December 16, 1916 Moonlight and School of Athens

December 16, 1916

Dr. MacCallum dropped by again today. He brought with him a copy of The Canadian Magazine. There was my painting, on page 177, alone on its own page. It was strange and exhilarating to see my canvas on the magazine page and my name among the other writers and artists in the Table of Contents.

Earlier in the fall, while I was up North,  Dr. MacCallum entered ‘Moonlight’ into the Canadian National Exhibition. I also heard that Dr MacCallum convinced Newton McTavish, the editor of The Canadian Magazine, to get someone to come down to take a picture so they could publish it. The Dr. has always been keen to showcase my work wherever the opportunity and I didn’t think any further of it, until today, when he brought me the December issue.

“At least they spelled my name right.” Dr. MacCallum smiled. He knew I was constantly annoyed by the insistence of people spelling my name with a silent “p”.

“Unlike the English, we Scots don’t need to have a silent ‘p’ in our name.”

The Dr. laughed.

After flipping through the other pages, I set the magazine aside and moved over to my easel to show the Dr. what I was working on. A decorative canvas of autumn.  By quickly changing the topic, I didn’t want to let on that I was pleased by the magazine.

“Top notch, Tom. Keep it up!” His attention wasn’t fully on this particular canvas, he was looking at the other ones leaning against the wall. “Mind your stove at night, I don’t want to see these treasures go up in flames.” A reminder of the nightly occurrence of house fires in Toronto. The fires were mostly in shanties similar to the Shack. Unregulated housing was cropping up everywhere throughout the City and burning down just as fast. The City Board of Control, not wanting another Great Fire, was considering a crackdown and serving eviction notices to the shanty-tenants. I’m not sure where they would go, other than a boarding house with jacked-up prices. Either way, the landlords win with the rent.

“I can’t stay long, I’ve got to go to my portrait sitting.” The members’ portrait for the Arts & Letters Club – that’s what the Dr. was referring to. Joseph-Ernest Sampson, a fine portraitist, had been hard at work, making the club painting.  “Sampson’s got us scheduled in like doctor’s patients. He’s doing individual sittings in his Studio on King Street and he wants to get the thing done in time for the members’ dinner in January.”

I had heard the portrait was turning into a veritable School of Athens. At last count twenty-eight members would be in the painting. I can’t even being to comprehend the jockeying for position. Dr. MacCallum, being the current president, would be the most prominent in the painting, but the concession he made for this prominence was that his portrait would be in profile. The others would be suitably placed standing around the fireplace or sitting at the table.

As the Dr. was leaving, he handed me an invitation, “January 17th, Tom. That’s the unveiling. Members only, but I got you an invitation as a friend of the club. Mark that in your calendar. It’ll be quite the time.”

Later in the evening, before going to bed, I studied the picture while having a good draw on my pipe. I secretly relished the fact that people across the Dominion, the Commonwealth and the USA would be looking at my canvas, Moonlight. But I knew they were missing the real spirit of the canvas. It doesn’t come through in the picture. To me, paintings looked dead in books and magazines, and I wondered how many dead Van Goghs, Monets, and Renoirs I studied in the books and magazines at the library. I never made it to Europe to see the real things, to see if they were alive. Maybe these paintings were really dead. Jackson said to me once, “It’s good to have knowledge of the masters, but don’t let them influence you too much. Put your own life into your paintings. Do your own thing. Don’t worry about the Masters.”

December 15, 1916 Loneliness

December 15, 1916

I don’t get bothered being alone. I prefer it. But sometimes I feel alone. Very alone. The weather turned and the clear night of last night turned into a heavy snow this morning. By the time it was done around noon, over a foot of snow fell and everything in the City had ground to a halt. The tracks and the main roads were mostly passable by late afternoon. Trains aren’t a problem, the wedges were usually in early November. The trains can get through most everything, only the biggest drifts would pose a problem. The biggest danger to trains was not the snow, but meeting other trains stranded or thrown off schedule.

