January 23, 1917 Letter to Father

January 23, 1917

Monday, Studio Building,Severn Street, Toronto

Dear Father,

I got both your letters Saturday night. The first one had got down behind the directory in the hall and was out of sight until I looked for it where I got two other letters for people in the building.

The cranberries were shipped from Achray between North Bay and Pembroke on the CN. I think they are charging too much as I was only charged 55 cents for two boxes the same size and weight, and a packsack weighing more than both together, that included  delivering from the shed to my place which is three miles, so you can see that compared with my stuff, they are charging more.

I will pay the freight myself later on as I could not do so at the place they were shipped from. There is no agent at Achray and the conductor could not attend to it on the train.

I was very sorry to hear that you have all been ill and hope that you will get over it quickly.  I hope that Peggie didn’t start away too soon after her sickness and that she will be all right at North Bay.  For myself I have been first rate and am getting considerable work done. It is too bad about your first letter but I have fixed the board so it cannot happen again.

Hoping you folks are all well soon.

I am your affectionate son,


January 19, 1917 Night at the Arts and Letters Club

January 19, 1917

Last night was quite the spectacle at the Arts and Letters Club. It wasn’t what happened during the formal proceedings and program but what happened after. It took me the better part of the day to get out of mood so I could write. I didn’t do any painting today.

When I was working in the commercial business, I preferred in my off-hours to go to the tea-rooms instead of joining a luncheon and dinner club. Most everyone else joined a club, but I saw enough of my chaps at work that I didn’t need to see them at lunch and dinner too. I needed time to myself. The tea-rooms you could go alone and no one would single you out for it. I’d bring something to read because I had enough of conversation and your nose in a book is a good barrier to someone approaching to socialize.

This didn’t mean I never wanted to go a club . I just didn’t want to become a member because once you become a formal member of a club, it’s the club obligations that begin to chip away at your freedoms. I’ve seen enough people, especially women, who’ve had their lives regulated by churches and clubs to the point of having nothing left for themselves.

The program for the members’ dinner started at 7pm. I walked from the Shack – it’s about two miles to the old Courthouse on Adelaide. I could have walked on Yonge, but I decided to go down Church instead because I liked walking through the Garden District instead. For some reason I could not get the TS Eliot poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” out of my mind. I got the issue of Poetry from Arthur Heming. To be truthful, I swiped it from him after an all night bout of drinking with Curtis Williamson amd Bill Beatty. We also managed to mash up Arthur’s hat. He was none too pleased about that.

Prufrock is nothing like I’ve ever read before.I found the words in poem absolutely spellbinding with its imagery expressed in an entirely alien way. I knew that what he was doing with poetry, I was doing with my sketches and a lesser extent my canvases. As I walked along Church, all I could think of were “one-night cheap hotels” and “sawdust restaurants” on “half-deserted streets”. Prufrock was giving a voice to my feelings in Toronto. I feel like I am living a life of indecision, isolation and unspoken frustration. Needless to say, these thoughts about Prufrock did not put me into a good disposition for the evening. I also was thinking that this type of poetry along with the War would be the death of the type of Canadian poets of the likes of Duncan Campbell Scott, Bliss Carman and Wilfred Campbell. Fortunately I’d be able to make a judgment because Duncan Campbell Scott was on the program tonight to do a reading from the his new poetry book followed by a talk on the Indian Problem.

After a walk of about three-quarters of an hour I arrived at the club – shortly before 7pm. The club is on the second floor, and you can only access it through a narrow stairway in the back lane. Roy Mitchell, the club playwright, usually had a play prepared for these type events. But Roy had gone to New York to work as a stage manager so we were spared the preparation for one of his productions. The major effort being the creation of the stage in the Courthouse room. There was no permanent stage, so Roy had managed to procure 150 crates that he stored on the first floor. We’d have to bring these crates up two long flights of stairs and assemble at the far of the room. And of course, at the end of the evening (or the next day) bring them back down to storage. Then there was the jury-rigging of lighting equipment, made of biscuit boxes, stovepipes and tin wash basins. Once these were set up properly – with no electrocution or incendiary mishap – the show would go on. Unfortunately, for tonight, there was no show for Roy. I’m sure he was busy on Broadway, not thinking about us.

