Saturday, 31 October 2020

Upon a Hill in East York

 A painting we've known well for many decades has recently attracted our more studied attention.

We’ve always been aware of the locale it depicts.  It was painted in a picturesque valley in East York, a little east of Dawes Rd, part of the area now called Taylor Creek Park.  In 1897, Walter Massey (President of the Massey Harris Company) purchased 240 acres of farmland in that valley, calling it Dentonia Park in honour of his wife, Susan Marie Denton.  They developed the existing farm into a prosperous and forward-looking dairy farm (supplying Walter’s Toronto City Dairy Company) that also produced eggs, poultry, and trout.

Three impressive homes were built in the parklands at various times (one still stands, near the north edge of the Park, a tudor-style house now used by the Children’s Peace Theatre).  Several members of the extended Massey family lived in Dentonia Park in the ensuing years.  Sadly and ironically, Walter Massey died in 1901 of typhoid fever at the age of 37, but Susan carried on the farm’s operation and its dedication to providing safe pasteurized milk to a large part of Toronto’s population.

In about 1926, in memory of her husband, Susan donated 60 acres of the land to the City of Toronto for use as a public park, requiring the name Dentonia Park to be preserved (it’s now the City-owned Dentonia Park Golf Course). Then, in 1933, she donated another 40 acres, including two fine large houses, to Crescent School, an independent school for boys.  The greater of those two houses became the School’s main building; the lesser, called Denton House, provided accommodation for members of staff and their families.

Our father’s first employment after he returned from overseas service in WWII was as a teacher at Crescent School.  Thus Denton House became our family’s home from 1945 till the summer of 1950.  It was almost certainly during that period that our Auntie Bert painted the painting shown above.  It looks eastward across a pond toward a steep slope in the background, beyond the top of which would have been the Crescent School main building.

Now we come to the puzzle.  The painting shows a white-ish structure at the top of the slope that is rather curious, apparently with three tall, narrow, open arches, each one rounded at the top (the shape of the openings is especially clear in one of three rougher sketches we have of the same composition).  There may be a roof or turret visible at the left-most end of the structure.  But what could that structure be?

I recently set out to search for photographs of the Massey house and Crescent School, but the search turned up very little.  There was a Toronto Star article in 1933, reporting Susan Denton Massey’s donation to Crescent School, that had an excellent photo of what turns out to be the east-facing front of the big house, but there is not much else to be found.

There’s a chimney on the left of the photo whose top part bears a slight resemblance to the mysterious structure in the painting.  At first it seemed to me to be out of scale (too large) to be a chimney, and I even wondered if it was a bell tower, but I’ve since seen another photo from almost the same angle showing clearly that it was a brick chimney, and that at one time the top part was not present (I don’t know which photo was earlier, though).

Enlarging the photo, it’s evident that someone (perhaps the Toronto Star photo editor?) has rather clumsily used some sort of pen or marker to emphasize the outlines of the structure, and even the lines of the roof below it.  Very odd.

We’ve had a family debate about whether the top of this chimney could have been visible, peeking up above the brow of the slope, from the distant spot below where Bertha was painting.  I don’t believe it could have been.  A study of the two photos’ angles of view (aided by an aerial photo that is discussed below) shows that the chimney had to be quite close to the front (the east end) of the house.  It was therefore almost certainly not tall enough to be visible from a viewpoint far to the west and below the slope.  And even if it had been, it is not nearly large enough to be the structure depicted in the painting, and the openings in the top part are the wrong shape.

What other structures might there have been?  Large scale Fire Insurance Plans from the early part of the twentieth century can be enormously helpful in answering such questions, but when I searched, I found that their coverage does not extend into Dentonia Park itself (among those I can access online, anyway).  If no Plans were made, I speculate that it might be because there weren’t enough buildings on the large site to justify the surveying work.

I did, however, come across a few rather grainy and indistinct aerial photos of Dentonia Park.  This one from 1947 shows the two houses, and it can be seen that the larger house, the Crescent School main building (whose east-facing front entrance is shown in the photo above), extended a long way westward, almost to the top of the slope.  There appear to be some odd-shaped features at that west end.  Is it one of those that could be seen from across the pond?

A good friend of our family is related to the Masseys on his mother’s side.  He was a visitor to Dentonia Park during his boyhood years, in the years after our family had moved away.  We have showed him the painting and asked him if he could remember such a building, but he has no recollection of it.

Is it possible it didn’t ever exist?  There is an old tradition in grand English country estates of placing classical-looking structures in carefully selected locations where they will provide points of artistic focus in the pastoral vistas, so carefully designed to look completely natural.  They are usually referred to as follies.  It occurs to me to wonder, sometimes, whether Bertha put a structure into her painting that wasn’t actually there, but which she thought might have been placed there if the Masseys had wanted a folly.  Or, perhaps the top of the chimney was visible, and she used it as the basis for an enlarged but imaginary folly.

This week I decided to email the Crescent School office staff (still at the campus on Bayview Avenue to which the School moved in 1969).  Marketing and Communications Specialist Leigh Bowser replied promptly, writing that they don’t know of any relevant archival photos, but pointing me to a video on youtube, a 2005 DVD celebrating the history of the School, 1913 – 2004, in old photos and film footage.  Click HERE.

There’s nothing conclusive in the video – but in the oldest footage from Dentonia Park there is part of an unidentified building with at least one arched opening of the right sort of shape and size.  Tantalizing!

