March 21, 1917 Green-Eye Monster

March 21, 1917

Today, I got called (once again) a slacker. It happened as I passed by the employment office on Bay St. Three soldiers were standing in front with grins on their faces that were anything but friendly. I could tell that they knew I should be signing up. The recruiting efforts have been turning in poor numbers and the talk of conscription has started in earnest. The soldiers are calling it the “Revenge of the Green-Eye Monster” rounding up the slackers to fight overseas. I was no longer looking at the three soldiers; I was staring the Green-Eye Monster in the face. It’s time to leave.

March 18, 1917 Last Canvas on the Easel

March 18, 1917

Last canvas is on the easel. West Wind. I’m not finished with it but it’s finished with me. If I can live with it until the week is out, I promise I won’t touch it unless it touches me first.  Its greatest danger is me being around. If I do, I can wreak a god-like wrath on my creation. Complete destruction, or a worse fate, an abandoned disfigurement, like the men who’ve returned from the war, suffering and refusing to tell their stories.

Not much here that’s mine. I’m a man of few means. I’ve given away more than my share, which makes the ordinary church tithe look shameful, except none of it ever went to a church. Never take more with you than what you can portage. On the Grand Trunk, don’t take so much that they charge you extra. But you still end giving a tip to the porter, so keep it to what you can carry yourself.

Always have two fishing poles: one split bamboo, the other a steel rod. Take with you the flies of the summer months (no need for the winter flies, the ice is frozen), but always carry  lures with you, like my home-made lures, made from Annie’s old spoons found in the pile of peelings out back. I bring these back to the City. I bring them to the place of my childhood and will be bringing them, once again, up North. They never leave me. They will probably go with me to the depths of the lake.

There are four seasons in the world, but there are only two in my mind – painting and no-painting. Or the season in the City and the season to be out of the damned place. As Lismer once said, ‘Toronto is a good place – to get out of!’ I miss him.  I miss Jackson. The machine has torn our world apart, and it’s looking for more to tear apart: families, photos of loved ones (struck through by a bullet) and the bodies of young men. Factories for farm implements now churn out munitions and ordnance that rumble out on the daily trains to Montreal, Halifax and then overseas to battle, if they aren’t sunk by U-boats. Battles can be regaled in romantic poems of glory. But there is no appropriate verse for unrestricted warfare; it requires the deaths of another five million men or the strafing of souls left to sink in the North Atlantic to discover the glory of a new verse.

What is painting, then? A useless act? ‘Leave your paintbrushes and take up a rifle in the trenches.’ When all is dead and done in No Man’s Land, the poppies still grow. Why fight? Why win? When enemies pray to the same god before fighting to the death, who gets turned away at the gates?

March 17, 1917 Allan Cup

March 17, 1917

Earlier this evening I went to see the Allan Cup Final at the Arena. The Riversides beat the St. Patricks 7-3. So much for the Irish on St Paddy’s Day. The Riversides managed to stay ahead on the score for whole game. The Pats managed to punch in two goals in the second and one in the third, but the Riversides kept adding even more for insurance. Thus, the Irishmen did not prove beyond all contradiction that they are far superior to anyone and everything on the face of the earth. A good game, and a few good fights on the street to even out some unsettled scores made by the spectators.

I doubt I’ll be doing any more work on my canvases. The news is getting grimmer every day, and it’s becoming an unwanted preoccupation of mine to comb through the papers.

Dr. MacCallum wants a list of the paintings I made this winter.  He feels I did some pretty good stuff despite me not showing anything at the Spring Exhibition. He said that he’ll take care of selling my canvases while I’m gone for the summer.

List of canvases:

  1. Snow in October 32″x35″
  2. Early Snow 18″ x 18″
  3. Maple Saplings, October 36″ x 40″
  4. Woodland Waterfall 48″ x 52″
  5. Pointers (Pageant of the North) 38″ x 45″
  6. Chill November 34″ x 40″
  7. The Fisherman 20″ x 22″
  8. The Drive 47″ x 54″
  9. Jack Pine 50″ x 55″
  10. West Wind 47″ x 54″ (not finished)

I’m pleased with what I’ve done this winter. I’ve different things, but I never settled on one technique. Each canvas is different in its demands of me. I’m done with canvases, and I’m glad to be getting back to sketching. I’ll watch the change in the light, the snow, and the woods. I’ll watch the ice go out, spring flowers bloom and see the trees turn to green. I’ll capture each moment before it disappears forever.  In the city, I paint to escape. In the country, I escape to paint

March 16, 1917 Letter to Shannon

March 16, 1917

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 many 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 in 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’re 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.

