"Greg and Jim"

The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

A Mere Matter of Clothes

By Greg Clark, May 23, 1941

In which Greg and Jimmie confirm the old adage that one good turn deserves another good turn

“Guess who’s in the army?” cried Jimmie Frise.

“Goodness knows,” I guessed.

“Wesley,” shouted Jim.

“Not old Wes?” I protested. “Why, he’s older than we are.”

“He’s in,” declared Jimmie excitedly. And he’s coming over to the house tonight. In his uniform. And I said you’d be there for sure.”

“I’ll be there. I stated. “If only to find out how he did it.”

“Well, he did it by persistence, of course, said Jim. “He hasn’t drawn a happy breath since this war started. Now he’s in heaven.”

“But he’s away over 50,” I protested. “Wes is just about the Methuselah of the army, I’d say.”

“You’re jealous,” smiled Jimmie. “Just jealous.”

“Not me,” I assured him. “I’ve seen a lot more of this war than old Wes will ever see. I’ve seen more of it than most of our army has seen yet.”

“Yeah, but a war correspondent isn’t a soldier,” submitted Jim, “even if you have a uniform.”

“This country has come to a pretty pass,” I insisted, “if they have to take men as old as Wes.”

“I think they took him,” said Jim, “to get rid of him. He has been public nuisance Number One at all the military headquarters in the country, including Ottawa. He has a file nearly a half a foot thick from Ottawa alone.”

“What’s he going to do?” I inquired. “What branch is he with?”

“Oh, some supply department,” said Jim. “He’s too old to fight.”

“Why, he was in the old First Division, a quarter of a century ago,” I scoffed. “He enlisted on August 5, 1914. I remember thinking he was rather oldish for a lieutenant in that old war.”

“He was a great fighter,” declared Jim. “He won two decorations.”

“Maybe it is just to show off his ribbons that he’s been so crazy to get back in,” I suggested.

“Now, that’s a lousy thing to say,” declared Jim. “Even if your jealousy does hurt you, you shouldn’t say a thing like that. Wes deserves great credit and honor. If there had been more men like Wes in this country we’d have been better off.”

“I’m sorry,” I apologized. “You’re quite right. Wes is a real patriot, even if he hasn’t done so good these past 20 years.”

“He’s just had bad luck,” said Jim.

“Bad luck?” I laughed. “The last war ruined Wes. He came back from the old war a hero. And there was no more call for heroes. So instead of forgetting about the old war and settling down to business like the rest of us, he tried to travel through life on his reputation as a soldier. There were plenty like him.”

Solver of All Problems

“I didn’t know you felt like this about Wes,” said Jimmie. “I thought you liked him a lot.”

“I do like him,” I explained. “But I think it is silly for an old guy like him…”

“Heh, heh, heh,” laughed Jimmie. “I’d like to see the standing broad jump you’d take if you got the same chance Wes got.”

“I know my age,” I declared, “and my capacity.”

“Ah, the army,” sighed Jim dreamily. “No more worry. No more fretting. You get up to a bugle and you go to bed by a bugle. You eat to a bugle call and you go to work to a bugle call. Your pay goes on, whether you work or not. The more dependants you have, the larger your allowance. No cares in the world.”

“It sure must be heaven to old Wes,” I agreed. “He hasn’t had a steady job for 22 years until now. He first tried selling insurance to all his old army friends. Then he went into the stock brokerage business. Then he got a job as sales manager of a novelty furniture company. He came in to see me one day with some crazy kind of collapsible shell he tried to sell me. His life, ever since the last war, has been one long worry. No wonder he was frantic to get back into the good old, safe old, cosy old army.”

“Well, the way things are going,” said Jim, “with taxes and everything, it seems to me the boys in the army are the wise guys.”

“Maybe that’s why I feel a little envious,” I confessed. “The army sure was wonderful wasn’t it? When I first enlisted, I thought with a kind of horror about the surrender of my personal liberty to an institution like the army. But suddenly I found all my personal cares had been lifted from me. All the little, petty carping worries and anxieties of my daily life vanished. I had nothing any more to decide. Everything was decided for me. Always somebody to tell me what to do. I did not even have to decide how to dress for the day. It was all laid down in orders. I did not have to make any decisions as to how I would spend the day or even my spare time in the evenings. There it all was, laid down in the syllabus.”

“It’s freedom, that’s what it is,” declared Jim. “Army life is not the surrender of freedom. It is the sudden liberation from a thousand little, unrealized cares that like a swarm of bees follow a man in civilian life wherever he goes.”

“We never understand how enmeshed like fish we are in little bonds and shackles,” I agreed, “until we go into the army and discover the nearest approach to freedom there is in the world.”

“A monk in holy orders,” said Jim, “escapes from the cares of the world.”

“And a soldier can do what he likes in the evening,” I added.

“The army is the solver of all problems,” declared Jim.

“It is the only way I know,” I concluded, “in which you can chuck your troubles and tribulations on the nation’s back and get credit for it.”

“Maybe Wes can give us some tips on how to get back in,” suggested Jim.

Back in Uniform

“What rank has he got?” I inquired.

“Lieutenant,” said Jim.

“Well, I couldn’t get along on lieutenant’s pay,” I pointed out. “I was a major in the last war. If I could get a colonel’s job…”

“You’re a lot wiser than you were in the old war,” agreed Jim.

“And there are a lot of jobs on organization and so forth,” I submitted, “where I could fit in without losing my wind at all the hills.”

So after supper I went down to Jim’s and we sat on the steps until Wes arrived. We saw him coming halfway up the block. He was magnificent. The old Wes I had seen many a time bowed and shrunken with his worries and disappointments of the past 10 years had left not a vestige of its mark upon the fine upstanding soldier coming down the street, his back as straight as ever it was, his head up, his chin out, and carrying his little swagger-stick as carelessly as though he had held a swagger-stick all his life. His stride was long and lithe. He was like a parade all in himself.

“Let’s give him a cheer,” I said.

“Don’t embarrass him,” cautioned Jim.

So we rose to our feet and stood forth to meet him in honor.

“Wes,” I said, wringing his hand, “this is a great treat for us all.”

“It’s nothing, boys,” he said happily. “It’s where I should have been 18 months ago …”

Even his manner was altered. Wes, of recent years, had got a tired sort of voice, with a little tinge of complaint in it. Not now. His voice was vigorous and it rang. And there was just the trace of an English accent in it, such as many of us affected in the old war.

So we went inside and got settled in the living-room and all gloated.

“When did you put it on, Wes?” we asked.

“I didn’t get the uniform until 5 o’clock,” laughed Wes. “I haven’t had it on three hours.”

“And yet you look as if you had never had it off,” said Jim heartily. “Sit down, Wes.”

But Wes would not sit down. He preferred to stand. He stood against the mantel. He stood over by the windows, his hands behind his back. He walked back and forth in the living room. In a new uniform, you hate to sit down.

His ribbons glowed on his chest. Men of 50 are pretty crafty at noting the age of their peers. A man of 50 who can carry his years is an ever-pressing reproach to all his fellows.

“My first parade,” said Wes, “tomorrow morning.”

“Are you going to have to drill again?” I exclaimed

“Ah, no,” said Wes. “This is just an office parade. I mean that I must present myself to my new C.O. at 8.30 am. He’s quite a stickler. I want to make a good impression.”

A Bit of Spit and Polish

You could see the old Wes feebly trying to assert himself amidst the force and splendor of the new Wes.

“May I suggest,” I ventured kindly, “that you could put a bit of the old spit and polish on those buttons?”

“They’re lacquered,” said Wes. “I haven’t got a batman yet. I may not have one for some time, they told me. So I thought I would leave that lacquer as long as I could to protect the shine.”

“Aw, Wes,” I protested. “An old soldier like you? With dull buttons?”

“They’re not dull,” said Jim.

“I agree they’re not what they should be,” said Wes, looking down appreciatively at his handsome frontal expanse. “But I have no button stick, yet, and no polish. It takes a little time to get things organized again, after all the years…”

And he gazed at space with a strange, joyous, exalted expression on his face.

“After all the years,” he said quietly.

“What chance,” began Jimmie, “do you think we might have, Wes, of getting back into the game?”

“I’m shocked, Wes,” I cut in, “to think that an old soldier like you would be stumped by the want of a button stick. Haven’t you made hundreds of them, in your younger days, out of cardboard?”

“Where’s some cardboard?” laughed Wes, promptly. “Jimmie, find us a bit of stiff cardboard. And have you any metal polish in the house?”

“Down cellar there’s sure to be polish,” said Jim, rising.

So we followed him. And down cellar on the shelves we found three kinds of metal polish. And Jim got a piece of heavy card board, from which we fashioned a button stick. In the army, it is usually of brass. It is a small panel of brass with a slot cut in it which you slide under your buttons to polish them and keep the cleaning fluid off your tunic. We made one, as most soldiers do, out of the cardboard.

“Have you got a good polish,” asked Wes. “that will cut the lacquer?”

From the three assorted polishes, we chose the one that seemed likely to have the most bite.

“Wes,” I said, “take off your tunic and let me have the honor of being your first batman in the great world war.”

And Jim gave me a friendly look, as much as to say that I was making decent amends for some of the things I had said behind Wes’ back. But I am a great believer in acts of humility. I sometimes think they are about the only ones that God happens to notice.

Wes took off his tunic and handed it to me. I slid on the button stick under the buttons and proceeded to wet them up. The lacquer was very hard. I had only rags, but Jim dug up an old brush and with that I scrubbed the buttons. And under Wes’ anxious eye, I began to get results. The lacquer certainly began to dissolve.

“Now,” said Wes, “lay on the flannelette.”

And you should have seen those buttons gleam.

“To think,” said Wes, ashamed, “I came through the streets with those dull buttons.”

A Great and Broken Cry

Long and tenderly we buffed and fluffed the brass buttons until they shone like liquid jewels.

“You know,” I submitted, “a batman’s life isn’t so bad.”

But when we removed the cardboard button stick to attack the smaller buttons on the pockets of the tunic, Wes let out a great and broken cry.

For around each button was a nasty yellowish stain from the brass polish seeping through the cardboard.

“Quick, quick,” shouted Wes in an agonized voice. “Get something.”

“Water, Jim,” I shouted.

“No, no,” bellowed Wes, “some kind of cleaning fluid.”

“Cleaning fluid,” said Jim, promptly diving into the cupboard. “I saw it here.”

And he came out with a large glass jug labelled “Cleaning fluid.”

“Douse it on,” I commanded.

