The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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Toronto’s Bohemians

By Gregory Clark, May 15, 1926.

Toronto has no Bohemian colony, no Montmartre1, no Greenwich Village, no Soho.

But the Bohemians are there, just the same, artists, art students, musicians, sculptors, stainers of glass, toolers of leather, batterers of brass, batikers of batik2, designers of theatres, chapels, book covers, and writers of all the unprofitable branches of literature from sonnets and one-act plays to free verse, free in both senses.

Down in the basement of the Ontario College of Art, which is back of the new art gallery in Grange park, we talked to a crowd of smocked art students whose hands were all muddy with clay which they were piling up in shapeless masses that presently would emerge as symbolic figures.

“Is there a province of Bohemia in Toronto?”

“No. There are Bohemians, but they are not organized into a colony.”

“Where do most of them live? Is there no favored district?”

“Within walking distance of the college of art. That means anywhere from the Ward to the Humber or the Beach. And wherever rooms can be got cheapest, with a north light.”

“That’s vague.”

“Several have rooms over old-fashioned stables back of old-fashioned mansions.”

“That is better.”

“Many have attic rooms, and third floor backs, and hall bedrooms.”

“Bohemianer and Bohemianer!”

“Some move once a month or as often as the rent is due.”

“And is there a Bohemian restaurant, a popular cafe?”

“No. Eating…”

This art is a strange thing. It takes hold of men and maids, a passion transcending love. A large number of the parents of the younger art students feel that their offspring are addled. Everything founded on commonsense is sacrificed. There are girls studying art in Toronto today who are living on less than two dollars a week for their food. There are young men who have recently performed the miracle of existing the full eight months of the year’s course at art school on absolutely no income. Minimum of everything – food, furniture, clothing, comforts of the most elementary sort – is the rule.

Amongst the majority of the art students those students who have well-to-do parents back of them are referred to as the “Four Hundred.”

“What,” asked Arthur Lismer, who is vice-principal of the college, of one of the students who had several terms of experience, “is the very least you can get along with as living expenses?”

“Well, you can get a perfectly good room for little as two dollars a week, though three would be a more general minimum. It isn’t much of a room, of course, but it doesn’t need be does it?”

“Food?”

“Fifty or sixty cents a day will feed you nicely, that is, buying your meals. But of course, some of the girls can do it less than that by buying the raw materials and cooking their food. Some of them don’t even buy bread, but bake their own.”

Living on Nothing a Day

“So-and-so,” said Mr. Lismer, mentioning another student, “did it on less than that.”

“Ah yes, but he restricted himself to soda biscuits and milk. And then, of course, there Whatyoucallem” (and the clay-fisted students all grinned at the mention of the name), “who subsisted on the milk he used to pinch off doorsteps in his early morning foraging expeditions. Winter was a great hardship to him, when the early morning deliveries were cut off.”

“Tell us more about him!” we begged.

“There’s little enough. He was determined to study art and he had no means whatever. The only time the police nearly got him was when he broke into a cellar to steal a lump of coal for his grate and the police were called and he hid under the coal while they prodded around the cellar.”

“Why didn’t he work to put himself through?”

“How could he work?” retorted the students scornfully. “He worked at his art in the holidays.”

Adding all the conservatories of music, the art schools and other sources of instruction in the high arts, there are several hundred students of these what you might call unprofitable professions in Toronto, and a decided majority of them are the type who are smitten with that mysterious quest of an unnamable goal and who have back of them little or no financial support.

“A father,” said one girl student, “will help his son get an education to be a lawyer or engineer. But few fathers, other than wealthy and careless ones, will encourage their children in what they regard to be so crazy-headed and unprofitable an enterprise as art. Most of our relations are strained as a matter of fact.”

These students, whose Bohemianism is largely a blossom of youth, nevertheless swell the ranks of the graduate Bohemians of which Toronto is gradually collecting its quota.

“If a census were taken,” says Arthur Lismer, “of all the people who, in the secrecy of their rooms, are either painting pictures, designing in one of the crafts, writing poems or plays, or in some field of art seeking to express the mystery that is pressing from within, it would run into hundreds and hundreds.”

Few of the art students know what their goal is. They are making definite and practical sacrifices. They are living sparely, with conscious effort at economy. But few of them have any expectation of making even a moderate fortune out of their art. The student of engineering can suffer hardship with the vision before him of great rewards. But there are no examples of rich rewards in the arts around Toronto.

We asked about this from a group of students at the college.

“What do you expect to get out of it all?”

“It is hard to put a name to it. We are not at all painfully aware of restrictions or hardships of any sort. Sacrifice is part and parcel of the whole thing. You can’t imagine a fat and comfortable art student really getting ahead with his art.”

“And then,” put in another girl student in the group, “we have fun.”

Toronto’s Little Bohemian Club

They have fun. The art students’ ball last month was one of the most picturesque events of the social season. Masquerade, of the period of the Italian renaissance, original presentation of dramatic masque of Dante, directed by Roy Mitchell, and then the fox trot to one of the city’s smart orchestras on, on into morn, in costumes antedating the minuet by centuries. And the students were outnumbered, five to one, by Bohemians of all ages, from University professors to the pretty partners of bond salesmen whose experience of the plastic arts is lipstick – the partners, not the bond salesmen.

The college is open at nights. Where night classes are not going on, the students are free to work and to foregather. The Ontario College of Art is entirely co-educational. There is no segregating of sexes. And that is a very odd thing. Because the art school in Montreal, that city which is boasted to be so much freer in spirit than Toronto, segregates the men from the girls not merely in different wings of the school, but has different times of admitting and dismissing the two sexes – the men at 9 o’clock and the girls at 9.15 in the morning, and the same in the afternoon.

