Different Musings on War

December 31, 1916

A few passages on the meaning of war that have jumped out at me from my reading over the holidays.


“Let us beware of saying that death is the opposite of life. The living being is only a species of the dead, and a very rare species.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 1882.

“The last sixteen months have been the most glorious in the history of Europe. Heroism has come back to the earth. It is good for the world that such things should be done. The old heart of the earth needed to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefield. Such august homage was never before offered to God as this, the homage of millions of lives given gladly for love of country.”

– Padraig Pearse, 1916

‘If you will now observe what is happening in this war – the cruelties and injustices for which the most civilized nations are responsible, the different way in which they judge their own lies and wrong-doings and those of their enemies, and the general lack of insight which prevails – you will have to admit that psycho-analysis has been right in both its theses’.

Sigmund Freud, 1914

December 30, 1916 The Old Year’s Soiree

December 30, 1916

I’m writing this early in the morning of the last day of the old year of 1916. It’s Sunday morning but it still feels like Saturday night. It was past midnight when we returned from the soiree at Annan Hall. I walked back with Harkness family – Tom, Elizabeth and Jessie. They went up to bed but I decided to stay down in the front room to smoke my pipe and reflect on the day before I went to bed.

I like sitting in this front room. There are shelves of books from floor to ceiling. It feels like a library, in fact it was for a period of time. Tom’s father, Gideon was the organizing force behind the Lakeshore library association and offered this room as the library. Old Mrs Harkness was quite pleased at this arrangement. Not only did this collection of books cater to her refined taste of literature, the regular visits from people up the line kept her up to date on all of the concession gossip. In due time, when books became cheaper, the Lakeshore association combined with Leith, the collection moved to the church basement and the responsibility taken over by the temperance society. Old Mrs. Harkness no longer could get her gossip. I feel that libraries must have souls or leave spirits behind. Although the library is no longer in this house, I can feel that there still is something otherworldly here.

Earlier in the day, Tom and Elizabeth were preoccupied with getting ready for the soiree. The phone kept ringing off the hook and Elizabeth was making calls to the other ladies to make sure there were enough desserts and for others to arrive early enough to set things up (arrive at 7pm for the start of the soiree at 8pm). For the rest of the morning, I decided to get out of the way by taking a walk to Slattery’s Mill. I wanted to see the waterfall and took my sketching book to make a drawing. I got back by noon, in time for dinner. Jessie was helping with Elizabeth’s desserts and dinner.

We made it to Annan Hall by 7pm. I offered to come along and set up. They were expecting almost a hundred people to come so it was going to be a crowded affair. The recent opening of Annan Hall was symbol of progress and this soiree was a mark of this progress. The farms in the area were getting pretty well-equipped. The Annan Hall signalled the beginning of a new era and end of an old era – the era of the barn dance.

When we arrived there were a few other women and girls already setting up. I recognized Mrs. Julyan and her daughter Louise. They live below the hill on the farm beside John Harkness (Gideon’s brother and Tom’s uncle). I remembered Louise as a little girl when I went out West to Seattle. That was fifteen years ago and, now, well into her twenties, she’s blossomed into a fine woman. I wondered why she wasn’t married off yet. When she told me she was taking classes to become an artist, I laughed. That explained why she wasn’t married. Men don’t want to marry women artists. Florence McGillivray told me that being a women artist is the recipe for spinsterhood. Louise replied that the answer to that conundrum was for the woman to marry another artist.  My response, “That’s the way to guarantee that both live in utter abject poverty.”

I asked Louise where she was taking lessons. I was astonished to hear that she was taking lessons from Charles M. Manly at the Ontario College of Art. I know Manly and consider him to be the worst painter in Canada. I didn’t say anything and kept the conversation going. I learned that she was staying at the YWCA on Elm St in Toronto and was returning on January 2nd –  the same day as me. “We’ll sit together, then!” she pronounced. I smiled. She’d be good company on the train.