I could hear the low buzz of the conversation as I mounted the stairs. The lights were electrical, but it was still dim because the Court room is cavernous. The cigar and cigarette smoke (everyone smoked) hung in the air like a dissatisfied she-fog twisting itself around the men and then rising up into the ceilinged darkness. In the daytime I could see the ornate tin ceiling tiles, but tonight, these tiles were on the other side darkness, either in heaven or hell.

‘Tom, my boy! You made it!”

Dr. MacCallum emerged from the cigar-smoke gloom and greeted me effusively. I knew he did this because he really did welcome, but he also did it to signal to the other members that I was someone to be regarded highly. Every once in awhile, someone would be invited to the club that didn’t seem to quite fit, and the club members would unconsciously close ranks to squeeze them out so they would never come again. But most of the members knew, or knew of me well. I had a oil sketch exhibition here at the club in late 1915 that was well-received by the members with the exception the few. I’d come quite often with Lismer, Jackson and Harrison for lunch. I came along a few times with Varley, not since since we had a falling out last year. I saw that Varley was here tonight, talking to Gus Bridle.

There were numerous conversations going on. Not much of a talker myself in social situations like these, I had a tendency to dip in and out of conversations that didn’t require an effort from me to keep the momentum. That wasn’t a problem here, because most of the men of the club were journalists, writers, poets, and artists. “Men of the pen, pencil, and brush”, they’d like to call themselves, and they’ll talk themselves to their own graves.

“Victory Gardens!” The words jumped out from the buzz. They came from Jim MacDonald. He was having a lively debate with Rufus Hathaway, the club’s librarian. What I had discerned from the conversation was that Jim was still upset that the club decided not to have their Victory Garden club at his farm in Thornhill, but instead in York Mills. Jim moved north so he could farm his own vegetables, but with his poor health, and his wife’s too, it was more difficult than they had expected. He needed help gardening and was hoping to get it from the club. That was not the case.

Other topics were buzzing about the room: the rumour of Orville Wright making flying boats on Georgian Bay (he bought an island there this past summer, Dr. MacCallum told me), the immorality of Hun submarine warfare, the benefits of TB as a cleansing disease, and “Toronto the Beautiful against Toronto the Scientific”. Someone was bemoaning the impending completion of the the Bloor St. Viaduct. Someone from Rosedale, assuredly.

I sat down by the “Artist’s Table.” It didn’t have that official name, but whenever the artists came from lunch, they sat at the same table near the back far away from the fireplace. The tables closer the fireplace were reserved for the more established men of stature. Where we sat, court room still felt like a cold storage room. I sat with Bill Beatty, Curtis Williamson, and Fred Varley on the other side. Bill was president of the club once, but after his office ended, he too was relegated to the cold storage section of the club. The dinner was good, as best as what could be served in wartime to eighty hungry men at once. Boiled mashed potatoes, roast beef, carrots, turnip, and apple sauce. Dessert was apple crumble and tea and coffee. Nothing of the alcoholic sort was served due to the recent Temperance provisions, but several bottles were being furtively passed about. The “club medicine” as the men called it. Now I understood why the water glasses were never filled. When the club medicine came my way, I filled my glass and noted it was a mail-order whisky from Montreal. Jackson’s from Montreal. I should move to Montreal.

After dinner, the cigar smoke began to thicken further. Under shoulder height, the air was still clear to see through. About shoulder height, the smoke was becoming as thick as the approaching snow pillars I’d see in the Park in the spring and fall. The dim light from the street came through the tall narrow window like a ray of divinity and cut a solid beam the room. Only the fireplace, with its roaring fire, threatened the dominance of the divine ray of light. Through the thick smoke (or snow pillars), I could see Lawren Harris’s snow paintings on either of the fireplace. Harris gave them to the club, because, during his fascination with snow phase, he had a numerous canvases that looked pretty much the same and he decided to give two away. Beneath one of his paintings was a new instalment. I didn’t recognize it but from what I could make out in the dim light it was a recently deceased figure adorned with garlands and flowers. I found the painting particularly hideous, but given the sentiments of the time, it was a popular theme to depict dead people in glorious circumstances. I couldn’t help but think of the Varsity War Supplement I saw the other day. You had to be dead to get on the Roll of Honour – the pages with the fancy flowers and designs. If you were still alive, your page was mundane with crammed rows of photographs.