There are a number of little clubs of a Bohemian aspect in the city, the most active of which is the Theatre Arts Club, which actually puts on plays. These young people have their club in a quaint old building next door to the morgue on Lombard street, which formerly was a Catholic boys’ home. Some of the old churchy benches remain, and here they have erected a stage and prepared such properties as they can make with their own wits and hands entirely.

One thing about all the Bohemians, especially the younger students and practitioners of the arts, is that they want something else in their atmosphere besides air. There is an obvious approach, with self-conscious bravado, to those subjects which from time immemorial, but particularly within modern times, have belonged strictly to the arts. The Theatre Arts Club’s latest presentation, for example, was Oscar Wilde’s “Salome.” Who amongst us does not remember having quivered all over to the luscious music of this brilliant steal from the Song of Solomon in our undergraduate days?

Atmosphere is Bohemia. It appears to be a fact that unlike cows, fat and contented artists seldom produce anything worth while. The bare and limited life that results in all the compromises and makeshifts that comfortable people call Bohemia is somehow stimulating to the spirit. It is as if the restriction of all human desires such as the desire for comfort and food and property and everything else average people desire were a means of conserving a spiritual fuel for the fires that create.

There is, however, the story of a girl who came to the collage from a mansion on the Hill – the sort of girl who showed no promise of anything, not even beauty, couldn’t play, couldn’t sing, cook, fish, garden, play golf. But in her was a queer streak which her family, utterly baffled, as the famille of artists often are, diagnosed rather fearfully as art. So they sent her in all the trappings of one of the negligible “Four Hundred,” to the college. In a few months, the whole thing had captured her, body and soul.

Not Many Have Arty Look

And right before all eyes there went on the astonishing process of this girl denuding herself of all the comforts her family had accustomed her to, reducing her needs, unconsciously, almost, to a minimum, sacrificing, glorying in being admitted into the sacrificial intimacy of the hardest working students, reducing her life to the bare terms, as far as material things were concerned, in which the spirit can live in understanding with the unnamable mystery of art and creation.

That is all Bohemia is – an atmosphere, artificial, as art is artificial, in which there is subjugation of a lot of desires to spare fuel for the big desire and to free the vision far enough away to get the perspective of truth that artists must have to make art. Perhaps those who are nearest God’s image, of all mankind, are artists, who have inherited from on high a little more than others the passion to create. And it, naturally, is a mystery, from within and without.

Our Bohemians are not the least eccentric in their clothing. The reason is – no colony. If they could live and dine together they would wear their badge with pride. Amongst the elder members of the artistic cult are few even with odd haircuts. Look at the group of seven! They look more like a staff of schoolmasters than like the popular conception of artists. The only one who wears a fancy coiffure says he does it to spare himself being mistaken in railway smokers for a traveling man. It spares him a lot of conversation of that sort. Roy Mitchell, head of the stagecraft department of the college, has always had an arty look, even back before he wore the mackintosh cape, and that was about the time Red Dixon used to play fullback. An artist gets the same internal kick out of certain externals that a soldier gets out of his uniform or a golfer out of his plus fours. But until Toronto acquires a Bohemian resort, it can look for few picturesque figures among the artists.

The musical circle of Toronto contains no outstanding salons of Bohemia. Literary groups show no tendency towards the unconventionalities of what Soho, Montmartre and Greenwich Village used to be before tea rooms invited the slummer in and the artists out. Most of the literary clubs look like church socials, and sound like them, too.

Commercial art offers a way out for those students who can no longer resist the temptation of comforts, home and wife. The others head on for the larger theatres of art, New York, London, Paris, Brussels. Toronto does not hold many of its visiting art students – and a very large number of them come from far places in Canada. One of the most promising of them all comes from British Columbia, and we visited him in his attic room, vivid with sketches on every wall, a saucepan of shaving water steaming on a gas stove, a cello in a corner, paints, fragments of art material scattered about. When he welcomed us, I noticed a cigaret butt, caught and dangling from the tail of his sweater coat.

We had called with Arthur Lismer, who wanted to consult him about another picture to add to what this student was already asked to show in the group of seven exhibition. This was a great honor – the first time a student had ever been asked to show with his masters. Immediately after greeting us, this student began hunting for his cigaret butt. While Mr. Lismer talked, the student kept prowling about the attic studio with a mystified air. He looked on table, stove, shelf, floor. He stared intently at the floor. But no cigaret butt.

“Give us that one with the children bathing in the blue water,” said Mr. Lismer.

“Well, I would,” said the student. “But it won’t fit my frame, I’ve got only the two frames, and it won’t fit.”

They argued this quaint question – show held up for the want of a frame – and then the cigaret butt fell from its hiding place on to that space of floor where the student had looked most intently.

He looked at the butt with amazement. He glanced quickly about, with the air of one on whom impa are playing tricks. There was something so innocent, so elfin, so warmly comic about that whole scene, the spirited conversation between master and student, about pictures and treasured picture frames, the cigaret butt so eagerly sought and in hiding on his cost tall, and in the mysterious restoration of it, that it stood a perfect piece of all that innocence and asceticism which is all the Bohemia Toronto has.


Editor’s Note:

  1. From the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th, Montmartre in Paris was where many artists lived, worked, or had studios. ↩︎
  2. Batik is an Indonesian technique of wax-resist dyeing applied to cloth. There was an artist inspired craze in Europe and the Americas for Batik in the early 1920s. ↩︎

When Art is Long – and seems even longer

March 6, 1926

This illustration went with an article by Frank Mann Harris, known as “Six-Bit”, which makes fun of live theatre.

