June 2013 Tour
The information gathered on the September 2012 Tour had given me much to work with back in my New York office. But research on the computer is no match for meeting real people in real time. It was time to get back out on the road.
With time and distance restrictions I needed to target my visits carefully. I chose my future destinations: St. Catharines collectors Les
and Arlene; the administrative assistant of the Aurora Cemetery, Cindy Angers; a collector in Richmond Hill, Dan McDonald; the King City Deputy Chief Librarian, Sharon Bentley; an historian for Heritage Mississauga, Matthew Wilkinson; and Toronto artist-historian-activist-environmentalist, Madeleine McDowell.
I couldn’t wait to get started.
St. Catharines, June 9, 2013
On Sunday, June 9, 2013 I set off for St. Catharines. This time it was my first stop while on the last tour it was the last. Les, Arlene and I wanted to meet again and review future plans for researching Clara’s archive. Les is no stranger to academic research and is the author of an in-depth book on stamp collecting. He proposed the idea of writing a book about Clara’s life and work and offered his expertise.
We also discussed the need for collectors and contacts to meet, brainstorm and plan an exhibit of Clara’s work. Les is on board with his ideas, expertise and paintings to assist with this project.
We then reviewed Clara’s nine paintings. Little did we know that two days later I would meet a collector with sketches either matching or reminiscent of Les and Arlene’s paintings.
Here they are:
Clara sketched and painted the same subjects from different angles, many times. Looking at the sketches and paintings more closely you can see the recurring themes and techniques used. This makes it easy to mistakenly match one with the other. Some of the sketches with the barns are very close to Les’ but are not the same.
Aurora, June 11, 2013
The second day of the trip, Tuesday, June 11, 2013 three strategic appointments were on the calendar thanks to Ann Moynes and her husband Wayne Stickley. They had organized two of the appointments and agreed to accompany me.
The first stop was the Aurora Cemetery, Aurora Ontario. http://auroracemeterycorporation.com/
The purpose was to meet with Cindy Angers, Administrative Assistant. Ann and Cindy had already worked together obtaining information on Clara’s exact date of death as well as providing the photo of Clara’s gravestone.
Above: The Keeper’s House, 1879, Heritage Committee: Town of Aurora.
Right: Cindy Angers and Ann in the archive office.
Clara's mother, Elizabeth Hunter's gravestone
Clara’s youngest sister, Minerva’s gravestone
Clara's father, Richard Perry’s gravestone
And the gravestone of Daisy’s (Clara’s niece’s husband) Fred Schytte
The visit to the cemetery shed more light on Clara, the person. Now it was time to go to our second appointment with collector, Dan McDonald in Richmond Hill, and learn more about Clara, the artist.
Richmond Hill, June 11, 2013
Readers of the site are already familiar with Dan McDonald and his story of finding Clara’s intact sketchbook and other of her works on the side of the road ready for garbage pick-up. And having seen over 250 of Clara’s paintings, but never one sketch, this promised to be a significant visit. We were not disappointed.
Verna and Dan McDonald with Clara’s sketchbook and a framed sketch of Fred’s.
When Ann, Wayne and I arrived Dan had Clara’s sketchbook laid out on the table ready for us to examine. It still had its original cover as well as more than twenty-five images. Dan had done his homework. He’d studied the sketches in great detail, recognized some of the locations where Clara had sketched as well as the preliminaries of the oil paintings they would someday become. Dan had also framed sketches that were not in Clara’s book and had them hanging on the wall.
Sumachs in King City, March 1938
Pioneer Bridge Devels Elbow Port Hope
Pines Down Pat!
Dan went through the sketches describing their respective attributes and possible locations. We had the added advantage of Dan’s familiarity with the Ontario areas where Clara had painted.
On close scrutiny it was evident that parts of the sketches had been used repeatedly in Clara’s paintings. Sometimes the whole image was used but often not. Sometimes a different perspective of a subject or landscape was painted. Clara was resourceful and she recycled.
As many of the sketches are unidentified or untitled by Clara, but match or resemble documented paintings, it becomes easier to identify their locations and possible year.
The sketch is not titled but the painting is titled and dated. The subject is the same, but the subject is at a slightly different angle.
Ontario Pioneer Bridge, Devil's Elbow, Near Port Hope, 1933
Schooner With Sails Down
This boat has been included in many of Clara’s paintings: each from a different perspective.
