March 16, 1917 Letter to Shannon Fraser

Studio Building, 25 Severn Toronto

Shannon Fraser, Mowat Lodge
Canoe Lake Stn., Algonquin Park

March 16, 1917

Dear Shannon,

I am planning to take the train up on the 23rd and will be arriving on the 584 Eastbound 3rd Class at 3:13 pm. I won’t be on the 1st Class because I plan to make a stop in Huntsville and take the next train to make the connection at Scotia Jctn. Am doubtful that there will be may other visitors this early in the season coming up on the 584. I can walk down but if you come up, I’d  be greatly obliged as it would be hard to walk with my gear. I can try to walk along the ice but I’m sure the snow is deep there too. I’m leaving my snowshoes in Toronto. My other ones are in the storage shed under my canoe. If you don’t want to wait around you can bring them up and leave them with the Station Master. Please keep the orange crates if you still have them around. I’m getting panels from the mill South River, and I’m bringing some, but I’ll make some from the crates if I get low.

If you want something from the City, you can still send me a letter and I should be able to get the stuff you need next week. You should get some pigs to fatten over the summer. When I stop, I’ll see what’s on offer in Huntsville. I could arrange to bring them up as luggage on the 3rd class to save on delivery. It may be still too cold but you could keep them in the back kitchen until it warms up. When they’re small, they’ll be manageable. You only need to put the stove on at night but you want to have them in the barn before the visitors begin to stay.

The City is getting grim and it’s best that I leave soon. Hope all is well  with the Mrs and your mother. Remember me to Mildred too.

Yours truly,

Tom Thomson

March 16, 1917: Escaping the Vortex

March 16, 1917

I can’t have any of it anymore. The City, that is.

I have to leave. I had to escape the Vortex as I now call the City.

I had heard  about the Vorticists in England. I was intrigued by what I had seen in one of the Vortex Pamphlets and the cover of BLAST. Someone brought these back from England and I saw them in the Studio Building. Vorticism was movement was led by Wyndham Lewis, a ‘Cubo-Futurist’ as Jackson called him. Vorticism was about painting a machine – bold lines and harsh colours. I was intrigued by the methods, though the subject of machines was not for me.

Jackson had mentioned Lewis several times, but not in a good way, on account of his worry of my ‘cubistical tendencies’ as he called them. The Vorticists were short-lived – broken up by the War. Like the Vorticists, our group too, was being broken up because of the war. Lismer in Bedford, Jackson in England, Harris in Barrie, and soon myself up North.

It was Ezra Pound that actually coined the term ‘Vorticist.’ I was intrigued by this coinage because I liked the power Pound could put into ordinary words. He liked to write what I called ‘bastardized Haikus’. The parallel between his inspiration from Japanese poetic form was similar to Van Gogh and his inspiration from Japanese prints. Van Gogh’s two-dimensional focus on an image was like words being lifted out from a three dimensional prose of nothingness. Pound’s “red wheelbarrow glazed with rain” was like my my Jack Pine in front of Carcajou Bay. Pound called them luminous details. The luminosity I achieved in my canvases was to let the vermilion grounding show through.

Well, the vortex is spinning faster and faster fueled  by the drumbeat of war.  Borden is looking for fifty thousand men – ‘strength of the Dominion’ he calls it. Trouble is that the has no inkling of the strength he has. and no one is eager to volunteer anymore. This has led to rather unpleasant, impromptu and forced call-ups in the theatres (I don’t go anymore). The White Feather Brigade has their little sparrows spying on houses and confronting lone men and shaming them in public. I’ve even seen the shaming happen during a church service. The pastor sets the cue during the sermon, and the little birdies begin their pious chirping in unison. It’s an ugly scene to see in what is supposed to be a sanctuary of worship.  The Women’s Temperance Union is in full swing too. Ever since the prohibition, the Studio Building has been a target of these women. The other day,  Bill Beatty and Art Heming had to forcibly eject a women screaming at the top of her lungs. She was screaming that the Studio Building should be rid of its artists and liquor and turned into an infirmary for the men returning from the front. The little birdies are everywhere.

I no longer feel comfortable walking the streets alone. Single young men (if you can still call me that) are the target. These past few days, I’ve only gone out with Florence at my side. With Florence being a few years older, people think, that as her husband, I’m above the drafting age forty-five so they leave me be.

This is no life the City I have to leave soon. With my sketching, I may be able to do my duty up North – home defence as they call it. I’m sure it will be different than a Ranger’s job, but my sketching will come first.