Do You Cash in on What Gifts Santa Claus Brings You?

January 2, 1926

This is an image from an article by C. R. Greenaway on returning unwanted presents after Christmas.

Ontario’s Crime Sheet Amazingly Clean

November 27, 1926

This illustration accompanied a story by Frederick Griffin about the higher rate of crime in the United States due to gangsters and Prohibition.

Hallow Eve

By Gregory Clark, October 30, 1926.

When your door bell rings on Hallowe’en, answer it.

It will be somebody.

There used to be a time when it was not safe to answer the door bell after dusk on All Hallows Eve. Not only would there be NOBODY there, which is eerie enough, egad, but in all probability, when you opened your door, to peer into the ghostly darkness, a pail of water, carefully supported on the top of your doorsill would upset on your head; or you might be pelted with peas from unseen peashooters, or a string would have been stretched across the entrance so that you would trip and fall all over your own doorstep; or something strange, violent and mysterious would befall you.

Those days are gone forever. In the twentieth century we have driven mystery to the wall. If the door bell rings on Hallowe’en you need expect no mystery. It will be your aunt or the grocery boy or perhaps a poor man selling sheet music.

You see that old gentleman, there, in your mind’s eye-the one with the grey hair and ruddy complexion, who is so indignant because a gang of little boys are celebrating Hallowe’en by yelling feebly out on the street? He is very indignant. He can’t read his paper after dinner. He says it’s an outrage that children should be allowed to run at large at such an hour – eight o’clock!

Well, let me tell you about the way they celebrated Hollow Eve, as they used to call it, in the small Ontario town where he was born.

It is hard to reduce this portly, dignified old gent to a husky little boy of ten, with red cheeks and rough little chapped paws, and ragged pants. But that’s he, fifty years ago.

That’s he. Watch him.

There were two personages in every town and village in Ontario who, when Hollow Eve approached, began to suffer certain alarms. They were the schoolmaster and the town constable.

If there was also in the village an old bachelor who was a deacon and lived with his maiden sister in a cottage down near the end of the street, he joined the schoolmaster and the town constable in the ranks of the impending victims. This man generally had wiry whiskers of the pattern that grew in a fringe upwards out of his collar.

The day of Hollow Eve went by in a curious air of expectancy. The older folks wore a worried and watchful air. But everybody under eighteen years of age, largely the boys, wore the look of mastery. This night, big things would be doing. This night was to be theirs.

In this crowd of boys scuttling in the first shadows of nightfall outside the schoolmaster’s back lot, look you, a little red-cheeked rascal of ten, with chapped paws and ragged breeches. Keep your eye on him.

The schoolmaster sits within his kitchen, listening, intently.

He hears a mysterious sound at his front gate. Creeping to his door he peeps through the drawn blind and sees a group of boys working at the hinges. When he leaps out they disappear. He keeps a keen watch, but every time he withdraws the figures appear.

This, you might say, is a dumb way for boys to behave on Hollow Eve. But you notice that the schoolmaster is being detained at his front door. What is going on at his back? Wouldn’t he like to know!

For this party at the front are merely the feint attack. Let us hope they can restrain their boyish excitement long enough to stick to their job, though they all wish they could be on what is going on at the far end of the schoolmaster’s lot.

Painting Bessie Green

In the darkness, in profound silence, the schoolmaster’s only cow, Bessie, is being painted bright green. And the boy who is holding the paint pot so eagerly and proudly is not other than the little boy with the red, etc. The schoolmaster will presently go to bed, saying to himself that times are getting better. Not till morning will the schoolmaster know what Hollow Eve has brought him and all the village’s best and loudest laughers.

The town constable comes next. He is on duty in the street, but keeping mostly an eye to his own property. On one of his periodic returns to his own cottage he finds his front gate gone. Simply removed from its hinges. Well, it is no time to go looking for the gate. It will turn up in the morning astride somebody’s roof or in the village’s tallest maple tree. But there is a sense of relief in the fact that the gang has done its worst.

But there was no limit to the gang’s worst. Boys are great practical psychologists. They, from the hiding place they have chosen in the town constable’s own corn patch, watch him go off upstreet to attend the care of other people’s property which he feels he has perhaps been neglecting.

When he is gone they take the constable’s buggy, which is one of the eyesores of the town, with the stuffings falling out of the faded green cushions and no two wheels in line, and they hoist it to the roof of his own barn.

It is one of the mysteries of engineering how easy it is to get a buggy on top of a barn at night and how hard it is to get it down off a barn in daylight.

And in elevating the buggy to the top of the barn it is that same excitable little boy who in selected, because of his light weight and good muscle, to shinny up first and pass the rope to the haulers on the far side.

Now to the deacon, with the wiry whiskers growing upwards out of his collar.

There was, and still is, doubtless, a shed which used to be the butt of all jokers of all ages to Hollow Eve. The deacon, remembering past years, had decided that this time he would catch the culprits who upset his property red-handed. So he secreted himself in this building, in hiding, to await the coming of the marauders whose idea of fun it was to upset the edifice, every Hollow Eve, much to the chagrin of the pompous deacon.

But the deacon was observed, by some little hoy, as he crept stealthily out to hide himself. And the little boy runs with the glad tidings to the gang, who are just retreating after having hoisted the town constable’s buggy aloft.