“Easy now, easy,” begged Wes, his voice cracking with anguish.

Jim got a fresh rag and we dipped it in the cleaning fluid and wiped it over the stains around the buttons. Instantly the nasty yellowish stains turned white, as if the very dye out of the khaki cloth had been removed.

“Oh, oh, oh,” roared Wes, snatching the tunic from us.

Jimmie found out later, from the family, that this cleaning fluid was for cleaning floors and sinks and things like that.

“Wes,” I said, as he stood staring in rage at the beautiful new tunic with the horrid ghastly stains all down the front, as neatly spaced as the buttons themselves, “I hope you don’t think I did this on purpose.”

“On purpose?” cried Wes, too confused and amazed to try to understand.

“I’m an artist,” said Jim, resolutely, “I think I can mix up some color in some kind of medium that will touch out those spots temporarily.”

“My first parade,” said Wes, “tomorrow at 8.30.”

“The tunic is ruined,” I said bitterly.

“Come upstairs,” commanded Jim firmly. “I’ll see what can be done.”

So while Wes sat, all hunched up and broken in heart in the living-room, Jim worked in his study, where he keeps his amateur artist stuff – he is in artist by profession, but is a pretty fair amateur artist on the side tinkers at landscapes and things – and taking a tiny patch of cloth from the inside of one of the tunic pockets he worked with colors in ink and alcohol until he got a reasonable match for khaki.

But when he picked up the tunic to start applying the color, he found, with a great yell, that the nasty spots had almost disappeared from the cloth. Only a vague circle of paler color surrounded the buttons.

So we took a damp cloth and sponged around some more until we had abstracted still more of the offending polish and cleaner. And by the time the cloth dried, you could barely see the stains, even in bright 100-watt light.

Wes donned the tunic and stood a little way off.

“Why,” cried Jimmie, “all it looks like that the shine of the buttons has lit up the surrounding cloth.”

So Wes ceased muttering and went off home and we have no doubt his first parade was a complete success.


Editor’s Notes: As indicated in the story, Greg was already a war correspondent at this point in World War Two, and was in Europe during the fall of France.

A swagger-stick was a short stick like a riding crop that officers would carry as a symbol of authority.

A batman was a servant to an officer. This was much more common in the First World War, when class hierarchies were much more prominent in the British Army, and to a lesser extent, in Canada.

As described in the story, a button stick was used as an aid to polishing buttons.

Looking for the “Prince of Whales”

May 19, 1928

By Greg Clark, May 19, 1928

American Tourists Have Quaint Notions About Canada

The lanky, well-dressed stranger strolled up to the bell captain of the King Edward.

“I’m from the States,” he said. “I want to take a run around your city and see the points of interest – the state house and that sort of thing. Whereabouts is the residence of the Prince of Whales?”

The bell captain informed him that the Prince of Whales did not live in Toronto.

“Ah, he’s in Montreal, eh? Or is it Que-bec?”

No, the Prince of Whales, the bell boy regretted to inform the American visitor, lived in London, England, and only visited Canada on rare occasions, spending most of his visit aboard Pullman cars.

“But he’s got a ranch here somewhere,” said the American.

He doubted the bell captain’s knowledge and inquired elsewhere, with the result that a most curious and interesting conversation developed.

“I had it firmly fixed in my mind,” confessed the American during this discussion, that the Prince of Whales lived in Canada the way the King lives in England. I thought you had princes instead of governors, you know, state governors.

“But tell me, it’s a fact, is it not, that you have British regiments quartered here in Canada?”

“No. We have one permanent infantry regiment in Canada – but it’s Canadian.”

“But you pay taxes to the King of England don’t you?” asked the American, shrewdly.

“No. We pay no taxes and we put a duty on nearly everything that comes from Britain.”

“No!” said the American, entirely out of his depth. “Well, I declare. Still, all your officials in your government at Quee-bec are sent out from England, aren’t they?”

“No, the only official sent out to this country from Britain to the governor general, and even at that we choose the one we want out of a number suggested by the King’s advisers. A matter of fact, there is a discussion under way just now regarding the appointment of a Canadian as governor general in future.”

“Then you’re turning?’ suggested the American.

“Turning?”

“Turning away from England,” added the American.

“England has nothing to do with it,” explained his Canadian Baedecker. “Canada is more British, in the sense of empire, than England. Canada is peopled by English, Scotch and Irish who have done something for the British Empire besides stay at home. The King, as far as we are concerned, is a Canadian. It may hurt a Californian to know that your president is a New Englander. But it doesn’t bother us Canadians to know that our King is an Englishman. We still think he would be better if he were a Canadian, just as your Californian thinks the President would be better if he were a Native Son.”

It’s Hard to Beat the Movies

“Well, sir, yesterday,” said the American, “I saw lot of cavalry riding out near your Sunnyside park and I thought you were a hundred and fifty years behind the rest of America.”

“We are a little backward,” said his Canadian adviser, “in some respects; for instance, it worries us Canadians that we can’t seem to put on quite as much of a celebration for the Prince of Wales whenever he comes to America as New York can.”

All of which is a quaint and comic but by no means rare instance of the extraordinary point of view entertained by countless numbers of our American visitors.

At the Niagara Falls office of the Toronto Convention and Tourist Association, a party of ladies and gentlemen drew up in a costly car and came in to get information about crossing the border.

They stood in the office, glancing about. Then one of the ladies said under her breath to her husband:

“Why, they’ve got everything printed in English.”

They made no move to ask for anything. 50 the young lady who is manager of the office step ped forward.

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

“I knew you were an American!” cried the lady enthusiastically.

“I’m proud to tell you I’m a Canadian,” said the girl.

“But you’ve been educated in the States?”

“No, I was educated in Toronto, Canada.”

“Well, what in the world language do they speak over there anyway?” cried the American.

It takes a lot of propaganda to defeat the movies, for example. And what little of Canada has ever been in the movies has been mounted police, French-Canadians coureur de bois, Eskimos and dogs. When Canada gets into the news in a big way in the States, it is when trans-atlantic fliers pass over the Labrador wastes or land on our coasts so that it takes weeks to get them off even by flying machines. Or when balloonists land in Canada, they nearly die of it. The news reels that show glimpses of Canada are not views of our tall cities but shots of the arrival of the governor-general surrounded by protective soldiering or perhaps a bit from the Calgary stampede which is a circus mostly made up of troupers and trick performers from over the border.

Since 1926 the Toronto Convention and Tourist Association has been striving to defeat the movies and the sensational reports as part of its propaganda.

“But Toronto still remains,” states E. R. Powell, managing director of the association, “the poorest-known big city on the North American continent.”

“They Speak the Same Language”

There are three restaurants in Toronto that belong to a well-known chain of American restaurants and these are eagerly seized upon by the American tourists as a little bit of home.

“Why!” declare those who have motored right through from the border, as they pay for their meal at the cash desk, “your money looks exactly like ours! Yes, one dollar bills, sure as you live. And dimes and nickels!”

The manager tells of countless curious angles.

“You eat practically the same as we do in the States,” said one shrewd visitor. “Why, when I was in France, I could hardly get a single bit of what you might call civilized cooking.”

“I’m glad your restaurants are over in this country. I’ve read a good deal of Canadian literature in the magazines, and the one thing I was scared about coming over here was the things I’d have to eat -pemmican and bannock and pea soup and those things, and I’ve delicate stomach.”

Ex-Mayor Webb of Winnipeg describes a trip he made last winter to Florida. At one stop they overheard the children, in disappointed voices, saying: “They wear the same kind of clothes we do!” “They speak the same language we do.”

At the Niagara Falls office one elderly woman asked if she could see the boat that sails for Europe If she walked across the bridge. Three young men were in this office getting information and they argued the question whether to have lunch in Niagara Falls or wait until they got to Montreal.

Montreal and Toronto are not merely close together in the minds of a large proportion of the tourists, but they are readily interchangeable. Montreal is where Toronto is and Toronto is somewhere else. Canada to them is a little colony on the northern border, back of which is the arctic circle.

Even when they see Toronto they cannot realize that their previous conception is shot. A party came into The Star office last summer to ask if we knew of a man named Billings, an American living somewhere in Ontario.

“In Toronto? We’ll look him up in the directory.”

“No, he don’t live in Toronto, but somewhere here in Ontario. He’s an American. We thought probably you’d know of him. An American, named Billings.”

And they meant it.

It is generally believed by Toronto people that our fine big policemen are a source of wonder and admiration to the American visitors. We print stories about what the tourists any regarding the force.

But there are other angles. We asked an American what he thought of our police, as compared with the general type of stick-swinging, lamp-post leaning cop.

“I guess you’ve got to have good big police men over here, with all those outlaws and lumberjacks riding into town every once in a while,” said the American seriously.

May 19, 1928

But Let’s Not Be Snooty

School book history was doubtless responsible for another remark about the Toronto police.

“Mostly old soldiers, aren’t they?” asked the American.

“A good many are.”

“The police are kept up by the English, I suppose.”

Won’t somebody please write the Great Canadian Novel – all about Canada us it really is today – with enough eternal triangle and it in it to make it a best seller in the States? We’ve got to do something soon to counteract Sir Gilbert Parker and James Oliver Curwood, not to mention school histories that cease to refer to Canada after the War of 1812.

Of course, the best possible educational work is being done now, regardless of any effort. The Americans are coming to Canada as a playground in annual tidal waves that seem to double in volume every year. The tourist traffic is now one of the greatest commercial assets of the province of Ontario and within a very few years may be the greatest asset, regardless of mines, agriculture and everything else. Because there is no credit in the tourist business. It is all cash.

A flood of cash business bursting on Ontario’s shore every summer. And the more the Americans are astonished and enlightened the more they will talk when they get home. And the more they talk about Canada the bigger will be the tidal wave next summer. They are coming from far and near. And no other kind of propaganda could do what word-of-mouth is doing to enlighten the huge population to the south with regard to the facts about Canada.

There is a certain kind of Canadian who is snooty with all Americans. There are various reasons for this attitude. Part of it originates in the natural jealousy of a small country for a powerful neighbor. Part of it is the same ignorance that makes the American imagine “England” rules Canada as a colony, a sentimental hang-over from a century and a half ago.

But there is one ready-to-wear attitude that Canadians can wear in their relations with Americans. One thing every American speaks about in Canadians is the “manners” of Canadians. We are supposed to be a graceful and well-bred race.