The side streets are a mess. They’ll be that way for a few days. I stepped outside for a few moments this afternoon to assess the aftermath. Rosedale Valley Road is a sea of stranded motor cars and several have skidded off into the ravine off to the side. The horse-buggies and their masters are pulling out the motor car casualties. In winter, the buggies keep a chain or rope handy because more often than not in this weather, they’d be called upon for rescue. The real casualties are the young boys on bicycles. Riding on the streets with the streetcar tracks that become deadly when they’re wet or frozen over. Hardly a day goes by without a headline in the paper of some boy falling under a streetcar or waggon. Today, it was a boy under a waggon on Bloor Street, he was dead before they could bring him to the hospital.

As for my contribution to restoring the general order, I cleared the path to the privy behind the Studio Building  I pulled snow off the roof and cleared away  the icicles, some as long as six feet. I don’t like icicles. When I was in school in Leith, one of the village kids, got an icicle in his eye knocking them off the eaves of the schoolhouse. A month later, when he returned, his pupil was no longer the normal round, but a ragged black diamond. He became a curiosity and a freak to all of us other kids. Someone told him to join the circus. The next fall he got his thumb cut off in a threshing accident and his ostracism was complete.  Whenever, I see icicles, I get this strange feeling in my eye and get an urge to clear them out before fate deals me an uncertain future.

When I got back into the Shack, I felt lonely. A feeling of sad vacancy.  My former Studio and Shack-mates are gone: Lismer is in Halifax, Jackson overseas and Harris called up to training in Barrie. I miss their camaraderie. The past two years, we ventured up North and were in close quarters over the winter. I learned a lot by listening, watching, and arguing. Not arguing, but if Jackson made a pointed comment about what I was doing, I’d make it look like I was sulking (in some cases I was). He’d come over and put his hand on my shoulder and say, “Now there, Tom. You’ve got the raw talent, we just need to work on some of those rough edges.” In contrast, Lismer would make a silly drawing of my indolence and set us both to laughter.

I’ve been back about a month now and you’d think by now, I’d have settled on a style of painting things. But with every canvas, I seem to be back to starting point of uncertainty. I prefer sketching out-of-doors than in a studio. With sketching, uncertainty takes a back seat to the immediacy of what’s required the moment. Outside, when the scene is about to change, you don’t think – you paint. In the studio painting’s a different matter. Painting canvases in the Studio was fine thing when I first shared with Jackson. It was novel;  I was too busy learning. But when he left, to have that space to myself, it felt too pretentious. I also couldn’t afford it. I’m not like the other Studio tenants. Bill Beatty is in his element here. Bill and I are different on that part. He thinks he’s an artist-rebel, but deep down I know he has worked too hard to become part of the establishment. I don’t want to be part of the establishment. I’m not an ‘artist-rebel’, I just don’t like going along with the pack and I don’t like making a lot of noise about it.  Maybe the cost of not being part of the establishment is to be lonely – but free. A fair price for now, I’d say.


December 14, 1916 Hanging Committee

December 14, 1916

1915 OSA Exhibition Hanging Committee

O.S.A. Spring Exhibition Hanging Committee

I went over to the Studio Building earlier this evening to pick up my mail. Bill Beatty was there. He had just gotten back from a dinner the Arts & Letters club. Judging by the shape he was in, he should have stayed there for the night (they have 6 bunks there for the taking) but he got a motor car ride with one of the Rosedale club members.

“We bloody well had a hard time keeping on the road! If only those street trolleys could keep a straight line!”

I reminded him that the trolleys do keep a straight line. I suggested that the issue was with the motor car operator, not the trolley. Motor car accidents, once a rare and dramatic occasion of no serious consequence, were becoming more common and with graver consequences. Rail crossings had become especially lethal. A family was mostly wiped out near Chatham earlier in the month, crossing the tracks. The father thought he could beat the train. He was the only survivor. He lost his wife and two daughters. Closer to home, a veteran, after returning  unscathed from the War, lost his leg by colliding his car with a TG&B grain freight coming down from Owen Sound. Bill’s loud voice snapped me out of these thoughts.

“We’ve have officially formed the Hanging Committee!” He exclaimed.

I smiled. The “hanging committee” is the selection jury for the upcoming OSA Spring Exhibition, and they decide which pieces to “hang” on the wall. I always found the term macabre, and it no longer made sense, because the ‘hanging committee’  was now accepting sculptures into the exhibition. If they were true to their charge, they’d be hanging the sculptures for display to the public. That would certainly give the critics something to start at.