The gang approached the deacon’s back yard with unexampled silence. Only half a dozen of the bigger boys were permitted to perform the actual major operation.

They upset the edifice, with the deacon in it, door down!

And since the deacon lived, as a rule, with a maiden sister, she, on hearing the frantic shouts of the imprisoned worthy, had to go and get neighbors – gossipy neighbors, neighbors who love such a jest from generation unto generation – to help her free her outraged brother.

And somewhere in the guerilla band which stood a distance in the dark and watched the men with lanterns helping the deacon to escape from his plight, was this same small boy.

He has grown up and old. Here he sits, a portly old gent, shaking his after-dinner paper angrily, while half a dozen tame little boys, outside on the prim pavement, yell feebly by way of celebrating All Hallow’s Eve!

Classic Pranks in Toronto

Back in the days when Toronto was a small city, largely recruited from the villages round about, the students of the university took the lead in celebrating Hollow Eve and one of the pastimes of the less fortunate youth of the city was to come down to the grounds to watch the students burning the picket fences, firing the old Crimea cannon which stood in the grounds as souvenirs of a war in which Canada took no part, and disporting themselves generally.

There are two peak moments in the history of Varsity Hollow Eves. The one is the time the students got a cow up into the Old Grey Tower of University College. The stair is a steep and winding one. How they gained entrance to the college, where they got the cow, how on earth they forced the heavy beast to climb the winding staircase is a mystery never solved. How they got it down is another story. They had a gang of abattoir workers come and take charge, after all the professors of engineering and mathematics had given the problem up. There was talk of slaughtering the poor cow and taking it out in quarters of beef. But at last they rigged up some tackle and eased the amazed co-ed down the way she had come.

Another and less savory exploit was the hanging of a human “subject” from the medical college on the hooks of a butcher shop at Carlton and Yonge streets. Those were the days when the butchers displayed half beeves all over their shop fronts, suspended from hooks.

Hollow Eve was also the occasion at Varsity for the stealing of those odd souvenirs with which students used to like to decorate their rooms. If ten students got a good stout fence post and leaning heavily on it, charged one of those iron horses which used to decorate all the main streets of Toronto as hitching posts, the iron horse would snap, and a perfectly good souvenir would go home with them. There was one group which succeeded in getting into the backyard of their boarding-house one of those octagon sheet metal cubby houses which the policemen used to have on the main corners to telephone in and in which to keep their raincoats. But the police heard about it from unfriendly neighbors and a scene resulted.

Largely those things that were an affront to the delicate feelings of students – painted orders to keep off the grass, or to “keep out of here,” or physicians’ door signs that were unnecessarily pompous. If any wealthy citizen decided to express his sense of art in a pair of iron deer or leaden cupids on his front lawn the students felt they had to take a hand.

Much of the worst taste of the Victorian age was thwarted by Hollow Eve in Toronto.

It is only in the past ten years or so that the self-imposed curfew has been in existence in Toronto, and in the name of child welfare children are put to bed at dusk. Hollow Eve parties were not what they are. They were children’s parties, and no one was too little to bob for apples in a wash tub or take one end of the taffy-pull, and the littlest ghosts you ever saw paraded the streets to ten o’clock, which was bed time for all, old and young, fairly and without discrimination.

Has anybody seen a tick-tack1 for years? The modern young mother does no sewing, and therefore there are no spools around for making tick- tacks. But in the other days Hollow Eve was no occasion for lovers to spoon, in the parlor. It was a shocking experience to be gazing, with all the world forgot, into your best girl’s eyes and to have the fierce and unexpected sound of a tick-tack on the window pane wipe out the illusion and fill you with embarrassment.

The twentieth century has taken the mystery out of many things. The scientists have revealed many mysteries of disease. The engineers have solved space. There is no mystery now in hearing voices from Virginia and songs from Los Angeles. And society has kept pace with science. The girls dress mystery away. Our daily lives are revealed to all the world in, a thousand ways.

And even the pretense of mystery that was left for the children, one of two days in the year, has been crowded out.

So if the door bell rings answer it.

It will probably be the boy with The Star Weekly.


Editor’s Notes: Pre-World War Two, Halloween was not as popular a holiday in North America. Treat-or-treating was not established, and the holiday was more known for kids playing pranks as indicated in the story. Costumes could be worn, and some adults might have had parties.

  1. A tick-tack is defined as a “a contrivance used by children to tap on a window from a distance”. I’m not sure what it may have looked like. ↩︎

Every Girl Wins Her Beauty Contest

By Gregory Clark, August 21, 1926.

The judges in Toronto’s beauty contest started out with a scoring system.

The general ratio of beauty was to be 80 per cent. for face, 40 per cent. for figure and 10 per cent. for carriage and deportment.

They had to chuck arithmetic out.

Along would come a girl with a face and head so like an angel’s the judges wanted to reward Heaven by giving her eighty per cent – though she had a figure as shapeless as a boy’s

Or it would be a girl with a face and head as jolly and hard and rough as a boy’s but with a figure divinely proportioned. And it seemed to the judges only just to the selective powers of this girl’s ancestors to mark her not less than seventy-five.

So they chucked any attempt to arrive at an appreciation of beauty by means of statistics. They got up on the judges’ stand the first night of the contest with a fairly clear idea of the cardinal points of beauty and their relative values. They ended up, the fifth day of the contest, judging beauty just the plain, homely way you and I Judge beauty – by psychic sense.

Beauty cannot be scored half the face, two-fifths the body and one tenth the grace of carriage.

