December 30, 1916 The Old Year’s Soiree

TT ProfileDecember 30, 1916

I’m writing this early in the morning of the last day of the old year of 1916. It’s Sunday morning but it still feels like Saturday night. It was past midnight when we returned from the soiree at Annan Hall. I walked back with Harkness family – Tom, Elizabeth and Jessie. They went up to bed but I decided to stay down in the front room to smoke my pipe and reflect on the day before I went to bed.

I like sitting in this front room. There are shelves of books from floor to ceiling. It feels like a library, in fact it was for a period of time. Tom’s father, Gideon was the organizing force behind the Lakeshore library association and offered this room as the library. Old Mrs Harkness was quite pleased at this arrangement. Not only did this collection of books cater to her refined taste of literature, the regular visits from people up the line kept her up to date on all of the concession gossip. In due time, when books became cheaper, the Lakeshore association combined with Leith, the collection moved to the church basement and the responsibility taken over by the temperance society. Old Mrs. Harkness no longer could get her gossip. I feel that libraries must have souls or leave spirits behind. Although the library is no longer in this house, I can feel that there still is something otherworldly here.

Earlier in the day, Tom and Elizabeth were preoccupied with getting ready for the soiree. The phone kept ringing off the hook and Elizabeth was making calls to the other ladies to make sure there were enough desserts and for others to arrive early enough to set things up (arrive at 7pm for the start of the soiree at 8pm). For the rest of the morning, I decided to get out of the way by taking a walk to Slattery’s Mill. I wanted to see the waterfall and took my sketching book to make a drawing. I got back by noon, in time for dinner. Jessie was helping with Elizabeth’s desserts and dinner.

We made it to Annan Hall by 7pm. I offered to come along and set up. They were expecting almost a hundred people to come so it was going to be a crowded affair. The recent opening of Annan Hall was symbol of progress and this soiree was a mark of this progress. The farms in the area were getting pretty well-equipped. The Annan Hall signalled the beginning of a new era and end of an old era – the era of the barn dance.

When we arrived there were a few other women and girls already setting up. I recognized Mrs. Julyan and her daughter Louise. They live below the hill on the farm beside John Harkness (Gideon’s brother and Tom’s uncle). I remembered Louise as a little girl when I went out West to Seattle. That was fifteen years ago and, now, well into her twenties, she’s blossomed into a fine woman. I wondered why she wasn’t married off yet. When she told me she was taking classes to become an artist, I laughed. That explained why she wasn’t married. Men don’t want to marry women artists. Florence McGillivray told me that being a women artist is the recipe for spinsterhood. Louise replied that the answer to that conundrum was for the woman to marry another artist.  My response, “That’s the way to guarantee that both live in utter abject poverty.”

I asked Louise where she was taking lessons. I was astonished to hear that she was taking lessons from Charles M. Manly at the Ontario College of Art. I know Manly and consider him to be the worst painter in Canada. I didn’t say anything and kept the conversation going. I learned that she was staying at the YWCA on Elm St in Toronto and was returning on January 2nd –  the same day as me. “We’ll sit together, then!” she pronounced. I smiled. She’d be good company on the train.

Our conversation got cut short by a loud bang that came from the stage. A stack of wooden chairs brought up from the floor fell over. The chairs all tumbled off the stage and onto the floor. A kid of about twelve years of age had a shocked and sheepish look on his face betraying that he was the culprit of this unfortunate event. I stepped over, quickly scooped the chairs up and winked at him as I set them back on the stage. He smiled with relief and began to push the chairs to the back of the stage. As they slid on the stage floor, the chairs gave out an awful screeching and chattering noise, not less unpleasant than fingernails on the slate board. His mother scolded him and he was relieved from providing further assistance.

The floor cleared of chairs, we pulled the piano across to be close to side door. I always wondered why the piano had to be close to the side door for dances such as these. Maybe for the necessity of a quick exit if the crowd turned against the poor pianist. My guess it was for the occasional waft of necessary fresh air. The smoke would get pretty thick as the evening progressed and the last thing you wanted were musicians with an insufficiency of oxygen.