Again this boat reoccurs in Clara’s paintings.
This untitled sketch initially is not recognizable or particularly interesting, but when matched with painting, Nogie's Creek Mill, Bobcaygeon, (Spring Section of the site) the viewer can see the foundation from which the painting evolved.
Collectors can you identify any of these similarities in your own collections? If you can please share them with us!
Dan also added another “sold” of Clara’s to be added to the Valuation Section of the site: Down By the Mill, Oil on canvas, 52.5 x 67.5. (230) Sold $90.00 (p. 88, Canadian Art at Auction,1975-1980).
As Dan is always looking for good art “finds” he was able to buy two framed cards at his local thrift shop that are now part of this collection:
From Fred’s diary:
Dec. 8, 1937 – George Hornberger & wife here with Mr Rennie from Sarnia, they all enjoyed the pictures
Dec. 9, 1937 – Anna Proctor & Friend here – planning pictures – Martin of Walker Press Paris telegraphed that Rowley’s son would take on art work
Thank you Dan for all of your hard work, initiative and generosity associated with this research project. It benefits all of us!
Ann had set up our next appointment with Sharon Bentley, Deputy Chief Librarian at the King Township Public Library. (www.king-library.on.ca) We were about to learn more about Clara’s ancestry and life as a child.
Sharon provided Ann with pertinent information regarding the location of the Perry farm: Concession VIII, Lot 23, 150 acres in size. Now known as 8th Concession, King Township. The farm was owned by Clara’s grandfather, John Perry, a widower. Clara’s parents Richard and (Isabella) Elizabeth Hunter and their children Elizabeth, Susannah and Clara lived there too. Clara was born on the farm in 1887.
Sharon also gave us the locations of the Pottageville Schoolhouse and church on the 18th Sideroad, King Township, just northeast of the farm location. The 1891 census shows that Richard Perry was Methodist although the denomination of the church is not confirmed. Getting the right information from Sharon saved us hours driving around, speculating about the locations of Clara’s early days.
King City, June 11, 2013
Ann, Sharon Bentley and Verna.
The Perry Farm Today.
View of Perry Farm from Concession VIII.
Looking at the split rail fence and fields the viewer can only wonder if these sights influenced the young Clara’s sense of aesthetics. These landscapes are recurring themes in her work.
Here is the Pottageville schoolhouse, now converted into a home, where Clara might have attended in her early years. Did Clara as a young student imagine that she would some day study at the Ontario College of Art and Art Institute of Chicago? One thing we do know for sure: she could not have conceived of a website dedicated solely to her life and work!
This home was originally a church and possibly where the Perry family worshipped. As Clara’s father was Methodist, but Clara was listed as Christian Scientist on her marriage certificate, the question arises when did she convert to that religion. However in a later description of artists with whom Clara and Fred associated professionally and socially, a number of them were Christian Scientists (ie: Pegi Nicol MacLeod, Lawren Harris)
We had completed our last research stop for the day. Having seen the important places of Clara’s early life we now had a better understanding of her childhood, the impressive journey that she chose to take and the legacy she has left.
Formerly the Pottageville Schoolhouse.
Possible Location of where the Perry Family Worshipped.
June 12, 2013
On Wednesday, June 12, 2013 Ann and I headed off to Meadowvale, Mississauga. Meadowvale in Clara’s time was an artists’ haven including J.W. Beatty, A.J. Casson, Fred Haines, Owen Staples and George Chavignaud. Certain sites and subjects were favourites. One house was such a popular subject that the owners eventually removed the fence so the artists who congregated regularly would have an unobstructed view. As more of Clara’s work “surfaces” this house just might be the subject in one of her sketches or paintings.
The Meadowvale Mill was also a popular subject. Clara’s interpretation, Meadowvale Mill, 1939 can be seen in the Clara Harris Trip, Fall 2012, Cobourg section.
To make the trip as efficient as possible we had an appointment with Heritage Mississauga (www.heritagemississauga.com) historian, Matthew Wilkinson.
And it’s lucky we did! We naively thought it would be easy to find the mill’s remains but without Matthew, the trip would have been fruitless. So little of such a large building is left: its abandoned bits and pieces, in disorder and invaded by foliage.