Beauty is a force, a power, an energy. It throws off an aura. It strikes some psychic sense other than the sense of sight. When beauty comes before your vision, it is appreciated by an unknown and unnamed sense seated somewhere close to the dwelling place of your spirit.

“Half the girls,” said Mr. Henry Button, one of the five judges, “who entered the contest had some of this psychic appeal, in varying degrees. They created varying impressions of sheer beauty. Nearly all had obvious charm. But those who lasted through the selective process up to the semi-finals were those girls who had that indefinable blending of the features of beauty – head and face, figure and grace of movement – and then that something else besides which I cannot, for the life of me, find the word for -which roused that subtle sense which responds to beauty.

“The odd part of it was that not only did the judges all respond to it – and we were close to the subjects -but the crowd responded, too. Mind you, the judges all determined to arrive at their decisions regardless of any demonstrations by the onlookers. We were under no obligations. We are none of us in politics. In fact, it rather settled us, who were raised to the eminence of Judges of beauty, to find that our selections were also the selections of the populace.

“When you consider the women men marry – and the men women marry – though this was a contest involving feminine beauty alone – when you consider the women men marry, isn’t it amazing that the conception of beauty should be so unanimous as the demonstrations at Sunnyside clearly indicated?”

All Toronto Bows to Beauty

The answer, Mr. Button himself supplied it, is that men do not marry the outward form of beauty for itself alone.

“No doubt many plain people are beautiful within,” said Mr. Button. “Beautiful characters beautiful minds, voices, manners. They may be unable to create the impression of beauty with their outward semblance, but can stimulate vital impressions of beauty by their minds or out of the psychic forces of their spirit. Yet it seems to me that people who are beautiful in the external features must be beautiful within. All this outward perfection cannot be meaningless mere chance, mere pot luck in generations of breeding. Nature, I should think, works outward from within.”

What is beauty?

Toronto has been considering beauty for two weeks. A hundred and fifty thousand Toronto people assembled at Sunnyside during those five evenings of judging, to consider beauty. It is vain to discredit the gatherings by saying that vulgar curiosity brought the crowds there. Far more can be seen at any of the bathing pools. The press, with a couple of stodgy and slightly psychopathic exceptions, has been filled with pictures of girls and with the discussion of beauty. Beauty has been the talk of the town, around supper tables, on porches, over bridge tables and over dishpans, for days and days.

In countless homes, it has been said “If only this contest weren’t so vulgar, our Lizzie would go in there and clean up on all of them!”

Fathers looked upon daughters with new interest and pride. Mothers retraced strange, dizzy paths back to girlhoods of which these daughters are the reincarnation. Lovers have talked of beauty. The lips of puzzled young men have been opened. Beauty is a thing Toronto – a city filled with inhibitions more than prohibitions – is shy of. The Old World has inherited beauty from a loose and creative past. America to the south has been beauty-mad for years, screaming about it in her publications, her movies her stage. But Toronto – if you ask about the beauty of the Sons of England memorial at University Avenue and College street, someone tells you the war record of the Sons of England. If you breathe against the beauty of the Parliament Buildings, you are informed that a distinguished Buffalo architect designed them. There is an answer to everything: Yonge street, the economic considerations of real estate; a certain recent sky-scraper, business before pleasure. Toronto has had more than its share, in the past, of those historic covenanters who regarded beauty with dark suspicion.

For two weeks, Toronto has been considering beauty. You cannot consider beauty without it reflecting some soft effulgent light back upon your own countenance. Social psychology is potent stuff. The city-wide contemplation of the question of beauty may result in a new era in the life of an intensely practical city which appears to esteem so many, many things before beauty.

What an Elderly Spectator Saw

In the crowd assembled around the judging stand at Sunnyside there was conspicuous a middle-aged man. He was conspicuous because of his type. He did not belong to the gentle, genial, easy-going amusement-hound style of man which is familiar on Sunnyside. One of the newspapermen, curiously studying the crowd spotted him, a hard, austere type, the kind of man, the reporter thought to himself, who was there to condemn. Several times, during the first evening, the reporter’s eyes picked him up in the crowd, and the flinty gaze was fastened with a veiled look upon the girls as they wheeled in five and stood before the judges.

The next evening, the same man was there, closer. With him was a lady, obviously his wife. The two stared without expression at the gay and decidedly exciting scene. The reporter tried to conceive what curious, inverted impressions were moving in the minds of these two elderly members of a generation from which the younger generation has heard a great deal.

They were to the fore the third night, and the fourth night, the reporter – nerve is one of the first qualifications of reporters – made it his business to stand beside the man and to engage him in conversation.

“I have been here every night,” said the reporter.

“So have I,” confessed the elderly man.

“Yes,” said the reporter, “I’ve noticed you.”

The elderly man looked at the reporter narrowly.

“You see,” said the reporter, “you are older than most of the audience, and I noticed you, thinking you might be one of those who condemn this sort of demonstration.”

The elderly man was silent for some moments, chatting quietly to his wife and ignoring the reporter.

Then he turned to the reporter and said:

“I would like to tell you about this. And I don’t think it would do any harm. My wife was visiting friends in Parkdale, and they sent me off after tea to amuse myself at Sunnyside. I saw the crowd that first night, and stopped to look. We had one child and we lost her just as she was becoming a young woman. That is twenty years back. I saw a girl on the platform that night who was the living image of our girl. I brought my wife the next night, in the expectation of seeing her again. She did not come on, but we saw another one who was very like. Then we came again last night, and the one we thought was the image of our girl was selected as one of the semi-finalists. There has been another one again to-night, though it will sound absurd to you.