My great hope is that someone who reads this posting will recognize the view from the pond’s edge, and help us solve the mystery!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Connecting the Dots

In the decades-old puzzles known as ‘connect the dots’, the dots are sequentially numbered. Traditionally they are for children, who learn to reveal a mystery picture by finding and joining the dots in the proper sequence. Recently more difficult versions intended for adults have become popular as well. One might say that exploring family history is like 'connect the dots’  – except that few dots have numbers, and many dots are missing or hidden, at least at the outset.

It’s always important to distinguish between that which can be known with a degree of certainty based on documentary and physical evidence, and that which is more speculative. I was reminded of this when my partner and I visited the Markham Museum recently. In addition to the fine new Museum building, there is a large outdoor area where the ‘exhibits' are a variety of heritage buildings representing various periods of Markham’s history, furnished and presented just as they would have been back in their day. Among the exhibits are several houses, a Baptist Church from 1848 (moved to the Museum site literally brick by brick), a sawmill, a General Store, a railway station and railway cars. We had the special pleasure of being given a full tour by a friend of ours who works there. As always we had the benefits of her wide knowledge and her sparkling enthusiasm; in addition, she was scrupulously careful to distinguish between dates and names and other details that are well-established on the historical record, and those that are less certain.

In our exploration of Bertha M Ingle’s life and work, we face the same need. But speculation and guesswork should certainly not be disallowed. We should treat intuition in the manner of scientific hypotheses, ideas that help to guide the design of experiments or the search for historical information.

As an example, I’ve mentioned in earlier postings the two paintings, both Peel County landscapes, that Bertha M Ingle donated to the William Perkins Bull Collection in the early 1930s. We’ve long puzzled over how that donation came about, and what connections Bertha may have had with other artists represented in the Collection. We’re pretty sure she knew a few of them. Or might it have had to do with her Burton family cousins, who owned a farm near Churchville, where the scenes are thought to be located, and with whom Bertha kept in touch through the years? Could it have come about because of the interest and support given by Sir Charles G D Roberts to William Perkins Bull and his endeavours?

Birch Trees and Autumn Sunlight, Churchville
at Victoria University
photo courtesy of Gillian Pearson
One of those two landscapes, Autumn Sunlight, Churchville, is now in the collection of Victoria University, University of Toronto. Recently we learned that, following the conservation work completed in 2014, it has been very nicely hung in a reception area that is part of the Principal’s Office in the historic old Victoria College building, a busy yet comfortable location where it can be enjoyed by many. It shares a space with a fine landscape painting, Birch Trees, by Addison Winchell Price, also a contributor to the Perkins Bull Collection (perhaps with this very painting). Addison Price lived much of his life in Port Credit, so his inclusion in the Collection is easy to understand.

A Collection of Works by
Florence Helena McGillivray
photo courtesy of W C Allen
Another contributor was Florence Helena McGillivray. I have mentioned her before as well, and I also referred to the major project being undertaken by Bill Allen to research and document her life and work. In recent years he has sought out and photographed hundreds of works by Florence, every single one he could find, in fact. The big news is that Bill has now produced a beautiful ‘coffee-table’ format book of ~300 pages,  A Collection of Works by Florence Helena McGillivray, in which all the photos have been included, all printed in full colour, a monumental achievement. It’s for sale from the author for $120. Anyone interested in acquiring a copy may contact Bill at  He’s now at work on the next phase, a full-length biography.

Florence and Bertha were probably well acquainted, we suspect. The arrival of Bill Allen’s book prompted my sister to look again at the evidence for such an acquaintance (the dots, so to speak). They both had teaching positions at Ontario Ladies’ College (OLC) in Whitby, Ontario and at Pickering College in Newmarket, Ontario during the years between 1908 to 1913. Their assignments at these Colleges were likely in contiguous years, rather than overlapping, and they likely performed similar teaching roles. Also, Florence was a friend of Norma Wright, an art teacher at OLC just prior to Bertha’s longer teaching assignment there that began in 1922.

In June of 1924, Bertha’s large portrait of Mrs J J Hare was unveiled at OLC, joining Florence’s earlier portrait of Dr Hare (presented in 1906) in the main hall. According to the 1924 OLC yearbook, Bertha’s painting was presented by Miss Burkholder "on behalf of the Ottawa Chapter of the Trafalgar Daughters", an organization of which Florence was President in the early 1920s.

Bertha did not keep many paintings by other artists, but she did keep one signed work by Florence, a lovely watercolour called A Georgian Bay Evening. She also kept a small oil painting by Thomas Garland Greene, who was Director of Art at OLC during her teaching assignment there in the 1920s, and with whom she was certainly acquainted thereby.

All the evidence is admittedly circumstantial, the possibilities speculative. We’d love to discover more about this and other possible connections between Bertha M Ingle and the many other artists active in Ontario in those days. 

Bertha May Ingle:
Quebec street scene c. 1907

photo from Waddingtons
In January we had a pleasant surprise when an oil painting of Bertha’s, previously unknown to us, was offered in an online auction. It’s a sunny streetscape, almost certainly from Quebec (~1907), and is beautifully executed. Even better, it attracted active attention in the auction and there was some spirited bidding.