“The executive council moved that the committee be Miss Mary Wrinch, Wyly Grier, and Robert Holmes.  But Jim and I are going to keep a close tab on their selection. Fred Varley said he’d too.”

Bill was fading fast.

“Better make it a night, Bill – while the night is still a good night.”

Bill looked up at me, his face cast into a gruff grin. When sober, Bill is jovial, but liquor had a tendency to make his words fail and give license to his fists to settle any off-remark. Sensing that our exchange of words had run its course, I bid him good night and went back outside.

It was bitter cold outside, and, entering into the Shack, the inside not much warmer. Last night the mercury hovered near the 0F mark. During the day it didn’t get much higher than 5F. This morning, up waking up, I had to break a thin layer of ice in the water pitcher. The frost on the windows had become a solid sheen. It took a good hour with a strong fire in the stove to get the place back to a reasonable comfort. With the cold stay, I was expecting the same routine tomorrow. As I walked back I looked up at the night sky. Unlike a few nights ago, the sky was clear (no fog) and the stars were bright twinkling dots through the bare tree branches. I’ve notice when it’s clear night, the sound seems to travel farther better. Tonight I could hear the trains down by Front St. Union Station. It’s a constant blow of whistles, bustle and clanging. I could hear the screeches and thuds from the shunting of the tracks and the bumping together of the freight cars. The noise goes on all night now because the munitions factories are going round the clock and the production has to be shipped out to Halifax. Planes and motor cars are going out too. And, of course, the boys from out West. They get a day’s leave in the City as most have never seen a big City before. They pouring out of Union, they get preyed on by the pickpockets and tarts and then they’re back on the train going to Halifax.

I try to stay here, away from everything, but it’s more and more difficult. My painting is going well, three canvases about finished. Now that the Hanging Committee is officially formed, I am sure someone on their behalf will be visiting me. The Montreal Show will close by the end of the week. I haven’t received any word yet if my canvas has sold. This canvas didn’t sell in the fall exhibition at the CNE. If it doesn’t sell in Montreal, that’ll be a strong sign.

December 12, 1916 The Ward and the Hospital

December 12, 1916

I was getting low on paint supplies so I went to to the art shop on King Street. It’s a couple miles walk and I went south along Church Street. After picking up my paints and supplies I decided to walk through St John’s Ward then over to Spadina passing by the Military Hospital. I must confess that what drew me on this return route was the spectre of curiosity and intrigue. The Ward is teeming with new immigrants: Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, and Chinese.  Unlike the other neighbourhoods in Toronto, there is no semblance of silence, reserve and order. Nothing like that exists here and the streets are abuzz with chaos activity.

Before the War, I would come down here with Lawren Harris. He was seized with the conditions of Ward. I can see why. It’s positively decrepit here. Broken steps, newspapers flying about, half-cocked doors not shut, and gaping window panes bereft of glass. The buildings, if I could call them that,  are little more than broken bits of beaverboard hammered together with bent and rusty nails. Lawren couldn’t understand why there had to be such poor conditions. He wanted to change that.

Even more unsettling than the decrepit buildings were the abandoned children wandering about. I’m sure they weren’t abandoned by their parents, but they had to work all hours, and leave them to their own to gather up into ragtag gangs. It’s these gangs of children, staring at us, as if we were aliens that made me uncomfortable. We were aliens.

But being an alien didn’t bother Lawren. He would just get out his gear and sketch. It did make a queer site for the kids, and a crowd would gather. Lawren was quite happy to the amuse the kids at his expense. He said condition didn’t have to be that way, it could be better.  The hardships of the War  were being compounded by the profiteering. He had come down often times to sketch, I came with him once, but I didn’t like it. Not only did I not like the subject to sketch, I didn’t like being stared at. I understood what Lawren was feeling and what he wanted to do right, but I didn’t have the same feeling. I just wanted to get out of there, back to the Studio, or into the woods where human injustice was something beyond the horizon.