“But it is a long time back. We think they are all very beautiful, don’t you?”

The reporter withdrew very quietly.

Among those crowds of people, there must have been thousands of little miracles such as this, which beauty can perform.

A pompous individual approached one of the judges and said:

“Your decision, I am glad to note, spells the end of this bobbed hair nonsense.”

But it does not. Four of the five final winners had unbobbed hair.

“But we were no more conscious of that fact than of the religious denomination or the political views of the contestants,” said Mr. Henry Button. “Of course, it may mean that a greater impression of beauty is conveyed by a girl whose hair is left long. In my opinion, bobbed hair improves the prettiness of a pretty girl. But I have not yet thought whether long hair improves the beauty of a beautiful girl. There is quite a distinction there.”

Every Girl is in Beauty Contest

Titian, Romney, Reynolds never painted bobbed hair beauties. Our conception of beauty is rooted in the past. Art’s age long selection of the beautiful in women has come down to us in painting and statuary. They all had long hair. This may unconsciously have biased the judges and the public – for the public acclaimed the winners even as the judges selected them – in favor of the girls who were reminiscent of the old masters and of the Grecian statues.

“But,” said Mr. Button, “I think it would be interesting to dress up the statue of the Venus de Milo in a smart modern frock. I wonder if she would still maintain her reputation?”

All of us have gone through the experience of thinking some girl a beauty until she revealed a discordant note.

Many a girl is beautiful until she smiles. No end of girls are beautiful so long as they are dumb. The minute they speak, the impression of beauty vanishes into air. Bad teeth, queer writhing of lips, raucous, or squeaky or nasal voices, and no matter how you concentrate on the outward semblance, it takes a powerful imagination to recapture the impression of beauty.

Every girl in the world is engaged in a beauty contest. Beauty, either outward or inward, is the first and possibly the sole appeal a girl has for a man. Consciously or unconsciously, every girl in the world is attempting to display what beauty she possesses. It is the ancient law.

“We did not hear their voices,” said one of the beauty judges. “We did not see them smile. They stood before us, expressing only what their external beauty and their carriage could express of what was within. At the last, we had to make the semi-finalists smile. Then we knew. If we could have spoken to them, we would have known more.”

But once you pass the simplest requirements “face 50, figure 40, deportment 10,” you get info a realm of beauty that is as complex as life itself.

For here we come to the secret of the beauty contest which is being waged, endlessly, feverishly, in our midst and all the world over eternally, the beauty contest of life. In the beauty contest of life, more than face, figure and deportment are involved. Into this greater contest, a thousand subtler factors of beauty enter. Then voice and smile, thoughts, deeds, actions, the mind in sickness and in health – health, ah, there’s a beauty factor! – come into play, to create the psychic impression of beauty watch makes its appeal to the supreme court of beauty, the young men, the prospective husbands of the world.

Some men swear by blonds, others are moved by nothing less than a raven brunet. Why? Away back in the making of us all are factors which determine our likes and dislikes in the realm of beauty. A man might have a beautiful but spiteful and bad-tempered mother. He will seek a girl who is gentle and sweet, let beauty pass. A man will have spent his life amidst severe and stiff women. He will, by the force of reaction, be attracted by gay and happy girls.

Reaction to environment, they call this. A man raised in a lively and rowdy atmosphere at home seeks a demure and quiet little wife. The legend of the “minister’s son” proves this

Maybe the girl a man marries may not be in the champion class as regards “face 50, figure 40, carriage 10,” but each man makes his own secret score card. If we could read into men’s most guarded thoughts, we might find some such scoring as this:

“Face, 30; figure; 10: carriage, 0; fun, 15; laugh, 25; tender hands, 10.”

Or it might go:

“Face, 10; figure, 5; carriage, 0; money, 85.

But most often, we would likely find some such rating as this:

“Face ? figure ? carriage ?, but eyes, deep as the sky, glorious jeweled windows looking into a secret place where love abides and I alone may go, 100!!!!”


Editor’s Note: This article is about the very first “Miss Toronto” contest held in 1926. Photos from the contest and a wall mural in Toronto can be seen here.

When will Canada Come of Age?

July 3, 1926

This illustration went with a story by “a Returned Soldier” who was upset that Canada’s birthday (then called Dominion Day) was only partially celebrated or only in small groups with no coordinated effort. He felt there should be more fireworks (which was more likely to be set off on Victoria Day at the time) and more marching bands.

Birdseye Center – 05/22/26

May 22, 1926

The First Tourist Camp Opens at the North Pole

August 7, 1926

Pigs and Lilacs

By Gregory Clark, June 19, 1926.

Friday, 3 P.M. – This being the second pause in our journey, and Willie having definitely disappeared over the horizon in search of a mechanic, Madge and I find nothing better to do than keep a diary of this motor trip. The first ten miles of a trip exhausts all topics of conversation. Madge and I are tired of exclaiming every time we see a sow with a litter of piglets. So now we will keep a diary.

Madge and Willie invited me to accompany them on a week-end tour of Northwestern Ontario. Because I had once bought a second-hand car, Willie thought I would be valuable member of the tour.

Our first pause occurred just outside the city limits. Bowling along in that high spirit in which all motor trips begin, we were suddenly conscious of a decided thudding feeling which caused all the second-hand windows of the second-hand sedan to clatter. Willie glanced around in dismay.

“It’s that tire!”

“What tire?” we cried.

“That tire I have been suspicious of!”

We drew in to the roadside, where the off-sounding tire was discovered to be flat.

“I think there is only one thing in the world more horrid to look at,” said Madge, “than a flat tire.”

