Thursday 23 September 2021


Recently we have had a particularly gratifying result in our ongoing work with restorer and artist Guennadi Kalinine and the McMaster Gallery in Dundas, Ontario. An Ingle painting that dates from around 1907, a year in which the artist visited Québec during the summer with a group of her colleagues, has been dramatically rescued – pretty much from the back of a closet, where it had been stored for many years. The painting is in oils on canvas, showing a narrow sunlit street with a ‘parked’ horse and cart and a sprinkling of colourful pedestrian traffic. At the far end of the street is a wide set of stairs.

It was framed for the first time quite a while ago, probably in the 1960s. That frame did not suit the painting well, and now looks dated and dingy. In the 1960s, the painting was already obscured behind five decades of dust and dirt, and the varnish was discoloured, but as far as we know, it wasn’t cleaned at that time. The previously unmounted canvas was glued to a piece of artist’s canvas board, which became oddly warped in the ensuing decades, possibly in part because it fit too tightly into the frame.

Guennadi set to work. He carefully and gradually flattened the board, and then worked his usual magic with cleaning and revarnishing. At the Gallery, Francis applied his artistic insights to help us quickly find the perfect frame. Now the painting glows with all its original light and space and depth, and in its new, satisfyingly complementary frame it is a handsome sight to behold.

The question arose, as it has for so many Ingle works, of whether we could deduce the exact location depicted in the painting. Heritage areas of Québec are well preserved and greatly treasured, so it seemed likely that the street in question would still exist. Luckily, Bertha left brief notes listing a few of the places she’d visited in Québec, and one of these was the rue du Petit-Champlain.

That street does indeed still exist and is a hugely popular destination for visitors to Vieux-Québec. It is a few short blocks long, straight and very narrow. A pedestrian-only thoroughfare now, it is packed with cafés and tourism-oriented boutique shops. It runs in a north-south direction. There is an impressive stairway leading upwards from the north end of the street.

Bertha also left us several bound sketchbooks, including one which has many references to Québec and must have been her constant companion during her time there. The second page has a rough pencil sketch of a horse and cart which appears to have been a preliminary study for the oil painting – same position, same angle.

On the first page of the book is a sketch of a street that is long, straight and narrow, and seems to be viewed from a height. On a distant horizon is a structure that appears to be a church or a monument.

We found a Wikimedia photo of present-day rue du Petit-Champlain that looks southward (the direction is confirmed by the shadows). In the high-resolution version it’s possible to see the steeple and bell tower of a distant church on the horizon, strongly suggesting that Bertha’s page one sketch was of a similar view, probably from high above the street on the stairs at the north end. There is a church today that stands in that direct line of sight: Église catholique Saint-David situated in Lévis, QC, south of the St Lawrence River.

What about the buildings shown in the oil painting? Might any of them still be there? Here we turned to Google Street View and strolled (virtually) along rue du Petit-Champlain northward toward the stairs. There is indeed a close match in shape between the south end of an old building and the reddish profile in the painting. The old building is at the bottom end of the Funiculaire du Vieux-Québec, an electrified cable railway inaugurated in 1879 to take people up and down the steep slope to the west of the street.

Taken all together, these clues strongly suggest that the oil painting, along with Bertha’s smaller watercolour version of the same scene, are indeed depictions of the rue du Petit-Champlain.

The stairway at the north end has a long history. There have been landings or stairs there since about 1680, initially intended to make safer what was previously a very steep footpath. In the nineteenth century wooden stairs were built, but by 1880 they had become famously dangerous, so a three-ramp iron stairway was built in 1893, and that’s the one Bertha would have encountered. That stairway was completely renovated in the late 1960s as part of the restoration of Place-Royale; there is a plaque dated 1971 that recognizes that project. Since then the stairway has been officially known as Éscalier Casse-Cou (Breakneck Stairs), adopting a nickname that was given to the earlier nineteenth century version – in London travel guides, no less (trying to discourage visitors?)

It proved highly worthwhile to pursue the history of the stairs! On the official Ville de Québec
website page about them, there’s a postcard image from about 1910 that truly clinches our identification of the locale of the paintings. Details of the buildings’ façades and roof lines can be matched up quite closely. We're left with little doubt that they show the same place, and we can title the paintings with confidence.