I continued to walk through St John’s Ward (I didn’t stop) and over to the Military Hospital on Spadina. After Somme, the veterans were coming back at a high rate. Upon return, they had to be checked out first at the hospital, before they were discharged. You could see the crowds of uniformed men milling about in a daze. The injured ones (with missing limbs or blinded) were whisked inside the hospital or whisked away in cars and carriages, but it was the able-bodied ones that were left milling about in the front grounds. No one was quite sure what to do with these men after their discharge except to point them to the employment office that opened for the munitions factories.

It was an unsettling sight, and I kept my pace to get back to the Shack. Each day, I felt, the world, especially in the City, was becoming a more desperate place. This War has defied everyone’s predictions but the cruelty and injustice left in its wake is now something can be predicted.

“Keep your mind off it, just focus on your canvases”, that’s what Dr. MacCallum keeps saying to me. Jim MacDonald is saying the same thing to me too. I know this is good advice, but I can’t help but think there is another reason, that is not to my benefit. I don’t like these thoughts, but I can’t help it.


December 9, 1916 A Visit by Florence McGillivary

December 9, 1916 Florence McGillivray Visits

 It should  be a full moon tonight but with the heavy clouds and fog I can see no moon or starlight. The quality of evening light is such that it is hard to tell whether it is being lit from above or from below. Most houses have electrical lights and the better neighbourhoods have street lamps so the light has crept into every corner of the city making it hard to see the night sky.

Florence McGillivray visited me in the Shack today. I had spoken to Florence briefly at the Heliconian Club, last Friday, but nothing beyond the social chatter. We both had much more to talk about than the occasion would allow.

Florence had to drop off a letter of application to Jim MacDonald so she decided to stop by. She knew I’d be here, because I avoided the crowds on Saturdays. I avoided the crowds especially now, ever since the “Give Us His Name” advert in the papers. I felt like a marked man walking on the streets.

“Tom, you don’t know how dreadful it is to be with those society woman!”

I smiled. In many ways Florence was like me, a bit of a free spirit eschewing the norms and demands of the day. She’s fair a bit older than me, over fifty years of age. But she was so unlike other the women consigned to marriage or to spinsterhood, playing a subservient role in the marriage of sister or brother. A third wheel, just like my aunt Henrietta, my mother’s sister, who ended up as part of the marriage deal for my father and moved with the family in Leith. Florence, despite her many years of being an artist and teacher, was only now being nominated as a member the O.S.A.  She and the  ‘Two Franks” as I call them Frank Carmichael, and Frank Johnston, were being nominate for membership.  The latter Frank has now decided to himself ‘Franz’. The elections will be in March, so once elected, we’ll have to have another celebration for his re-christening.

“Florence, I do. I don’t like going to those events. I dislike talking for the sake of it.”

“I know, Tom. Let’s not dwell on it. Can I see what you’ve done?”

She came closer to me and  I noticed her dress was muddy and damp on the bottom. The unpaved side-streets are treacherous for a women. Severn Street is a muddy mess, and there’s no boardwalk on the sides.

“Do you want me to get a rag to take that off?” I pointed to the lower hem of her dress. I saw that her laced boots were muddy too. I offered to take them off and polish them.

“No that’s quite fine, Tom,” she giggled,  “I have another dress, and I can take care of this mud business when I get back. We have more important things to attend to.” She moved across the room. “What’s this?” She spied the canvas I had finished a few days ago, propped against the northerly wall.

No, not exactly. Parts of the scene are from the Park – the hill in the background. But the scene is on the Petawawa, just outside the eastern boundary of the Park. Close to the Ottawa.”

“It’s a beauty, Tom! The light is different out there You’ve really captured it!”

She was right. The further east you go, the light changes. I don’t know what it is, but I can sense when I’m getting close to the Ottawa River, the countryside is different and how it reflects the light is different. I knew she wasn’t saying empty words, because she has made the same observation when visiting relatives in Ottawa. The way I had chosen to paint this canvas was a rejoinder to the critics who called into question my methods of painting. So I decided not to use any method –  I jabbed on the paint as  willed, making dots and blotches in no regular pattern. Much to my surprise, it worked.  During the job of painting, I focused on what I wanted to looked like and put on canvas whatever each spot asked for. Like automatic writing, but with painting. I let the supernatural and the unconscious do its work; I was the mere instrument.  When Dr. MacCallum saw the finished product he was enthralled by its effect. “Damn the critics,” I said to him. Now with Florence’s reaction, I knew I had a pretty good piece.