“What’s that?” we asked her, rolling up our sleeves and commencing to unload all the stuff out of the back to get at the tools.

“Two flat tires,” said Madge.

After removing everything from the car in order to get at the tools, we then had to move the car about to get the flat tire over a solid bit of turf so the jack would stand up. It was only a matter of minutes until we had the spare on and the soft one on the rear.

“Leave the tools out where they will be handy,” said Madge.

“No, no!” exclaimed Willie. “That would be courting trouble.”

We concealed them all under the back seat and repacked everything on top again.

This pause, the second, some thirty miles forward on our tour of northwestern Ontario, is due to some mysterious trouble which Willie says is either in the carburetor or the main bearing. The trouble manifests itself in the engine simply moving. Willie and I have examined everything in between the front bumper and the rear bumper and are at a loss. So he has gone looking for a mechanic while I stay to guard Madge and the car. I am now going to unload cargo so that tools may be got at.

3.45 p.m. Willie returns with a young farm lad in blue overalls and red hair.

“He isn’t a mechanic, but he drives a tractor made by the same people who made this car,” explains Willie. The young man looks earnest, and selects a hammer from the tools I have spread out on the grass.

“Does she cough at all?” asks the young man.

“No. She won’t answer the starter,” we say.

“You got gas, have you?”

“Oodles.”

“Well, let me look at her.”

Autocratic Big Cars

He bends lankily into the engine, rattles this and pulls that and hits the cylinder casing two whacks with the hammer.

“What’s that for?” asks Madge, as he swipes the rusty iron with the hammer.

“Oh, I always hit my tractor like that and I don’t know what it does, but it helps.”

“I think it’s in the carburetor,” says Willie sternly.

“Try her now,” says the young man.

Willie steps on her and way she goes, with a loud belch of blue and dirty smoke out of her exhaust.

“Something lodged in her windpipe!” yelled the young man, above the roar. So we put all the stuff back, the tools under the seat again and drive the young man back to his tractor.

4.15 p.m. Willie cries: “Look at that litter,” at some immense sow and her family.

4.16. Madge screams: “Lilacs! Oh, don’t you love lilacs! I’d love to live in the country just for the lilacs.”

“There’s pigs in the country, too,” I cry above the rush of the car. Madge favors me with the look of a wounded maiden.

4.25. Going up a slight incline, car labors heavily.  Wille mutters, but we can’t hear what he says.

5.05. Pass a large car.

5.06. Large car passes us.

5.07. Pass a large car.

5.08. Large car passes us.

5.09. Pass a large car. “Eight cylinders!” yells Willie, as we sail by.

5.10. Large car passes us, slows up and stops obliquely across the narrow highway. We stop. A savage looking young man steps out and walks back.

“What are you trying to do?” he demands.

“How do you mean?” asks Willie.

“Tearing past me like that and then slowing down in front of me?”

“Slowing down? I wasn’t slowing down.”

“Listen, fella, said the golfy locking young man, “anything that passes me has got to get its dust out of my face darn quick or it doesn’t stay past me. I am going to hit forty miles an hour all day. Are you?”

“Yes,” says Willie. “But go on.”

5.13. Large car disappears in the distance in a cloud of dust that settles before we reach it.

“These big cars make me sick,” says Madge.

5.16. Car develops a peculiar erratic motion.

5.17. Car stops. Traffic being thicker, Willie runs wheel off on to the turf. We can hear engine gurgling. With glove on. I unscrew radiator cap. It blows off violently and we never see it again. It may have come down.

“Shall I shift the cargo?” asks Madge.

“This is not a job for tools,” says Willie. “I think we have burnt out a bearing.

Cars go whizzing by. We dispose ourselves on the grass.

“Pick out,” say I, “the rockiest looking flivver that goes by. The man driving such a flivver generally knows all about flivvers. He has to to make his go.”

A very rusty one comes panting along. Its rear end sagging, steam blowing from its radiator. The driver, a man with a rakish mustache and firm grip on the wheel, slows when he sees us and regards us with an expectant eye.

“Need help?” he shouts, eagerly, stopping.

“Thanks, we do,” said Willie. Sorry to bother you”

“It’s no bother. Glad to help. Boiling, eh?”

“She’s hot, all right.”

Automaniac Helps Out

He lifts the hood and stares shrewdly at the engine, sniffs, listens, touches the cylinders.

“An engine,” he remarks, “should be hot to perform its best. But not this hot.”

“Yes, she’s hot all right.”

We gather around. Madge is piling out the cargo to get at the tools.

“Well, let’s see about the spark,” says the mustache. “Mixture too thin, maybe, or maybe too thick. Step on her, will you?”

Willie steps on her. She snorts and gaggles and coughs and has a series of hemorrhages. The Samaritan turns the mixture down, and the engine stops. When it gets going again he turns the mixture up, and the engine stops.

“H’m!” says he. “You’ve got plenty of oil, have you?”

“Oh, yes.”

“You haven’t got too much, have you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, we’ll have to see what’s wrong with this thing.”

And suddenly the shabby Samaritan becomes furiously busy. He seizes tools right and left and begins turning, unscrewing, removing, lifting, setting aside. His hands become plastered with grease and oil. He stands on top of the engine and crawls underneath the car. In his eye is a joyous light. His teeth are bared in an ecstasy of effort. He removes, if I remember my automotive geography, the exhaust pipe and gets at the cylinder heads. From his own car he fetches weird and huge tools of all sorts. He disconnects the line and disassembles the carburetor. Parts of our car are strewn all over the running boards and on the grass.