A Popular Subject of Meadowvale Painters
Matthew Wilkinson, Historian,
Courtesy of Heritage Mississauga
From this view looking out to the road is a black and white house: 1090 Old Derry Road West. It was the Bell Hotel, built in 1844. As Matthew has spent his life in Meadowvale; is a scholar who uses archival material daily; and has examined Clara’s sketches closely; he’s made a significant connection. He thinks one of Clara’s sketches is the Bell Hotel. An original photograph of the building shows a porch, upstairs centre window and roofline that are distinctive. Matt explained that if you follow the architectural lines of the structures in the sketch and the house today, the resemblance is very close. Having visited Dan McDonald only two days previously, seen the sketch and mulled over possible locations of the house, makes this discovery more pertinent. Another piece of the Clara Harris puzzle falls into place.
Meadowvale Mill Site: The existing remains and river are to the right of this photo.
Clara and Fred, like other artists who went to Meadowvale, could have stayed overnight and bought art supplies. Matthew pointed out “The Apple Tree Inn” which was a favourite respite and still exists today.
From Fred’ diary: Mar 8, 1939 – out to Meadowvale & sketched up the road.
There is no reference to which road, so it is possible that certain undocumented buildings or scenes portrayed in Clara’s work can be identified with closer scrutiny.
Also the Harris’ fraternized with well-known artists there. From Fred’s diary: Sep 6, 1939 – Portraits -Took Jack Radford to Meadowvale to see Chavignaugh
This reference to “Chavignaugh” is conceivably noted artist Georges Chavignaud.
The last part of our Meadowvale tour was to meet Rosemary and Terry Wilson: two very talented and tireless individuals.Concerned about the loss of Meadowvale’s heritage they have created an extensive miniature village which is captured in this video link: (Meadowvale Miniature Village - YouTube)
Not only is this re-creation amazing due to its detail and scope but for what it represents: the loss of history, a habitable environment and a sense of place. Clara and the Wilsons have something in common: through artistic interpretation, they have created valuable portrayals of the past and the reminder that without constant vigilance more will be lost.
Mother-son team, Rosemary and Terry Wilson.
And this building was the general store.
Lambton House, June 13, 2013
Thursday, June 13, 2013 was the last day of this research trip. Madeleine McDowell, (artist, historian, environmentalist, activist) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXLMYuNDW-k&list=PLAE24207FFE9EC600&index=1) who had met with Ann and I at Lambton House in September of 2012 agreed to meet with us again. Madeleine’s knowledge of many of the areas where Clara had painted were extensive. We needed help identifying some “mystery” areas. But first Madeleine wanted to show us something in the Lambton House conference room. The Lambton House staff had created a gallery using the eleven copies of Clara’s paintings that we had give to Lambton House in 2012. They were chosen for their relevancy to this area of Toronto: educating visitors of the importance of preserving artifacts and existing landscapes.
Now on to the identification of the “mystery locations”. Before going out on the road, Madeleine gave an overview of the tour she had set up based on the locations of Clara’s paintings and my questions: where was Church St, The Kingsway, the grey barn on the Humber River, Jane Highway Lower Riverside, and Berry Road at the Bottom of the Humber River.
We then drove to our first stop: Clara’s Church St., The Kingsway, Morning,
May 16, 1934.
Lost scenes of the west end of Toronto.
Verna McLean and Madeleine McDowell with the other five of Clara’s creations.
Madeleine reviewing the tour route based on Clara’s paintings.
Madeleine using Lambton House’s archival photos as references
Heading north from Shand Avenue on Prince Edward Drive towards Dundas Street
Prince Edward Drive with Lambton-Kingsway Park on the left-hand side
This location had always baffled me. I had looked at old maps but could not locate it. The only Church Street I knew was in Weston. And without Madeleine’s help the locations would still elude me: Church St. is now Prince Edward Drive. Church St. was a dirt road in 1934 and Clara painted it from either a northern view or a southern one.
Whichever view it was, one thing is for sure: there’s no room for horseback riders on Prince Edward Drive today!
From here we took Old Dundas Street which at that time was “The River Road” and “Home Smith Park Road” to get to the Humber River. We stopped at the bend that is just south of where Clara’s series of Little Falls at Lambton paintings were done.
Madeleine said that the bend in the Humber River was still there but the grey barn, houses and buildings are long gone. Some destroyed by Hurricane Hazel in 1954, https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/08/12/torontos_humber_river_a_canadian_heritage_river_worth_protecting.html
The grey barn which was the subject of many of Clara’s paintings was part of the “Marx” farm.
