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

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