At eight, the crowds came in. The drill shed across the road was filled with the arriving horses and so was the general store stable. The music and dance began, and the shouts and laughter were loud that they could be heard throughout the village.

At ten, the desserts came out  and the so did the tea. The dainty sandwiches were cut into fancy shapes (and with no crust). There were salads, cakes, cookies, brownies and taffy. Someone brought one of those awful carrot-jelly dishes and I felt its presence in the hall. I made sure to avoid it at all cots. There was bottled coke (supplied by the association – only one allowed per guest), lemonade and fruit punch. There was no liquor as temperance was in high fashion. But liquor was available – if you discreetly exited the side door, as I witnessed the pianist do numerous times between musical numbers.

Several times, I joined the band playing the violin. That earned me the right to exit the side door to enjoy the special refreshment. Since the band was playing on the floor and not on the stage, it was easy to join in, melt away into the crowd, or exit the side door.

The evening was loud and fun and and enjoyed by everyone. We stopped at midnight, and had everything back in order before 1 am. Technically, it was Sunday, and we should not have been doing that sort of work on the Lord’s Day, but during the holidays, it was permissible to extend a few extra hours of Saturday into Sunday.

Back at the Harkness house, with a few quiet moments to myself, I realized my inability to sleep didn’t arise from the events of the day but from the creeping anticipation of returning to Toronto to work on my canvases. I am thinking about how to finish the one I had on the easel. I am experimenting with a different way to colour the sky. I wouldn’t be able to scrape that off now. I would have to paint over it if I didn’t like it. I’m thinking what to do with these canvases. Hardwoods didn’t sell in Montreal. I am wondering if I should even bother with the spring exhibition. Maybe I should give up the painting business altogether.

December 29, 1916 Different Musings on the War

TT ProfileDecember 29, 1916

A few passages on the meaning of war that have jumped out at me from my reading during the holidays.

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“Let us beware of saying that death is the opposite of life. The living being is only a species of the dead, and a very rare species.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 1882.

“The last sixteen months have been the most glorious in the history of Europe. Heroism has come back to the earth. It is good for the world that such things should be done. The old heart of the earth needed to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefield. Such august homage was never before offered to God as this, the homage of millions of lives given gladly for love of country.”

– Padraig Pearse, 1916

‘If you will now observe what is happening in this war – the cruelties and injustices for which the most civilized nations are responsible, the different way in which they judge their own lies and wrong-doings and those of their enemies, and the general lack of insight which prevails – you will have to admit that psycho-analysis has been right in both its theses’.

Sigmund Freud, 1914

December 28, 1916 A Visit to the Harknesses

TT ProfileDecember 28, 1916

Tom Harkness telephoned and said that I should come to Annan today and stay until the New Year. Tom is married to my sister Elizabeth. They still have one daughter living at home, Jessie, my favourite niece.

My parents don’t have a telephone, they don’t see the need for one. Tom telephoned the Owen Sound office of Sydenham Mutual on 8th St. and had one of the telegraph boys deliver the message to my parents’ house. Tom was one of the earlier ones to get a telephone in the township – back in 1908. He was one of the founding directors of the Leith and Annan Telephone Company. Rev. Fraser, to my surprise, was one of the founding directors too. I thought the Reverend would see the telephone as a purveyor of evil – only recently, did Presbyterians allow organs into churches and I doubted that they would embrace the use of the telephone. But he did.

In his telephone message, Tom said I should bring my violin along. The Annan Community Hall soiree was going to be held on Saturday night, and it promised to be a big to-do. The construction of the hall was just completed last September, and at the annual general meeting in October, it was decided to hold a soiree on December 30th. Tom is also a founding director of the hall association and president too. My sister Elizabeth is the head of the Annan’s Women’s Institute and the chair of the organizing committee for the soiree. I must admit, I know people of influence who live in Annan.

The weather was good, so I decided to walk along the shore to Annan. The first part of the journey, I followed the CPR line along the factories on the east shore, then as the line turned south, I headed north toward Leith. It hadn’t snowed for a few days, so the road was packed down by sleds from the past few days. In winter, the Leith shore road is tricky because the northwesterly winds from the bay bring snow and drifting. It wasn’t unusual for the road to be impassable for days at a time. The longer, but more reliable way to get to Annan is to take a Meaford stage to Bothwell’s corners and a horse and sled to Annan. But with the weather, I decided to take the walk along the shore.