Its eventual buyer was Jon Dellandrea, an art historian and member of the Board of the Art Canada Institute (ACI).  He contacted us soon afterwards, sharing his enthusiasm for the painting, and letting us know that he is doing research into the lives and work of two other artists who lived and worked in Canada, Francis Fitz Roy Dixon (1856-1914) and William Firth MacGregor (1896-1979). MacGregor, it turns out, contributed fourteen paintings to the Perkins Bull Collection, and may have been a key person in its creation.

I’ve also become aware of another possible Toronto connection, as yet unexplored. Samuel Stevenson Finlay, a longtime art teacher at Northern Vocational School and at other Toronto schools, was an Irish-born artist who is given credit in the Founder’s Foreward of the Perkins Bull Collection Catalogue for being a major contributor of his time and energy to the project, as well as a painting called Dracass Mill, Streetsville (also on display now at Victoria University). Sam Finlay, as it happens, was the grandfather of a good friend of mine from high school and University days, Stephen Finlay Archer. Steve is writing a series of four historical action novels (the first, Searchers, is already in print) based on the Irish revolutionary period of the early years of the twentieth century, in which Sam Finlay is a key character.

Sometimes it seems the dots go on forever ...

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Seeing The Light

The past year has been an eventful one for the artworks we care for, and also for two paintings that are in other hands.

Autumn Sunlight, Churchville

Preliminary results reached us some time ago concerning the X-ray investigation of Autumn Sunlight, Churchville, carried out at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto. The painting is in the collection of Victoria University in the University of Toronto, and is one of two paintings Bertha M Ingle originally donated to the Perkins Bull Collection, back in the early 1930s. According to the ROM technicians' findings, the paint layers are very thin, which makes it difficult to get clear images of the underlying surfaces, but we were told it was possible to discern some trees that have been over-painted. It seems most likely that the currently visible 'surface' painting is a modification, but perhaps not an extensive one, of an earlier composition.

Bertha M Ingle:
Autumn Sunlight, Churchville
photo by Gillian Pearson - before conservation work
Painting a new image over an existing one has been done by countless artists. When the painter concerned is someone like Van Gogh or Rembrandt, substantial technological and financial resources are generally brought to bear on elucidating what is underneath the surface. Our ambitions are relatively modest. We simply hoped that the careful and highly-skilled conservator engaged by Victoria University, Heidi Sobol, had learned enough from the X-ray images to allow the conservation repairs of Autumn Sunlight, Churchville (where surface paint has become detached) to be planned and executed.

Our impression is that Bertha did not very often re-use canvas or other materials once she had painted something. We think that had she been in that habit, we'd have far fewer pictures that have been left in a partly finished state (of which there are many). Based on discussions found on various web forums (such as this one), to prepare a previously-oil-painted surface takes quite a bit of care and effort, to ensure a successful result in the new painting.

After a wait of quite a few months (workloads are heavy, schedules are crowded, priorities have to be addressed ...), we learned that the conservation work would begin in the summer of 2013. Progress was delayed further when a lot of higher-priority emergency work landed on Heidi's plate as a result of extensive flooding in the Toronto area in early July. But we were happy to be patient.

Early in 2014 we learned that Heidi's work had recently been completed, and the results are deeply satisfying. With cleaning, the colours are clearer and more vibrant. The fragile areas have been successfully stabilized. It is ready to be framed (in its original frame) and displayed, and is 'on the list' for that to happen.

Portrait of Mrs J J Hare

Bertha M Ingle:
Mrs J J Hare
photo by Bill Allen
Our discovery of the large formal portrait of Mrs J J Hare that hangs in the main hall at Trafalgar Castle School (formerly Ontario Ladies' College) in Whitby, Ontario was a highlight of 2013. Mrs Hare was the wife of founding Principal Rev Dr John J Hare, and was for a time Lady Principal of the College. The portrait was presented to the College in June 1924 as part of the 50th Anniversary celebration. But it is unsigned, and in 2013 was unaccompanied by any attribution.

In 2014, Trafalgar Castle School held their 140th Alumnae Reunion, 27 – 29 June. Alumnae, board members, past parents, and former and current Trafalgar staff congregated from far and wide to celebrate. For that occasion, Bertha was, at last, shown as the artist of the portrait, and a short biography based on information we supplied was posted with it.

Exhibiting at The TOM, 18 January - 15 March 2015

In July 2014 my sister and I travelled to Owen Sound, Ontario, where Bertha lived between the ages of 6 and 23. It was there that Bertha first discovered her gift and blossomed as an artist. There were a few places we wanted to see, a few possible leads to pursue, as part of our ongoing research into the Ingle family history.

Bertha M Ingle:
'Pines in Late Winter Light'
It has long been our hope that Bertha's artworks might be exhibited there. We know that Owen Sound has always taken great pride in its formidable artistic heritage, and we felt that Bertha M Ingle should be publicly acknowledged as part of that heritage. To our great delight, Director and Senior Curator Virginia Eichhorn and Exhibitions Coordinator Robert Alton of The Tom Thomson Gallery agreed to meet with us, and enthusiastically supported the idea. Within the same day, Virginia set the dates and selected 14 landscapes. We set about preparing them, having them cleaned where necessary and then framed. The showing will open in their beautiful Counterpoint space in a couple of weeks from time of writing, for a two-month exhibition (18 January - 15 March 2015).

