
I sent nothing this year. I’ll tell you the reasons why.
I had exhibited in OSA exhibitions previous years: 1913, 1914, 1915, and 1916. I had also exhibited at the Toronto C.N.E Exhibition, and most recently in Montreal. At first I was very enthusiastic to participate. To become member of the OSA was an honour. It was a validation of sort, but the honour started to wear off when I attended the socials. I felt like an uneducated fraud.
Despite the encouragement , if not outright pressure from Jim and Dr. MaCallum, I refused to budge. I had enough of the critics, especially the fierce attack by Carl Ahrens. Despite being quite satisfied by my works, I don’t feel up to the barrage, There are two things worse than having your name spelled wrong in the newspaper (“Thompson”) it’s being called a hermaphrodite or being served with a white feather.
Talk of conscription is louder than ever. Borden is in England and it’s a surety that when he returns, he’ll make the call up mandatory. Despite the white feather treatment, no one is volunteering anymore. I did have some enthusiasm at the beginning of the war, but after reading Jackon’s letter and seeing the endless reels at the Regent. I’ve determined it’s all a rotten waste.
With all that going about, sending something to the Exhibition is like fiddling while Rome is burning. I am going on to being four months in Tornto, after seven months away – my longest absence ever.
I need to leave soon and I might never return
March 2, 1917
Studio Building ,
I hope this letter finds you well. I’m sorry I haven’t written you sooner but I have been busy painting these past few weeks. I have got quite a bit done. Toronto is pretty wrapped up in the War so I try to avoid the crowds in case I meet up with unfriendly folk that want to make a show of someone that should be fighting instead of being at home. I’ll be quite happy to leave and am planning to go up in the spring as soon as possible.
I received your letter a few weeks ago. Thank you for the socks. As for Joyce, I read some his stories in the magazines. I should read his book. Can you bring it with you to Canoe Lake this spring? I can check on your cabin when I get there and will write you if there is any problem. This War is pretty rotten and it’s having a big toll on Jim MacDonald. His wife is sick and Jim looks like a shadow of himself. Jim tried to convince me to submit to the OSA Spring Exhibition but I refused because I couldn’t give the critics the satisfaction. A review like last year would make it near impossible to sell my paintings. Dr. MacCallum tried to convince me too, but in the end thought it wiser to skip because it would be easier to sell my paintings without the controversy.
The snow has been heavy this year. It’s been cold too. The coal shortage has forced many to scavenge for firewood in the ravine and there’s been many fires. A whole family died in a fire in Kensington and the City wants to tear down the shacks but it will make the problem worse.
With all the snow and cold I doubt the ice won’t be out until May and you probably won’t make it to the cabin until Victoria Day. I’ll write you when I arrive a Canoe Lake.
March 1, 1917
Florence came in by train from Whitby yesterday afternoon. She came from the station to my place. I had made a supper of boiled potatoes and ham. She hadn’t eaten yet, so I warmed it up on the stove. It wasn’t until after she had supper that she told me that she didn’t have a place to stay so she stayed with me last night. I gave her my bunk above and I set out my blankets and slept on the floor below. It was a bit awkward, I’m glad that that the boys at the Studio didn’t know she stayed over otherwise I’d never hear the end of it.
Both Jim MacDonald and Dr. MacCallum visited me today. Despite the deadline being passed for the Spring Exhibition, they were both still trying to convince me to exhibit. I told them both a flat ‘No!’. Florence witnessed their pleas, and I could tell by the looks on their faces that they were perplexed by her unexpected (and unwelcome) presence. But no questions were asked. Both Jim and the Doc both know when not to ask questions about women- that’s why we’ve remained on good terms. Unlike Fred Varley who tried to set me up with his wife’s sister, Dora. Fred and I have never been on the same terms, ever since his meddling.
Florence and I are very good friends. But I had to tell her once again, in politest way I could, that I wasn’t fit for a girl to marry. I was about to tell her that ‘the wilderness was my woman’ but I stopped it at my tongue’s tip, because it seemed like such a horribly trite thing to say. Instead, I told her that with the War, it’s hard to make any commitments, especially when you have that feeling that you are ultimately destined for the trenches.
She saw my letters on the table. She saw the letter and card from Winnie and asked about her.She knows about Winnie, I’ve told her about her. She knows that Winnie is younger than me (but still old for someone not yet married). She asked some questions about Winnie and I mumbled in return. I forget what I said, but the message was clear, “I don’t want to talk about her.”
After Jim and Doc left, we spent time going through my canvases and sketches. She said my work was fabulous and hoped I would not regret not putting anything in the Exhibition. She’s put in two pieces for the Exhibition.
Today, we went out for dinner at the Busy Bee and then I walked with her to where was staying tonight with friends near Bloor and St. George. Florence did lift my spirits. I was in a pretty bad mood these past few days. I’m glad she did visit, because if she didn’t, I would have probably destroyed the canvas I’m working on. She gave me some good ideas to work with and I feel better about it now.