The bay hadn’t frozen over yet. Despite it being cold, the winds had prevented the bay from freezing over. The ice kept breaking up, and refreezing, so there was about a half mile of frozen rough ice to the still open water. All it would take is one cold calm night and the bay would be frozen completely over and smooth enough to skate on all the way from Leith to Owen Sound. I could see the dark blue water in contrast to the snow covered ice. I doubt it would be frozen by New Year, but most certainly before January was out.

I made it to Leith without much trouble and then walked up to Annan. The Harkness farm is the second farm just north of the village. Their house is a fine fieldstone house. Tom’s father, Gideon and his brother John were both stone masons from Scotland. They came to Canada to work on the St James Cathedral, then moved on to Galt, and finally came here to Annan.

We had a good supper. Elizabeth remarked that my violin made the journey intact and I remembered that Aunt Henrietta had baked some sweetbreads for the soiree. I produced these and Elizabeth set them aside in the kitchen. Tomorrow, she would be doing making her contribution of desserts. Jessie was home too. She told me she’s engaged to be married next summer, to a fellow named Fisk who has a grocery store in Owen Sound. I brought my sketchbook, and made a pencil sketch of her, while sitting by the fire. There’s no better way to end a winter day than sitting by a fire, reading or sketching.

 

December 27, 1916 Conscientious Objector

TT ProfileDecember 27, 1916

It’s becoming clearer now, my father, if he was in my situation would become a conscientious objector.

Because of his views and opinion, my father is a considered to be liberal in the church. Ever since the beginning of the war, the tensions between the conservative and the liberal elements within Knox Presbyterian had increased, but nothing had boiled over yet. Of course there were the many debates about the technical aspects of the virgin birth and the resurrection, etc., but my father never bothered with those discussions. What concerned him more, was the meaning of the being a Christian. Like my father, I was witnessing the two divides increasing in the church – those whose interests were in using the scriptures to preserve the status quo, and those who felt it was their mission to help the poor and right social injustices – ‘Social Gospel’ as some called it.

The division in the Owen Sound parish wasn’t as deep as I’ve witnessed in Rosedale. My reasoning is that the influx of immigrants hadn’t reached this far north yet. The pressure of the newly-arrived immigrants was keenly felt in Toronto and many felt that the influx was a threat to their “superior” status. Measures needed to be taken to contain the immigrants (as in St John’s Ward) or to rid them of their “lesser ways”. Billy Sunday, the preacher, was the popular figure for these folks. Billy, an American, was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in 1903 but had taken a evangelical turn.  An old-fashioned preacher of old-time religion, he was a champion of temperance and bible-based intolerance (that’s what I called it). He was champion for business barons too and I suspected that these business barons underwrote his tour. He had toured across most America, and in some parts of Canada. I saw Billy last March when he was in Toronto, whipping up the congregation into a frenzy. He congratulated Canada for being in the War, and he was clearly frustrated that America had not yet declared its intentions. I didn’t like him. I got the sense that he was a blunt tool used by the rich to encourage the poor to send their sons off to the War, and to increase the profits for the factory owners by feeding the War machine.

My father said he saw parishioners enlist by the dozens after the recruiting drive by the 147th Grey Battalion. By the time it had departed for Camp Borden in early October, it was thousand men in strength. In early November, the 147th went to Halifax and then overseas. I knew that because I saw the troop train loading at Allandale Junction the same time I was returning to Toronto from the Park. The recruiting wasn’t going to let up.  The 248th Overseas Battalion had just been created in September to send another thousand men into battle by the spring of 1917.

I remember wanting to enlist in the Boer War in 1899. That was after I quit the Kennedy foundry and went back to help on the farm. My father, knowing I was looking for adventure (not fighting) convinced me to go on the Harvest Excursion instead. He got a hired hand, named William Bone to take on the work on the farm. In the end, only five men from Sydenham went to fight the Boers. Two were killed. I knew one of them, Bertrand Day, from Daywood on the Lakeshore Line. A fellow trooper, John McCarthur wrote that he got separated from his regiment when the Boers started shelling their camp. He wandered for a day before running into in bunch of Boers who killed him. The news of his death hit his family hard. The next year, I heard, they had troubles on the farm and in the the spring, the neighbours had to do the planting because the father couldn’t stop the drinking. The family had to leave the farm by the fall. I don’t know where they went.

