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 ( berthamayingle.ca ) 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, gkstudio.ca ) 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

OLIVIA
      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;

                                         W.W.


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 www.berthamayingle.ca should allow you to find it easily!