Jimmy MacDonald’s Not Too Well.

March 19th, 1917

Jimmy MacDonald’s not doing too well right now. Healthwise, that is.

Earlier in the fall, Jim was having trouble climbing the steps in the Studio Building. He had the top floor studio but he traded it with Bill Beatty and now he’s back in Studio One on the main floor. Studio One is the studio that Alex Jackson and I shared in early 1914.

I can understand why he’s ill. It’s the pressure and the commute. He moved to Thornhill in early 1913 from where he was living on Glenlake near Bloor and Keele. I like his place up in Thornhill, but I think the daily commute on the York and Radial is taking his toll. The mortgage is steep, he is living hand to mouth on the painting commissions he’s getting from Dr. MacCallum. It’s painfully close to being beholden charity rather than pursuing a profession. But we were all in that situation, and if it weren’t for Dr. MacCallum and Lawren Harris we wouldn’t be together as artists.

Jim first came to Algonquin in March of 1914. Alex and I were already there. We had been there for the better part of the month, at Mowat Lodge under the care and feeding of Annie Fraser. Bill Beatty came with Jim and I can see he was out of sorts in his sketching. I think the cold got to him and his sketches were a bit fudgy and muddy. If I had been him at the time, I would have burned them right away.

In addition to being ill, Jim is preoccupied with the OSA Exhibition. He never recovered his temperament after the 1916 exhibition and the critics’ attack on his canvas ‘The Tangled Garden’. He was especially livid at Carl Ahrens, the dentist-turned-art-critic. It was Ahrens who suggested that the artists be better off fighting the Hun. Jim showed me his letter that he sent to the Star. Fortunately, it was never printed, so Jim was spared the pain of falling below the level of honour of critic. I told Jim the reason I decided not to show anything at this year’s OSA Exhibition was due to Ahrens. I didn’t want to hear the words “hermaphrodite” or “white feather” directed at me, especially in print.

Only a few more days here. I’ll miss Jimmy. I doubt he’ll make it up North this summer either to Algonquin or Georgian Bay.

I doubt I’ll make it back to Toronto.

March 17, 1917: Some Pretty Good Stuff

March 17, 1917

I’ll be done soon for the night.

I managed to go see the Allen Cup Final at the Arena tonight. 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’ll be going up North soon. I doubt I’ll be doing any more work on the canvases. The news is getting grimmer everyday, and it’s becoming an unwanted preoccupation of mine to comb through the papers everyday.

Dr. MacCallum wants a list of the paintings I made this winter. Despite not showing anything at the OSA Exhibition, he feels I did some pretty good stuff and he’ll take care of selling and put the money to my account.

He wanted a list of the canvases plus the measurements. He said it’s easier to sell when you know the sizes. Some people buy just by size alone.


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 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″

I may do some more on my last canvas. I’ll see what I can do over the next few days.

I haven’t yet done a tally of the other paintings and sketches. They’re piled high and everywhere. There are a few dozen canvases, and the sketches are in the hundreds. I also made several frames to stretch the canvas on. There’s a pile to them too.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done this winter. I never did seem to settle on a technique. Each painting seemed so different in its demands of me. I’ll be glad to be getting back to sketching. When I get there, I plan to sketch every day; watch the change in the snow, the woods. Watch the ice go out, spring flowers bloom and see the trees to turn to green. In the city, I paint on canvas to escape. In the country, I escape to paint sketches. They are opposite processes.

The next few days are packing and saying my goodbyes. These may be my last goodbyes for some.

March 16, 1917: Escaping the Vortex

March 16, 1917

I can’t have any of it anymore. The City, that is.

I have to leave. I had to escape the Vortex as I now call the City.

I had heard  about the Vorticists in England. I was intrigued by what I had seen in one of the Vortex Pamphlets and the cover of BLAST. Someone brought these back from England and I saw them in the Studio Building. Vorticism was movement was led by Wyndham Lewis, a ‘Cubo-Futurist’ as Jackson called him. Vorticism was about painting a machine – bold lines and harsh colours. I was intrigued by the methods, though the subject of machines was not for me.

Jackson had mentioned Lewis several times, but not in a good way, on account of his worry of my ‘cubistical tendencies’ as he called them. The Vorticists were short-lived – broken up by the War. Like the Vorticists, our group too, was being broken up because of the war. Lismer in Bedford, Jackson in England, Harris in Barrie, and soon myself up North.

It was Ezra Pound that actually coined the term ‘Vorticist.’ I was intrigued by this coinage because I liked the power Pound could put into ordinary words. He liked to write what I called ‘bastardized Haikus’. The parallel between his inspiration from Japanese poetic form was similar to Van Gogh and his inspiration from Japanese prints. Van Gogh’s two-dimensional focus on an image was like words being lifted out from a three dimensional prose of nothingness. Pound’s “red wheelbarrow glazed with rain” was like my my Jack Pine in front of Carcajou Bay. Pound called them luminous details. The luminosity I achieved in my canvases was to let the vermilion grounding show through.

Well, the vortex is spinning faster and faster fueled  by the drumbeat of war.  Borden is looking for fifty thousand men – ‘strength of the Dominion’ he calls it. Trouble is that the has no inkling of the strength he has. and no one is eager to volunteer anymore. This has led to rather unpleasant, impromptu and forced call-ups in the theatres (I don’t go anymore). The White Feather Brigade has their little sparrows spying on houses and confronting lone men and shaming them in public. I’ve even seen the shaming happen during a church service. The pastor sets the cue during the sermon, and the little birdies begin their pious chirping in unison. It’s an ugly scene to see in what is supposed to be a sanctuary of worship.  The Women’s Temperance Union is in full swing too. Ever since the prohibition, the Studio Building has been a target of these women. The other day,  Bill Beatty and Art Heming had to forcibly eject a women screaming at the top of her lungs. She was screaming that the Studio Building should be rid of its artists and liquor and turned into an infirmary for the men returning from the front. The little birdies are everywhere.

I no longer feel comfortable walking the streets alone. Single young men (if you can still call me that) are the target. These past few days, I’ve only gone out with Florence at my side. With Florence being a few years older, people think, that as her husband, I’m above the drafting age forty-five so they leave me be.

This is no life the City I have to leave soon. With my sketching, I may be able to do my duty up North – home defence as they call it. I’m sure it will be different than a Ranger’s job, but my sketching will come first.

Lawren Harris Likes Van Gogh

March 14, 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.

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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.
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