Looking north towards Dundas St you can see Dundas overpass and the “Little Falls at Lambton”.
Grey Barn By Stream in Autumn
Humber River With Two Buildings in Background
This wall may be included in some of Clara’s Humber River paintings.
Site of Marx Farm
A house can be seen up in the right upper corner of the photo.
This stone wall which is below the Baby Point area was there during Clara’s time and may have been included in some of her sketches and paintings.
Looking towards Baby Point from the west side of the Humber River you can see a house through the trees. Without Etienne Brule Park, the natural beauty of the Humber River, would be even less “natural”.
Madeleine then took us to a registered archival site: the remains of Fisher’s Mill. The remains are obscured by undergrowth and trees and it is possible that Clara painted here too.
Our next stop was to identify the correct site of Clara’s Jane Highway, Lower Riverside, January 1, 1941.
The location that I chose and photographed in the summer tour of 2011 (See July 2011, Research Tours) is incorrect. Madeleine showed us how to use the topography in the painting and match it as closely as possible to the present terrain. The hilly topography in Clara’s painting and that behind the houses in the photo is approximately at 57 South Kingsway facing north: just north of where Riverside Drive branches into the South Kingsway. Madeleine identified the proper site which is farther north than my choice.
The hill in Clara’s painting is behind these houses.
South Kingsway looking north. The hill in Clara’s painting is behind the houses where the trees are growing on the left hand-side of the photo. The curve of the South Kingsway has not changed.
Site of Fisher’s Mill
Riverside Drive looking north from the Queensway, c. 1900.
Humber River looking S.E. to Stephen Drive. The building seen in the picture is at the north end of Stephen Drive, north of Berry Road.
Humber River looking north from the same spot as the other photo.
The last “mystery location” to be identified was Clara’s Berry Road at the Bottom of the Humber River. My choice of location (see website photos from 2011 tour) brought many queries from readers. Ruth S. of Etobicoke, true to her promise, took photos in April 2013 with this comment and photos (above).
From Ruth, ”I do not think the photos show where the painting was made just a decent view in the general area.”
First Madeleine took us south on Stephen Drive to South Humber Park: a place I didn’t know existed and consequently would not have explored. Stephen Drive was farmland until the 1950’s and walking deeper into the park towards the bottom of the Humber River reveals what’s left of a peaceful sanctuary of wildlife and vegetation.
However after exploring South Humber Park, Madeleine concluded that this was not the location. Using her “topography” matching system of comparing the details in Clara’s painting with today’s site, we believe we’ve found the spot: Berry Road and Stephen Drive.
Madeleine believes that Clara was on the north side of the ridge on Berry Road facing Stephen Drive and painted the face of the ridge to the south.Solving the “mystery locations” of Clara’s paintings, even when documented, is hard work. “Progress” has altered and often left unrecognizable the areas that Clara captured. But having the tools of the trade helps: listen to the queries of readers; go to the right sources for information; ask authorities for assistance; become familiar and study the area; use old maps and photographs; develop a sense of direction; and understand the topography and history of the place. Developing and using all of these skills and tools is the foundation of good research. Thanks again to Madeleine for demonstrating this. After leaving Madeleine and the west end of Toronto, Ann and I headed north to compare the Malton Road of today with the Malton Road captured in Clara’s painting.
Malton Road heading north towards Highway 401.
Entrance to South Humber Park from Stephen Drive
Madeleine and Ann on the South Humber Park pathway.
Heading towards the bottom of the Humber
The ridge in Clara’s painting is in the right hand part of the photo.
Berry Road and Stephen Drive facing south
Malton Road, Toronto
Malton Road looking south. If this road didn’t have a sign to identify it the viewer would be hard pressed to know where he/she was.
Clara’s pastoral scene, Malton Road, with the barn, elm trees and golden stooks is reminiscent of my childhood when my parents, for entertainment would “go for a drive”. I should have appreciated it a lot more knowing what I do today. To see a landscape like this outside of Toronto in 2013, means wrestling with heavy traffic and driving miles through one “placeless” suburb after another. All that’s left is a brick jungle, denuded of trees, and devoid of human scale.
So ends the five day Clara Harris 2013 Tour but as with any research there is always room for improvement. I look forward to your feedback and suggestions.