If we are well-bred, good-mannered and courteous to our visitors, and if we use our humor and imagination in promoting the disillusionment that is progressing rapidly every moment that they are in the country, we will build up a tradition that will be even more valuable than the legend of the mounties and the whiskered Pierre and the canoe sliding down a mighty torrent.

Because that movie legend has not been without value.

It has advertised Canada as a land of vast natural resources, water power, minerals, unlimited forests.

And that is what the tourists are coming over to see.


Editor’s Notes: At the time of writing, the Governor-General of Canada was still British, though as indicated, there had been public discussion of the post being given to a Canadian.

Baedeker was a publisher of travel guides.

I don’t understand what is trying to be said with the line that mentions “eternal triangle”. Eternal Triangle was a term that meant “love triangle”, so maybe it was a disdain against the kind of books that were popular?

Sir Gilbert Parker and James Oliver Curwood were popular writers, the first on historical French Canada, and the second on the wilderness of Alaska and Yukon.

The “Secret” Session

May 17, 1930

This particular comic shows some of the issues of working with microfilm. One side was poorly opened resulting a very dark shadow that cannot be cleaned.

On observer mentions that television would be better. Though only experimental in 1930, the concept of television was well known as early as the 1920s, and many people knew it was only a matter of time before it became practical and widespread.

Off to Sea!

By Greg Clark, May 20, 1933

“Jimmie,” I said, “let’s just run away from it all!”

“All what?” asked Jim.

“All this trouble and work and being in debt,” said I. “Just let’s disappear.”

“How about our wives and children?” inquired Jim.

“They’d be all right,” I said. “In fact, they might be better off without us for a few years.”

“A few years?” cried Jim.

“Well, life is passing us by,” I explained. “Here we are, Jim, you and me, and except for a little war now and again, we have never been no place and we ain’t seen nothing. Look at Gordon Sinclair. Where is he now? In some incredible, land around the other side of the earth. In Zanzibar or the Heebie Jeebie Islands. He sees life. He’s living. But we will get old and die, and it will be Just the same as if we had never lived at all.”

“Life is pretty quiet for most people,” said Jim.

“Listen,” I cried. “Don’t let us be saps! We’ve done pretty well by everybody so far. We’ve been faithful husbands and model fathers. We’ll be forgiven if we just suddenly vanish.”

“Well,” admitted Jim, “they knew we were a little bit goofy all along.”

“They would say the strain told on us,” I said. “They’d be all right. Somebody would look after them.”

“Who?”

“Well, better people than us are on relief,” I said. “And while we are suffering on some tropical coral reef, like Sinclair is, our families will be going through a valuable and character-building experience here. What I am afraid of is, Jim, that not only are we missing life, but our families are being brought up soft.”

“H’m,” said Jim. “You should be selling stocks and bonds. You have a pious line.”

“Jimmie,” I demanded, rising, “do you plan to go on drawing Birdseye Centers till you die? Do you plan to keep adding Birdseye Centers to Birdseye Center until, added end to end, they will stretch from here to Indo-China? Why not go to Indo-China yourself?”

Jim turned pale. I had hit him where he lives. The only way he can get one Birdseye Center done is by pretending it is the last he will ever do.

Jim shoved back his chair and stood up. From his window in the tower of The Star building you can look right down on Toronto bay, and see all the docks, with the steamers and big tramp ships like toys lined up below you. The bay was shimmering blue. The ships were bright with red and white and black. I came and stood looking down on them with Jim.

Far beyond, to the blue and beckoning horizon, stretched the great lake.

Jim stood staring. As we watched in silence this gateway from the prison of life, a steamer backed slowly out from one of the wharves and turning its slim bow seaward, gathered speed and slowly, emotionally, sped away under our very noses.

“Jim,” I cried, huskily, “there she goes!”

“Day after day,” said Jim in a low voice, “the same old round. Down to the office. Sit at the desk. Wiggle the fingers. Push back the chair. Go back home. Steal a little joy with your family and kids. Then up in the morning. Back to the office. Wiggle the fingers.”

He whirled around and glared at me.

“Let’s go!” he rasped. “Let’s go, let’s start, and if we go we go! And if we don’t go, it will be a sign.”

“Wait a minute,” I cautioned him. “We ought to just straighten up our desks and settle a few –“

“No,” declared Jim, harshly, shoving his pens and paper and stuff aside and reaching for his hat. “We go right now!”

“Come on,” commanded Jim. “When we go, we go. We’ll go down there to the bay, and we’ll find the biggest tramp ship with steam up and we’ll grab jobs on her – deck hands, stewards, stokers, anything, and where she goes, we’ll go. No use dilly-dallying. When you decide to go nuts, go nuts. Come on.”

I followed him as he strode down the hall, into the elevators. My skin was prickling. You don’t just walk out of the dear old Star office just like that! There were hands I wanted to shake. Farewells to say. Grudges to forgive with a warm handclasp. Bygones to be let go by.

But Jim stood in front of me as the elevator plunged to the ground. He took my arm in the lobby and hustled me on to the street.

“Wo ought to have old clothes,” I protested as he scampered me along beside him.

“What for?” demanded Jim. “What do we want these clothes for any more?”

“I should have telephoned my house,” I said. “I’d like to hear my wife’s voice just once more. Or maybe my little girl’s. She plays in the room where the telephone is.”

That would kill it,” said Jim. “One sound and you’d change your mind. Listen, don’t even think about such things until we are outside the Gulf of St. Lawrence!”

“It’s pretty sudden,” I said weakly.

We hustled down Bay St. Along the waterfront we hastened, past all kinds of ships, passenger ships, small freighters, big freighters.

“Out here beyond the Terminal Warehouse,” said Jim, “there are some big freighters. I saw one with steam up from my window.”

We saw ahead a big black funnel sticking up above the wharf houses, and from it rose a thin stream of black smoke.

“Here we are,” said Jim tensely, “the ship of Fate.”

As we came even and started down her immense and rusty side, no one was visible. Not a living soul was to be seen. My spirits rose a little.

“Ship ahoy!” shouted Jim.

A man appeared on her deck. A huge, unshaven man in a black sweater, smoking a cigar.

“Hello,” he said.

“Are you taking any hands aboard?” asked Jim, in a strong, hearty, seafaring manner.

“What kind of hands?” asked the big man, spitting overside.

“Well, we’re a couple of landlubbers,” said Jim, “who are tired of being ashore and we want to go to sea. I’m asking you, man to man, have you got any place for a couple of men who don’t care how little money they make as long as they go to sea.”

“I might,” said the big fellow in crafty voice, “need a couple of stokers.”

A Stirring Moment

“Where are you bound?” asked Jim.

“All over the world,” said the unshaven one.

“South America?” asked Jim. “Valparaiso, Rio?”

“All over,” said the big fellow, distantly, “Suez, Port Said.”

“When do we sail?” asked Jim, advancing to the gang plank.

“Almost any time,” said the big fellow.

“Are we hired?”

“As stokers,” said the big fellow. “Git below.”

So Jim led and I followed up the gang plank, along a dusty and dirty deck and back to the rear end of the ship where there was a sort of cabin with ladder leading far down into stoke-hole in which a dim fire glowed.

“Leave your coats up here,” said the big fellow.

“Are you the captain?” I asked.

“Sure,” said the big man, tipping his soiled cap back.

As we removed our coats, a man in greasy overalls appeared out of another door.

“Whose these?” he demanded gruffly of the captain.

“A couple of new stokers,” said the captain. “Just signed on for the run to Venezuela and Valparaiso.”

The greasy man stared grimly at us and vanished.

“The chief engineer,” explained the captain.

He led us down the ladder. The place was full of soft coal, and on one side, in one of the four furnace doors, fire was glowing.

“Now,” said the captain, “I’m going to leave you birds in here all day. I’m going to close down the hatch so as not to have too much draft on that fire. But you two have got to keep that gauge there up to one hundred pounds, no more, no less.”

“Are we going to be alone at this?” asked Jim.

“The night watch is just gone off duty,” said the captain. “They will come on about six o’clock.”

“Where will we be by then?” asked Jim.

“Somewhere in the St. Lawrence,” said the captain.

“How about lunch?”

“I’ll bring it down to you myself,” said the captain.

He climbed the ladder.

“Git going,” he said to us, as he reached the top and slammed the iron doors shut.

It was romantic down in that black hold. The black coal. The red glow of fire. We took big shovels and heaved couple of scoops of coal on to the fire.

“Well,” said Jim, resting on his shovel, “we’re away.”

And at that instant we felt the throb of engines starting and the ship trembled all over.

It was stirring moment. Jim and I leaped to our shovel and heaved coal. The gauge had risen to 110.

“Easy there,” cried Jim in his new nautical manner. “Vast heaving. Hold her at a hundred, the captain said.”

So we sat down on hunks of coal and looked at each other as we felt the ship moving out from her berth. We could feel her slowly turning as she backed into Toronto Bay and swung her nose to the open world.

The engines slowly thumped and thudded, sometimes going fast, sometimes slow, and once they stopped altogether.

“Going through the eastern gap,” said Jim with a catch in his voice. “Taking it slow.”

Just a Little Homesick

Once more the engines started their steady thumping. Jim and I stood up in the dark and glowing coal hold and shook hands solemnly. We were at sea!

The gauge stood steady at 100.

Mile by mile the engines throbbed steadily. We could hear feet pounding along the decks above.

“Who says stoking coal is hard job?” Jim demanded. “Why, it’s just a lot of sailor’s bunk!”

An hour went by and all we had to shovel was about four scoops of coal each. In fact, we had to argue as to whose turn it was to shovel – we both wanted to do it.

It grew a little warm.

“I wish we could go up and get a breath of air,” said Jim.

He climbed the ladder and hammered on the iron doors with his shovel handle. The captain opened the door an inch or two and demanded what we wanted.

“There’s nothing much to do down here,” said Jim, “why can’t we go on deck turn about?”

“You’re at sea,” roared the captain. “Git below, there, you scum! You do your trick in the stoke-hole and then you’re off duty. But when you’re on, don’t come hollering out here!”

He clanged the doors. But we had caught a glimpse of the heavenly blue sky and moving clouds, and we could visualize that lovely lake slipping by, the ship with a bone in her teeth, as we sailors say, and a spanking wind on our stern.

Anyway, it was a long day. I had imagined toiling in the stoke-hole was a job for giants. But Jim and I, two softies from city jobs, held down that engine boiler at 100 pounds with the greatest ease. In fact, we had it over the 100 several times and never under.

At noon, the captain came to the door and handed down two hot dogs wrapped in paper.