With the dinner completed, and the plates and cutlery whisked away by some unknown force, Dr. MacCallum announced the after-dinner program.

First, a poetry reading and talk, by Duncan Campbell Scott (who came down from Ottawa for this special occasion).

Next, the unveiling of the club portrait, by Sammy Sampson (his name is John Ernest, but everybody calls him ‘Sammy’).

Finally, a mystery painter speed-painting competition to round out the evening. I had heard the meat-carving contest at the last dinner was a rousing success, but a speed-painting contest, that was something new.

After Dr MacCallum’s introduction, Duncan Campbell Scott stood up and walked over to the fireplace and rested his hand upon the mantel.

“Gentlemen, I thank you for your fine welcome.” He took his hand off the mantle. I believe he realized that because of the mantel’s height, it made his pose look awkward and vaudevillian. This was certainly no vaudeville show, that was to be later in the evening.

“It is such a pleasure to be here with such learned men here in Toronto! Ottawa is such a bore with its bureaucrats. I came down on the train earlier today. I shall not bore you with Ottawa’s war efforts or the re-building of Parliament. Instead, as a man of the arts and letters, I shall read from my new book of poetry and talk to you about another grave problem plaguing our Dominion, the ‘Indian Problem’. ”

It was difficult to hear Scott. He was at the front in the court room and his voice did not carry well through the sounds of scraping chairs and  persistent coughing. I did manage to make out the title of his poem, “The Half-Breed Girl”. I was familiar with it; I had read it a few weeks ago in the reading room of the public library. It was in his new book, published late last year. The main saving grace of this poem was that it wasn’t too long, unlike much of the incessant romantic tripe that passes for poetry these days. I knew that T.S. Eliot’s poetry was having an influence on me. I’d never read a poem the same way again.

Scott started into the first stanza:

She is free of the trap and the paddle,
The portage and the trail,
But something behind her savage life
Shines like a fragile veil

I knew these words so I could follow along through the noise. I did not listen to the rest of the poem because I already had the effect of the poem.  And there is nothing more boring that listening to a poet reading his own poems at a dinner function. It is a license to let one’s own mind wander. Once Scott finished,  he was met with a muted applause that barely supplemented the persistent coughing. With that poetic episode complete, he commenced his talk. I could tell he was a little too warm by the fireplace. He had sweat on his brow that reflected the electrical light from above. From where I was, I couldn’t help but imagine that his balding head looked like an electric bulb that was about to burn out. He stepped forward, away from the fireplace, for the next part of his delivery.  Once the coughing subsided, he began with a changed voice that had an odd authoritative resonance to it. This voice was different than the tone he used as a poet. It was like a different man was speaking. I am sure this was the voice he used to pass pronouncements as a bureaucrat.

“I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone. Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question.”

His talk continued for another twenty minutes. Men, like these, could speak for hours when given the opportunity, but when the coughing was accompanied by the occasional belch, and the men start to pay more attention to the bottles being passed around, he began to conclude his speech. I was in the back, paying more attention to the lighting of my pipe and the repeated replenishing of my glass; the bottle passed by me twice during his speech and was about to come around for the third time. Bloody bureaucrats at their desks, sending men off to war and stamping out races. All in the name of principles and the superior British way.

Dr MacCallum kindly thanked him, and the club was on to the next item of business: the unveiling of the club portrait.

January 16, 1917 Tom’s Laws

January 16, 1917

I’m at the Public Reference Library on College St. and I found this book with Chevreul’s Laws. Chevreul invented, or discovered, the ‘Chevreul Illusion’ that bright edges seem to exist between identical colours that are of different intensities. Back in 1914, Jackson taught me about Chevreul and helped me to experiment with my paintings. By the fall of 1914, when we were up North with Lismer and Varley, Jackson was shocked at what I was doing with colours. I told him I owed it to Chevreul.