Our conversation got cut short by a loud bang that came from the stage. A stack of wooden chairs brought up from the floor fell over. The chairs all tumbled off the stage and onto the floor. A kid of about twelve years of age had a shocked and sheepish look on his face betraying that he was the culprit of this unfortunate event. I stepped over, quickly scooped the chairs up and winked at him as I set them back on the stage. He smiled with relief and began to push the chairs to the back of the stage. As they slid on the stage floor, the chairs gave out an awful screeching and chattering noise, not less unpleasant than fingernails on the slate board. His mother scolded him and he was relieved from providing further assistance.

The floor cleared of chairs, we pulled the piano across to be close to side door. I always wondered why the piano had to be close to the side door for dances such as these. Maybe for the necessity of a quick exit if the crowd turned against the poor pianist. My guess it was for the occasional waft of necessary fresh air. The smoke would get pretty thick as the evening progressed and the last thing you wanted were musicians with an insufficiency of oxygen.

At eight, the crowds came in. The drill shed across the road was filled with the arriving horses and so was the general store stable. The music and dance began, and the shouts and laughter were loud that they could be heard throughout the village.

At ten, the desserts came out  and the so did the tea. The dainty sandwiches were cut into fancy shapes (and with no crust). There were salads, cakes, cookies, brownies and taffy. Someone brought one of those awful carrot-jelly dishes and I felt its presence in the hall. I made sure to avoid it at all cots. There was bottled coke (supplied by the association – only one allowed per guest), lemonade and fruit punch. There was no liquor as temperance was in high fashion. But liquor was available – if you discreetly exited the side door, as I witnessed the pianist do numerous times between musical numbers.

Several times, I joined the band playing the violin. That earned me the right to exit the side door to enjoy the special refreshment. Since the band was playing on the floor and not on the stage, it was easy to join in, melt away into the crowd, or exit the side door.

The evening was loud and fun and and enjoyed by everyone. We stopped at midnight, and had everything back in order before 1 am. Technically, it was Sunday, and we should not have been doing that sort of work on the Lord’s Day, but during the holidays, it was permissible to extend a few extra hours of Saturday into Sunday.

Back at the Harkness house, with a few quiet moments to myself, I realized my inability to sleep didn’t arise from the events of the day but from the creeping anticipation of returning to Toronto to work on my canvases. I am thinking about how to finish the one I had on the easel. I am experimenting with a different way to colour the sky. I wouldn’t be able to scrape that off now. I would have to paint over it if I didn’t like it. I’m thinking what to do with these canvases. Hardwoods didn’t sell in Montreal. I am wondering if I should even bother with the spring exhibition. Maybe I should give up the painting business altogether.

December 28, 1916 A Visit to the Harknesses

December 28, 1916

Tom Harkness telephoned and said that I should come to Annan today and stay until the New Year. Tom is married to my sister Elizabeth. They still have one daughter living at home, Jessie, my favourite niece.

My parents don’t have a telephone, they don’t see the need for one. Tom telephoned the Owen Sound office of Sydenham Mutual on 8th St. and had one of the telegraph boys deliver the message to my parents’ house. Tom was one of the earlier ones to get a telephone in the township – back in 1908. He was one of the founding directors of the Leith and Annan Telephone Company. Rev. Fraser, to my surprise, was one of the founding directors too. I thought the Reverend would see the telephone as a purveyor of evil – only recently, did Presbyterians allow organs into churches and I doubted that they would embrace the use of the telephone. But he did.

In his telephone message, Tom said I should bring my violin along. The Annan Community Hall soiree was going to be held on Saturday night, and it promised to be a big to-do. The construction of the hall was just completed last September, and at the annual general meeting in October, it was decided to hold a soiree on December 30th. Tom is also a founding director of the hall association and president too. My sister Elizabeth is the head of the Annan’s Women’s Institute and the chair of the organizing committee for the soiree. I must admit, I know people of influence who live in Annan.