As well, we have contacted Maria Canton (Theatre Manager) and other staff at the Roxy Theatre in Owen Sound, where they have recently celebrated their centenary. Maria has kindly agreed to display, during the same period as the exhibition at The TOM, two of Bertha's portraits that we believe represent theatrical characters in costume, and which may date from the Owen Sound years. They have been the subject of much speculation on our part, about which I shall write more in the near future.

The Artist Herself, 2 May - 9 August 2015

Not long after the close of the exhibition at The TOM, a major exhibition will open at The Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Entitled The Artist Herself: Self-Portraits by Canadian Historical Women Artists, it is described as "a groundbreaking exhibition ... the first to focus on self-portraits by Canadian historical women artists".

Bertha M Ingle:
photo by Mike Lalich
We were honoured and excited when two of Bertha's paintings were selected by co-curators Tobi Bruce (Art Gallery of Hamilton) and Alicia Boutilier (Agnes Etherington Centre) to be part of this show. As described on the Art Centre's web site, it will
"open at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in May 2015 in conjunction with the third Canadian Women Artists History Initiative (CWAHI) conference. The event marks the 40th anniversary of From Women’s Eyes: Women Painters in Canada, a landmark exhibition in the history of Canadian art organized by the Agnes in 1975, International Women’s Year."
After its three-month run at Queen's, The Artist Herself will tour to other locations in Canada, then finish at The Art Gallery of Hamilton in the summer of 2016.

I hope that many readers will take the opportunity to visit the exhibitions and support the fine organizations responsible for them.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Element of Surprise

Every new discovery is gratifying and welcome, but occasionally there's an added excitement when we're caught off guard by something completely unexpected. There have been a few of those lately.

Red Cross Junior Goes Abroad

We've long known that over a span of many years, Bertha did illustrations for the Canadian Red Cross Junior magazine. We have quite a few issues of the magazine where her pictures are on the cover, in the years from 1922 to 1949.

Bertha M Ingle:
Estonian Red Cross Junior
January 1927
Imagine my surprise, however, when I came across this one, for sale on-line. In Estonian! By reasonable extrapolation, it seems likely that translated versions of the magazine were exported to other countries as well. Bertha's drawings may have had a wide international audience.

The date of this magazine is January 1927. The Canadian issue for that date has a different cover (also one of Bertha's). Perhaps the Estonian version was taken from a slightly earlier Canadian issue, allowing time for translation and transmission. The Estonian cover is a picture we hadn't seen before, an added bonus.

The Westbourne School Revisited

The Crowther house in 1924
Regular readers may recall that in an earlier entry, I wrote about the E J Lennox-designed building on Bloor Street West, near Huron Street, that housed the Westbourne School for Girls and where Bertha taught art in the early 1900s. It had been the home of a family named Crowther, both before and after its time as the Westbourne School. I wondered if this imposing edifice might still have been standing in the years I was at high school and University nearby. I couldn't recall being aware of it, but ...

We now have the answer! This very house came up last year in an on-line forum on the subject of Miscellany Toronto Photographs: Then and Now, where a forum participant reported having worked in the building in 1976-77. But it was reportedly gone by 1985. So, yes, it was still there when I was young and oblivious. I walked past it hundreds of times, never once realizing its significance to our family history. So sad.

172 St George Street
There's more to the story, as related in the forum, and this is the really surprising bit. When the Holiday Inn that stands there today was being planned, in the late 1970s or early 1980s, the intent was to move the old Crowther house a short distance around the corner to a spot on the west side of St George Street, immediately north of the Medical Arts Building. But the house collapsed in the process, and the idea had to be abandoned. Instead, a modern building was erected on that St George Street site, and is still there. Its design has faint echoes of the old Victorian house, with suggestions of gables and even a turret. So, in a curious way, the ghost of the Crowther house remains today.

The address is 172 St George Street. One more surprise: it's the very building where my younger daughter now works, for the University of Toronto.


Bertha M Ingle:
Unknown gentleman
A Google search recently revealed an exciting development that I'd never have anticipated. A portrait by Bertha has emerged, purchased not from an art dealer or an auction, but from (of all unlikely places) a Toronto branch of Value Village. Its new owner, who understandably admires it very much, posted an image of it on-line. With help from a reader, he made the effort to find out and post a little information about who the painter was, whence it was found by my Google search. We're very grateful for those efforts.

The price was $4.99. Not quite the same as finding a Rembrandt in a garage sale, or rescuing a Picasso from grandfather's attic, I admit ... but still a remarkable bargain.

We're thrilled and delighted to see it. We don't know who the subject was, but we'll keep looking. Perhaps that information, too, will some day come our way.

Meanwhile, I have developed the habit of going into every Value Village and similar store I see. Just in case.

P.S.  As always, click on any image to see a larger version.  Readers are cordially invited to visit our newly-designed web site at

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Gunships Aren't Roses

Bertha M Ingle: Ships at harbour
There’s a painting of Bertha’s that we believe we have come to understand better in recent months. It’s a small sketch in oils that shows ships at harbour. It has an unsettled and unsettling quality, its ambience anything but calm.