Idraw Willie aside. “I think we are in the hands of an automaniac. This fellow is one of those bugs who glory in taking a car to pieces. He may be dangerous. Look at the thing to drives himself.”

“You said to pick the worst looking wreck of a car that passed.”

“But not so bad as his, man!”

“What will we do? We can’t ask him to leave it now. It’s all apart.”

We go back and watch the Samaritan. He is grunting, his teeth bared, wrenching and tearing. He is covered with grime and grease.

“We had no idea you would do all this work. It is too bad to…”

“It’s a pleasure, I assure you,” said he, diving under the car and emerging with a huge, dirty segment of iron. “I think I have the trouble now. Your car will run like a clock from now on, or I am mistaken.”

Slowly, like a man stringing out a pleasant meal as long as possible, he begins to put the car together again. Each nut, each bolt and segment goes back into place with a sigh. Madge has fallen asleep on the grass. Slower and slower goes the business of assembling the car. At last all is in place but one large bolt. He tries it several places. There is no room for it. Not a hole can be found.

“Well, I never saw one of these before,” says the Samaritan, studying it with amazement. “What model is this car?”

“1925,” says Willie.

“Ah, then this is a bolt they don’t use in earlier models. It has got me beat.”

“But my gracious, we’ve got to get it in somewhere,” says Willie, getting angry.

“All right!” cries the Samarian enthusiastically. And he seizes the tools with renewed gusto and starts tearing her down again. Willie and I get down and watch for holes.

Out on the grass come all the pieces once more, darkness approaching. Thousands of cars have tooted and hooted at us in passing. We find no hole. We hang the bolt in likely looking places, we feel about in dark crannies. But however slowly we assemble again, accompanied by the delicious grunts and sighs of the Samaritan, we have the bolt left over at the end. We sit on the road and stare at it.

“The speedometer reads sixty-seven miles,” calls Marge from above. “And we were going to be in Owen Sound tonight.”

“Well,” says the Samaritan, now almost covered with slime and grit, “try her anyway.”

Willie gets in and starts on the starter. The engine bursts into song, clear, regular, like a young thing fresh from the paint shop.

“Drive her slow to the next garage and they will know where this bolt fits,” says the Samaritan.

He will accept no money. Not even a dollar. We heap thanks upon him. The car has never run like this before, even if a bolt is to spare. We crank his junk heap for him and wave him on his way.

8.55 – We arrive at a garage.

“We took our car apart,” says Willie to the garage man, “and when putting it together wo had this bolt left over.”

“What make is your car?”

“Flivver,” says Willie.

“This is a Rolls-Royce bolt,” says the garage man. “You must have picked it up off the road.”

2.25 a.m. Saturday – I woke up with Willie prodding me.

“Owen Sound,” he says. “Take Madge in and register while I put the car away.”

Saturday, 9am – Away we go on the second lap of our tour of northwestern Ontario.

9.35 – “Look there!” yells Willie. “How’s that for a family?”

Another litter of pigs.

9.40 – Madge screams at a hedge of lilacs. We all look.

9.50 – Flat tire. No pigs or lilacs in sight.

10.20 – “That,” shouts Willie, “is the biggest litter I ever saw in my life. There must be thirteen!”

Another litter of pigs.

10.25 – Sure enough, we pass a farmhouse, almost hidden with lilacs.

“OOOOh!” screams Madge. “There’s where I could spend my old age.”

On the far side of the house appear two sows, each followed by litters of dancing little pigs.

“Aaaah!” cries Willie. “That’s what you call hog raising.”

10.50 – Flat tire. We can hear pigs mooing in the distance and there is the perfume of Iliacs stealing on the air.

11.30 – Hit a bump and crack front springs. We would fix it up with a block of wood if we could find a block of wood. So we go bumpety-bump along, a village showing nine miles ahead on the map.

12.20 – Arrive at village, but no garage, only a gas pump and the man who runs it didn’t know that flivvers had springs. We find a block of wood.

1.40 – Arrive, somewhat shaken, at Wasaga Beach, where the garage has no front springs, but plenty of back springs. The man will do a repair job with a block of wood that will carry us home.

3.20 – We leave for home. Madge says she has seen all of northwestern Ontario. It is a great hog-raising country.

3.22 – Flat tire. Fortunately, we had our spare mended at the Beach.

3.32 – Flat tire again. Have to mend the tube. Not half the fun shifting a spare is.

4.15 – Raining. Flat tire. Block of wood is slipping. Barrie only seven miles way. Madge wonders if any trains to Toronto run soon. Passed several lilac bushes and Madge didn’t look at them.

5.05 – Block of wood slipped. Barrie in sight. Madge can bear trains whistling.

“Look!” yells Willie. “My gracious, there must be fifteen in that litter…”

7.30 – Madge and I are sitting on the Barrie station platform and Willie has gone on with the car.

“Next week-end,” says Bill, in parting, will do the eastern tour. Peterboro, Brockville, Kingston.”

We wave him cheerily on.

Madge and I sit on the station platform.

“There is something,” says Madge, “about a train that thrills me. I can’t see one go by without getting the most homesick feeling of wanting to be on it.”

A freight comes huffing past.

It is all cattle cars.

The cars are filled with pigs.


Editor’s Notes: Cars were fairly unreliable in the early days, but people loved them just the same. It is accurate that people had to have certain mechanical skills to operate a car back then. Flat tires were much more common than now, though not nearly as common in the story.

A Flivver was slang for an old or cheap car. An automanic was as described in the story, a person who loved working on cars.

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