March 16, 1917 Letter to Shannon Fraser

Studio Building, 25 Severn Toronto

Shannon Fraser, Mowat Lodge
Canoe Lake Stn., Algonquin Park

March 16, 1917

Dear Shannon,

I am planning to take the train up on the 23rd and will be arriving on the 584 Eastbound 3rd Class at 3:13 pm. I won’t be on the 1st Class because I plan to make a stop in Huntsville and take the next train to make the connection at Scotia Jctn. Am doubtful that there will be may other visitors this early in the season coming up on the 584. I can walk down but if you come up, I’d  be greatly obliged as it would be hard to walk with my gear. I can try to walk along the ice but I’m sure the snow is deep there too. I’m leaving my snowshoes in Toronto. My other ones are in the storage shed under my canoe. If you don’t want to wait around you can bring them up and leave them with the Station Master. Please keep the orange crates if you still have them around. I’m getting panels from the mill South River, and I’m bringing some, but I’ll make some from the crates if I get low.

If you want something from the City, you can still send me a letter and I should be able to get the stuff you need next week. You should get some pigs to fatten over the summer. When I stop, I’ll see what’s on offer in Huntsville. I could arrange to bring them up as luggage on the 3rd class to save on delivery. It may be still too cold but you could keep them in the back kitchen until it warms up. When they’re small, they’ll be manageable. You only need to put the stove on at night but you want to have them in the barn before the visitors begin to stay.

The City is getting grim and it’s best that I leave soon. Hope all is well  with the Mrs and your mother. Remember me to Mildred too.

Yours truly,

Tom Thomson

March 15, 1917 Lawren Harris Likes Van Gogh

March 15, 1917

Lawren Harris likes Van Gogh.

He spoke of Van Gogh during his time in Berlin. If I hadn’t known otherwise, it seemed like Lawren had actually met Vincent himself. If it were case, I’m sure that he would have given Vincent a few dollars and a bottle of whisky to make it to month’s end. Truthfully, I am also fascinated by Van Gogh. I learned what I could from the books at the library, but Lawren gave me the real tips he learned in Europe.

Lawren was part of our group of painters. Lawren and Jim MacDonald, always close friends since I’ve known them, originally conspired to form the “Canadian Vision” as Jim called it. I last saw Lawren when he visited me last spring, just before he enlisted. He was supposed to go for active duty, but something happened and he was turned down and now he is a gunnery officer in the camp in Barrie.

I remember Jim and Lawren talking about their trip to Hunstville and Burk’s Falls. It would have been the “Canadian Tragedy” were it not for Jim’s aunt doing the cooking for them. Her house was in Burk’s Falls and served as a base for their winter painting expeditions in 1912. It was a ways from the grandiose estates on the Muskoka Lakes, the distance being a hardship to those not used to being more than a finger’s distance from a bellhop ring. I’m teasing. Both Jim and Lawren are tough boys, but it can be hard to paint in the hinterland in February. The woodsman in me had enough sense to come back to the city for colder months of the year.

More importantly, Lawren became my banker. He ended up managing my financial affairs, because I never really had the disposition to put my money on account – I would leave it lying around in bills, and it would disappear faster than I reckoned. Lack of money really wasn’t an issue, except when I needed more paint. Then Lawren would say to go to the shop and put the paint on his account. He’d knew I’d be good for the obligation, in kind or in cash.

As for painting, Lawren likes dreamy moods in his colours. He would soften up the light but I was the total opposite. I told him dreams were for the bedroll and I liked to paint it like it is. It’s hard to be dreamy when your life is in your hands when you paint.

March 14, 1917 After the OSA Meeting

March 14, 1917

It’s getting later in the afternoon and the sun is still strong. It’s not yet the spring Equinox, but spring is certainly arriving and the winter is waning.

It was the Ontario Society of Artists Annual Meeting yesterday evening. I’m a member so I was obliged to attend. The meeting was held at the 707 Yonge Street.  I arrived shortly after 6:00pm and helped set up the chairs and lectern. As we were setting up, the members came in. There was about 40 people in total. I took a seat in the back, and when Florence arrived (a few minutes late) she sat beside me.