December 26, 1916 Boxing Day

TT ProfileDecember 26, 1916

Today is Boxing Day and yesterday was Christmas, of course.

We had a quiet but busy celebration yesterday. Of my brothers and sisters, I was the only one to be at home with our parents for Christmas. They’re all spread about the continent or have families of their own for Christmas. I’m the exception of course. Not married, not having a regular salaried job, a free spirit as my father likes to call me. Free to come home as I wish.

We went to Knox Presbyterian for the Christmas morning service. The church was jammed to the rafters. My parents and Aunt Henrietta had their reserved spot in the front pews, but it was so full that I had to sit up in one of the balconies. The sanctuary in the church is squarer than the usual layout, and doesn’t allow for man y pews. To make up for the shortfall in space, the church has three balconies – one at the back and two on each side. I managed to get in the back balcony. Looking down I could see the Reverend, looking straight across, I could see the pipes of the organ. It was these pipes, and their shapes that I studied during the service – the Reverend looked so small and insignificant down below.

The service started at 11:00am and finished promptly at 12:00 noon. On Christmas, the Reverend knew better than to extend his sermon, because many would be rushing home right after to attend to the Christmas dinner. A large contingent of the congregation, having grown up on farms, had not yet switched to having large dinner at night. The big meal was at still at noon 12:30 on Sundays or holidays) and the evening supper was more like the lunches we’d have in the city.

We returned home, and had our Christmas meal in the front dining room. Aunt Henrietta had everything set up before we left for church, the turkey was on its way to being finished in the oven, and the potatoes and vegetables were peeled, sitting in pots. Upon return from church, the stove needed only a quick stoking up, and the potatoes and vegetables were boiling in no time.

After Christmas dinner, and some cursory cleaning up, we sat in the front sitting room to exchange gifts. I made two pen and ink sketches for my parents, and another for Aunt Henrietta. I had framed the two for my parents (from the storm window panes I salvaged in Rosedale) and the other for Aunt Henrietta, I set the drawing in between two pieces of cardboard. She likes to store the sketches, pressed into books, instead of putting them on walls. She does the same for wildflowers. You can’t open a book in the house, without a dried pressed flower falling out.

When my mother and Aunt Henrietta, were cleaning up, my father brought up the topic of the War. As a father he didn’t want me to go, but understood the necessity for more recruits. It was my choice, but the biggest consideration was my mother. Although we were a family of nine children, there was a tenth, my younger brother James. He was born when I was five, and I remember when he died the next summer before I turned six. There wasn’t much said, and two more children (Margaret and Fraser) came shortly thereafter. But my mother did not recover completely from the loss of James. Father said that if she lost another child, it would be the death of her. And that still was the case today. All of her boys were married, except for me, and I was the one at greatest chance of going overseas to fight especially if conscription was to come about. So that’s what my father wanted to tell me.

We had a fine rest of the Christmas Day. It was a good day today too. We received a telephone message from my sister and brother-in-law, Elizabeth and Tom in Annan, that there was going to be a big soiree at the new Annan Hall on Saturday night. The hall had just been built. Tom is on the Hall Committee, and Elizabeth is a member of the Women’s Institute and the organizer of this year’s soiree. I decided to spend another day in Owen Sound and then I would make my way out to Annan. I could take a stage to Bothwell’s corners, and then a sleigh to Tom and Elizabeth’s farm, but if the weather holds up, I may just walk the shore road to Leith and then go up the Lakeshore line.

I didn’t think much about my paintings today. It’s good to have a break.

 

December 24,1916 Fireplace Motto

TT ProfileDecember 24, 1916

With the cold weather I’m reminded of a poem that was read to dedicate the new fireplace at the Arts and Letters Club in 1911

Friend, within this very room
Many a fellow heard his doom.
You’re still at large! Think in return
How good it is to live and learn.