By chance today, I found a book that has Chevreul’s laws. I thought it would be handy to have these written down when I’m painting back at the Shack (I can’t take this book out of the library). I know what they are by practice, but it’s good to have them written down.

Chevreul’s Laws:

  1. Colours are modified in appearance by their proximity to other colours.
  2. A light colours seem most striking against black.
  3. All dark colours seem most striking against white.
  4. Dark colours upon light colours look darker than on dark colours.
  5. Light colours upon dark colours look lighter than on light colours.
  6. Colours are influenced in hue by adjacent colours, each tinting its neighbour with its own complement.
  7. If two complementary colours lie side by side, each seems more intense than by itself.
  8. Dark hues on a dark ground which is not complementary will appear weaker than on a complementary ground.
  9. Light colours on a light ground which is not complementary will seem weaker than on a complementary ground.
  10. A bright colour against a dull colour of the same hue will further deaden the dull colour.
  11. When a bright colour is used against a dull colour, the contrast will be strongest when the latter is complementary.
  12. Light colours on light grounds (not complementary) can be greatly strengthened if bounded by narrow bands of black or complementary colours.
  13. Dark colours on dark grounds (not complementary) can be strengthened if similarly bounded by white or light colours.

Since I am headlong into painting, they made me think of what might be: ‘Tom’s Laws about Paintings’. I’m not sure there are thirteen, but I’ll see what I can come up with.

  1. Paintings are modified in appearance by those who have feelings about what they see.
  2. Paintings are most striking when the subject is something that is otherwise viewed as useless or ugly.
  3. Two similar paintings (or sketches) when viewed side by side can have more power together when viewed alone.
  4. A series of paintings, one after another, can tell a story that no words can tell.
  5. Stories with no words are stories of feelings are best told by a series of paintings.

Only five laws before I came up with a good idea. As I was writing I began to think about the Bayeux Tapestry and started to realize why it is so powerful.  It tells a story – scene by scene – it’s a story, not of words, but of feeling.

This is the idea. When I go up in the spring, I’ll paint something like the Bayeux Tapestry, but with boards. I’ll record the events and transition of spring. I’ll paint something together everyday and when I’m done, I’ll put the whole thing together, the records of spring. It’ll tell a story of spring, not in words, but in feeling.

The bell is ringing. They’re closing the library. I have to pack up and get out.

I just thought up a law about artists:

  1. If an artist dislikes another artist, it’s best to leave it that way.

I’m afraid this applies to some of the artists that I know.

January 13, 1917 Log Drive

January 13, 1917

Summer of 1916 was a hot and dry summer. I was a Fire Ranger on the eastern part of the Park keeping an eye on the log runs. It was starting to get tinder-dry in late August and we were all worrying about another big fire like the Matheson Fire that burned down all the towns around Cochrane. The fires killed over 200 and the smoke lingered across the province for weeks. It made the sun look sick.

Most fires started from lumber camps or from the trains. Ordinarily, not an issue, but with the Matheson fire, the Province decided to come down hard if a fire got out of control.  A fire started on the train tracks was bad publicity and the train companies were especially vigilant in keeping the grass down and the dry debris away from the railbeds. The lumber camps were the problem and it was our job as Fire Rangers to keep an eye on the companies of men doing the drivers. They didn’t like us. And neither did they take a liking to me sketching. I didn’t do much last summer.

These recollections came back when I was preparing my next canvas. That happened to me often. When I looked at my study sketches what flooded back to me was not the images but the feelings and impressions I had at the time. When I sketched my focus was to translate what I felt, not necessarily what I saw onto the board. When I look at these boards here and now I try to translate that feeling onto the canvas. Someone once asked me if making a sketch was the same as painting a canvas. I told them they were completely opposite processes. That’s why canvas painting is so difficult for me. I have to take what I have inside of me and bring it out. Sketching is bringing the outside in. It’s funny that I just came across that phrase. Late in the summer when I was done fire ranging, I was with Ned Godin at the Ranger Cabin on Grand Lake. We did some good and long fishing trips and I managed a good number of sketches. When we got back he wanted me to paint a sign for the cabin, which I obliged, calling it the “Out-Side-In”

Applying the ground to a canvas is more than just preparing the surface. It’s bringing your imagination to bear to what will be part of the whole picture. It’s similar to chess and playing a good game. I played a lot with Frank Carmichael when we had the Studio together when Jackson left for Montreal. In chess, it’s not seeing the pieces on board that makes you a good player, it’s seeing how the pieces work together and the possibilities of what you can do with them. It’s the same with putting ground on the canvas, you are visualizing, planning what you are going to paint.