“Your lunch,” he bellowed, and dropped them into our waiting hands.

Hot dogs! A funny food for sailors.

During our lunch, the engines slowed and stopped.

“Entering the Lachine Canal!” announced Jim.

“Not already?”

“Sure,” said Jim. “This is a fast ship we are on. I can tell by the smooth, even way she has.”

“Boy, I wish we were upstairs where we could see the sights. All that lovely Quebec shore, and the locks.”

“We’ll be off at six,” said Jim. “Six bells. And then we can watch the St. Lawrence shores slipping by in the twilight.”

All afternoon, as we passed through the Lachine Canal, the engines stopped and started, and our gauge stood steady at 100 pounds without any trouble at all to us. Jim had a little sleep about 3 p.m., and I stood to the fires alone. We heard thumpings and scrapings, and feet tramping on deck, as we worked our way slowly through the canals. And then we started about five o’clock on another long, even run of engines, while I visualized the broad St. Lawrence marching by.

Jim woke.

“We’ll soon be off duty,” said he. “Well, son, how do you feel about it all now?”

“Well, while you were asleep,” I said, “I got a little homesick, to tell you the truth. I got thinking.”

“Cut out thinking.”

It Gets Everybody

 “What will our wives do to-night when we don’t come home as usual?” I asked. “They will wait and wait and about nine o’clock to-night they will start telephoning the editors.

“Wait till the editor starts worrying about next week’s Birdseye Center,” said Jim gleefully.

“And then,” I said, perhaps a little plaintively, “they will notify the police. They will sit up until morning. I can just see my wife walking from room to room.”

“Aw, lay off,” said Jim.

“Yes,” I continued. “Walking from room to room, looking at each of my little children sleeping there so serenely, and she will be wondering what is to become of them. And as the weeks go by, and the months. And perhaps the years!”

I broke down slightly.

Jim slammed shovel of coal into the fire.

“Jimmie,” I said, “let’s telephone long distance from the first place we stop!”

“Don’t be a softy!” said Jim. “You started this. Now you are all for quitting. If you are hard boiled, you can go through with it. There are some things too sacred to fool with, and human liberty is one of them.”

“All right,” I said.

“We can telephone from Quebec City, maybe,” said Jim, suddenly sitting down.

So I sat down on another hunk of coal and we were sitting with our elbows on our knees and our chins on our hands when the doors above opened and the captain shouted down:

“All hands on deck!”

We scrambled up the ladder.

To the right was the Terminal Warehouse building.

Before us spread the homely, lovely, happy, panorama of the city of Toronto. Behind us shimmered Toronto Bay in the evening light.

Men were trooping off the gangplank ashore.

Jim and I stood speechless.

“All right, boys, beat it,” said the captain.

We moved in a daze toward the cabin door where our coats hung clean on nails.

“We didn’t sail?” Jim gasped.

“We’re just overhauling engines,” said the captain.

“Oh!”

“And I’m not the captain,” said he. “I’m the stoker. I want to thank you boys for a nice day sitting here in the sun. I got a good coat of tan. I’ll need it in another month or so when we sail.”

“Oh, mister,” I said, “thank you so much!”

“Don’t mention it,” said the stoker, who all of a sudden appeared a kind and gentle sort of man for all his unshaven chin and his black and dirty sweater.

“We really didn’t want to go to sea,” Jim explained. “We were just a little… sort of …”

“I know,” said the stoker. “Wanderlust. It gets everybody about this time of year. I usually get dozen or so like you each spring when we are overhauling engines. It gives me a nice rest and it helps the boys get over their troubles.”

We shook hands warmly and the stoker introduced us to the engineer, who thanked us and said we had kept him up a nice pressure all day while he was repairing engines.

We hustled down the gang plank and started back for the office to wash up before going home.

“We can tell our wives we were sent out on a story and we couldn’t get at a telephone,” I said as we headed for Bay St.

“Perhaps we’d better telephone from the office,” said Jim. “They don’t like to have dinner kept waiting.”


Editor’s Notes: In this early story, there is mention of Gordon Sinclair, a Toronto Star reporter who was very well known for his travels around the world in the 1930s and reporting from exotic locations.

The Lachine Canal runs through Montreal to bypass the Lachine rapids for access to the Great Lakes from the St. Lawrence River.

Smokes Screen Battles Gloom

By Greg Clark, May 10, 1941

In a fighting man’s life, there are never enough cigarettes.

There may not be enough ammunition, or enough bombs or even enough food. But if there are enough smokes, everything is jake.

In fact, every old soldier will agree with this: that though there be boxes of ammunition enough to build a barricade and bombs and shells and food enough to stand a siege, if there are no smokes, the battle looks gloomy indeed.

Every soldier’s family knows this. If you listen to the troop broadcasts from Britain, you will hear about every fifth man laughingly but not too laughingly exclaim…”and don’t forget the cigarettes.”

But there are thousands of our men in the army, the air force. the merchant marine who either have no family contacts to keep them supplied with smokes or whose families are living so strictly within the narrow confines of a soldier’s pay and allowances that a dollar for cigarettes is not a little gay gift but a sacrifice, even a heavy sacrifice.

And since there are so many millions of us in Canada with no warmer wish in our hearts than to do some little gracious act towards some unknown man in army, navy, air force or merchant marine, here is the way.

Send a donation of a dollar up – or a dollar down if you like – to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto.

For every dollar you send, 400 cigarettes go to a Canadian fighting man in Britain, on the sea, in the air in Newfoundland, West Indies, Iceland, and wherever Canadians are these days.

His majesty the King is patron of the Overseas League, also the Earl of Athlone, representing his majesty in Canada. Every lieutenant-governor in Canada is a patron. Hon. Ernest Lapointe, Air Marshal Bishop, and Sir William Mulock are patrons. Chief justices of provinces, presidents of universities and namely men all over Canada are patrons. The Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund is a reputable organization if ever there was one.

You personally can send 300 cigarettes to a friend in the army for a dollar. The Overseas League sends 400. Because of their mass purchases. They have so far sent 4,000,000 cigarettes. They have, in past months, on an income that never yet exceeded $2,000 a month, tried to give one package of cigarettes per man per week to 80,000 Canadians. They need $20,000 a month to supply every Canadian soldier, airman, sailor or merchant marine a packet of cigarettes a week. And they think that if The Star Weekly tells all those people who have the warm wish in their hearts about their program, the $20,000 will roll in. And the league will then give at least one packet a week to every one of the 80,000 Canadians, and in each package will be a postcard bearing the giver’s name and address for the soldier or the sailor or the airman to send his thanks.

The league will also personally acknowledge your donation.

Never Enough Smokes

Now that is the simple and direct process by which you can touch with your own hand some Canadian fighting man somewhere in the far, battled world.

Simply mail your money to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto.

By return you will get an acknowledgment from the league.

Supplies from home are of tremendous value to the boys. Under the present system, you can go to any reputable tobacco dealer and send 1,000 cigarettes to your soldier overseas for only $2.50. Imagine 1,000 cigarettes arriving in one gob to your lad sitting in some stuffy hut in a coastal village in England!

Besides, in these perilous times, so many plans go agley.

Ships go down, and with them cigarettes and socks and many a treasured gift. So the more we keep flowing across, the more will get there.

Speaking of ships going down. Our main supply of cigarettes in the old war came via the Expeditionary Force Canteen. The supplies were brought over from England and distributed to our battalion canteens via the big wholesale canteen. But a channel boat loaded with a week’s supply of smokes was sunk. And before another boat could be loaded, a tobacco famine had struck.

And were we ever conscious of what a smoke means to a man! What little stores of smokes we had each treasured up, from our parcels from home, were soon exhausted. And there, mile after mile along the front, were some millions of men all going through the business of “giving up smoking” at the same time. And we got a little on each other’s nerves.

In the dugout in which I lived there was a small wooden box which had come up with the rations. It was a familiar little box. It came to each company of our battalion once a month from a ladies’ auxiliary of our unit back here in Toronto. One month it would contain tooth brushes. The next month, washcloths. Another month, dear little icky-dicky tubes of toothpaste or fairies’ own soap. Now, mind you, these little gifts are welcome. They marked the fact that we were remembered back home by somebody else.

But we never opened these boxes up the line. We carried them back out of the mud and filth, and opened them and distributed their contents when we got back to billets.

However, I adopted this box as my chair or stool in the dugout. And there I sat, during the six-day tobacco famine, on that small box. And such was the state of my nerves that while the company commander just drummed his fingers on the table and the other lieutenants acted queerly according to their natures, I took the old three-cornered French bayonet that we used as a poker for our brazier, and with it sat moodily picking at the small box which protruded between my shins.

And I accidentally split off a bit of the wood. I looked within. I saw a sheet of thick, dark brown waxed paper.

H’m, said I; funny packing for bath salts or something. And I stood up and picked up the box and let out a great and mighty yell. For the box contained one gross of plugs of vicious black chewing tobacco.

Chewing tobacco. As black and fat and pungent as tar. But the note inside explained that the ladies’ auxiliary had been too busy to pack the gifts this month and had left it to a committee of three husbands. And the three husbands had secretly agreed together to be rid of this icky-dicky soap and paste stuff, and send us, for once, the he-mannest thing they could think of – eatin’ tobacco!

God bless those three husbands. It was awful stuff. We cut it up into finest dust and rolled cigarettes with it. We used it in pipes. The bravest of us chewed it. But it broke the famine. And cheered us beyond all belief.

I have seen men in the last outposts of despair, cut off from all help, no food, no water, no ammunition – and because they could steal a smoke, they looked one another in the eye and grinned. And came through.

I have seen men deathly wounded, who, when the stretcher bearer stuck a cigarette in their lips, seemed, at any rate, to lose their pain for a time. Seen men dying who, by the grace of a cigarette, could relax and smile.

There be grim-hearted people who will look askance at this panegyric of tobacco. They think it mean of a human being to bear so heavy upon a wisp of paper and twist of a weed. But on the sea, in far seas, on land, in remote worlds far beyond anything our lads ever dreamed to see, are tens of thousands of our boys who give the lie to the grim-hearted who think of mankind as something to be improved upon what it is, by denial.

Send your dollar, your less than a dollar, your five or your collected $50 to the Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund. 225 Bay street, Toronto.

Readers who wish to contribute to the fund are requested NOT to send money to The Star Weekly. Donations should be addressed to: The Overseas League (Canada) Tobacco and Hamper Fund, 225 Bay St., Toronto. This is the Canadian headquarters. Your gift will be acknowledged by return mail – and later, some grateful soldier in Britain will doubtless write you a note of thanks.