The weather was good, so I decided to walk along the shore to Annan. The first part of the journey, I followed the CPR line along the factories on the east shore, then as the line turned south, I headed north toward Leith. It hadn’t snowed for a few days, so the road was packed down by sleds from the past few days. In winter, the Leith shore road is tricky because the northwesterly winds from the bay bring snow and drifting. It wasn’t unusual for the road to be impassable for days at a time. The longer, but more reliable way to get to Annan is to take a Meaford stage to Bothwell’s corners and a horse and sled to Annan. But with the weather, I decided to take the walk along the shore.

The bay hadn’t frozen over yet. Despite it being cold, the winds had prevented the bay from freezing over. The ice kept breaking up, and refreezing, so there was about a half mile of frozen rough ice to the still open water. All it would take is one cold calm night and the bay would be frozen completely over and smooth enough to skate on all the way from Leith to Owen Sound. I could see the dark blue water in contrast to the snow covered ice. I doubt it would be frozen by New Year, but most certainly before January was out.

I made it to Leith without much trouble and then walked up to Annan. The Harkness farm is the second farm just north of the village. Their house is a fine fieldstone house. Tom’s father, Gideon and his brother John were both stone masons from Scotland. They came to Canada to work on the St James Cathedral, then moved on to Galt, and finally came here to Annan.

We had a good supper. Elizabeth remarked that my violin made the journey intact and I remembered that Aunt Henrietta had baked some sweetbreads for the soiree. I produced these and Elizabeth set them aside in the kitchen. Tomorrow, she would be doing making her contribution of desserts. Jessie was home too. She told me she’s engaged to be married next summer, to a fellow named Fisk who has a grocery store in Owen Sound. I brought my sketchbook, and made a pencil sketch of her, while sitting by the fire. There’s no better way to end a winter day than sitting by a fire, reading or sketching.


December 27, 1916 Conscientious Objector

December 27, 1916

It’s becoming clearer now, my father, if he was in my situation would become a conscientious objector.

Because of his views and opinion, my father is a considered to be liberal in the church. Ever since the beginning of the war, the tensions between the conservative and the liberal elements within Knox Presbyterian had increased, but nothing had boiled over yet. Of course there were the many debates about the technical aspects of the virgin birth and the resurrection, etc., but my father never bothered with those discussions. What concerned him more, was the meaning of the being a Christian. Like my father, I was witnessing the two divides increasing in the church – those whose interests were in using the scriptures to preserve the status quo, and those who felt it was their mission to help the poor and right social injustices – ‘Social Gospel’ as some called it.

The division in the Owen Sound parish wasn’t as deep as I’ve witnessed in Rosedale. My reasoning is that the influx of immigrants hadn’t reached this far north yet. The pressure of the newly-arrived immigrants was keenly felt in Toronto and many felt that the influx was a threat to their “superior” status. Measures needed to be taken to contain the immigrants (as in St John’s Ward) or to rid them of their “lesser ways”. Billy Sunday, the preacher, was the popular figure for these folks. Billy, an American, was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in 1903 but had taken a evangelical turn.  An old-fashioned preacher of old-time religion, he was a champion of temperance and bible-based intolerance (that’s what I called it). He was champion for business barons too and I suspected that these business barons underwrote his tour. He had toured across most America, and in some parts of Canada. I saw Billy last March when he was in Toronto, whipping up the congregation into a frenzy. He congratulated Canada for being in the War, and he was clearly frustrated that America had not yet declared its intentions. I didn’t like him. I got the sense that he was a blunt tool used by the rich to encourage the poor to send their sons off to the War, and to increase the profits for the factory owners by feeding the War machine.

My father said he saw parishioners enlist by the dozens after the recruiting drive by the 147th Grey Battalion. By the time it had departed for Camp Borden in early October, it was thousand men in strength. In early November, the 147th went to Halifax and then overseas. I knew that because I saw the troop train loading at Allandale Junction the same time I was returning to Toronto from the Park. The recruiting wasn’t going to let up.  The 248th Overseas Battalion had just been created in September to send another thousand men into battle by the spring of 1917.

