January 13, 1917 Log Drive

January 13, 1917

TT ProfileSummer 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

TT Profile“Slacker”

“Beware of the Green-Eye Monster”

“Conscription”

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

TT ProfileIt 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

TT ProfileIt’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

TT ProfileStudio Building, 25 Severn Toronto

Dear Winnie,

Thank you for the Christmas gifts. I received the parcel when I got back to Toronto. I needed socks. My visit to Owen Sound was a swell time. I got to see Tom and Elizabeth in Annan.  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. I don’t mind because I plan to get a lot of painting done. I hope to get back up North and 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 everything they can for fuel and that makes for bad creosote fires that are impossible to put out. Usually the whole house goes down.

I hope work is going well. The women are working in the munitions factory and they are looking for more. The women’s employment bureau opened on Bay St. and there is always a line up. 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 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,

Tom

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

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January 3, 1917

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

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

Name:
Age:
Place of birth:
Nationality:
Parentage:
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?