Editor’s Notes: I’ve labelled this article as an advertisement, for understandable reasons. 225 Bay Street no longer exists in Toronto, it is now just part of a block containing the Commerce Court West Office tower.

The Earl of Athlone was the Governor-General of Canada at the time of the article. Ernest Lapointe was Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s “Quebec Lieutenant” in Cabinet, Billy Bishop was a World War One Flying Ace, and Air Marshal in World War Two, and Sir William Mulock was involved in so many things, you will have to read his Wikipedia article to see why he was referred to as the “Grand Old Man” of Canada. At the time of the article, he was the Chair of the Canadian Committee of the International YMCA, and 98 years old.

Greg so liked the story about the unexpected tobacco received during the First World War, he would repeat it on many other occasions with various embellishments.

The Winner

May 17, 1924

I’ve published some new information regarding stereotypes and racism and how it will be handled on this site, as well as an overall article on stereotypes in 20th century comics.

Surprise Package

By Greg Clark, May 9, 1936

“After lunch,” said Jimmie Frise, “we’ll drop in at that auction sale place. There’s a sale of unclaimed packages.”

“Surprise packages, eh?” I consented.

“It’s good fun,” said Jim. “I’ve been to lots of them but I never bought anything.”

“If we go, we’ve got to buy something,” I stated, “because you really haven’t been to an auction sale unless you buy something. It’s like going to the races and not betting on a horse.”

“O.K.,” agreed Jim. “It won’t cost us much. Lots of the packages and bundles go for a few cents. Twenty cents, thirty cents.”

“You never can tell what you’ll get,” I pointed out. “I once heard of a man who bought a common little paper package at one of those unclaimed baggage sales, and when he opened it up, he found wrapped inside of five or six coverings of newspaper, a small box containing a diamond and ruby brooch. He sold it for $1,800.”

“I heard of another case,” said Jim darkly, “where a man bought a small trunk for two dollars and in it was a human leg.”

“You have no imagination, Jim,” I protested. “You don’t seem to understand the secret of happiness, and that is always to expect. Always expect something nice, something valuable, something exciting. And even though it never comes, you feel good.”

“I go by the reverse system,” said Jim. “I expect the worst. I look forward to nothing. I fear no good can come of anything, and when some good does come of it, look how surprised and delighted I am.”

“I suppose,” I agreed, “one way of looking at life is as good as another. What is to be is to be, and no amount of guessing one way or the other can change it.”

“You said it,” confirmed Jim. “I was at one of these auctions one time and a terrible thing happened to me. A terrible thing. A funny-looking canvas valise came up. It was pretty greasy-looking and battered and rubbed. It looked like a prospector’s packsack. When I looked at it, I had a hunch I ought to bid for it. The auctioneer begged for bids but nobody rose to it. The auctioneer said it might contain nuggets of solid gold. But the way he was lifting it around, we could see there were no nuggets in it. It was light. Finally a man bid a quarter for it. And it went bang.”

“What was in it?” I begged.

“I followed the buyer,” said Jim, “out to the door of the auction room, where most of the buyers take a peek at their purchase. Before my eyes, that man drew forth a forty dollar pistol, a prismatic compass worth about $20, a fly rod in aluminum case, fly books, English reels, compact cooking kit nesting into a single large pail, in fact everything I have wanted all my life but never could afford.”

“Why didn’t you make him an offer?” I asked.

“Make him an offer?” cried Jim. “I followed him half way across the city, but all he would say was that he was something of a sportsman himself.”

“I hope we get a couple of hunches today,” I breathed.

“You never can tell,” said Jim. “The worst looking packages often contain the valuables, and vice versa.”

Hostage to Fortune

Jim and I hurried through a sandwich and walked briskly across downtown to the auction rooms where the unclaimed goods sale was in full fling. The customers were mostly pretty seedy-looking individuals, mostly men who looked as if all other hope in life was pretty well spent, and that this auction sale was their last despairing effort. Automobile tires were being offered when we arrived, new-looking, but, as Jimmie pointed out, if you could see what was really the matter with them you would know why they were unclaimed.

In a few moments, the tires were exhausted, and then began a series of surprising items. A large coil of galvanized wire, which went, after a brief bid, for thirty cents; a paper package tied with a dirty rope which went for twenty cents and turned out to be a beautiful set of lace curtains; a cardboard box mysteriously sealed with sticky paper, forty cents, and it contained, when the man opened it, a tin contraption that looked like part of something which even if completed, wouldn’t mean anything.

Then came a suitcase, cheap, aged and sagging, its handle repaired with string. A pair of men went ten cents at a time to sixty cents for it, in low, doubtful voices. And the one who won opened it to reveal a heap of soiled shirts, socks, red bandana handkerchiefs all the worse for use. He put it under his arm and went off with it. His last sixty cents shot. Hostage to fortune.

“Hm,” said Jim, as we stood on the outer fringe of the crowd, “not much doing to-day. I thought there would be packing cases and everything.”

“In times like these,” I explained, “if anything has any value whatsoever, it will be claimed.”

“Now here,” cried the auctioneer, “item one-sixty, is something out of the ordinary.”

A box about a foot square was lifted heavily shoulder-high by two strong men serving on the auction platform. It was bound with metal tape. It was fastened with screw nails. A flurry of interest stirred the crowd.

“Who can say what is in this?” demanded the auctioneer. “Would it be valuable instruments of some sort, or something in valuable metals? What am I offered for this unusual item, ladies and gentlemen?”

“Twenty-five cents,” said a determined voice. And instantly it snapped up by quarters and dimes, to a dollar, then to two dollars and then to three.

“Should we get in on this?” I asked Jim.

“No,” advised Jim. “What we want to bid on is something useless looking. It’s the surprise we are after.”

*Right,” said I, and listened while the bids went higher and higher, to four dollars and seventy cents before they slackened and came to a solid stop.

“Come, gentlemen,” the auctioneer cried. “this box is obviously a valuable article, you can see it is fastened with metal bands and secured with screw nails instead of common nails. In this box is something unusual, strange, valuable. I cannot understand why it is left unclaimed, unless its owner mysteriously passed away, before he had a chance to call for it at the express office. Who knows but what some great enterprise is held up all for the want of whatever is in this box?”

“Aha,” said I.

But the bidding stopped flat at four-eighty. And a well dressed but hard-faced middle-aged man took the box and carried it to the doorway to have a look at it.

“You’ve got something there, mister,” I said agreeably.

“Stand back and mind your own affairs,” said the gentleman with accustomed rudeness. He borrowed a screw driver from one of the luckier members of the audience and pried the box open. Jim and I stood discreetly and watched. When the lid was removed from the heavy little box, it appeared filled with silver. The gentleman pinched some of it with his fingers. He removed a note that lay on the top of the contents of the box. Read it. And suddenly flinging the note down on the floor, he rose and stamped angrily from the auction room.

Battle of Bidders

Jim stepped over and picked up the note. It was on the letterhead of a sand and gravel corporation in Montreal and it said:

“We are sending you herewith a working sample of our water-washed granite sand, No. 412X.”

“Let that be a lesson to you,” said Jim.

“Guys that look and act like that man,” I said, referring to the departed customer, “occasionally get their deserts.”

“But only occasionally,” agreed Jim.

And we returned to watching the sale.

More cardboard boxes with obvious things sticking out of them; a string of assorted old boots, a carpet, a case containing an oil burner that went for $16 after a bright tussle between two obvious dealers in such things, ladies’ hats, men’s hats, a crate of stove pipe.

Then came another string of seedy suitcases.

“Let’s bid in one of these,” suggested Jim.

“Let’s pick the worst looking one of all,” I submitted.

And when the auctioneer called item 189, the platform attendant held up as shabby a cheap and battered suitcase as ever it has been my lot to see. Its sides did not bulge; they sagged consumptively. It was torn and crudely sewn. Its handle was newer than the suitcase itself, a cheap handle fastened on by an amateur.

“Ten cents,” sang out Jimmie.

“Fifteen,” promptly shouted a hoarse voice from the far side of the crowd.

“Twenty,” said Jim.

“Twenty-five,” snarled the same voice.

And in no time at all, Jim and the unseen but foreign-voiced gentleman across the throng had run that old tramp of a suitcase up to two dollars!

“Don’t quit, Jim,” I hissed, “There is something odd about this.”

“Two-forty,” cried Jim, while the crowd stood rigid with excitement at the battle over the wreck.

At three dollars, the other bidder suddenly quit, with a despairing bellow of that amount Jim handed his three dollars over the heads of the throng and the suitcase was promptly passed from hand to hand over the crowd to Jimmie.

“It has nothing much in it,” said Jim, hefting it.

“Nix,” I said. “Is this the guy that was bidding?”

Two sinister-looking eastern Europeans were hastily coming around the edge of the crowd, keeping their eyes fastened on the suitcase, as if not to let it out of their view for one instant.

“Jim,” I said, “let’s get out of this. I don’t like the looks of these two customers.”

We walked out the auction room door into the street. And right on our heels, breathing down our necks, came the two foreigners.

We turned west. They followed, and walking quickly alongside of us, the larger of them leaned close and said, with an unpleasant and ingratiating smile:

“Please, boss, please!”

He had an old scar, such as a knife would make, across one cheek and it drew the corner of his mouth up viciously.

“What do you want?” said Jim, halting.

“Beat it,” I commanded.

“Please, boss,” repeated the larger one, and the shorter one squared around to block our passing.

“What do you want?” shouted Jim.

“Please,” wheedled the big one, reaching for the suitcase.

Jim leaped back, holding the suitcase behind him.

“What do you want? Speak up!” Jim glowered.

“No spik,” said the foreigner, shaking his head. “No spik. No money. No more. No spik. Pleeeeeeeaaaaaasssseee.”

And again he made a lurch for the suitcase, casting at the same instant a meaningful and sinister glance at his partner.

With a strong and adroit movement, the smaller man thrust me aside, and snatched the suitcase from Jim’s hand behind him.

“Haaaallp,” we roared, as the two thieves dashed down one of the streets past the market towards the waterfront. And we gave furious chase. Half a dozen people stopped and stared. But nobody helped. Nobody ever does. No policemen were in sight. Traffic didn’t even slow down to help us. Everything went right on as usual in the street while, headed on swift legs for the waterfront, we saw our thieves vanishing, and Jim and I puffing badly, brought up a vain rear.

“Jim.” I gasped, as we slowed up to a fast walk. “I bet you the crown jewels of Roumania or something were in that suitcase.”