I remember wanting to enlist in the Boer War in 1899. That was after I quit the Kennedy foundry and went back to help on the farm. My father, knowing I was looking for adventure (not fighting) convinced me to go on the Harvest Excursion instead. He got a hired hand, named William Bone to take on the work on the farm. In the end, only five men from Sydenham went to fight the Boers. Two were killed. I knew one of them, Bertrand Day, from Daywood on the Lakeshore Line. A fellow trooper, John McCarthur wrote that he got separated from his regiment when the Boers started shelling their camp. He wandered for a day before running into in bunch of Boers who killed him. The news of his death hit his family hard. The next year, I heard, they had troubles on the farm and in the the spring, the neighbours had to do the planting because the father couldn’t stop the drinking. The family had to leave the farm by the fall. I don’t know where they went.

December 26, 1916 Boxing Day

December 26, 1916

Today is Boxing Day and yesterday was Christmas, of course.

We had a quiet but busy celebration yesterday. Of my brothers and sisters, I was the only one to be at home with our parents for Christmas. They’re all spread about the continent or have families of their own for Christmas. I’m the exception of course. Not married, not having a regular salaried job, a free spirit as my father likes to call me. Free to come home as I wish.

We went to Knox Presbyterian for the Christmas morning service. The church was jammed to the rafters. My parents and Aunt Henrietta had their reserved spot in the front pews, but it was so full that I had to sit up in one of the balconies. The sanctuary in the church is squarer than the usual layout, and doesn’t allow for man y pews. To make up for the shortfall in space, the church has three balconies – one at the back and two on each side. I managed to get in the back balcony. Looking down I could see the Reverend, looking straight across, I could see the pipes of the organ. It was these pipes, and their shapes that I studied during the service – the Reverend looked so small and insignificant down below.

The service started at 11:00am and finished promptly at 12:00 noon. On Christmas, the Reverend knew better than to extend his sermon, because many would be rushing home right after to attend to the Christmas dinner. A large contingent of the congregation, having grown up on farms, had not yet switched to having large dinner at night. The big meal was at still at noon 12:30 on Sundays or holidays) and the evening supper was more like the lunches we’d have in the city.

We returned home, and had our Christmas meal in the front dining room. Aunt Henrietta had everything set up before we left for church, the turkey was on its way to being finished in the oven, and the potatoes and vegetables were peeled, sitting in pots. Upon return from church, the stove needed only a quick stoking up, and the potatoes and vegetables were boiling in no time.

After Christmas dinner, and some cursory cleaning up, we sat in the front sitting room to exchange gifts. I made two pen and ink sketches for my parents, and another for Aunt Henrietta. I had framed the two for my parents (from the storm window panes I salvaged in Rosedale) and the other for Aunt Henrietta, I set the drawing in between two pieces of cardboard. She likes to store the sketches, pressed into books, instead of putting them on walls. She does the same for wildflowers. You can’t open a book in the house, without a dried pressed flower falling out.

When my mother and Aunt Henrietta, were cleaning up, my father brought up the topic of the War. As a father he didn’t want me to go, but understood the necessity for more recruits. It was my choice, but the biggest consideration was my mother. Although we were a family of nine children, there was a tenth, my younger brother James. He was born when I was five, and I remember when he died the next summer before I turned six. There wasn’t much said, and two more children (Margaret and Fraser) came shortly thereafter. But my mother did not recover completely from the loss of James. Father said that if she lost another child, it would be the death of her. And that still was the case today. All of her boys were married, except for me, and I was the one at greatest chance of going overseas to fight especially if conscription was to come about. So that’s what my father wanted to tell me.

We had a fine rest of the Christmas Day. It was a good day today too. We received a telephone message from my sister and brother-in-law, Elizabeth and Tom in Annan, that there was going to be a big soiree at the new Annan Hall on Saturday night. The hall had just been built. Tom is on the Hall Committee, and Elizabeth is a member of the Women’s Institute and the organizer of this year’s soiree. I decided to spend another day in Owen Sound and then I would make my way out to Annan. I could take a stage to Bothwell’s corners, and then a sleigh to Tom and Elizabeth’s farm, but if the weather holds up, I may just walk the shore road to Leith and then go up the Lakeshore line.