Sitting in the front row were George Reid and his wife Mrs. (Mary) Reid. George is the principal of the School of Art, a man of much public stature, so I keep my distance from him. Also seated in the front from was Charles Jefferys, Robert Gagen and Jim MacDonald. Fred Varley was in the second row with Mary Wrinch

Overall, the meeting was a series of dry formalities, interrupted by coughing and the scraping of chairs. I could barely hear Jefferys read his report (he mumbles) but I did hear that the Ontario Government did not make any purchases, but the National Gallery in Ottawa was still making purchases. He also lamented that the Canadian National Exhibition seems to be stuck on French and Belgian works almost to the exclusion of anything North American. It’s my feeling that this selection of art is still a reaction against reciprocity with the Americans, and that we were fighting in the War and the Americans weren’t.

The meeting concluded shortly before 10pm. A dry and turgid affair as all these types of gatherings go. There’s one thing I dislike worse than a firebrand sermon, it’s debate about some arcane point of order. As an O.S.A  voting member, I was expected to go and I did. I sat in the back and raised my hand at the right moments declaring my support for whatever motion was being passed. The meeting was set up in the middle of the exhibition space – a portable lectern up front  and about 50 wooden straight-backed chairs set in an orderly 10 rows.

My reason for going, of course, was to support the membership of Florence, Frank Carmichael and ‘Franz’ Johnston (don’t call him Frank).  I arrived late and sat beside Florence who knew to sit in the back and awaiting.

“A shoddy business isn’t it?” I whispered into her ear as I lit my pipe. I took a puff, and exhaled slowly through my nostrils. The smoke wafted upward toward the ceiling to join the smoke of the other ten men smoking.

“Tom, don’t be such a cad!” Florence returned a mischievous glare while whispering her retort. I grinned as I stifled a chuckle. I could always get a rise out of Florence when we were other people. She is always so proper, when the situation demands, but when she is alone she is quite the opposite.

The exciting part of the meeting came at the end when the new OSA members were voted on. Both Frank Carmichael and Francis Johnston got a unanimous vote for membership. As for Florence (she was sitting beside me, gripping my hand during the vote), the show of hands was not nearly as strong. About ten members abstained and another four voted against. It seems that some are still not ready to have women in the Society, despite a third of the membership is women. I couldn’t quite see to the front during the vote, but I’m sure that Mary Wrinch voted against Florence’s membership.

The meeting finished up about ten o’clock and afterwards, I offer to walk Florence back to the room at the house she was staying. But she wanted to stay with me because I told her I’d be going up North soon. She said that she would very much like to visit me in the Park. She plans to visit friends Ottawa this spring and could make the connections through the Park and stay for a few days. I said I would make arrangements with Shannon. I doubted that the Mowat Lodge would be fully occupied until well into the summer months (if at all).

When we got back to the Shack, I tried to turn the electric light. The electricity was out so we had to make do with kerosene and candlelight. That was fine, because what we planned to do didn’t need much light.

This morning, I walked with Florence to the street car and we said our goodbyes. She didn’t walk me to walk her any further in case anyone might see us. I didn’t really care, because I was going to be gone soon, but I understood her point of view. During wartime everybody seems to have a judgment on everybody else’s business.

Back at the shack I continued to work on my canvas. I may be able to get another one done before I go North, but I’m not banking on it.



March 10, 1917 Toronto Globe – Many Fine Paintings at O.S.A. Exhbition

Toronto Globe

March 10, 1917


More notable for the average of good and progressive work than for outstanding examples by anyone artist is the forty-fifth annual exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists, which was opened in the Reference Library last evening. The President, Mr. C.W. Jeffreys, has an interesting series of illustrations, some in color and some in black and white. “An Election in the Forties,” “George Brown Addressing a Meeting of Farmers,” and other historic subjects are depicted.