Bertha grew up in Owen Sound, an important port city, and lived most of her adult life in Toronto. She travelled to Vancouver and to Santa Monica. She would have seen harbours and ships in many places. We’ve never been certain where this painting comes from. But perhaps it can be pinned down after all.
Bertha M Ingle: Roses

F McGillivray Knowles:
In Time of Peace, 1907
Bertha’s most influential teacher in Toronto was Farquhar McGillivray Knowles, a prominent artist and member of Toronto Society. Bertha studied at and became an Associate of his Studio, soon after arriving in Toronto, and at various times she taught Art at places where he was Art Director, such as the Westbourne School for Girls and the Ontario Ladies’ College. As an artist of considerable renown, McGillivray Knowles was (and still is) well known for his interest and skills in representing ships and marine subjects generally. An example is a large oil painting called In Time of Peace, 1907.  It depicts battleships at harbour. The painting was exhibited in the 36th Annual Exhibition of the Ontario Society Of Artists (OSA) in February - March 1908, from which it was purchased by the Government of Ontario, in whose hands it still resides. According to the book The Ontario Collection by Fern Bayer, a published review of that Exhibition indicated the locale of In Time of Peace to be Quebec City.

F McGillivray Knowles:
HMS Indomitable Leaving Quebec
There’s another somewhat similar painting by McGillivray Knowles, not quite as easy to find on-line, called HMS Indomitable leaving Quebec. This one was reproduced in Maclean’s Magazine of September 1913 as part of an article about Mr and Mrs Knowles and their Bloor Street West Studio  -  an article kindly located for us by James F S Thomson, at the time we were taking his excellent course at the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies (Toronto's Past: Your City, Your House, Your Family).

There are points of similarity between this Quebec painting and Bertha’s sketch, we feel, such as the shape of the distant hills and the general composition. They have caused us to wonder whether Bertha’s painting might also come from Quebec. We know she visited there at least once, as a member of a group of artists who were all painting and seeking commissions.

Just when was HMS Indomitable in Quebec, and why? Exploring the answers to these questions has opened up new possibilities in our speculations about Bertha’s travels. Most notably, HMS Indomitable made a voyage to Quebec in July 1908, when she was brand new. She was commissioned for the trip in June 1908 ("before she was fully complete", according to the Wikipedia article). It was for a very special occasion indeed, and she carried a very special passenger. She brought no less a personage than the Prince of Wales (who in 1911 would become King George V) to participate in the tercentenary celebration of Champlain's founding of Quebec in 1608. The Prince was greeted by thousands of spectators in addition to the formal welcoming party, when Indomitable steamed into the harbour on the afternoon of 22 July.

This celebration was no intimate gathering, but a multi-national gala on the grandest scale, an event unsurpassed in Canada till Montreal’s Expo 67. England, France, and the United States of America each had a major presence, and collectively they filled the St Lawrence River below the City with an impressive array of warships and other craft. The elaborate celebrations on land lasted two weeks, and included a large-scale fully-costumed multi-act Pageant on land and water, comprising re-enactments of Champlain’s arrival, key battles, and other notable events. People thronged to Quebec in their thousands to see the spectacles. The three visiting nations, former adversaries, somehow were able to collaborate and join forces to honour the tricentennial in the most spectacular possible way. It was an organizational and political tour de force, yet one which is little remembered in the annals of this country's history. It is recalled and described in detail in the fascinating book by H V Nelles, The Art of Nation-building: Pageantry and Spectacle at Quebec's Tercentenary.

Nelles writes that about a half-dozen Canadian painters were officially invited to come and record their impressions of the events. Mr McGillivray Knowles might well have been one of them, and it would have been especially fitting, since his mother had been born in Quebec. HMS Indomitable sailed for home at first light on the morning of 29 July, after a week in port, returning the Prince of Wales to England. It was that departure that Knowles captured in his painting.

Postmark on Bertha's postcard
Did Bertha paint her oil sketch at Quebec, at about that same time? We have long believed that she went to Quebec in the summer of 1907. Might she also have accompanied McGillivray Knowles and others the following year, to attend this extravaganza of a lifetime? Might we be mistaken about 1907? We reviewed the evidence. Apart from family oral tradition, there is just one dated document, a postcard with a photo of the Champlain Market, sent by Bertha from Quebec to her family in Toronto. It says nothing of celebrations, but it does clearly establish that she was there with a group of artists who were trying to find work. The postmark date is 22 July, and the writing includes the word ‘Monday’ as a sort of marginal note. The postmark year is very faint and indistinct, unfortunately. It does look most like ’07, and 22 July 1907 was indeed a Monday.

Is it possible the card was sent in 1908? The date 22 July 1908 was a Wednesday (and the very day of the arrival of the Prince of Wales). We think it unlikely that Bertha would wait two days, to post a card on Wednesday that she had written on Monday, but it’s not impossible. And, tantalizingly, there are spots of paint on the card that look as if they might be the same as colours in the oil sketch.

Postmark from 1907 found on-line
I decided to try searching the web for images of 1907 Quebec postmarks, and somewhat to my surprise I found quite a few. Those that most closely resemble the one on Bertha’s postcard strengthened the conclusion that the card was from 1907, because the faint impression of what should be the downstroke of the ‘7' is in exactly the right place. We wondered if another source of corroboration might come from the Toronto address to which the card was mailed, which was on Euclid Avenue. From the City of Toronto Directories (which were published in January of each year), we determined that the Ingles were living at Trinity Square at the start of 1907, but at Euclid Avenue by the start of 1908. A different postcard, mailed home by Bertha’s sister Ettie, confirms that they were there on 5 August 1907. So the address doesn’t really settle the issue conclusively; neither year can be ruled out on that basis.