Tuesday 23 March 2021

A Mountaintop Experience

In February I wrote about Bertha’s visit to Cambie, BC in 1915. Photos she kept of that remote and wild place, along with others found online, allowed us to identify her watercolour painting of the majestic Avalanche Mountain.

We have another delightful mountain scene painted in watercolours, less finished, smallish (12.7 x 12.7 cm), more a quick sketch, showing a scene we had not been able to identify in the past. But the process of learning more about the Cambie visit gave me hope it might be possible to identify the subject of this one as well.

Bertha M. Ingle: Untitled, watercolours on textured paper

I began to explore what other views might have been available from the CPR tracks in the area of Cambie, Glacier, and Rogers Pass. It would certainly have been possible to walk along the trackbed to explore such views. Because the Trans-Canada Highway now runs through Rogers Pass and environs close to where the railway tracks were then, I could ‘travel the tracks’ without leaving home, using Google’s Street View.

North of Avalanche Mountain is Mount Macdonald, a towering peak whose north face is visible from the Highway. A present-day trail called Hermit Trail that runs north from that point gives even more impressive views of Mount Macdonald. Could that be the mountain in Bertha’s watercolour sketch? It surely didn’t look like a perfect match, but using a photo taken from Hermit Trail I consulted our team of family and friends.
North face of Mount Macdonald seen from Hermit Trail

One team member, a talented and accomplished artist herself, rose to the challenge right away. She soon found an interesting photo of Avalanche Mountain that had some of the right elements. Going back to Google, I eventually had to ‘travel’ a couple of miles west from where Cambie was to see that same view from the Highway. I felt it was unlikely Bertha would have chosen to paint Avalanche from such a distance when much closer views were more easily available.
Avalanche Mountain seen from about two miles west of former Cambie site

Undaunted, our team member cleverly contrived to create a useful visual aid, a replica of Bertha’s watercolour painting where the profiles of the mountaintops and the shapes of the snowfields below were enhanced. This replica made it quicker and easier to compare the painting with online photographs.
Enhanced profiles and shapes from Bertha's watercolour

And then came the breakthrough! She found an old postcard photo of a peak that lies to the south of Avalanche, called Mount Sir Donald. Here was the best potential match yet, perhaps not exactly right in a few details, but still ...
Vintage postcard of Mount Sir Donald

Meanwhile I had begun to consider the possibility that Bertha’s watercolour might show a view not from the CPR track level, but from the hiking trail running south from near Glacier, the trail that we know she climbed to reach the summit of Mount Abbott. And now it all started to fall into place. I discovered that Google Street View includes the trip along that trail (and countless other trails), so I could search, myself, for a place where Mount Sir Donald would be visible, looking east from the trail. Trekking (virtually) back and forth I eventually found the view from a spot that I’m sure must have been very close to where Bertha, on that proud and joyful day when she was a mountain climber, stopped to paint a memento of her accomplishment: a delightful view of the west face of Mount Sir Donald.

I suspect it took her only a few minutes to make the sketch, but it is with us now, more than a century later, and we shall treasure it always.
Bertha M. Ingle: West face of Mount Sir Donald, BC

I encourage readers to take the virtual hike up the trail to Abbot Ridge and Mount Abbott. One can see what the terrain is like, see the magnificent views it affords of mountain grandeur, gaze toward horizons many kilometres distant. “Hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!” as Alexander Pope tells us. While not a difficult ascent by the standards of others in the Rogers Pass area, it was an accomplishment that Bertha had every right to celebrate.

Monday 8 March 2021

A Lost Exhibition Found

Recently we have expanded the Bertha M. Ingle website ( ) in several ways, one significant addition being a list and descriptions of all the known exhibitions of her work. These span well over a century, from 1895 to 2019.