J.W. Beatty has four canvases, one a portrait, but the most interesting of all being splendid wood scene, with the gray-green trunk of a great beech tree caught out of the forest dimness by a ray of light from the outer world. Some of its smaller neighbors are colored too, by the ray of sunshine.

Timely Subjects.

A tattoo at Camp Borden is the very timely subject of a night-time study, with flaming torches and white tent-cones, by F.M. Bell-Smith, who has also several London street scenes and a picture of Mount Temple. G.A. Reid also has crystallized the spirit of the day in a colorful indoor scene, with women at work on Red Cross supplies. Delicate and appealing too, is Mr. Reid’s “Spring” picturing the tender springtime haze in a grove of sapling birch and poplars. Mrs. Reid has three canvases, including two of her lovely flower pieces. “Little Sisters of the Sun,” a cluster of brown-eyed Susans are very happy in their copper bowl.

A glowingly lovely nude by Frederick S. Challenger is seated o a mossy rock, with a shell in her hand and her toes dipping into the blue swell of the sea. His studies of western life and of a misty woodland scene, with boys bathing in a “swimming hole,” are also very satisfying.

Harry Britton’s three canvases show consistently good work, and a new departure in the two portraits, both of which are very fine. The splendid orange and purple and green sails and the blue water of his “Harbor of St. Ives” provide a feast of colour. Mrs. Britton has a delightful small piece called “The Road to the Sugar Camp.”

Many Exhibitors.

There are many pictures worthy of attention and among them two colorful canvases by Miss L.O. Adams, “Across Country,” a dipping foreground and beyond a red-roofed farmhouse the tree-stunted fields of a distant slope; and “Spring’s Promise” a blossoming orchard.

“In the Evening Light,” by W.M. Cutts is an interesting canvas, and Mrs. Cutts has a large canvas showing a narrow, rocky bay with a bit of gray beach swept by the green tide of the ocean. Through a dip in the headland, threaded by a narrow path, one glimpses the blue sea beyond.

There are a number of very interesting winter scenes, among them being “Open Creek, Winter,” by W.A. Drake, full of light and color; a number of fine things by Manly MacDonald; “The Cedar Swamp,” by A.Y. Jackson who has also some very interesting studies, made abroad; and “Silent Valley,” by Francis H. Johnston. In the latter the snow falls away in blue and purpling shadow to make way for a clear-rimmed, brown-green stream to flow through. Mr. Johnston has a lot of very original and interesting work both in oils and among the decorative drawings shown in the room with black and white work, illustrations and the like.

Some Fine Portraits

E. Wyly Grier has an excellent portrait of the Speaker of the Legislature and also a charcoal study of Mr. Geo. Hilliard. Miss Marion Long has a number of portrait studies, one of the most string being “The Gold Fish Bowl,” showing a girl in a window seat, with the light falling on her white dress and green sweater, as she gazes into a bowl of goldfish.

Miss Kathleem Munn has a very fine nude, and a canvas with cows, called “Evening Glow.”

Robt. F. Gagen has a number of studies in both oil and water color, “White Head” being the most important. This shows a rocky headland and waves breaking against the rocks under a gray sky, with a dim sun.

A decorative landscape by Lawren Harris is very effective. Estelle M. Kerr has a number of sunlit canvases that are happily handled, one of these being “The Fortune Teller,” wherein a group of women on a lawn are shaded by a Japanese umbrella. Arthur Lismer’s “Georgian Bay, Spring,” shows an intensity of blue with a flowering shrub blowing out from the shore against this clear color.

Clouds and Sky

“Wild Ducks” is a very fine thing by J.E.H. MacDonald, large and open and very satisfying, as are a number of this artist’s other studies, particularly “In November,” with blue-black wintry clouds against a glowing sky, and beneath this long, purple-brown furrows and three pine trees against the sky.

“Gone,” a glowing little study in pastel is one of C. M. Manly’s best. Miss F. H. McGillivray has a couple of strong pieces of work. Herbert Palmer also has some fine things, notably “On the Hill Top,” showing a spotted Holstein cow cropping the deep and lusciously, goldenly green grass. “The Clu,” by J. Ernest Sampson, is full of firelight and familiar faces to the members of the Arts and Letters Club, and the likenesses are so very good that the faces are recognizable to many.