I didn’t think much about my paintings today. It’s good to have a break.


December 22, 1916 The Pavilion and the Harbour

December 22, 1916

Today was a day of walking around the town. I had a fine breakfast in the morning prepared by my Aunt Henrietta. Both of my parents are well into their 70’s now and slowing down. Aunt Henrietta, in her early 60’s has taken up the bulk of the housework from my mother. When my parents decided in 1877 to move to Leith (I was an infant), Aunt Henrietta decided to come along to help out. She was 21 at the time and not married off yet, so the best prospect she had was to help set up the Rose Hill homestead in Leith She never did marry and stayed with my parents. She’s like a second mother to me, and in some ways a second wife to my father.

Shortly after I left for Seattle, my parents sold Rose Hill. They stayed at Tom and Elizabeth’s in Annan for a while and then moved into town above 8th St. E. Hill. Shortly after they bought land near the Sydenham River just southeast of downtown and built this house, a smart looking red brick house, not near the size of Rose Hill but but less drafty too. The Presbyterian church is only a few blocks away, they can walk it in the summer and take the horse and carriage in the winter.

I took a walk through Harrison Bush. The bush had recently become a park in 1912 and is a popular destination in the summer – the winter less so. The Pavilion is a popular gathering spot after the Friday and Saturday early movies at the Classic Theatre. The mile drive, which ran the perimeter of the park became a popular attraction for the young folk, much to the chagrin  of the town father, because the mile walk through the woods gave opportunity for couples to steal kisses from each other. The family picnics on Sunday after church, it was forbidden to walk the mile drive without an adult chaperone.

Because it was the dead of winter, there was no such romantic activity today on the mile drive. The woods were quiet, but I did hear some shouting coming from the direction of the Pavilion. I double-backed to see what was the commotion, and I found the Park Caretaker, Mr. Anderson, hanging onto two boys of about 15 years.

“Your parents will have to pay for damage, and we’ll have to get the police involved!” Mr. Anderson was waving toward the Pavilion, and then he saw me.

“These boys broke in! Come to think of it, what are you doing here?” I could see he was beginning to suspect me of the same intention.

“Just walking to enjoy the weather. I’m Tom Thomson, son of John Thomson, just up on 4th Avenue.”

I could see his glaze of suspicion disappear immediately. “You’re the Thomson boy, artist in Toronto. I seen some articles about you.”

“Do you need any help with those boys, you have?”

“No, sir. I know both their mothers. They both belong to the I.O.D.E and I know they’ll be none too pleased.” With that statement, he let the two boys go and shooed them out of the park. “I’ll take care of you too later!”

After inspecting the damage (which was minor), and exchanging some more pleasantries, I was back on my way. I walked north through the downtown streets. I wanted to go the harbour and see who was wintering there. I didn’t have a chance when I arrived by train.

The Owen Sound harbour was full of passenger and freight steamers. There were several tugs too.  I could see the Assiniboine, Keewatin, Manitoba, Alberta, Athabaska, Manitoba, and I couldn’t quite see the last one, but I’m sure it was the Caribou. The freighters, Algonquin and Turret Crown were there too.  In 1901 I took the Assiniboine to go out West to work in the Harvest Excursion. After the Excursion I continued West to Seattle to join my brother George.

I walked up St. Mary’s Hill, and along the bluffs to take in the view of the frozen bay. I came back down 8th Street Hill, making it back to my parents by late afternoon. They were used to me not showing up for dinner in the middle of the day, so they had dinner ready in the evening instead. We had a good time talking, no serious discussions though. The serious topics would be saved until after Christmas. After dinner we sat in the front room. My father played the piano and I played accompaniment  with my violin that I had left behind. I never had the urge to bring it with me on my travels but it felt good to play it whenever I came back home. I am glad to be here, in a nice warm house with plenty of food and drink, but I feel like I’m living on borrowed time. The daily papers remind us constantly of war and the sacrifices that everyone expects to be made of each other. It’s two days before Christmas and I’ll try to keep those thoughts of sacrifice at bay, until at least after Christmas.

