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.

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