February 25, 1917
Another good day of painting. I know it’s a good day when I lose myself in the painting, or in the act of painting, that is.
It’s getting warmer outside so it’s not as hard to get going in the morning and make a good day of it. Earlier in the month when we had a good snap of cold weather and it took longer to get going. Now, the water jug is no longer frozen in morning, and when the stove is started the chill is taken out in mere minutes.
I got going early this morning and never bothered to look at my watch until it was half-past three. Nobody bothered me today as it’s Sunday. Sunday outside, not inside here. I haven’t bothered to go to church the last few weeks. Since I didn’t have lunch I made an early supper – boiled potatoes and I had some leftover bacon fat that I made into a gravy. I had tea too and decided to stay away from the whisky for the day. That was hard to do.
Here I am in the evening, surrounded by my sketches and paintings feeling like unfinished man whatever that is supposed to mean. Usually I tidy up when I’m done, but lately I feel like nothing is ever finished, so I haven’t been cleaning up as I should. Tubes and brushes everywhere, sketches scattered on the floor, dirty dishes in the wash basin, my laundry in the corner, and ashes on the floor everywhere. When I wake up in the morning now, I feel further behind than I was yesterday. The painting helps to get rid of the feel, the painting helps me to go forward in the day. But in the evening and in my sleep at night there are headwinds forcing me backward into a place I don’t want to be. I’ll try to shake off the feeling tonight. I’ll try to do it without the whisky. Another unfinished day.
February 23, 1917
The light is stronger now. It’s still a far way from spring, but the sun’s rays are stronger and the light is coming into the Shack earlier in the morning. By 7am, it’s as bright as it can be during the day. The morning sun comes through the windows, the rays onto my working canvas.
The stronger light is lifting my spirits. Spring is not far away. It’s making me yearn to up North as soon as I can. I remember Alex going up to Mowat Lodge by himself and it was pretty miserable for him. It’s only Shannon and his family during the wintertime and they only kept the kitchen stove on the north side of the lodge going. Alex froze in his room, just like the water jug. I’ll wait until it gets a bit warmer, later in March.
The opening of the Spring Exhibition is just two weeks away, on March 9th. The Hanging Committee has finalized their selection and Jim is working on the program now. They set the date for the OSA Annual meeting for March 13th. I heard that Florence, Frank Carmichael and Frank Johnston have been nominated as members and will be elected at the meeting.
I’m working up another large canvas. It’s large. It should keep me occupied for a while – not just my hands, but my mind too. When I put my efforts into a new canvas, it takes my mind away from all the things going on. But sooner or later, the world pulls me back. It’s an escape, but the real escape will be to leave from here.
Studio Building Rear
25 Severn St.
February 13, 1917
Things are pretty busy around here. I’ve been doing a lot of painting canvases and hope to be making up North when the weather gets more reasonable. I’ve made 7 so far and hope to get another 3 or 4 finished. I doubt I’ll show anything in the Spring Exhibition because nothing is selling so there’s no point in giving the critics another chance to rail away on what we do. Jim MacDonald is putting in pieces from Arthur and Alex, even though they are away. Bill Beatty is putting in a piece for $600. It seems silly to put such a high price when you know it’s not going to sell.
I received a letter from my brother George. He’s planning to run again for the Academy of Fine Arts in Connecticut. He’s still in New Haven and I may go visit him. I may go to Onteora in NY too. George Reid has a cottage down there and said I could stay if I came.
Living is getting to be a challenge here in the City. Earlier in the month there was a rail strike in the States and no coal was coming in. People were burning for heating whatever they could and there were a lot a house fires. The city is going to clamp down with more fire regulations but I don’t know how that’s going to make a difference. The coal started coming in again a few days but it costs much more. As for money, I’ve sold a number of sketches and that’s what’s keeping me on the good side of the ledger for now.
I want to wish you a Happy Valentine’s. I’ve enclosed a little sketch for you. When I go up in the Spring, I’ll stop in. Remember me to your parents and your sister.
I’d better get this in the Post first thing tomorrow morning.
February 13, 1917
Tomorrow is Valentine’s and I’ve been thinking about Winnie.
Winnie was 27 years old when I first met her in 1912. I was 34 then. At that age she was considered to be a spinster, and at my age, I was a bachelor but that was much less called into question than spinsterhood. Men were expected to be free until decided to settle down in their own time. This was not the case for women, and I believe this had a bearing on her parents’ view of her and of me.
Up North, when Winnie and are together, we have a grand time. I enjoy her company as she’s not like the other women. She has a love of the outdoors and we’ve spent many pleasant hours together, fishing and canoeing. Her parents have come to know me well and I know they have the expectation that the relationship would become more formal one day.
I should write a short Valentine’s note to Winnie. I’ve been so absorbed in my painting that I didn’t think of it until now. If I mail it first thing tomorrow, she might get it with the Saturday morning mail.