December 14, 1916 Hanging Committee

December 14, 1916

1915 OSA Exhibition Hanging Committee
O.S.A. Spring Exhibition Hanging Committee

I went over to the Studio Building earlier this evening to pick up my mail. Bill Beatty was there. He had just gotten back from a dinner the Arts & Letters club. Judging by the shape he was in, he should have stayed there for the night (they have 6 bunks there for the taking) but he got a motor car ride with one of the Rosedale club members.

“We bloody well had a hard time keeping on the road! If only those street trolleys could keep a straight line!”

I reminded him that the trolleys do keep a straight line. I suggested that the issue was with the motor car operator, not the trolley. Motor car accidents, once a rare and dramatic occasion of no serious consequence, were becoming more common and with graver consequences. Rail crossings had become especially lethal. A family was mostly wiped out near Chatham earlier in the month, crossing the tracks. The father thought he could beat the train. He was the only survivor. He lost his wife and two daughters. Closer to home, a veteran, after returning  unscathed from the War, lost his leg by colliding his car with a TG&B grain freight coming down from Owen Sound. Bill’s loud voice snapped me out of these thoughts.

“We’ve have officially formed the Hanging Committee!” He exclaimed.

I smiled. The “hanging committee” is the selection jury for the upcoming OSA Spring Exhibition, and they decide which pieces to “hang” on the wall. I always found the term macabre, and it no longer made sense, because the ‘hanging committee’  was now accepting sculptures into the exhibition. If they were true to their charge, they’d be hanging the sculptures for display to the public. That would certainly give the critics something to start at.

“The executive council moved that the committee be Miss Mary Wrinch, Wyly Grier, and Robert Holmes.  But Jim and I are going to keep a close tab on their selection. Fred Varley said he’d too.”

Bill was fading fast.

“Better make it a night, Bill – while the night is still a good night.”

Bill looked up at me, his face cast into a gruff grin. When sober, Bill is jovial, but liquor had a tendency to make his words fail and give license to his fists to settle any off-remark. Sensing that our exchange of words had run its course, I bid him good night and went back outside.

It was bitter cold outside, and, entering into the Shack, the inside not much warmer. Last night the mercury hovered near the 0F mark. During the day it didn’t get much higher than 5F. This morning, up waking up, I had to break a thin layer of ice in the water pitcher. The frost on the windows had become a solid sheen. It took a good hour with a strong fire in the stove to get the place back to a reasonable comfort. With the cold stay, I was expecting the same routine tomorrow. As I walked back I looked up at the night sky. Unlike a few nights ago, the sky was clear (no fog) and the stars were bright twinkling dots through the bare tree branches. I’ve notice when it’s clear night, the sound seems to travel farther better. Tonight I could hear the trains down by Front St. Union Station. It’s a constant blow of whistles, bustle and clanging. I could hear the screeches and thuds from the shunting of the tracks and the bumping together of the freight cars. The noise goes on all night now because the munitions factories are going round the clock and the production has to be shipped out to Halifax. Planes and motor cars are going out too. And, of course, the boys from out West. They get a day’s leave in the City as most have never seen a big City before. They pouring out of Union, they get preyed on by the pickpockets and tarts and then they’re back on the train going to Halifax.

I try to stay here, away from everything, but it’s more and more difficult. My painting is going well, three canvases about finished. Now that the Hanging Committee is officially formed, I am sure someone on their behalf will be visiting me. The Montreal Show will close by the end of the week. I haven’t received any word yet if my canvas has sold. This canvas didn’t sell in the fall exhibition at the CNE. If it doesn’t sell in Montreal, that’ll be a strong sign.

December 12, 1916 The Ward and the Hospital

December 12, 1916

I was getting low on paint supplies so I went to to the art shop on King Street. It’s a couple miles walk and I went south along Church Street. After picking up my paints and supplies I decided to walk through St John’s Ward then over to Spadina passing by the Military Hospital. I must confess that what drew me on this return route was the spectre of curiosity and intrigue. The Ward is teeming with new immigrants: Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, and Chinese.  Unlike the other neighbourhoods in Toronto, there is no semblance of silence, reserve and order. Nothing like that exists here and the streets are abuzz with chaos activity.

Before the War, I would come down here with Lawren Harris. He was seized with the conditions of Ward. I can see why. It’s positively decrepit here. Broken steps, newspapers flying about, half-cocked doors not shut, and gaping window panes bereft of glass. The buildings, if I could call them that,  are little more than broken bits of beaverboard hammered together with bent and rusty nails. Lawren couldn’t understand why there had to be such poor conditions. He wanted to change that.

Even more unsettling than the decrepit buildings were the abandoned children wandering about. I’m sure they weren’t abandoned by their parents, but they had to work all hours, and leave them to their own to gather up into ragtag gangs. It’s these gangs of children, staring at us, as if we were aliens that made me uncomfortable. We were aliens.

But being an alien didn’t bother Lawren. He would just get out his gear and sketch. It did make a queer site for the kids, and a crowd would gather. Lawren was quite happy to the amuse the kids at his expense. He said condition didn’t have to be that way, it could be better.  The hardships of the War  were being compounded by the profiteering. He had come down often times to sketch, I came with him once, but I didn’t like it. Not only did I not like the subject to sketch, I didn’t like being stared at. I understood what Lawren was feeling and what he wanted to do right, but I didn’t have the same feeling. I just wanted to get out of there, back to the Studio, or into the woods where human injustice was something beyond the horizon.

I continued to walk through St John’s Ward (I didn’t stop) and over to the Military Hospital on Spadina. After Somme, the veterans were coming back at a high rate. Upon return, they had to be checked out first at the hospital, before they were discharged. You could see the crowds of uniformed men milling about in a daze. The injured ones (with missing limbs or blinded) were whisked inside the hospital or whisked away in cars and carriages, but it was the able-bodied ones that were left milling about in the front grounds. No one was quite sure what to do with these men after their discharge except to point them to the employment office that opened for the munitions factories.

It was an unsettling sight, and I kept my pace to get back to the Shack. Each day, I felt, the world, especially in the City, was becoming a more desperate place. This War has defied everyone’s predictions but the cruelty and injustice left in its wake is now something can be predicted.

“Keep your mind off it, just focus on your canvases”, that’s what Dr. MacCallum keeps saying to me. Jim MacDonald is saying the same thing to me too. I know this is good advice, but I can’t help but think there is another reason, that is not to my benefit. I don’t like these thoughts, but I can’t help it.