I hope all is well  with the Mrs and your mother. Remember me to Mildred too.

Yours truly,

Tom Thomson

March 14, 1917 Morning with Florence

March 14, 1917

In the morning, I walked with Florence to the street car. She’s going back to Whitby so  we said our goodbyes. She said she would try to visit me later in the spring when I am up north.

This afternoon I continued to work on my canvas. I may be able to get another one done before I leave, but I’m not banking on it. The afternoon sun is becoming stronger by the day. It’s not yet the Equinox; spring is arriving and winter is waning.

March 13, 1917 O.S.A. Annual Meeting

March 13, 1917

This evening I attended the Annual Meeting of the Ontario Society of Artists. I was invited to be a member so it’s my duty to attend. I arrived at 6:00pm and helped set up the chairs and lectern. About 40 people were in attendance. I took a seat in the back, and Florence, arriving late, sat beside me.

In the front row sat George Reid and his wife Mrs. (Mary) Reid. George is the principal of the School of Art, a man of public stature. 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 sitting beside Mary Wrinch.

The proceedings were a dry series of formalities, interrupted by occasional coughing and wheezing. I could barely hear Jefferys read his report (he mumbles).  But I did hear that the Ontario Government was not making any purchases this year, but the National Gallery in Ottawa continued buying. Jefferys lamented that the Canadian National Exhibition Selection Committee is stuck on French and Belgian works to the exclusion of anything North American.

My main reason for going was to vote for  the new  members: Florence, Frank Carmichael and ‘Franz’ Johnston (don’t call him Frank).  Frank and ‘Franz’ both got a unanimous vote. For Florence (she was sitting beside me, gripping my hand during the vote), the support was not nearly as strong. About ten members abstained and I couldn’t see up to the front who voted against. Regardless of the objectors, Florence is now a member.

After the meeting, I offered to walk Florence back to where she is staying with her friends. But she wanted to stay with me. We got back to the Shack around 11pm and the electricity was out once again. We had to make do with the kerosene light. It’s past midnight now. Florence is sleeping in my bunk. Once I finish this entry, I’ll be back on the floor.

March 9,1917 Private Viewing

March 9, 1917

The private viewing for the Spring Exhibition happened tonight. I didn’t go but I heard about it afterwards. Curtis Williamson and Bill Beatty came back late in the evening and gave me a full report. The Exhibition is set up in the Public Reference Library where the Toronto Art Museum has their gallery. Bill said the attendance of the private viewing was surprisingly good – better than other years. He said that when Charles Jefferys announced that the proceeds of ticket sales were going to the Patriotic Fund, it became a must-attend event for Society members. Everyone wants to be seen as supporting the War effort. More importantly, in my estimation, everyone wants to see their names in print as these events are covered well in the newspapers. Jim MacDonald was supposed to be there but Bill said that his wife got sick and they didn’t come.

Curtis said that Sammy Sampson’s picture of the members of Arts and Letters Club was a pleaser. A crowd was 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. Bill added that Sammy did a good job of the painting, it reminded him of the School of Athens. I agree with Bill. I saw Sammy working on it in January but it’s not something I would paint.

March 5th, 1917 Letter to Winnie

Studio Building, Severn St. Toronto
March 5, 1917
Winnie Trainor, Huntsville

Dear Winnie

I hope this letter finds you well. I’m sorry I haven’t written you sooner but I have been busy painting these past few weeks. I have got quite a bit done. I don’t go out much and I try to avoid the crowds in case I meet up with unfriendly folk that want to make a show of someone that should be fighting overseas. I’ll be happy to leave the city. I am planning to go up in the spring as soon as possible.
Thank you for the socks. As for Joyce, I’ve read his stories in the magazines. I should read his book. Can you bring it with you to Canoe Lake? I’ll check the cottage and will write you if there is any problem. This War is rotten. It’s having a toll on Jim MacDonald. His wife is sick and Jim looks like a shadow of himself. Jim tried to convince me to submit to the O.S.A Spring Exhibition but I decided not to.
With all the snow and cold I doubt the ice won’t be out until May and you probably won’t make it to the cabin until Victoria Day. I’ll write you when I arrive a Canoe Lake.

Affectionately yours,