For most of the known exhibitions that took place during her lifetime (1878-1962), we have authoritative documentation of the dates, the locations, and in most cases the titles of the works exhibited – but usually no certain knowledge of what those works looked like. An exception to that final omission is the Perkins Bull Collection, first exhibited in 1934; happily we do have photographs of the two Ingle works therein, one because a photo of the painting was reproduced in the published catalogue (and Bertha kept her own print of the photo), and the other because that painting itself is now part of the art collection at Victoria University in the University of Toronto, and is on display in the Offices of the Principal.
Bertha M. Ingle: Autumn Leaves
Bertha M. Ingle: Autumn Sunlight, Churchville
A more surprising exception to the rule is an exhibition that was almost certainly the last one mounted (or was at least planned) during her lifetime, in the late 1950s. For that one, we have no documentation at all regarding location or exact date, only our own faintly remembered family oral history. Yet, perhaps paradoxically, the nature and the appearance of most of the works that were included are known in detail and with a high degree of certainty.

The evidence for that knowledge has been hiding in plain sight for many years, but has only recently been brought into focus. Among the many works we have inherited from Bertha’s estate are sixteen portraits in oils that all share certain characteristics. Their commonality was not obvious when we first began to photograph and catalogue the works, largely because they were not all stored together and because we were working our way through boxes and bags of works that had previously been sorted by size or by other unknown criteria. But the recent realization of their commonality leads us pretty much inescapably to the conclusion that they were intended to be exhibited together – along with a few more portraits that we don’t have.

The discovery came about as part of our ongoing effort to have our Ingle oil paintings cleaned and repaired as necessary. That effort began (and continues) with those works most in need of conservation, but we have also found that even works that came to us in presentable condition have benefitted greatly from simple cleaning and revarnishing, bringing once again into view the original true colours that are such a hallmark of Ingle’s work.

Recently we selected for conservation three portraits in oils that had been varnished with such a high gloss that photographing them accurately had been a challenge, and lighting them without creating reflected glare was difficult. We asked conservator and artist Guennadi Kalinine (of Dundas, Ontario, ) to do a basic cleaning and re-varnishing with a less glossy archival varnish.

It struck me, then, that I knew of a few other oil paintings where the varnish is similarly glossy, so I set out to determine how many others we might also be sending Guennadi’s way if the results are as satisfying as we anticipate they will be. After finding several such works, I suddenly realized that there was a sub-group of them for which the glossy varnish was not the only thing they had in common.

I eventually found sixteen oil paintings that were undeniably a well-defined set. They were all portraits; all painted on canvas; all mounted (by adhesive) onto masonite; all signed with exactly the same signature style (in block capitals); and all varnished after they had been mounted on the masonite. And here’s the clincher: each had a unique number, roughly scrawled on the verso of the masonite in red pencil or crayon, the numbers ranging between 1 and 20. The penny dropped at last!

Here are three of the portraits:
Bertha M. Ingle: Portrait of Kate Ingle

Bertha M. Ingle: Portrait of Unknown Young Woman

Bertha M. Ingle: Portrait of Robert Ingle
Based on clothing and hair styles, and on the fact that we can identify some of the sitters, it is apparent that the portraits come from a wide range of dates over at least 50 years. Two paintings are of Bertha’s sister Kate as a young woman in the early 1900s; one is of their father; one is of a friend who was a lodger in Bertha’s house in the late 1950s. The preparation of the paintings for exhibition was very likely done all at one time, and must have been completed in the late 1950s. It was probably to be a retrospective exhibition of portraits painted over the past several decades. They would have been numbered for purposes of the exhibition planning and/or catalogue listing. The scrawled numbers don’t appear to be in Bertha’s handwriting; it’s possible that someone else was involved in the project (including perhaps in the decision to use that overly glossy varnish), but we don’t know who that might have been.

There is one further common characteristic of these portraits that deserves mention. The signatures vary noticeably in the spacing between 'BERTHA' and 'M. INGLE'. That variation is most unusual, not generally found in other paintings that Bertha signed in block capitals. Looking carefully at all sixteen portraits, I have come to believe that the explanation is simple yet surprising: I believe she initially signed all the works as 'M. INGLE', and added 'BERTHA' afterwards. One painting is in a circular field, and 'M. INGLE' is perfectly centred at the bottom of the circle, an especially telling bit of evidence.