I feel 1907 is the more likely date for our Quebec postcard. Bertha may have been there in 1908 as well. The two McGillivray Knowles paintings would appear to confirm that there were battleships present in both years. Whichever year it was, I believe that the sight disturbed her greatly, that she did not see in those massive objects the majestic display of military might; she saw, instead, forces of destruction and chaos. Her little sketch, I believe, expresses her revulsion, even anger.

One of the main events of the tercentenary celebration was a formal presentation on The Plains of Abraham. A huge gathering of militiamen and sailors from all the participating countries were assembled, as many as fifteen thousand altogether. They watched the Prince of Wales present the title deed to Governor-General Earl Grey, along with a large sum of money contributed to by all four countries and the Empire, with the express intent that the Plains be designated forever a 'shrine of union and peace' where 'two contending races won equal and imperishable glory'.

Bertha M Ingle: The Plains of Abraham
Bertha painted another picture that in family oral tradition depicts The Plains of Abraham. If this is true, it may also reveal something of her view of the mechanisms of combat, though in a very different way than the painting of the battleships. There is something that could be a cannon lying derelict and abandoned, off to one side, while domestic life, washing hanging out to dry in ordinary back yards, has claimed the main ground, upstage centre. A far less ostentatious way to portray union and peace, but telling nonetheless.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Trafalgar Treasure

As I mentioned in an earlier entry (On Location), our Research Assistant and I recently paid a visit to Trafalgar Castle School in Whitby, Ontario. That's one of several places where Bertha May Ingle taught Art, first in 1908 - 1909, and again in 1922 - 1927. It was called Ontario Ladies' College (OLC) in those years.

Our RA came armed with camera and scanner. Before we began to pore over the School's Archives, we were treated to a delightful tour of the entire School, and she was permitted to photograph quite a few of the many fine paintings that hang on the walls throughout the building. There are plenty of portraits, of course, depicting luminaries from the School's long history; there are also a variety of paintings executed by and/or donated by alumnae and former teachers.

Main Hallway, Trafalgar Castle School
One large portrait in the main hallway seemed likely to defy all efforts to get a good image, from directly in front of it. Our RA recalls seeing surface cracks in the varnish, and unevenness over the height of the canvas, as if it was perhaps not firmly mounted. In this photo of the Main Hallway, that portrait is visible, from an extreme angle, on the left. It was very lucky that she took this photo, because when my sister saw it, she realized right away, despite the odd angle, that it resembles a much smaller painting of Bertha's that we have in our collection.

Here is that smaller painting. We immediately realized that it might be a preliminary study for the larger portrait, which would mean Bertha almost certainly painted both of them. We had never identified the distinguished woman portrayed in our version, but now we had the connection we needed. The portrait opposite in the School Hallway (there's a glimpse of it in the photo above) is identified as that of Rev Dr John James Hare, founding Principal of Ontario Ladies' College in 1874, a position he held until 1915. Could the woman be Mrs Hare, who was herself Lady Principal at one time?

Mrs J J Hare; Dr and Mrs Hare
(Whitby Online Historical
Photographs Collection)
Happily, there is a good photo of Mrs Hare on-line, in the Whitby Online Historical Photographs Collection collection. The resemblance is clear and unmistakeable. The same site has their wedding photo, taken when she was just 20.

Could we confirm with certainty that the large portrait was painted by Bertha? The answer came in an unexpected and serendipitous way. I was at the North York Library's Canadiana Collection, and decided to have a look at the 1924 Ontario Ladies' College yearbook, a volume we'd seen before but hadn't had enough time to peruse. It's special, because that year marked the 50th anniversary of the College. As I browsed, a reference to presentation of a painting caught my eye, in a description of the events of Alma Mater Day in June 1924. And then, a little further down the same page came this gratifying revelation:

"Miss Burkholder unveiled a remarkable portrait of Mrs. Hare, executed by Miss Ingle, the present Art instructor, on behalf of the Ottawa Chapter of the Trafalgar Daughters.  This portrait, declared to be a speaking likeness, will hang opposite to that of Dr. Hare, in the Main Hall."

'Miss Burkholder' was Miss Nettie Burkholder, who served as Lady Principal at OLC from 1901 to 1912 (including Bertha's first year there). She had subsequently moved to Alberta, and she returned as a special guest for the Jubilee celebration of 1924.

We still didn't know what the large portrait looked like, in detail. But fortunately our friend Bill Allen was planning a visit to Trafalgar Castle School himself. Bill is on a quest to track down and photograph as many paintings by Whitby native Florence Helena McGillivray as he can, and the School has three of them that he hadn't yet seen. He very kindly promised to photograph Mrs Hare for us, while he was there.

Bertha M Ingle:
Mrs J J Hare
Meanwhile, we took our small painting to the conservator and framer, very much wanting it to be presented it in its best light, wanting it to be something that could be exhibited. Cleaned and framed, it glows with new life. 

Bertha M Ingle:
Mrs J J Hare
(photo by Bill Allen)
Bill's visit happened in November, and the photograph arrived by email from him the following day. With his camera and tripod and lights, he can get a much more professional result than we 'snap-shotters' can. Here she is, a most impressive and pleasing portrait.