“Too light,” said Jim. “No weight. But it’s funny.”

“Those were sinister-looking men,” I said. “I don’t feel like tackling them anywhere down here on the waterfront.”

“Like to know what was in there,” said Jim. “Why they were so desperately anxious.”

“High graders,” I suggested. “Full of gold.”

“No weight,” said Jim. “Perhaps papers or plans. Incriminating. Perhaps jewels. Very mysterious.”

We walked rapidly down to the Esplanade and halted at the railway tracks, looking down the lines of standing freight cars. We caught our breath.

“Jim, that was like out of a crime story,” I said. “Perhaps it is just as well we didn’t keep the suitcase. Maybe those birds would have followed us to our homes and committed murder. Maybe they were part of a gang.”

“Nix,” said Jim, “here they come.”

And astonishingly, from behind some freight cars, appeared our two villains, advancing straight for us.

“How about ducking,” I said. “Back up to good old King street, huh?”

“Wait,” said Jim.

The two advanced straight for us smiling fiercely yet apologetically. The large one was carrying a letter in his hand. Holding it out to show us.

“Please,” he said. “No spik. Please.”

“Come, come,” said Jim, “what is all this my man?”

“No spik,” repeated the big fellow. “You come?” He carried the suitcase without any fear. Up the street he led us back east past the auction rooms, and beyond.

“Here, where are you taking us?” I demanded.

“Please,” repeated the big fellow in a coaxing voice. “No spik. Some spik. Some spik come.”

With elaborate foreign gestures, he bade us wait while he and his friend stepped up to the door of an old house. In a moment a third foreigner appeared, and they engaged in furious conversation in a language that sounded as if its gears were clashing.

“Jim,” I said, “it’s bread daylight. But just the same…”

The foreigner who lived in the house came out and advanced to us.

“My friends,” he said slowly, “wish to apologize. They have lose their suitcase. It go for sale. In the suitcase is letter with address of their brother in west. In town with name they cannot remember.”

He held out the letter. We read the town. Tzouhalem, B.C.

“Mm, mm,” agreed Jim.

“He no find brother,” explained the interpreter, “he go die, he go starve, he no find his brother without that letter. He find at last suitcase. You buy.”

“Aaaaaah,” we said.

“He no steal, he just borrow,” said the interpreter. “He give you suitcase now.”

The big one held forth the suitcase.

“Aw, you keep it,” said Jim. “We only bought it for fun.”

“Please,” said the big foreigner, gratefully.

And we shook hands all around.

“Which shows,” said Jim, as we went back to the office and work, “that what is one man’s fun is another man’s tragedy.”


Editor’s Notes: $1 in 1936 would be about $18.50 in 2020.

The is still a place on Vancouver Island called Tzouhalem, a part of North Cowichan, near Mount Tzouhalem.

Five Little Birthday Cakes

By Greg Clark, May 4, 1935

Before the crack of dawn, and that’s four-fifteen in the morning, Marie wakes and starts singing.

She sings loud and clear. Like a robin. It is not cooing, or da-da-ing, or whining. It is straight, gay, and uncomplaining singing.

This wakes Annette first. And Annette, who is the trickiest of the quintuplets, generally manages to get one small bare foot out and stick it through the bars of her crib and push the bedside table. She knows a bedside table makes a grand bump. It does not fall. It just goes bump, bump.

The race for waking, Yvonne, Emilie and Cecile run neck and neck, though Cecile, “the pretty one”, is also the sleepiest one, who loves to open her eyes wide, suddenly, and then slowly close them again, the while finding her thumb and clamping on to it for a good comfortable smoke, a process involving much sudden wide opening of the big dark eyes, and much slow, lazy closing of them.

Thus morning comes to the Dionne hospital at Callander.

I spent a day with them to write this story in honor of their first birthday, which is fast approaching. I saw them sleeping and playing; being fed and being bathed. I saw them doing their first crawling, which at the moment consists of rolling over. Not a very precise mode of progression, but, when you see your sister – at least, one of them – whanging a large melodious pink rattle up against the play-pen bars, and you want to take it from her, certainly a slick trick that Clancy or Red Horner ought to know about is to roll over three times, roll right on top of your sister’s legs, pin her down, and then, amidst astonished protests from the victim, slowly, unsurely but inevitably, take the rattle from her.

The quints are at this moment flowering out of their first helpless Infancy. They have smiled, that shy crooked smile of babyhood, for a long time now. But now they laugh. They crow. In the big white bathtub, with its four inches of water in it, I saw them, two at a time, swimming magnificently, their fat little creased legs and arms flailing: and with those bright dark eyes, all aglitter with smiles, they watched each other. Then the nurses turned them over, and feet to feet, heads at opposite ends of the tub, they put on a splashing match, eyes screwed up, gasping at the splashes, and laughing – clear, crowing laughter.

And when they were lifted out, they complained in both French and English. They are bi-lingual, the quints.

So much has been written, in minute detail, about the famous Dionnes that it hard for a mere amateur daddy to know where to start a birthday party story about them. The thing that most arrested me was their color. The color of their eyes. Madame de Kiriline says they are hazel. But Nurse Yvonne Leroux says they are brown, gray and blue. They are remarkable eyes, very large and melting, and their expression veiled. As a matter of fact, when little mischievous and table-tipping Anette, lying on her stomach, rolls her head around to look up at you when you tap on the sight-seeing window of their nursery, there is an expression of almost amused condescension in her gaze. But they are certainly neither light eyes nor dark, because when you put them in a red-flowered dress, the eyes are quite dark. Yet when you put them in a blue dress, you see blue and gray in their eyes. They will be lucky when they are eighteen. They can wear both brown and blue.

The Big Drinker

They are dark babies, with a suffused flush in their color. There is nothing pearly and fragile about them, as in a blonde baby. They are very real indeed.

Another exciting thing is that they are off the bottle. Often you will see big chunky babies skilfully swizzling a nursing bottle. But at ten months precisely, all bottles went up to the hospital attic. For every one of them drinks from the glass. Cecile, “the pretty one”, is the big drinker. She drinks till she busts. She drinks until she has to come up for air with a great gasp, but with her wide eyes, she holds, she commands, the cup to remain. And then deep she dives into it again.

The race as to weight and size, the number of ounces, the number of inches, goes on week by week, but leaves me cold. For me it was exciting only for being the reason the two thirteen-pounders, Marie, and Emilie, were safeguarded in one play pen, while the three fifteen-pounders, Yvonne, Annette and Cecile, scrambled gaily about the other play pen. They are matched according to weight. It is a wrestling match, in those pens.

The routine of the babies starts at five o’clock in the morning. Fifteen minutes to three-quarters of an hour after little Marie, the robin, the alarm clock, has chanticleered the morning with her songs (and perhaps disturbed one of the big policemen sleeping in the very room with her – he’ll get used to it in time!), the whole place is alive and abustle. At that witching hour, eight ounces of whole milk and one ounce of tomato juice go down the five little red lanes. That is just an eye-opener, a hair off the dog that bit them and keeps on biting them all day long. They are changed and left to greet the swiftly rising sun.

“Daylight saving?” I asked Dr. Dafoe.

“We’ll stick to standard time hereabouts,” said he.

At 7 a.m., the day is away. Two small glasses of orange juice apiece – equal to one whole orange. And a teaspoonful of cod liver oil. I suspect those two glasses mean – one before and one after!

All this is done while the clock rushes around to 8 a.m., at which time they all, Annette usually leading, are shouting in plain bi-lingual baby talk: “Let’s eat! How about a little chow!”

And with 8 a.m. comes chow, to wit, one coddled egg, one glass of milk, and a kind of sticky-wicky made of arrowroot biscuit softened, mud-pied with water.

“How much of that there?” I asked Madame Kiriline.

“As much as they want,” said she. “They usually consume a couple of bikkies each.”

“The Pretty One”

This is an end to eating until 1 o’clock. For now at 9 a.m. they are all dressed in their little dresses and coats and out they go in their prams, rain or shine, to mumble awhile and listen to the first robins and the first song sparrows that have come, proudly, to lay their quintuplet eggs in nests nearby the hospital. Listening and crowing, there are curious small calls exchanged for maybe twenty minutes, until the last of them has rolled her eyes for the last time. And if you tiptoe across that veranda and look in each pram, you will see only five little heads, five little snubby noses, five sets of round red cheeks and, strangely, beautifully stirring, five little down-flung sets of eyelashes, the soft silken bars of sleep.

This is the hour of quiet, and the great big blue-clad police step softly on the hardwood floors, and the nurses whisk about, and the housekeeper hums to herself; Laurence, the housekeeper who is to be married the sixth of May – the Dionne hospital’s first romance, because Laurence, Madame Clusieux, is to marry the electrician she met when he came from “the Bay” to wire the new hospital.

In this time of quiet, Madame de Kiriline and Nurse Leroux showed me the works. The clothes closet where hang the rows of coats, dresses, dressing gowns, ad infinitum; where on the shelves lie the fives of bootees, and the fives of stockings and fives of this and that. Most of the gifts are from the makers of things, but there are a great many private gifts from individuals, mostly women. The things I liked best are bright red corduroy overalls, with braces and all. And on each bib of the overalls is worked the name of the wearer. It will be a big help when, in another four months or so, by the end of summer, the quints are staggering to their feet and making their first steps around the resounding nursery. We who peep through the wide observation window into that spectacular nursery will be able to know which is which.

“Do most of the gifts come from the United States?” I asked.

“It is about fifty-fifty between Canada and the States,” Madame de Kiriline thought. “There are none from overseas.”

The most curious gift was a set of five tiny white leather cases each containing a miniature set of false teeth, about the size of your thumb nail, the whole thing. Somebody in California thought of this whimsy for a toothless babe. Another odd gift was a stork made of a great southern pine cone, with pipe-cleaner neck and legs. They sent this stork across the road to the Dionne house.

Knowing which is which is problem. The nurses say they know them apart, not quite unerringly, by their expressions. Cecile, “the pretty one”, though they all looked pretty to my eyes, is rather reserved and quiet. Yvonne has a great crooked smile. Annette is, as I said before, slightly amused and tolerant in her gaze. Marie is the little one, the singer. And Emilie is the one with the rather still, slightly sly and mischievous expression.

Who are the favorites?

Annette is Madame de Kiriline’s favorite. Yvonne is Nurse Yvonne Leroux’s. Nurse Pat Mullen favors Marie. Mrs. Clusieux, the housekeeper, goes for Emilie, and Father McNally, “chaplain of the hospital,” sees something in Cecile that cannot be denied. Maybe it is a certain piety in Cecile.