Choosing 'M. INGLE' may have been an attempt to conceal the fact that she was a woman, mindful of the bias common at that time against women artists, in Canada (and elsewhere). In earlier years she had used a made-up name, 'Maylaw', to sign a few paintings, possibly for a similar reason. We also suspect that 'Bertha' was not a name she greatly loved; although she almost always used it as part of her professional name, she preferred for informal purposes to be called 'Bert' or 'Bertie', from quite a young age.

However, she changed her mind, I believe, and added 'BERTHA' after all. Adding that name, writing it from left to right, would account for the variation of spacing we observe – and also for slight differences in the size or alignment of the letters in some instances. How I wish we had been let into the discussion at the time!

From our memory of those days, we believe the exhibition may have been planned for Eaton’s College Street in Toronto, where there was a thriving commercial Fine Arts gallery, as well as the famous Grand Foyer adjoining the Eaton Auditorium on the seventh floor. To me there can be little doubt that an exhibition did take place somewhere, mainly because we have only sixteen out of (at least) twenty. That suggests that some may have been sold or given as gifts as a result of the exhibition.

Please contact us if you have any of them! You can see images of all the paintings we have in an album found HERE .

Tuesday 2 February 2021

Cambie, B.C.

Our understanding of Bertha M. Ingle’s visits to British Columbia has been expanded lately. Two paintings have recently come to light of which we were previously unaware, both almost certainly painted in BC (see the posting “There lies your way, due west”). That same line of enquiry has borne additional fruit in more recent days.

Bertha's first visits to BC took place in the three summers and/or early autumns of 1913-15. It’s interesting to note that they fall within Tom Thomson’s Algonquin Park years (1912-17), and correspond to the period when the artists who in 1920 would become the Group of Seven were just beginning to formulate their characteristic approach to painting nature in Canada’s northern regions. Bertha M. Ingle, too, was discovering and painting the Canadian wilderness and finding new styles of her own.

We have inherited several photos of Bertha and other members of her family that are identified on their reverse sides as being taken at “Cambie, B.C.”. One is dated “about 1915”, and they all appear likely to be from the same visit.

Bertha standing on a stump at "Cambie, B.C. about 1915"

Cambie is a name well-known in Vancouver, extensively represented in the City and its environs. Most notable perhaps is Cambie Village in the heart of the City, centred on Cambie Street, a major arterial road. These (and many other places) are named for Henry John Cambie (1836-1928), an Irish-born civil engineer who became chief surveyor for the Canadian Pacific Railway in the years when the railway was being completed through the Rocky Mountains. Once that work was finished, the last spike ceremonially driven in 1885, Henry Cambie built a house in 1887-88 at a location he referred to then as being “out into the country” from the newly-incorporated City of Vancouver, but is now among the country’s busiest urban areas, very near Stanley Park. He became a prominent and highly esteemed citizen of the growing City, to which he contributed extensively. He continued working for the CPR, before retiring in 1921.

However, Bertha’s snapshots are clearly not from 1915 Vancouver. They are from a wilder and more mountainous locale along the railway. Exactly where this railway “Cambie” was to be found, and what it was like, are questions we’ve only recently been able to answer, thanks in large part to a website created by a company in Edmonton AB called Webpraxis Consulting Ltd. The website draws together a wide range of materials from various Canadian archives, all relating to railway history in Canada. One of the pages is dedicated to the rather elusive “Cambie Station”.

A few kilometres west of Glacier, BC, the original pre-1900 route of the CPR included an unusual configuration of track in an area that came to be known as “The Loops” or “Four Tracks”. For a westbound traveller, after progressing along the southern edge of a narrow valley, the single-track line made a wide 180-degree turn and ran eastward, crossed a couple of bridges over water, and then, after another wide turn, continued westward again along the northern edge of the same valley. The wide turns were called The Loops. The name Four Tracks came from the fact that for an observer facing east in the central part of The Loops at its first bridge, there was a simultaneous view of four parts of this circuitous route: one in the far distance below the distant peak of Avalanche Mountain, the second to the right (south) as the westbound line approached the first of the loops, the third being the eastbound track itself, and the fourth to the left (north) as the line continued westbound again.

View (facing east) of "The Loops" or "Four Tracks" and Avalanche Mountain, west of Glacier, BC

That remarkable view was much-photographed and often used as an image for postcards. Photos from the 1890s (like the one above) showed one or two small trackside buildings at the east end of the first bridge, which was at that time a wooden trestle construction. The buildings were placed there to accommodate the CPR watchman whose task was to monitor the safe progress of trains through The Loops.