We had tea, and spent more time going through my sketches. We talked about decorative composition and I may experiment with what I have done with decorative panels combined with a natural background. I’m not sure what kind of effect that will achieve, but I remember ‘After Glow’, her painting which was quite a success and purchased by the Gallery in Ottawa. When she left, Florence said doesn’t know how long she’ll stay in Toronto and Whitby. She may decided stay with relatives and make a go of it in Ottawa. I told her that if she goes in the spring time and I am already up North, she could come through the Park to visit me.


December 8,1916 Things to Worry About

December 8, 1916 

I had another good day of painting. I started a new canvas of a sketch I did in October just after a wet and heavy snow. The snow sticking to the upper branches of birch saplings made quite a nice pattern. This canvas is a bit smaller – about 32 inches square.  Since I’m not venturing out much, I’ll get this one done in a few days.

Jim MacDonald came by just before he went home. He invited me for dinner this Sunday. Jim lives up in Thornhill, it’s easy to get there with the TYRR (Toronto York and Radial Railway). I said I’d come up. I hadn’t seen Thoreau in a while and it would be nice to see him. Jim moved up to Thornhill with his family, but still kept space in the Studio here.  But work is getting pretty meagre, and Dr. MacCallum convinced him to stay in the Studio (at a reduced rent). There’s not much appetite for art during the War so he’s having a tough time making ends meet. He got board money from the Lismers but they’ve moved to Halifax. He tried raising some crops in the summer, but that didn’t bring in much money either.

The last art job Jim got was painting a Mother Goose mural for the toy department at Simpsons. He finished it before the Christmas Parade on Saturday.  For no charge, he’s doing the artwork for the Arts and Letters Club. That’s the deal he made with Dr. MacCallum – free artwork for reduced studio rent.

“Dr MacCallum or Dr Faustus?” We both laughed when the words popped out but we knew this was a joke not to be played with, so we kept on talking about other things. Mrs. MacDonald wants to move back downtown, she doesn’t like it up in Thornhill. Thoreau thinks it’s an adventure, he’s off exploring each day, worrying the Mrs., when he doesn’t come home right away.

Jim look through my canvases, and said they were good pieces, and I should start considering what to put in the Spring Exhibition. The exhibition is in early March and the hanging committee needs to finalize the list of art by the middle of February. I told him, I wasn’t sure I’d submit after the brouhaha  last year, but I’d see how my canvases go before I make a decision.

I sent Jim off around 6.  pm. I was thinking about going to an evening show at the Hippodrome (‘The Scoop’ was playing) but I decided to stay in and read instead. It’s risky going out, because if you’re alone people with start calling after you for your name to sign up. I saw the comic in the paper today – ‘Things to Worry About’ – I don’t need that worry tonight.

I haven’t yet checked for my mail.  I may go up the Studio later tonight.  I’ll have a drink with Bill and Curtis, if they’re still there. They’re always good for a few drinks and stories. I haven’t made my acquaintances with the new women tenants, so this evening may be the occasion to do so.

Tomorrow, I’ll make Thoreau a small gift. I’ll carve a minnow lure from wood. I have my fishing and carving gear with me. They’re always with me.


Have Your Say on What I Write in the Shack

Dear Readers and Followers,

The Journal of My Last Spring continues to take shape. As I write, each day brings its surprises and unexpected aspects of my time in Toronto during the winter of 1916-17.


I want these journal entries to be as true as can they be. More importantly, I want them to be interesting to you, so you can feel and understand what I went through in those exciting and difficult days. As I write over the next  months, I’d like to give you an opportunity to let me know what you’re interested in. It’s your chance to be a part of history watch it reveal the way you want.

Below, is a poll where you can choose your top choices.  You can come back as many times as you wish to vote on your top chocies. If there is something I have left out that you are interested, please let me know and I will add it to the poll.

Affectionately Yours,


P.S. It’s warmer today. I should be able to get some good painting done. Another entry will be coming later tonight.