Hard to Pick a Favorite

I tried to pick a favorite. I first and impulsively chose Annette, because Annette, on seeing my bulbous brow above the window sill of the observation tower, burst into a mighty toothless grin and quite accidentally succeeded in making a certain gesture up at me that was both disconcerting and extraordinarily diverting. I tried to hold her in my memory, so that I could tell her apart. But within five minutes another perfectly charming Annette gave me that same grin.

“Ah, Annette,” I cried. “Hello, there!”

“That’s Yvonne,” said Miss Leroux.

An hour later, I was again quite certain that it was Yvonne who was my favorite because there she was clapping two tiny hands together and looking at the miracle with her eyes slightly crossed – you know the way. So I praised her as Yvonne.

“That,” said Madame de Kiriline, “is Cecile.”

So I gave up. They are all my favorites.

“I would like to have them all on my knee,” I exclaimed. “The whole seventy-five pounds of them!”

“Unless,” remarked one of the policemen, leaning interminably on the window sill with me, watching them, “unless they all got the same idea at the same time!”

At one o’clock, noon, Marie sings a song about eating. It sounded about eating to me. Maybe it was only that she was cawing back at a crow, or warbling at a meadow lark. But by one o’clock, all the little prams were waggling and jiggling and there was a certain hollowness, like out of a tiny empty barrel, to the music.

The 1 p.m. meal is vegetables galore. Sometimes it is a kind of soup or puree of vegetables, carrots, green beans, spinach, beets. Sometimes it is mashed or strained. They are getting their vegetables a little more solid lately. After the feed of vegetables, they get either a baked apple, or bananas, prunes, apricots or apple sauce. Then a glass of milk.

“Who is fed first?” I asked jealously, because at this time I had my eye on Yvonne.

“Whoever is shouting the loudest,” said Madame de Kiriline. “There is no regular order.

So while Cecile was stretching out her little chin and eagerly gulping the spoonfuls, the other four yelled murder. Annette even had tears. But one by one they were fed their big meal of the day, and one by one they were dumped into the play pens, and there they rolled and kicked and humped themselves up like weight-lifters on their heels and the crowns of their heads.

And so came the rest hour, which is until three o’clock, and consists of about as much rest as you’ll see about beehive on a July noon when the clover is blooming. For this was the period of wrestling and of banging rattles, of Cecile lying serenely on her tummy, all uninterested in Yvonne and Annette who staged rolling match to see who could get on top and have the big pink rattle.

“Do they pull each other’s hair?” I asked anxiously.

“Not intentionally,” said Miss Leroux.

“H’m,” said I. For only that moment, one of them had deliberately pulled the hair of my then reigning favorite, Cecile.

“That one,” I accused, “pulled Cecile’s hair.”

“That one,” said Miss Leroux, “IS Cecile, and the one whose hair was pulled was Yvonne.”

“H’m,” said I.

At 3 p.m. they get a glass of pineapple juice to cover up another teaspoonful of cod liver oil.

Then Comes the Bath Hour

Thus they kick and sing and roll and sometimes snooze drowsy-eyed until five, when comes the bath. The bath is magnificent. They go two at a time. One odd one coming last. No order is kept. Sometimes it is Marie’s turn to be left. But they give them all an even break at playing the splashing game. They know about the splashing game. It is no accident. They lie feet to feet and slam their little legs as hard as they can, heaving up and gasping every time the adversary slashes theme good one.

Finally comes the last meal of the day, 5 p.m. Cereal, fine wheat cereal. And a glass of milk. And a big sigh. And a nightie. And no more people peering through the window. And quiet comes creeping. And away they go all five, like a flight of doves, into the Never Never Land. The nurses change. The policemen hitch up their belts and go out into the dusk.

But one policeman must modestly unveil and take off his belts and harnesses, his pistol and ammunition pouch, and when all is still, creep into the room to sleep on a couch set strategically amidst these tiny room-mates of a policeman … At his hand, in this sweet white chamber where five wee princesses, wards of the King, lie softly sleeping, stands a loaded rifle.

“Do you snore?” I asked Constable McCord, as he prepared himself for his incongruous vigil.

“I don’t know,” he confessed in a hushed and shocked voice.

So ends the day in this house of miracle. Far and lonely amidst a rocky land where patches of little fields lie sparsely scattered, this pretty bungalow is the centre of the eye of the world. And the heart. About a year ago, all science on earth would have gambled a thousand to one against this incomparable consummation. A million to one. Premature, like little raw nestlings in wild bird’s nest, all flung into the world within three quarters of an hour. Down this new highway that was then a rocky back road of the north came a motor car swaying through the bird-filled dawn of May 28. Between 4.30 and 5 o’clock in the morning, when the mosquitoes were just taking wing, these five were born before the astonished eyes of a country doctor and a huddle of neighbors.

“Not a chance,” said science in Chicago and Bombay and Vienna

But here is a fresh road. And here are telegraph wires and a special telephone line. And here, in this remote country is a hospital staffed with nurses and every aid to science, standing as a new monument to the ever-widening beam of heavenly light that shines on the babyhood of the world.

They live. Lovely and alive and gay, Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie and Marie, they live.

And for the heart as well as the mind of the world, they are guarded and watched and tended, the King has made them his wards, the fences are of steel, policemen armed with high-power rifles and wearing bedroom slippers slumber in a nursery, and the medical science of the whole world is at their command.

So strangely sleeping, we leave them.


Editor’s Notes: I debating including this story, since to modern readers, the sugary-sweet tone is appalling to anyone who knows the history of the Dionne Quintuplets. Aspects of the story treated matter-of-factly, like the armed policeman who stays in their room while they sleep, and no mention of their parents like they don’t exist.

They were the first known quintuplets to survive birth, and became a news sensation during the Great Depression. They were taken away from their parents by the government “to prevent exploitation”, but were in turn, put in a human zoo, and exploited by the government charged with protecting them. Admission was charged to see “Quintland”. Quintland constituted Canada’s highest grossing tourist attraction between 1934 and 1943, earning $1 million in its first year and as much as $500 million for the province of Ontario in total. In those nine years, approximately three million tourists paid admission to catch a glimpse of the Dionne sisters.

How could this have happened? For more information on this tragic story, I would strongly recommend Pierre Berton’s The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama. Another highly recommended source is the episode The Infantorium by the podcast 99% Invisible, which explains the history of premature babies, incubators, and their ties to side-show carnivals. This really provides some context around babies on display, and specifically speaks of the Dionne Quintuplets at the end.

Scrap!

May 3, 1941

Synthetic Porkies

By Greg Clark, May 4, 1946

“Pull up here!” commanded Jimmie Frise, his leg already swung overboard from the open car.

“There’s much better fishing,” I protested, as I slowed, “about half a mile farther down.”

“Here’s the place,” announced Jim, excitedly, and he was grabbing for his fly rod to set it up.

“If we park here,” I muttered, “we’ll block the trail.”

“Last season, just about this time of year,” cried Jim, pointing up his rod, “I took five trout of over a pound each. And I must have lost 20. Twenty good ones.”

I backed and forwarded the little touring car until it was hinched well up against the side of the woods road.

Right below us, the beautiful river flowed in all its early May glory. The floods had long since passed, the river was getting down to normal. Its color was not too clear. It was just right.

Where Jimmie had ordered us to halt, an ideal trout-fishing stretch of water hastened and paused, boiled and simmered, for a length of maybe 300 yards. There were shallow, swift bouldery passages, where the water tumbled and raged amid boulders the size of a piano. Then there were pools, where the water rested and whirled, the white foam making that tactical shade under which big trout love to hide.

Jim jointed up his rod with trembling hands. He fastened on his reel. Threaded his fat fly line up through the guides. Linked on a nine-foot leader to which he had already tied a good big streamer fly, a badger streamer with crimson body.

And before I had my rod out of its case, Jim was sliding down the bank towards the stream.

Before I had my line threaded through the guides, he was hip deep in the bouldery section.

And just as I was tying on a Clark’s Ghost – a fly of my own design, a streamer made of silvery gray feathers and silver body – I heard a muffled shout above the low roar of the river. And there was Jim, leaning back picturesquely, his nine-foot rod bent in a gorgeous arc, and a big trout rolling and threshing in the fast shallow water 40 feet down stream from him alongside one of the foaming boulders.

I leaned my rod against the car, seized my landing net and skidded down the bank.

It is hard to any which is the more delightful experience in trout-fishing: to catch a trout yourself, or to sit in a grandstand seat on the river bank and watch a friend catch one.

At first thought, you are inclined to favor catching the trout yourself. There are not many experiences in life to equal it. But they are impossible to remember. You are too excited to remember. In my lifetime, I have caught more than my share of trout. But when I try to recapture the picture in memory of any of the greatest fights, the picture eludes me. It begins, all right, with me at the business end of the rod. But almost imperceptibly, the moving picture of my memory begins to slip and fade; and it is my wife or Jim or old Skipper Howard I see in memory, making one of the epic captures I have witnessed.

The First For 1946

Jim stood with feet braced, his rod arched high, his left hand drawing in line as the trout gave ground. You don’t wind your reel while fighting a trout with a fly rod. You draw the line in and give it out, the slack falling into the boiling water at your feet. The trout was a 16-incher – a good pound and a half. With the current helping it, it would take runs down stream that almost stripped off the 90 feet of line Jim had on his reel. Then it would rest; and Jim, with arched rod, would persuade it up through eddies and slack stretches.

But in the end, the trout’s greatest advantage, the swift current, becomes its deadly enemy.

I saw its orange-edged white belly flash more often, as it rolled in the slashing current. Finally, Jim was able to draw it a good 30 feet without much resistance. And in another minute, he had it within 20 feet of him. I waded into a quiet spot. Jim led it skilfully over towards me. I sank the landing net in the pool. Jim drew the trout over the net. I lifted.

And there was trout Number One for 1946 – pound and a half, sleek, fat, lithe, brightly colored, it’s tiny red spots margined with iridescent blue, its white snow-white, its orange margins smoked with black. Surely the most beautiful animal on earth.

I left Jim with his prize and clambered up the bank to get my tackle organized. In an instant I, too, was in the stream; and, working pretty well side by side, we fished that 300-yard rapids for two solid hours.

