TTLastSpring Campfire Reading in Algonquin – Saturday September 27, 2014

Hello everyone,

wpid-wp-5322.jpgI have been tempted to step out of the Twittersphere to do campfire readings from my journal.

This will be happening on Saturday, September 27th, 2014 at Canisbay Lake Campground in Algonquin Park.

Here are the salient details:

  • I plan to appear at sunset (7:02pm EDT) at the My Wild Canada Campout
  • I will do selected readings from the Journal of My Last Spring. I plan to have some new (i.e., previously unrevealed ) material.
  • I will entertain questions about my life, the mystery, and speculate on what will be in store for next year.
  • Finally, to close out the event (about an hour’s length), I will propose a toast – “Pour One for Tom.” You guessed it – that first shot of whisky will be poured into the ground in his honour to reflect on what we have lost in him, but also on what we have gained from him.

After these formal proceedings, we will finish the bottle of whisky (as Tom would do), and I will disappear back into the darkness, as if I was never there.

If you want to know who I am, you will be disappointed as the organizers don’t even know my identity. Be content that this is being done in the spirit and memory of Tom Thomson.

If you want more details on the campout, please contact the My Wild Canada folks.

I’ll see you in Algonquin on September 27th!



Fred Varley

Frederick Horsman Varley

When I first met Fred and we quickly became fast friends. Upon reflection, I attribute our early friendship due to similarity of character and experience.

Fred was a craggy-looking sort of chap. You’d never think he was an artist but a journeymen or farm labourer. In England, before he came to Canada, he was a stevedore after his job as a newspaper illustrator ran out.

I met Fred during the summer of 1912. He started at Grip, having borrowed money from Lismer to make the passage to Canada. A constant smoker with a drink never far from his reach,  I could get along with him well. We got along so well, that he started to act as matchmaker. He wanted to find a woman for me, his sister-in-law to be exact. Dora, the half-sister of his wife, Maude. I told Fred that I wasn’t fit for a girl, that I was too much of a wild man. Truth be told,  I was terrified of a commitment. I had barely any money to my name and seeing how Lismer struggled to feed his family, I didn’t dare to put myself in the same situation.

On weekends, Fred and I would go painting on Centre Island, the Harbour, and the outskirts, High Park and north up to Thornhill. I learned from Fred, but he learned from me. Painting the outside meant you had to be part of the outside. Before we put our brushes to boards, I’d tell Fred the different species of trees, the birds, even the different grasses. I’d tell him that a scene might have  a thousand details but you needed to find the one thing that gave life to your sketch.

Alex Jackson tolerated Fred, but wasn’t fond of him. The feeling was mutual. In an odd sort of way, and in a way I never expected, I was the common bond between them. I don’t want to take credit, but if it weren’t for me, Alex and Fred would parted to their own ways. I never cared much for their differences, I was too intent on learning from them and it was my intense love for the northern scenes that kept them together.

From the Summer of 1914

Written in late summer of 1916 when I was fire-ranging near Achray.

It’s impractical to sketch, I’ll write a few words instead.

Where to begin…

I’ll start in the Summer of 1914. Even though I liked to have a chum with me, I liked being alone better. After my canoe trip with Arthur Lismer in May, he returned to Toronto. I stayed for the rest of the summer. I no longer had to worry about work, money or domestic obligations becasue of the stipend I was receiving from Dr. MacCallum. A canoe adventure was in my cards.

I took the train west from Algonquin to Depot Harbour This was the westernmost reach of the J.R. Booth realm. Depot Harbor is the terminus of the Ottawa-Arnprior-Algonquin rail line and as many tourists would descend from Ottawa as there would be from Toronto. Depot Harbour is a busy little town; I tried to avoid all of the hubbub but it was difficult. I would try to get as far away from the bustle and sit on the rocks that would jut into Georgian Bay. I was fascinated by the raw power that could be unleashed by a storm. One day the Bay would be a serene blue-green sheet of calm and the next day it would be a wrathful cauldron of grey. I recall the poems of Wilfred Campbell, Lake Lyrics.

My winter months with Jackson had begun to pay off. I started to see the world in a different way and boards began to paint themselves, my hands being the medium. It was apparent in the expression of Dr. MacCallum’s eyes when I showed him the sketches I just did. After Depot Habour, I traveled north by steamship and camped with the Dr. at the mouth of the French River. I showed him my sketches and his remark was, “Tom, these are good! They do capture the same feeling when I’m around here.”

Jackson warned me that the Dr. knew very little about art and to be careful and how I should receive his criticism. “Just remember, the Dr. is paying the bills.”

My inclination was to disagree with Jackson. The Dr. might not know about techniques and mechanics or art but he seemed to know what was good to express the northlands. He had the eye of an artist, not necessarily the hands of one.

I accepted the invitation to stay at the Dr.’s cottage on West Wind Island. I stayed for June and July and spent time canoeing and painting with leisure. I had no duties or obligations, only that I would provide the occasional painting lesson to the Dr.’s daughter, Helen.

I enjoyed the time on the island, but the company began to wear on me after awhile. The nature was great, the company wasn’t. Many of the folks vacationing on the island were a plain annoyance. I just wanted to escape from the cake and ice-water socials and find a place to paint in isolation. Despite wanting to be alone, I missed the company of Jackson, Lismer and Harris. Unlike the present company, we could all shut up and paint when the time came. I wrote a letter to Varley asking him to come for a canoe and camping trip but his domestic obligations kept him at home.

Then it hit. The declaration of War, on August 5th, 1914. It was on the same day I was about to depart to Algonquin. It was the day before by 37th birthday. Everyone greeted the declaration of war with great enthusiasm. No one needed reminding that it was actually Great Britain that declared war and the Canada’s decision simply followed suit. I decided I need to get out alone and fast.

I took the steamer from Go Home Bay to the mouth of the French River and purchased cheap an old used canoe. I travelled east on the French River to Lake Nipissing. At time the river and rapids and treacherous. At one rapids I counted thirteen white wooden crosses – thirteen deaths and probably many more.

There’s some commotion going on with the men. Whistle just blew  – I’ve got to attend to.