It's fascinating to compare the two, and doing so raises further questions. In our version, Mrs Hare is portrayed at a distinctly more advanced age than in the larger one. Although the poses are identical, we feel that the age difference casts doubt on the notion that it was simply a study for the large one, and was done at the same time.

Mrs Hare, née Katherine Isabella McDowell, was born in 1854. She married Dr Hare in 1874, the same year Ontario Ladies' College was founded. She is mentioned as being Lady Principal in 1894, and may have held that title in later years as well. When Bertha first taught at the College in 1908 - 1909, Mrs Hare was about 54, an age that seems very much consistent with the small portrait. We have come to believe (without any further evidence, as yet) that Bertha painted the small portrait during that year, perhaps from life.

The wording of the 1924 yearbook passage quoted above suggests to us that it was probably Miss Burkholder who had the idea, in 1923 or 1924, of having Bertha paint a larger portrait to commemorate Mrs Hare, who had died in 1922. By then the portrait of Rev Dr Hare had already been on display for several years. Brian Winter, formerly Archivist at the Whitby Archives, wrote in his History of the College:

"Commencement Day 1906 saw the presentation to the Board of Directors of an oil painting of Dr. Hare by a former student who was then assistant art director.  It now hangs in the main hall opposite a picture of Mrs. Hare presented at a later date."

Until recently, we weren't sure from that rather ambiguous passage whether the 'former student who was then assistant art director' (whom we felt was undoubtedly Florence Helena McGillivray) had simply presented the painting to the Board, or had actually painted it as well. Bill Allen has confirmed that it was indeed painted by Florence. It bears her signature, he says, though the signature appears to have been overpainted, and can be seen only by shining light on it at a suitable angle.

The painting of Dr Hare shows a man not yet very grey. It would make sense for Bertha, creating a companion portrait in 1923 or 1924, to alter her earlier composition so that Mrs Hare would be portrayed as she would have appeared at the time depicted in her husband's portrait. Perhaps Nettie Burkholder had a suitable photo of Mrs Hare at a younger age, for Bertha to work from.

We're extremely happy that both versions have survived. As ambitious and finely executed as the large portrait is, the small study has qualities that make it, in some ways, the more satisfying of the two. Mrs Hare appears more relaxed, more approachable. The impression is of a more spontaneous and friendly encounter.

There remain many portraits by Bertha May Ingle where we have not identified her subject. Many decades after she created them, identification will likely remain beyond our grasp for most. But it can happen, so we remain hopeful. The occasional happy discovery such as this one delights us all the more, and fuels our resolve to keep looking.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Owen Sound - Beginnings

How and when does it begin, for a creative artist?

Many musicians, dancers, actors, writers, and visual artists can remember a defining or seminal moment in their lives, a moment when a voice inside said 'That's what I will do. That is who I am. That will be my life.' For others, there was no single moment; some can't really remember a time before they played or sang or danced or wrote or put pen, pencil, or paint to paper. It came as naturally, and was as essential to their lives, as breathing.

For Bertha May Ingle, we can only speculate, but there are clues. Her earliest childhood years were spent on farms in Ontario, first in Puslinch Township, then in Proton Township. Her father Robert was an amateur painter and a skilled fiddler; her mother Mary could dance up a storm. There were books, and a family atmosphere where education was important. The Ingles moved to Owen Sound in 1884 (Bertha was six years old), where Robert found work at John Wright's Mill store. We've known for a long time that Bertha was painting well enough by her teens to win prizes, and to have identified her life's calling. The Ingles' family friend Herbert Casson wrote them a letter in October 1895, when Bertha was seventeen:

"Tell Bertha I'm proud of her, winning all those prizes. There is no reason why she could not come to Boston before long, to get an artist's inspiration from the wonderful living pictures & magnificent buildings & parks & ocean scenery."

What were "all those prizes", exactly? We weren't sure. Were there art teachers who provided her with guidance and encouragement? Bertha kept a photo showing an artist at work in his studio, identified in handwriting on the reverse side as 'Mr Woodhouse in his studio at Owen Sound'. We've supposed he might have taught Bertha, but he has proved an elusive character. A 'Woodhouse, H' appears in the 1901 Census for Owen Sound, an artist, living and employed as a domestic in a hotel headed by Eveleigh, George. We're fairly sure he was, in fact, Harry Valentine Woodhouse, a Canadian-born American artist.

Another important part of Bertha's Owen Sound story was the serious illness she contracted at the age of eleven. According to oral family history, it was polio, and it caused her permanent weakness in one leg. It is thought to have ended her formal education. But perhaps it helped her, as she spent so many hours at home, to discover and develop her lifetime calling as an artist.

Earlier this year, our keen, energetic Research Assistant made the trip to Owen Sound that we've had in mind for a long time. She went to search the Library's Archives and the newspaper collections on microfilm, with several lines of enquiry to pursue: to find events and explore the environment in the visual arts; to find references to polio or outbreaks of other possible afflictions; to look for Mr Woodhouse; to look for Emma Scott, who lived in Owen Sound in those years and who (as Emma Scott Raff) was the founding Principal of the Margaret Eaton School of Literature and Expression in Toronto, where Bertha had a Private View of Oil Paintings in December 1906; to look for the horse stables that Bertha wrote about, located across the street from the Ingle family home; and to be alert for anything else that might shed light on the Ingles' life in Owen Sound between 1884 and 1901 (when they moved to Toronto).