At this early season of the year, the trout are not as wary as they become later, when the water falls low and clear. After their long winter fast, the trout are hungry and on the make. The water is rough and not too clear. Anything attractive in the tumbling water is likely to induce even an adult trout to make a strike. They inhabit the wildest water, partly to capture the Insects and minnows washed down in the current, partly also because those small creatures are helpless and easy prey in the broken water. But I think a good-sired trout likes to glory in his strength in that swift current. What an ordeal of strength it must be for a trout to maintain his position in that bullet-fast water, full of a thousand twists and turns of current. Not for an instant can the trout relax his muscular effort. If he did, he would be swept down stream a hundred yards in a few seconds. Yet, hour after hour, a big trout will rise and slash at his feed in one raging area few feet square.

In two hours, Jim had seven trout, the best one the first one, the 16-incher, I had five, one of them almost the mate to Jim’s.

But to make up for my failure to beat him, I had at least LOST the biggest one. And Jim had been right there to see it. As we waded down, level with each other, I had cast a long throw into a black eddy beside one of the big boulders. The fly had dragged through one of those little foam puddings. Something half the size of a cocker spaniel had humped up. I struck to set the hook. The small pool exploded. Up in the air leaped a dark, glistening trout of at least two pounds. It went around the boulder. And my line and leader, minus fly, sprang back through the air.

If you can’t CATCH the biggest trout – at least LOSE the biggest!

“Let’s break off, Jim,” I said, as I waded ashore to put on a fresh streamer fly. “How about some sandwiches?”

So Jim wound up his line and came ashore, too, and sat down on the rocks beside me.

He emptied his creel on to a flat stone and lined his seven beautiful trout out, according to seniority. I handed him my creel; and the 12 made a beautiful display.

“After lunch,” I stated, “we’ll fish the rapids half a mile below here and catch another dozen.”

“We’ll eat six for supper tonight at the hotel,” decreed Jim, leaning down on his elbow to sniff the sweet, strange smell of trout.

“Tomorrow,” I outlined, “we’ll fish these same two stretches of the stream. I don’t think we can do any better anywhere in Ontario.”

“I wonder,” sighed Jim, as I busied myself with my fly box, “I wonder how many years these same rapids have produced trout for anglers?”

A Bit of History

“Well, Jim,” I informed him, “I’ve got an old book at home called the ‘Sportsman’s Gazetteer’ by Charles Hallock, an American. It was published in 1877 – that’s 70 years ago. At the back of the book, he gives details and routes of where to go fishing all over America, including Canada. And in the Ontario section, he mentions and describes this very river. Hallock probably shed this very rapids.”

“Seventy years isn’t so much,” suggested Jim.

“But Muskoka was by then,” I cried, “a thoroughly opened up and exploited tourist region. Hallock speaks of Muskoka as a most popular sportsman’s region. He describes what he calls the Northern Lakes. Simcoe, Cochochong – that’s the way he spelled Couchiching – Muskoka and Rosseau. He gives the routes for getting there by train and boat and gives the names of the sporting good dealers and outfitters in Gravenhurst and Bracebridge.”

“We’ve been hoicking trout of here,” mused Jim, “a long time.”

“Hallock,” I said, “speaks of fishing the Nipigon. He describes how to get there and he calls Port Arthur ‘Prince Arthur’s Landing.'”

“The Nipigon!” cried Jim. Do you mean to say the Americans were going to the Nipigon in 1877! Why, I haven’t been there yet.”

“Aw, listen,” I protested. “I’ve got another old book at home by Charles Lanman, the private secretary of Daniel Webster. In 1842, a hundred and four years ago, Lanman made a tour of Lake Superior in a birch bark canoe and fished the Nipigon and wrote it up just about the way the railway tourist departments write it up today.”

“That,” said Jim, “sort of takes away from the adventure of being here. I hate to think of a whole century of sportsmen fishing this stream ahead of me. I like to feel like an adventurer…”

“Well, I like to marvel,” I submitted, “at the eternal bounty of wild nature. To think of this Muskoka river giving us a catch of trout like that…”

And we both centred our gaze on the broad white stone on which reposed, in artistic array, our 12 beautiful trout.

“I hear,” said Jim, “that the tourist invasion of Canada this season is going to be the biggest ever.”

“Canada, in pre-war years,” I advised, “used to average $300,000,000 a year from the American tourists. This year, I hear they expect $500,000,000.”

“That’s a lot of dough,” murmured Jim.

“Why,” I exclaimed, “it’s possibly our richest industry. I mean, it brings in all that cash. The cash is left here. And nothing is taken out of the country but a few snapshots!”

“And a few fish,” corrected Jim, lovingly smiling at the trout.

“The Yanks,” I pursued, “bring in $500,000,000 cash. They leave it here. Unlike the manufacturing industry, or the agricultural industry, nothing leaves the country. That is nothing of importance.”

“But,” pointed out Jim, “a lot of fish leave the water – for keeps!”

“Mmmmmm,” I mmmed.

“If $500,000,000 worth of Americans come up here this summer,” demanded Jim, “how much are the fish worth that these Americans take out of our waters?”

“They don’t all fish,” I pointed out.

“Okay, then say $250,000,000 worth of them do,” proposed Jimmie. “Now, what does that make our fish worth – to us?”

I looked at the white stone with the 12 trout.

“Would the Americans come up here,” demanded Jim, if we ran out of fish? Suppose we fished so hard ourselves and let the Americans fish so hard that we all got ahead of the fish and ran out of them?”

“Do you think that’s possible?” I asked, “when this one little river, described by Hallock 70 years ago, can still produce for us a catch like this?”

“Well, I think we Canadians should all worry about it,” submitted Jim.

“Nature is to prolific,” I assured him. “Nature can stage such a wonderful come back. I bet if an atomic bomb were to eliminate the human race at one fell swoop, nature would have this country back on a paying basis as far as nature is concerned – in 10 years. Boy, what a trout stream this would be in 10 years, if we could only eliminate the human factor!”

“That’s an idea,” breathed Jim slyly, again feasting his eyes on our trout.

“Here we are,” I expounded, “seated beside a beautiful trout stream. It has yielded us a lovely catch, despite all the years it has been fished. A few yards away, up the hill there, is our motor car, in which we can travel, almost as swift as thought, from the great city to this paradise. True, the wild creatures have mostly gone. The deer are gone. The ruffed grouse, the beaver, the otter. All the original Inhabitants of this country have been subdued and driven off by mankind. But what we want- the trout – are still here.”

“What lords of creation we humans are!” cried Jim.

A Trick of Nature

“The earth, and the fulness thereof, is ours!” I quoted. “We have learned how to rid the world of the things we don’t want, and to keep and maintain the things we do want. I think Canada’s $500,000,000 a year tourist business is safe. If the worst comes to the worst, we have learned how to grow fish in hatcheries. If, by any chance, we let too many tourists into the country, why, all we’ve got to do is spend a few millions of that annual $500,000,000 on new hatcheries, grow trout by the billion, pour them back into the streams, and there we are! Good for $500,000,000 a year indefinitely …!”

Jim gazed out over the lovely leaping water. He gazed at the trout on the stone.

“I don’t know,” he reflected slowly, “sometimes I think nature is bigger and more astonishing than we imagine. I think nature can and will play tricks on us that we don’t know she has in her bag of tricks. Just about the time we think we’ve got nature eating out of our hands, boom, she will…”

We both heard a loud report. Above the roar of the stream, it sounded like a shot. Up the hill. We both harked.

And, above the swish and rear of the stream, we heard another loud bang.

“Jim,” I scrambled to my feet, “that’s up by the car!”

“Hey!” cried Jim.

So we hastily gathered our gear and scrambled up the bank and along the bush road to the little car.

“What scoundrel…” I roared, “would do a thing like that!” Both our front tires were burst!

Both our beautiful new synthetic tires were not only flat, they had large holes ripped out of them.

I got down and examined them.

“Why, Jim,” I shouted, straightening up and looking angrily up and down the road and into the brush, “somebody has deliberately torn these tires… they’re chewed …”

Something stirred in the trees and we both looked up startled.

There sat two porcupines in neighboring trees, gazing down at us in that shoe-button, sap-headed, smirky expression porcupines use.

They looked pleased and a little startled.

“Jim,” I gasped, “the porkies chewed our tires …”

“What a depraved taste,” said Jim, reaching for a rock.

“But…but …” I cried outraged, “we’re miles from any help!”

Jim shook the trees and the porkies climbed as high as they could and then fell out and scuffled away into the underbrush.

“Imagine porkies,” I raged, “chewing tires…”

“Porkies,” said Jim, “will try anything once. Axe handles, privy seats, cardboard cartons, anything. I suppose these two porkies were a committee designated by the tribe to investigate the eating properties of our latest addition to Man’s conveniences.”

“Maybe it was the salt, off that dusty piece of road back near Bracebridge,” I suggested. “The highway department puts salt on the dusty roads…”

“Well…” smiled Jim, far away. “I was just saying nature has a few tricks up her sleeve…”

Now, it’s not easy to leave a touring car alone on a lonely bush road. You can’t lock it up. We had to cache all our tackle and other valuables in the woods, hoping the porkies wouldn’t find them and chew them up. Then we started to walk the six miles back to the nearest farm on the bush road.

There was nobody home at the farm but a couple of fierce dogs. We had to walk another two miles. We got the nearest village service station on the phone to try and get us two new tires. They said they would do their best as soon as they could leave the gasoline pump, which was very busy today. Maybe towards evening.

“You can contribute the cost of the two new tires,” explained Jim, “towards that $500,000,000 tourist income.”

So we walked the eight miles back, arriving late in the afternoon. And we fished the same rapids over again, with only three small trout that we threw back.

“I guess we’ve cleaned them out for the next 70 years,” said Jim, very gloomy.

And it grew cooler. And we went and sat in the car for fear of porkies eating our other tires. And the relief party arrived about an hour after dark.


Editor’s Notes: I actually have a colour image of this illustration, as seen at the top of the page. Most images were in colour after 1935, but my primary source (microfilm) does not show this. The microfilmed version is shown at the end.

Greg loved fly fishing, as can be seen in his descriptions in this story. He and Jim seem a little unconcerned about disappearing nature, but I suspect that is likely not true. Sportsmen (hunters and fishers) like them were some of the first conservationists as they realized that their sporting activities could not continue if all of the animals were killed or all of the fish caught. This brought about some of the first conservation organizations, like Ducks Unlimited.

A creel, is a type of basket used in fishing. The author Charles Hallock would go on to found the magazine Forest and Stream. Charles Lanman wrote many books about his exploration of America.

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