There are many fine things by Varley F. Horsman. Mary E. Wrinch has some beautiful things and Owen Staples one large fine water-color.

The room with works in black and white has perfectly delightful things by W.R. Stark, some of Dudley Ward’s famous “Dingbats,” some lovely charcoals by Marion Long and most interesting tone stude by Hubert J. Beynon, as well as etchings by Dorothy Stevens, including a fine portrait of Mrs. Jan Hambourg.

Other artists who show interesting work are Franklin Brownell, F.H. Brigden, Florence Carlyle, John W. Cotton, Geo. Chavignaud, Frank Carmichael, Alice and Berthe des Clayes, T.G. Green, Clara S. Hagarty, Andre Lapine, Thomas W. Mitchel, Maide Parlow, Percy J. Robinson, Matilda Samuel and others. Notably missing was artist, Tom Thomson, who, as we have been told, has made some fine canvases but has refused to exhibit.

There are also some fine sculptures by Frederick Coates, Emmanuel Hahn, Henri Herbert, Frances Loring, Marcel Olis and Margaret Scobie.


March 11, 1917 German Scare

March 11, 1917

I had a strange visitor today. He didn’t tell me his name, but he knew mine well enough. And he knew that I knew the Park inside and out.

‘You know the Park. That’s good. We might need you there.’

I had no inkling what he was talking about.

He explained he was part of the Canadian Corp of Guides. Never heard of them.
Continue reading “March 11, 1917 German Scare”

March 10, 1917 Toronto World Society Report

Toronto World, March 10,1917


Society Page 7

The 45th Annual Exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists private view was a most popular event and the guest were numerous than they have been for many years. The president, Mr Jeffreys, received with Mrs. Jeffreys at the entrance to the galleries, the latter looking very handsome in a rose crepe de chine gown which contrasted well with her magnificent dark hair; she also wore a flowered chiffon scarf and a corsage bouquet of yellow roses and ferns. A few of the people present were Sir Edmund Walker,  Mr and Mrs E. F. B.  Johnston, Hon. Frederic Nicholls…


March 9, 1917 Private Viewing

March 9, 1917

It was the private viewing tonight. I didn’t go but I heard all about it afterwards. Curtis Williamson and Bill Beatty came back around 10pm and gave me the report of the evening.The show was set up in the Public Reference Library. The Toronto Art Museum has their gallery there. The attendance of the private viewing was surprisingly good, better than other years, Beatty reported. He figured that when Jefferys announced that the proceeds of the ticket sales were going to be going to the Patriotic Fund, this became a must attend event for the high society members. They want to be seen supporting the War effort. More importantly, in my estimation, they want to see their names in the papers. The society reporters like to make coverage of these events. Jefferys and his wife got all of the attention. Jim MacDonald was supposed to be there with his wife, but she got sick and they didn’t come.

Curtis said that Sampson’s picture of the Arts and Letters club members made quite the sensation with the attendees. The picture (still unfinished when it was unveiled at the club dinner in January) was a pleaser and there was a crowd around it all evening. If people like to see their names in the paper, even better, they like to see their faces in a portrait. Beatty said that Sampson did a pretty good job of it. I agree, but it’s not something I would paint.

In the end we had our own private party in the Studio Building. I brought up the whisky I got from Montreal and we finished it in short order.I like Bill and Curtis but not enough to share my true feelings with them. Everyday I am feeling more and more distant from everyone here in the City. Truth be told, I’m glad I didn’t go to the private viewing because I’d probably end up exchanging impolite words with someone.

I’m beginning to feel like a wild animal chased out from its refuge by an uncontrollable forest fire. They say that the forest can’t regenerate without these fires, but at a terrible cost to those who live there. Perhaps the Great War is the Great Fire of our country. Like the old trees, the few old men in power can only be replaced by the deaths of thousand of young men.