It took me the better part of the day to apply the ground. I don’t recall how many layers I put on, but on some parts of the canvas there were more layers than other parts. I didn’t mind it rough because I wanted to have the same feel as a board. Although my eyes could only see the light brown umber on the canvas, my mind had already compose the picture. This way I had the luxury to change my plan of composition several times, all without setting down a single brush stroke of colour. I can remember the dam and its churning fury. The logs were jammed up on the lakeside and the men with their log poles breaking up the jams and guiding the logs through the chutes into channel below. This was on the Madawaska, near the Mazinaw. The logs would make their way to Arnprior into the Ottawa River and into the St. Lawrence to wherever they went.

I was exhausted by end of the day. I nearly didn’t have enough energy to write this entry, but I did anyway. It’s a good type of exhaustion and I realized I didn’t spend any of the day thinking about what was going on in the city. That’s a good thing. Canvases may be a difficult thing to do, but it’s gives me the escape I need.

January 11, 1917 Green-Eye Monster

January 11, 1917


“Beware of the Green-Eye Monster”


That’s what was marked in chalk on the wall beside the employment office on Bay St. There were three soldiers standing in front with grins on their faces that were anything but friendly.

I saw these three as I was going down to the shops to buy some groceries. I’ve been noticing that there’s more and more soldiers on the streets these days – not the ones going to war, but the ones that have returned. They seem to have nothing to do but to make trouble for others.

“Hey, Slacker!”

I knew that shout was directed to me, but I kept on going. Although I was a target (being a single male), the targets that had the greater attention of the soldiers were the Greeks. Most of the shops and cafes downtown are owned by Greek immigrant families. The Greek sons wait on the tables and the Greek daughters work in the back kitchens. There was a rising resentment against the Greeks because Greece was neither considered an ally or an enemy in the War. Canadians went off to fight, but they stayed home. Most of the Greeks had came here before the War and were well established. In contrast, the Macedonians more recently had come as refugees from fighting against or with the Greeks. I never could keep straight who was fighting who over there. The Macedonians stayed with their own in the neighbourhoods on Danforth on the other side of the Don. But the Greeks, having most of the shops and cafes by Yonge and Wellesley, were mixed in with the business district and it was a sore reminder to the  many families of English descent who had sent their sons overseas to fight to see the Greek sons working at home.  It was often said, “We Anglos are sending our sons to fight overseas, and it’s the Greeks making the money by taking their jobs.”

For the Germans, it was more straightforward. They were enemies. As a result of the Enemy Alien Registration Act,  the men of German-descent, “Huns”, as everyone called them in Toronto, were rounded up and sent to internment camps. The same happened in the town of Berlin, now named after Lord Kitchener.When I was fire ranging last summer I saw the camps on the eastern side of the Park and close to Pembroke too. But since the Enemy Act didn’t apply to the Greeks they stayed. They took the jobs in the factories and kept serving in the shops and cafes. When the veterans came back from the War, they found no jobs – all filled by women and Greeks. There was nothing left for them. Though they fought for the country, many of the soldiers felt that the Dominion had no longer had any use for them. Hardly a week would go by without someone jumping to their death out of a window or in front of a train. When the recruiting efforts turned in poor numbers, the talk of conscription started in earnest. The veterans began to call  it the “Revenge of the Green-Eye Monster”. The Green-Eye Monster would be rounding up the slackers to fight overseas. That was the intent of the chalk missive I saw scratched on the wall today.