December 21, 1916 Owen Sound

December 21, 1916

I came up to Owen Sound yesterday. I haven’t written for a few days because I was busy working on my canvases and getting ready for the trip. With the season, the trains are busy, the tickets are more expensive and Union Station is a constant crush of trains and people, even worse than usual.

I was considering remaining in Toronto for the holidays. It’s not that I didn’t want to visit my parents in Owen Sound, but I was short of cash. My painting – Hardwoods, I had hoped it would sell in Montreal ($300) but it didn’t. Nothing much sold in that show because of the wartime thrift. People aren’t buying paintings because it’s viewed as being frivolous. It now seems that any spare money that people have is going into war bonds or life insurance. It was a disappointment that a sale didn’t come through as the cash would have kept me going until springtime. I didn’t want to, but I might have to take on commercial work, and that meant going to an office. I couldn’t bear that thought.

Word of my plight must have gotten to Dr. MacCallum. He came by on Tuesday, and started sifting through my sketches and pulled on one out, “I have a buyer in mind for this one, 25 dollars I’ll give you.” He also took a look at my canvases, “The one with the first snow on the cedars, I want that one for my house, I’ll give you an instalment of 50 dollars and we’ll figure out the price later.” His brief visit ended up with 75 dollars in my pocket and my worry about not making it to Owen Sound for the holidays went out the door too. As in other times, The Dr. seemed to have an advanced telegraph for trouble situations, getting us artists out of a bind before it got too bad. He did that for Jackson up in Georgian Bay. He offered his cottage to Jackson in the late fall so he could continue his painting. If he hadn’t done this, Jackson would have gone to the States, and left Canada altogether.

I had to prepare my things for Owen Sound. I was working on a couple of sketches for my parents. I finished them up and mounted them on frames I had made from windowpanes I salvaged from an old storm window I found in the ravine. One pane was broken, but the other five were fine. Judging the quality of the window, it came from one of the well-heeled households. I couldn’t fathom why these houses were still dumping their rubbish in the ravine. It was most likely the doings of the hired help, and despite it being in the ravine there was good chance that pickers from the poorer neighbourhoods would fetch it away sooner or later. I just happened to come across it during the night when I was snow-shoeing. Had I waited until next morning it would have been gone.

I wasn’t worried about the leaving the shack over the holidays. The pickers would take stuff from the neighbourhoods, but there was an unwritten code to leave the residences unmolested. Before I departed I made sure the fire burned out in the stove. I was sure my sketches and canvas were safe not just from fire but from thieves too. Nobody would touch anything anything during the time I was up North, and during the holidays, no one would have the occasion to come in – there was nothing of value to steal, except my sketches, perhaps, for use as firewood. If that was to be the fate of my art, so be it. In the other part of the shack (the unheated part), I had fashioned a root-cellar into the wall where it butted up against the dirt embankment,  I had about 20 lbs of potatoes, numerous turnips and onions. I covered these up using burlap bags to act as insulation. If it didn’t get too cold, they should be fine, as I was going to be gone for almost two weeks.

Although being in the middle of the week, Union Station was still a crush of people and trains. It’s always busy now. The crowds are rife with pickpockets, so I made sure I could feel my wallet in my inside vest pocket as I pushed my way through the throng. I could see long rows of freight trains were being loaded on the westerly platforms. Judging by the boxes and the sentries milling about, it was munitions for shipment to Halifax and then overseas. With all of these shipments, Halifax had become the centre of the munitions universe. Closer to me, the passenger trains were coming in from Buffalo, Montreal and Ottawa. It was not unusual to have three or four trains arriving at once, adding to the constant surge of people. A Grand Trunk train, with an especially black smoke pillar was coming in from Montreal. I could see it was full of returning veterans. My mind slipped away from the present for a brief moment – I’d be taking a Grand Trunk if I was going up to the Park, but today I was taking the CPR  to Owen Sound.

