Women Should Be Women

In the autumn of 1915 I had moved into the Shack. Arthur Lismer was looking for a studio so he shared space with me during the day. The installation of the window in the east wall made a world of difference and it became a light and cheery place to paint and live. I had made a bunk on the upper level with a ladder accessing it from the ground floor. Lismer rarely stayed late in the evenings as he had family duties to attend to, so the arrangement worked out for both of us. We’d work together during the day and at the end he would go home, except for those evenings when the old Grip crowd would decide to visit. Beatty would come over too.  It was a grand arrangement until the women painters decided to come too We’d make it pretty clear that they weren’t welcome but ____ was insistent on coming. ____ was a popular woman artist, she had her own studio that was the regular haunt of army officers enthralled by a woman in an art studio and looking to marry someone before going overseas. I’m sure she had her fair share of marriage proposals, all of which she refused, because, according to Lismer, she had her eye on me.

I managed to avoid her, until Lismer invited her over for lunch. Lismer made the announcement one day, indicating that the invitation was for the day next. I made no comment, save for a brief outburst that we were running low on turpentine. On the appointed day, she appeared for lunch. Lismer was surprised that I remained in the Shack and had not disappeared into the ether. “I have a lot to do today,” was my reply.

I already had mulligan stew simmering on the stove when she arrived. ____ tried to be as evocatively feminine as possible, but I decided to play the game that she wanted to be one of the men so I treated her as such. ____ knew of my reputation as a woodsman so I decided to play it up for the the occasion. With a dirty ladle, I sloshed the stew into a tin bowl and pushed it in front of her as if I was serving a ranger that unexpectedly dropped into camp. ___ was initially shocked by my brusque treatment, but the she decided to play the game back. She knew the womanly weapons of winning of a man were obsolete with me. I continued to talk to her as if she was a lumberjack and she played the part right back. ___ slurped her stew, threw her spoon on the table when finished, and picked her teeth with a sliver of wood she pulled from a piece of firewood nearby. I tried to play the part as if she was a man, but a twinkle in my eye must have given away how much fun I was having.  What was to be a brief lunch turned out to be an afternoon of effusive conversation. Lismer was somewhat dumbfounded by the unexpected camaraderie. By the time the afternoon was out, we were talking like best of friends. Lismer went to the door when she left (since he made the invitation, she was his guest). When he returned he asked me what I thought of her.  My reply to Lismer, “____, she’s a fine woman. If she stays away from me, she’ll stay that way”


Me and Arthur Lismer

Arthur Lismer first visited me in Algonquin Park in May of 1914. I met Arthur at the Canoe Lake Station. It was about ten o’clock in the evening when the train rolled into the station. After nine stuffy hours in the train, Arthur revelled in the fresh and cold air, invigorating his body and forgetting about the city left behind.

It was a cold spring night, the frogs were piping as we drove through the bush to the Fraser’s at Mowat Lodge. The glorious moon was coming over the spruce tops shedding a yellow and mysterious light on everything. The air was tang and I could see that Arthur was anticipating every bump – he did not know what to expect – this was an alien land to him.The days I had together with Arthur were simply grand. I had the pleasure of introducing Arthur to the North Country. I could see it in his eyes. Arthur was eager to learn and in the days we were together I introduced him to the trails, paddling, how to make camp and most importantly how to fish. He was enthralled to see the North in its rugged beauty and design. We portaged, sketched and moved over what Arthur kept calling the magic land.

We went from one lake to another and I showed Arthur the trails I had made in the previous year. He couldn’t see them but I could. A matter of perception I reckon. Despite it being mid-May there was still snow in the woods – deep in the woods. In the late spring, I liked to hunt for snow, like it was wild animal. It was a reward for me when I could find the last vestige of snow of winter, especially when the leaves were beginning to come out.

I showed Arthur that every day in spring was an urgency for colour. What seemed like dead birches one day, would burst into a vibrant yellow-green overnight. We watched the wildlife take on a new sense of urgency, or rather a new vigour for life. We saw the beaver, the cries of the Canada geese still heading northward. Arthur loved it and he was thrilled to part of my spring.

It was cold in the evenings, and the temperature about midnight to early in the morning was below the freezing point. Any water left in the camp pails was frozen hard. But the sun came up and everything responded to its glow and warmth.

We revelled in what Arthur called the glamorous North. He never experienced anything like it. It was a wonderful time, when everything was on the very edge of rebirth with a peculiar intensity that can’t be described but it can be painted.