I managed to get my groceries. When I got back I checked the directory in the Studio building to see if I had any mail. There wasn’t any mail but there were some old issues of the newspapers and magazines set aside for me. Bill Beatty, when finished with them, leaves them for me to read. And when I am done with the newspapers, I cut the pages into quarters and put them in the privy for one final use.

I had tea, and looked at my canvases . I looked at  the finished ones and the blank ones ready to go. I felt pretty good about my progress. I’ll start on my next canvas  tomorrow and I’ll prime it with a light brown. I like my canvases to have the same feel and texture of birch panels that I get from the mill in South River. Umber in linseed does the job well for light brown.

January 9, 1917 Canvas Tuesday

January 9, 1917

It wasn’t until I moved to the city that I learned that the first Monday after the Epiphany is called “Plough Monday”. On the farm in Leith, aside from the usual religious holidays, we didn’t pay too much attention to the other observances, we made our own holidays. My father was especially adept at finding reasons to take the day off to go fishing, much to the detriment of the crops. As the neighbours said, ‘make hay when the sun shines.’ Well, one day we didn’t – we decided as a family to go fishing and swimming instead for the day. The bad weather moved in and it rained for a solid two weeks and our hay, which should have been brought in on that sunny day, was left to a mouldy ruin in the hay field.

It was here in the city, I learned from the working folks from England that yesterday Monday was “Plough Monday”, the first day of the new agricultural year, but more apt for the circumstances, the day that the factories resumed work after the holidays. This year it wasn’t much of a Plough Monday because the factories worked through the holidays to keep the War Production up. It’s unfortunate to say, but I missed observing the Epiphany, and yesterday’s Plough Monday (I had too much to drink ). So to make for my lack of appropriate observances, I decided to designate and observe today as ‘Canvas Tuesday’.

It’s Canvas Tuesday because I prepared another four canvases for painting. I had stretched them before the holidays but I hadn’t yet gotten to putting on the gesso and whiting chalk. The gesso is from rabbit skin glue. It’s the best to use. I got some sheets from what was left over from Lawren. I took his entire roll of linen, too – before the others got to it. There’s no shame in stealing the supplies of other artists, because they’ll steal it right back. In reality, we shared all of our material, and Lawren told me take whatever I needed. At the art store on King, when I bought supplies, the shopkeeper wouldn’t charge me. When I queried why he said he had instructions to put my purchases on the Harris account.

With gesso, it’s tricky to get the right consistency. It’s one part glue to 10 parts water and it needs to be brought to the right temperature on the stove. I put the container in a water bath so it wouldn’t burn. Once it was at the right consistency, I strained it and added some whiting chalk. I made enough gesso so I could prepare four good-sized canvases. I lined the canvas on the floor like an assembly line. By the time I finished the fourth canvas with the first layer, the first one was dry enough that I could apply another coat. Most people only do two or three thick coats of gesso with light sanding in between, but I liked to do six or seven very fine coats with no sanding. I like the surface to be imperfect – like wooden surface of the boards from my  sketches. The imperfection of surface gave the boards a dimension and feeling of a larger painting and I wanted to magnify that same effect on my canvas. During my commercial art days, I learned that the closer you looked at a large printed poster or picture reproduction  it seemed to diminish in energy. You needed to stay far away from it to receive its full effect. But with a canvas painting, the imperfections gave it a greater life the closer you looked at it. I could feel this life with the jack pine canvas.  Although I’m not completely happy with the composition, I could feel the same power and feeling of the day when I made the sketch. I could have fixed up the composition, but I was afraid I might lose the power that the painting already had.

After several hours, and a sore back, I had four canvases gessoed on the floor. They took up the better part of the floor space and it was awkward to move around. Thank God, I had no visitors today. Once the canvases were fairly dry, I set them up vertically. For the rest of the day I had to keep the Shack warm so they could dry and set properly.

I stayed in for the night. I heated some stew I had made yesterday and had it with a good cup of tea. A good smoke of the pipe and some reading to finish out the evening, there’s nothing better.