Then the present snapped back. The black soot from the Grand Trunk engine, now in full-stop, was wafting across platform. As I turned around to make my way to my train, a young women came up to me tried to hand me a white feather while acting out a self-important flourish. I stared at her. She was expecting the crowds to part and watch the spectacle of shame bestowed upon me, but that was not to be. Before I could react, the feather was intercepted and snatched away by a soldier who just had stepped off the train. From the look in his eye, I could tell he was a veteran. Vimy, but most likely Somme.

“Young lady, you don’t know the half of the stupidity of what you’re doing!” The soldier wasn’t looking at me, I don’t think he noticed me. He glared at the feather, tossed it aside, and it floated up to disappear into the cloud of black soot

“You don’t have a bloody clue how pointless it is over there.” He glowered at the girl. I did not exist. He turned to one side, he was missing his left arm. I was expecting a dramatic confrontation to unfold, but the young women, like the white feather disappearing into the cloud of soot, disappeared into the  crowd. I was pushed along by the flow of people coming off the training and I lost sight of the one-armed veteran. In the chaos, I managed to get on my train. I was shaken up, and it wasn’t until the second smoke of my pipe that I began to feel right again. The train had departed, and it wasn’t until we were passing the slaughterhouses and stockyards in the west end that conductor checked our tickets.

The rest of the trip went went without incident. The weather was clear coming out of the City and we managed to climb the curve on Caledon grade without slipping on the rails. Horseshoe Curve, as the grade was called, was a switchback up the steep hills. It had gained a notorious reputation back in 1907 when a train from Owen Sound, going too fast, left the rails at full speed. Seven people were killed, and over a hundred injured. It was the fault of the engineer, after a drunken night in Owen Sound, he fell asleep while on the engine.

Over the high lands the weather started to turn for the worse by Dundalk. The elevation here is nearly the same as the Park. It’s colder here, and with no trees to break the wind, it is a miserable place to be. I had heard that soil is poor and the drainage bad. The surveyor of these parts, a Roman Catholic, would reserve the poorest lands to be named after Protestant Reformers. The township here was called ‘Melancthon’, after Philip Melancthon, who specialized in lost souls plagued with guilt and confusion.  The fate of anyone who tried to farm in Melancthon.

We made it to Owen Sound, and I walked through the town to my parents’ place. They could see I was tired, and after a perfunctory conversation, I retired to the room they kept for me when I visited.  I didn’t know how tired I was until I woke up the next day, and it was well into the afternoon. Back at the farm, I was never allowed to sleep past 7 am, no matter what happened the night before, but this was different, they lived in town now.

I know what’s in store during my stay. Aside from the Christmas celebrations, we’ll be talking about the War and what I’m going to do.

December 16, 1916 Moonlight and the School of Athens

December 16, 1916

The Canadian Magazine, December 1916 Tom Thomson, Moonlight
The Canadian Magazine, December 1916 Tom Thomson, Moonlight

Dr. MacCallum dropped by 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. As for my contribution to restoring the general order, it was clearing the path to the privy, pulling snow of the roof and clearing out 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. About a month later, when he got back to school, his pupil was no longer the normal round, but a ragged black diamond and he became a curiosity and a freak to all of us other kids. Now whenever, I see icicles, I get this strange feeling in my eye and an urge to clear them out immediately.

As soon as I got back into the Shack, I felt alone. There’s a feeling of sad vacancy here. My former Studio and Shack-mates are gone: Lismer is in Halifax, Jackson still overseas and Harris just called up to training this summer in Barrie. I miss their camaraderie. We went on trips up North and were together in the winters. I learned a lot by listening, watching, and arguing. Not really arguing – 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 you have.” In contrast, Lismer would make a silly drawing of the incident and get me to laugh at myself.

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 the moment. Painting in the Studio was fine when I first shared it with Jackson. It was novel and I was too busy learning from Jackson. But to have that space to myself, it would have felt too pretentious. I know that Bill Beatty is in his element in the Studio. 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.