A daunting task, but our brave RA did not quail before it. Altogether she spent three full days searching through archived materials and, as she said, "swimming with the microfiche" to scan through old newspapers. Of course it's impossible to look at everything, so she focussed on specific years of interest, including 1889 (the year of Bertha's illness) and 1895 (the year of the prizes). We're infinitely grateful for her stalwart efforts, which have (as might well be foreseen) elucidated some questions, come up blank on others, and turned up some unexpected surprises.


We knew already that the Ingles had an address on Jackson Street in 1892, and we believe they lived on Union Street (now 8th Street East) in earlier years. Thanks to our diligent RA, we've now learned that as of the 1901 Census, they were located on Patterson Street (now 8th Street West). It has been difficult to identify the exact horse establishment on or near Union Street where, as a child, Bertha watched horses being broken. It appears that stables and similar establishments were common throughout the town. Horse shows and horse races were large and popular events, taking place year-round. There was a 10,000-square-foot livery at 10th Street East in 1887.

But the picture has now become clearer. Advertisements for a Riding Class at the R J Scott Stables, located "at the foot of Union Hill, Union St.", appeared in local newspapers (our RA found and photographed one from March 1889). The note Bertha wrote about watching horses being broken refers to "Jack and Bob Scott" as the owners of the stables, so it appears to be the same establishment.


There were numerous openly-reported instances of serious diseases striking people in Owen Sound. In 1885 there was an outbreak of smallpox, with which the town’s rudimentary new hospital was ill-equipped to cope. Concern over smallpox was still prominent in 1894, when the Owen Sound Times reported an epidemic in Chicago and cases of the disease in Kingston and Chatham.

There were also frequent and widespread concerns about possible outbreaks of cholera in the 1890s.

Neither of these diseases seems likely to have been what Bertha suffered in 1889. However, nothing turned up to suggest the possibility of polio. We know from other sources that the main epidemic periods in Ontario were still in the future. Whether this was Bertha's affliction remains a mystery.

Emma Scott

A few titbits turned up about Emma Scott. In 1889, along with other ladies of the Scrope Street Methodist Church (Central), she initiated a Circle of the International Order of The King’s Daughters and Sons (IOKDS). The Order, still active today, was then a new and rapidly-growing organization devoted to assisting those less fortunate. In Owen Sound it was named the “Help-in-Need-Circle”.

Emma's wedding on June 6th 1894 made the front page of the Owen Sound Times the following day:

"A great flutter of excitement was occasioned in society here yesterday, by the marriage of Miss Ema [sic] Scott, one of Owen Sound's most popular and accomplished young ladies, to Mr. Wm. B. Raff, of Aspen, Colorado."

There followed a detailed and colourful account of the ceremony itself, the déjeuner at the Scott home, and the couple's departure (the same afternoon) for Aspen, via Toronto and Chicago.

The Visual Arts Scene

Several pieces of evidence collectively establish that there must have been a thriving and vital visual arts community in Owen Sound in those years. The Times reported on its front page, on June 13th 1889, the results of the Art School Examinations, introducing the lengthy lists of names with this proud boast:

"OWEN SOUND students as usual take the largest number of certificates in the Province."

Earlier that year, the "Ladies' Auxiliary and members of the Y.M.C.A." held an art exhibition of paintings and other artworks at the Y.M.C.A. Hall. It proved so popular that its run had to be extended to meet public demand. "This promises to be something better than anything Owen Sound has seen in the Art line yet," predicted the Times, and so it seems to have been.

One of the painters represented in the Y.M.C.A. exhibition was Emma Scott. It was in the same month that she left Owen Sound to take a course at the Ontario School of Art in Toronto.

Newspaper ads confirm that artists' supplies were readily available from local sellers, such as "Vincent H Chantler / The Palace Drug Store". An Owen Sound branch of the Women’s Art Association (based in Toronto) was formed in 1909.

Five friends
Kate Andrew is in the centre; Bertha second from the left
We have learned a lot of new information about a remarkable woman named Kate Andrew. We have two photographs (one shown here) in which Bertha appears with four other women. One of them is identified on the reverse side as Kate Andrew. Kate is clearly the centre of the group. We already knew she was an elementary-school teacher, but we now know she was also an accomplished artist and teacher of art. She attended and became an Associate of the Ontario College of Art. Born in Owen Sound in February 1872, she lived till December 1971, just two months short of her 100th birthday. She is justly celebrated as one of the Eminent Women of Grey County, in the Grey County Historical Society's publication of that name. It seems highly probable that, being six years Bertha’s senior, she was one of Bertha’s early teachers and influences in the development of her art.

Yet despite all this, one figure eludes us still. In all the material searched, in all the news of enthusiastic artistic activity, not a single reference was found to our Mr Woodhouse.


The Owen Sound Advertiser, September 20th 1895
I've saved the best for last.

It may seem a small thing, I suppose. It was only the North Grey Fall Exhibition in 1895, undoubtedly a typical small-town and rural Fall Fair, with every kind of actvity and enticement from horses to hurdles races.

But there she is, in the Owen Sound Advertiser report of September 20th 1895, announcing the winners in the competition for FINE ARTS - AMATEUR. For oil painting in three categories -- landscape, marine, and domestic -- Bertha M. Ingle.

She didn't ever stop painting, for the next 67 years.

I don't know about anyone else, but it sends shivers up and down my spine.