That was my “Canvas Tuesday”

January 7, 1917 Peer Pressure

January 7, 1917

It’s Sunday today and it seemed like everyone wanted to visit me this afternoon. I didn’t go to church in the morning. I assumed that nobody knew that I was back so I wouldn’t be missed at service. To be truthful, I don’t think I’m ever missed at a service because I don’t try to make a regular thing of it, or I go to different churches so I can offer the excuse that if I didn’t show up at one I could tell them I was at another. I’m always worried about being pulled into the congregational clutches because they are trying to save your soul, or to recruit you to save the souls of others. Even worse, once they find out you are unmarried, they wonder why you aren’t fighting in the war, or they try to throw an unmarried daughter at you and in most case not realizing there’s a good reason why she’s still an unmarried daughter.

First it was Curtis Williamson and Bill Beatty. They also dragged along under protest, Marion Long, another occupant of the Studio Building. I had met her briefly in late November when I just returned and she didn’t seem to be the type to mix with my sort. My bet that Curtis and Bill sensed this feeling and they wanted to have some fun ratcheting up a scene. I made and served tea, and I saw Marion blanch when I used a reasonably clean palette knife to serve up some biscuits. She didn’t have any biscuits. The topic of conversation around the Studio Building and at the Club was the upcoming Spring Exhibition.  The Hanging Committee needed a list of entries soon so they could make their selection.

“Tom, what about that one?” Bill pointed to my Jack Pine Canvas I had worked on just before Christmas.

“It’s not finished,” I said. “The paint’s gone too hard to scrape off”

“Well it looks finished to me!” Bill looked over the pile of sketches, “Is it that one you painted it from?”

“Yes. It’s from the one I painted on Little Cauchon Lake, near Achray. I was there with Lawren, in the spring, before he enlisted.”

“Tom, I like it! I’d never paint something like that, but whether it’s finished or not, nobody’ll know the difference. You should be able to ask $600 for it.”

“Sure, I can ask $600, but nobody’ll pay it. Hardwoods just came back from Montreal. It was $300 and it didn’t go.” I could see that Marion was being quiet, polite and ignoring the tea and biscuits I had given her.”

“What else you got, Tom? Say, this is nice! Seurat. You trying to do something like Seurat?” Bill was looking at my painting of pointer boats in a log-filled lake. Dr. MaCallum saw this one before Christmas and called it “Pageant of the North.”

“Bill, can you leave it?” I hated him pawing through my paintings and sketches. It made me feel like I was a flea market seller.

I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I telegraphed pretty plainly that I wanted to be left alone. I could tell they got the signal, and with the exception of Marion, they quickly finished their tea and biscuits and bid me a good afternoon.

Later on, Dr. MacCallum dropped by. Without so much as a word, he went through and pulled out a sketch, set it beside his bag beside the door and put $25 on the table. I figured the reason he didn’t say anything because since this was a Sunday transaction, there must be some loophole in the Bible that allows for Sunday money-changing, so long there are no words spoken during the transaction. Like a Sunday offering at church, I reckoned.

“Tom, that’s a fine painting.” He was referring to Jack Pine canvas.

I repeated my position from the earlier conversation, “It’s not done.”

“Okay, but finished or not, it’s a fine specimen. The square canvas, where did you get that idea from, Klimt?”

“I was looking through some issues of Ver Sacrum at the library. I got some decorative ideas from the prints.” I was fascinated by what I could learn from the Vienna Secessionist. When I was doing commercial art, I tried to emulate what they did, with great success, much to the surprise of my bosses and colleagues. I tried to carry this over to my canvases.

Dr. MacCallum changed the topic, “Tom, I have an invite for you for the member’s dinner on the 17th. Sampson is going to unveil his painting, Roy Mitchell has written a dedication play, and we’re going to be holding a mystery painter competition.”

“What’s a mystery painter competition?” I asked.

“You’d better come to find out. Here’s the invitation.” Dr. MacCallum set it on the table beside the cash and  gathered his hat, gloves, bag and newly-acquired sketch. “See you, Tom.”

By then, it was late afternoon. I made myself dinner, had a couple of drinks, read a good lot, and then went for a snowshoe in the Rosedale Ravine later in the evening. I went to the Governor’s Bridge Lookout. I could see the Brickworks. I could tell the kilns were on full fire. They don’t shut down for Sundays. A sign of progress, I guess.

