Journal of My Last Spring: Redux and Rite of Canadian Spring

Hello everyone,

Soon and once again, I’ll be going up North. You’ll be reading my daily journal entries recounting the last weeks of my life in 1917. This is my fourth year of the Journal of My Last Spring and the story gets better each year. If you have followed in previous years, you know the general thread of the story, but every year, new layers, details and intrigues are incorporated.

I’m hard at work on writing the book, But I plan to keep that under wraps until I publish in 2017. In the meantime you’ll see new tweets and new journal entries unexpectedly appear, much like new memories revealed to Marcel Proust while eating his tea soaked cake, reflecting on  past memories. As the journal entries area are re-visited, new memories are revealed expressing what I felt and experienced during my last weeks of 1917. More light will be shed on what remains to be the unsolved mystery of my fate on July 8, 1917.

So enjoy. This story, I hope, becomes a rite of Canadian spring.



Notice of O.S.A. Annual Meeting, March 13, 1917

Annual Meeting to be held on Tuesday March 13th, 1917
6:30pm at the Toronto Art Gallery,
Public Reference Library,  College St.

The following members are seeking election as officers:
President – C. W. Jefferys.
Vice-President and Treasurer -J . E. H. MacDonald.
Secretary – R. F. Gagen.
Auditors – James Smith and R. J. Dilworth.
Executive Council – F. M. Bell-Smith, T. W. Mitchell, G. A. Reid, E. Wyly Grier, Herbert S. Palmer, Mary E. Wrinch, F. Horsman Varley,

The following are new member candidates – Frank Carmichael, Francis H. Johnston and Miss. Florence MacGillivray.


March 2, 1917 Letter to Winnie Trainor

March 2, 1917
Studio Building ,
Severn  St.

Dear Winnie

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.

Affectionately yours,


March 1, 1917 A Night and a Day with Florence

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 Unfinished Day

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 Stronger Light

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.


August 9, 1916 The Globe



Algonquin Park, August 8, 1916 – Miss Irene Boyd, aged eighteen of Lachute Que., was killed here on Saturday night by a freight train, under which she fell. She was an employee of the Highland Inn, and was playing with a girl friend in a freight car standing on the siding in front of the hotel.

The car was pulled out before they expected, and her girl chum succeeded in jumping ot safety before the train developed much speed. Miss Boyd hesitated, and finally when the train had gone about two hundred yards and was travelling at a pretty fast rate she made a frantic effort to jump, missed her footing and fell under the wheels being cut to pieces. Her legs were found near each other, and the body about a hundred yards away, but her head was carried about three miles.