Originally the location had no name, but somewhere between 1904 and 1912 it became designated (and was added to maps) as Cambie Station, named for Henry John Cambie. In about the same period the wooden trestle bridge was replaced by a steel-span bridge supported on several stone pillars. I believe the route of the main track must have been shifted slightly to the south at that time to allow the addition of sidings on the north side of the main track, beyond the east end of the bridge. More buildings were added as well, including a Station on the south side of the tracks and what might have been a house a little further east of that, on the south slope.

Bertha’s snapshots from about 1915, this one for example, show some of these developments (the siding tracks and the new Station buildings).

Bertha, Gladys (wife of John Ingle), and Mary Ingle at Cambie, BC, with Avalanche Mountain beyond

Another photo of Bertha was taken when she had hiked to the summit of nearby Mount Abbott; she appears understandably delighted at her accomplishment. She later described this ascent in a letter to her friend Emil Heiring:

“I actually climbed one of the mountains to the very top. I am not boasting -- it was really a modest climb with a made trail all the way – but still quite an achievement for me who am not athletic. The mountain was nine thousand feet high. I do not know at what altitude we started but it took all day from early morning until after dark to make it. How I enjoyed that day. I am sure nature intended me for an outdoor life.”

Bertha (wearing glasses) atop Mount Abbott, BC

At the time of Bertha’s visit to Cambie, it was in its final months of operation. Work was by then nearly complete on an alternative CPR route that included the Connaught Tunnel, put into service in 1916. A major incentive for that challenging project was to lessen the risk to the railway, and to human lives, of the frequent avalanches in the higher mountains. From 1916 forward, The Loops were no longer used, and there was no need for the facilities at Cambie Station.

Oddly enough, however, the name “Cambie Station” was not completely lost. According to a listing of CPR station names and numbers published in 1924, the station a little way east of Sicamous that had earlier been called Bowie (roughly mid-way between Solsqua and Malakwa), was re-named Cambie. There are no longer stations called Solsqua or Cambie, but there is still a “Cambie Solsqua Road” in the area, east of Sicamous, running parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway for a few kilometres.

Further east, the Trans-Canada Highway also runs directly through the location where The Loops and the older Cambie Station were.  The Highway is close enough to where the the stone-pillar-and-steel bridge was built that the pillars, still standing and an important element of a designated Heritage site, can be seen from the Highway. And of course that signature view of Avalanche Mountain is still there, too.

Bertha painted in all the places she visited in British Columbia. Photos like the ones above can show us what the camera saw and captured on film. But we also have her paintings to show us what she saw and felt through an artist’s eye, and expressed through an artist’s brushes and palette. Most notably, in the present context, we have this wonderful watercolour painting of the storied eastward view of Avalanche Mountain from Cambie Station. Just as much as the smile on her face at the summit of Mount Abbott, it shows us the depth of her enjoyment and connection with the natural world she loved so much.

Bertha M. Ingle:  Avalanche Mountain from Cambie, BC about 1915, watercolours on paper

Sunday 3 January 2021

There lies your way, due west

      There lies your way, due west.

VIOLA                                             Then westward ho!
      Grace and good disposition attend your Ladyship!

             Twelfth Night, Act 3, Scene I   William Shakespeare

We’ve inherited a photograph of Bertha M. Ingle that has long been a mystery. It shows Bertha seated in front of the screen-door entrance to a log cabin. She is busy with her brush and palette and Pochade Box, and there’s an umbrella for shade.

The photo is framed in a somewhat unusual way. There’s a mat and glass, which is common, but the mat has a second smaller cutout, below the photo itself, to accommodate these handwritten lines:

For deathless powers to Art belong,

And they like Demi-gods are strong

On whom the Muses smile;


The lines come from a poem by William Wordsworth, but altered slightly with “Art” replacing his word “verse”. We don’t recognize the handwriting.