January 5, 1917 Letter to Winnie Trainor

January 5, 1917

Studio Building, 25 Severn Toronto

Dear Winnie,

Thank you for the Christmas gifts. I received the parcel when I got back to Toronto. My visit to Owen Sound was grand. I got to see Tom and Elizabeth in Annan too.  Father and Mother are doing well but my Father was starting to get ill when I left for Toronto. I am sure it’s nothing of worry.

It’s quiet around here but I don’t mind because I plan to get a lot of canvases done. I plan to get back up early as possible in the spring to do more sketches. We’ve had an awful lot of snow here in Toronto and it’s colder than usual. There’s been more than the usual number of fires because people are burning anything they can for fuel and that makes for bad creosote fires. They’re next impossible to put out and usually the whole house goes down to fire.

I hope work is going well. The women here are working in the munitions factory and they are always looking for more. They opened a women’s employment bureau on Bay St. Remember me to your parents.I hope to stop by when I go in the spring. If I take early morning train I can come for an afternoon visit and the catch the afternoon to make the connection to the Park. That way I don’t need to be put and I’ll be as little trouble to your parents as possible.

Affectionately yours,


P.S. The hat you made makes for a fine night cap. I keep the temperature as low as possible during the night. I’ll use it for outside when it’s closer to spring.


January 3, 1917 National Service Week Survey


January 3, 1917

As  expected, I found this questionnaire in my mail slot this morning at the Studio Building.


Each male is asked to complete a questionnaire distributed by the Post Office

Place of birth:
Marital Status:
No. of dependants:
Physical condition:
Trade or profession:
Present occupation:

Would you be willing to change your present work for other necessary work at the same pay during the war?

January 2, 1917 Return to Toronto

January 2, 1917

I took the train back to Toronto today. Father and Mother  wanted me to stay a few days longer but I said I need to get back to my work. I have a lot to do. I enjoyed my stay up in Owen Sound but after a time I begin to feel trapped into my past and I need to move on.

As she promised, Louise Julyan was on the train too. I saw her in Annan Soiree. She sat beside me and we talked about many things. I was surprised on her keenness on art. I let her do most of the talking, I don’t like talking about my paintings, and she said she wanted to visit me in the shack.

We arrived at Union Station in the early evening. Recruiters were everywhere. A marching band with signs ‘Free trip to Europe’. There were other signs indicating  that it was ‘National Service Week’ and that every man should be filling out the questionnaire delivered by the Post Office.

I walked with Louise up University Avenue and over to Elm where the YWCA was. It was nice, she held my arm, and since we looked like a married couple, we weren’t bothered by the recruiters. On the way we saw signs posted for the Ontario Government Public Employment Bureau for Women. The office had opened last November, and women now had to apply at the bureau instead of going to the factories. Louise mused that if her art didn’t work out, she decided to work in a munitions factory instead. At the front door of the YWCA, I bid her goodbye. I could tell she wanted me to linger for a few moments longer.

“Tom, thanks for the wonderful time. Can we see each other again?”

“Sure,” I said, “but the next few weeks will be busy.”

“I’ll send you a letter next week, Tom.” I could tell from the tone of her voice, there was something more.

From the YWCA  I made my way back to the Shack. I could have taken the street car since I walked this far already, there was no point. I like walking at night to look at the stars, but in the city mostly lit by electrical lighting that’s harder and harder to do. Plus, the smoke and soot from the coal fires make it hard to see the night sky.

When I finally arrived, the door to the Shack and the wood shed were frozen shut. The snow had drifted against the wall, melted, then frozen again. I managed to get the wood shed door open and used a old miner’s pick to chip away the ice. Inside, all was as I had left it, except everything was frozen solid. I set the stove alight and it will be well into the night before the the chill is gone. I don’t mind the chill so long as I have a good cover on me when I sleep.

I’m looking at my canvas on the easel. It’s been there for almost two weeks in the cold and the paint is set as hard as rock. I won’t be able to do any scraping and if I add anything, it would look no better than a poor afterthought. Tomorrow, I plan to start another canvas. I’m not sure which one, but I plan to sort through my boards to find something.