Have a warm Christmas, everyone!

Affectionately,

‘Tom’

December 22, 1916 The Pavilion and the Harbour

TT ProfileDecember 22, 1916

Today was a day of walking around the town. I had a fine breakfast in the morning prepared by my Aunt Henrietta. Both of my parents are well into their 70’s now and slowing down. Aunt Henrietta, in her early 60’s has taken up the bulk of the housework from my mother. When my parents decided in 1877 to move to Leith (I was an infant), Aunt Henrietta decided to come along to help out. She was 21 at the time and not married off yet, so the best prospect she had was to help set up the Rose Hill homestead in Leith She never did marry and stayed with my parents. She’s like a second mother to me, and in some ways a second wife to my father.

Shortly after I left for Seattle, my parents sold Rose Hill. They stayed at Tom and Elizabeth’s in Annan for a while and then moved into town above 8th St. E. Hill. Shortly after they bought land near the Sydenham River just southeast of downtown and built this house, a smart looking red brick house, not near the size of Rose Hill but but less drafty too. The Presbyterian church is only a few blocks away, they can walk it in the summer and take the horse and carriage in the winter.

I took a walk through Harrison Bush. The bush had recently become a park in 1912 and is a popular destination in the summer – the winter less so. The Pavilion is a popular gathering spot after the Friday and Saturday early movies at the Classic Theatre. The mile drive, which ran the perimeter of the park became a popular attraction for the young folk, much to the chagrin  of the town father, because the mile walk through the woods gave opportunity for couples to steal kisses from each other. The family picnics on Sunday after church, it was forbidden to walk the mile drive without an adult chaperone.

Because it was the dead of winter, there was no such romantic activity today on the mile drive. The woods were quiet, but I did hear some shouting coming from the direction of the Pavilion. I double-backed to see what was the commotion, and I found the Park Caretaker, Mr. Anderson, hanging onto two boys of about 15 years.

“Your parents will have to pay for damage, and we’ll have to get the police involved!” Mr. Anderson was waving toward the Pavilion, and then he saw me.

“These boys broke in! Come to think of it, what are you doing here?” I could see he was beginning to suspect me of the same intention.

“Just walking to enjoy the weather. I’m Tom Thomson, son of John Thomson, just up on 4th Avenue.”

I could see his glaze of suspicion disappear immediately. “You’re the Thomson boy, artist in Toronto. I seen some articles about you.”

“Do you need any help with those boys, you have?”

“No, sir. I know both their mothers. They both belong to the I.O.D.E and I know they’ll be none too pleased.” With that statement, he let the two boys go and shooed them out of the park. “I’ll take care of you too later!”

After inspecting the damage (which was minor), and exchanging some more pleasantries, I was back on my way. I walked north through the downtown streets. I wanted to go the harbour and see who was wintering there. I didn’t have a chance when I arrived by train.

The Owen Sound harbour was full of passenger and freight steamers. There were several tugs too.  I could see the Assiniboine, Keewatin, Manitoba, Alberta, Athabaska, Manitoba, and I couldn’t quite see the last one, but I’m sure it was the Caribou. The freighters, Algonquin and Turret Crown were there too.  In 1901 I took the Assiniboine to go out West to work in the Harvest Excursion. After the Excursion I continued West to Seattle to join my brother George.

I walked up St. Mary’s Hill, and along the bluffs to take in the view of the frozen bay. I came back down 8th Street Hill, making it back to my parents by late afternoon. They were used to me not showing up for dinner in the middle of the day, so they had dinner ready in the evening instead. We had a good time talking, no serious discussions though. The serious topics would be saved until after Christmas. After dinner we sat in the front room. My father played the piano and I played accompaniment  with my violin that I had left behind. I never had the urge to bring it with me on my travels but it felt good to play it whenever I came back home. I am glad to be here, in a nice warm house with plenty of food and drink, but I feel like I’m living on borrowed time. The daily papers remind us constantly of war and the sacrifices that everyone expects to be made of each other. It’s two days before Christmas and I’ll try to keep those thoughts of sacrifice at bay, until at least after Christmas.