We’ve wondered for a very long time where the photo was taken. Recently an unexpected clue came our way in the form of a very fine watercolour painting, offered on ebay, signed by Bertha M. Ingle – and there’s a date with the signature, which is quite an unusual circumstance. The painting depicts a pair of sunlit log cabins nestling among dense wilderness trees at the edge of a lake or river. The date is ’15.

Could this be the same place as where the photo was taken? Closer inspection revealed what could be convincing evidence in support: the cabin on the left in the painting has exactly the same arrangement as the one in the photo, where the window is extremely close to the door. Such close proximity is a somewhat unusual configuration, I would say. There are also the same number of logs beneath the window, and the proportions of window, wall, and doorway seem to be the same as well. It appears very plausible that the cabin in the painting and the one in the photo are the same.

My partner, who built our database of Ingle artworks, suddenly realized when we were discussing the new painting that there is already in our collection a small, very rough sketch (in oils) of log cabins among trees. Calling up the database on her iPad and doing a quick search for “log cabins”, she quickly recognized that the sketch does indeed depict the same cabins as the newly-found watercolour, seen from a slightly different angle. The existence of such a sketch could suggest that it’s a location where Bertha spent a significant amount of time, perhaps much more than a quick visit.

The date of 1915 provides what may be another important clue. We believe that Bertha visited BC that summer, as she had in 1913 and 1914. Her brother John served as CPR stationmaster at Tappen. Bertha greatly enjoyed visiting with him, roughing it in the mountains, and painting the rugged scenery in that remote part of the province. Tappen is situated on the southwesterly arm of Lake Shuswap, not far from the City of Salmon Arm, and is also where Tappen Creek empties into the Lake. Perhaps the waterside cabins in the painting were a place Bertha stayed in the summer of either 1914 or 1915. If so, we may well have at long last answered the “where” and “when” of our mystery photograph.

We’ve been aware for some time of an online photo archive covering the Salmon Arm area, posted by the R.J. Haney Heritage Village and Museum. It includes a photo from 1913 of the Tappen CPR depot, showing Bertha, her brother John, and her mother Mary.

The archive also tells us that the photo was taken by an experienced professional photographer named Frank Duncan. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there’s information about him on the web. Missouri-born and Texas-raised, he came to Salmon Arm in 1913 as a widower, along with his daughter Kathleen. Already highly experienced as a photographer, he started a successful studio and was also commissioned by the Salmon Arm Observer to travel around photographing all aspects of the Shuswap area. While he was travelling, Kathleen was cared for by a family in Tappen. Frank spent at least two summers in Salmon Arm (1913 and 1914), and possibly a third.

When I read Frank Duncan’s story, it struck me that our log cabin photo is of a significantly better quality than the several “snapshot” photos we have from the Tappen visits. And there is one other photo as well, showing Bertha sketching near Tappen in 1914 (the place and date are written in her hand on the reverse side) that also looks to be of professional quality. Might Frank Duncan have been the photographer of these two, as well as the one at the CPR depot that is posted online?

My revisiting of the photo archive brought another serendipitous discovery. I was browsing in the hope of finding a photo of our log cabins, but I came across something entirely different:

The caption reads as follows: “Art Ritchie feeding the ducks at Little Lake. Ducks were on Mrs McGuire's menu at her eatery. Little Lake was renamed McGuire Lake.”

After initially scrolling past it, I suddenly realized the scene looked familiar. A couple of years ago, my partner became the proud owner of an Ingle oil painting that she christened Duck Pond. It had turned up in, of all unlikely places, the silent auction of the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Hamilton, Ontario. The resemblance of the Art Ritchie photo to Duck Pond was unmistakeable.

Thanks to the kindness of Deborah Chapman, Archivist at the Museum, we’ve since seen a second photo of the ducks of Little Lake (which is in central Salmon Arm), and it further corroborates the similarity. I have little doubt, now, that this painting, too, has been identified in place and time. And the young woman in Duck Pond might well be one of Mrs McGuire’s daughters – she had two daughters who could have been the right sort of age.

As a final bonus, there’s yet another painting, one from our inherited collection, that looks to be a close companion piece to Duck Pond, possibly painted at the same time and place. It, too, has features that agree with elements of the photos, and I believe we can confidently place it at Little Lake. A visit to should allow you to find it easily!

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 ...