The Work of Greg Clark and Jimmie Frise

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Superior Complex

The one on top glared speechlessly down at the dim face of the visitor

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 29, 1932

“Hallowe’en,” said Jim Frise, sadly staring at his drawing board, “is another example of the way the world is going to the dogs.”

“It’s not what it used to be,” said I.

“When I was a boy,” went on Jim, “we thought nothing of hauling the schoolmaster’s buggy to the top of the schoolhouse or planting the minister’s hen house on the church steps. Nowadays, you would need a derrick and a gang of Italians to haul the schoolmaster’s eight-cylinder car on top of the four-storey school; and as for ministers, they haven’t hen houses any more, and the best churches haven’t any steps.”

“The world,” I said, “has outgrown childish things like Hallowe’en.”

“I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s an Inferiority complex the world is suffering from,” said Jim. “Dr. Locke, the librarian, one time said that the reason he allowed blood and thunder novels and crime stories and hot love stories in the public library was to allow underprivileged people like old maids, clerks, schoolboys and so forth to live second-hand. They couldn’t go places and do things, so they quelled their cravings by reading.”

“Not a bad notion.”

“In the old days of Hallowe’en,” said Jim, “we didn’t know about the world outside, and we thought we were rascals the way we cut up. But now with the movies putting on mighty dramas of excitement and adventure, and comedies that cut up in a way we never could hope to equal, why we just let it go second-hand.”

“It’s what you call sublimating,” said I. “They call it getting a vicarious thrill.”

“Call it what you like,” said Jim, “the fact is, the movies and radio and newspapers and magazines have given the whole world an inferiority complex. Why, when we were young fellows, we thought we were regular John Barrymores as lovers, because love in those days was a thing never talked about or demonstrated. We imagined we were the only really great lovers in the world. But nowadays, the young people creep home to bed feeling utterly outclassed and hopeless after one look at Greta Garbo. Twenty-five years ago there was a pretty girl to every township. Now, the girls look in their mirrors and are denied girlhood’s loveliest misapprehension. The young fellows dream of great deeds, of action; but they think of “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” or “Hell’s Angels,” and go to bed. The witty fellow shuts up because the radio brings Ed Wynne or Jack Benny into the house. Where is the life of the party now? In the box. That’s what is the matter with the world to-day; it is subdued by knowledge. Gimme,” said Jimmy, “the good old ignorant days when everybody thought they were better than everybody else!”

“Still,” said I, “I hate to see Hallowe’en die.”

“So do I, but what can we do about it?”

“Last Hallowe’en,” I mused, “all the neighbors told me to go to bed, I was keeping their children awake.”

“What were you doing?”

“Oh, just running around ringing doorbells and upsetting ash cans.”

“When somebody has upset the whole world,” said Jim, “there isn’t much kick in just upsetting an ash can.”

Picking a House For Pranks

“Still, we ought not to take things for granted,” said I. “If we are public advisers as cartoonists and writers, we ought to experiment. It will be Hallowe’en in a few nights. What do you say if we go out to-night and try few experiments just to see it the world really is tired of Hallowe’en pranks?

“How do you mean?”

“Well, maybe the world would welcome a little frolic. Maybe we are wrong in thinking everything has gone stodgy. I don’t like those theories of yours about lovers and one thing and another. Gosh! I’d hate to think there ever was a boy who didn’t imagine he was the greatest lover the world has ever seen.”

“How would we go about it?”

“Well, let me see: we could go out for a walk after dark and pick on the saddest looking house we can find. Then we will ring the door bell. Upset the ashcans at the back. I can make a tick-tack and we can buzz it on the windows. The saddest house we can find. Two full-grown fellows like us could plague a house like that for half an hour before we were caught. Then we could see how Hallowe’en pranks go over in these modern days.”

“Me for a pea-shooter,” said Jim.

“And there is a kind of fire-cracker thing,” I said, “that goes off when you pull a string. We could tie it from the door knob to the veranda railing, and it would make a terrific bang when they open the door.”

“If there is any furniture around the outside of the house,” said Jim. “I’d like to lift it on to the roof or something.”

“Right,” said I.

After it was dark and we had commanded our children to go to bed early, according to the most modern health regulations, Jim and I sneaked away from our wives who wanted us to go to the movies and went for our walk. I had made a tick-tack out of a big linen spool, and Jim had a pea-shooter and a pocket full of peas. From a novelty shop I had got the fire-cracker thing.

“What kind of a house should we select?” asked Jim. “A big house or a small one? A rich house or a poor one?”

“The saddest, primmest, dumbest looking house,” said I.  “A house that looks as if it didn’t have any vestige of humor left. Just an ordinary house.”

We examined a dozen before we found the right one.

Its lawn was trim, but it had no flowers. I was well painted, but it had no color. It was well built, but it had no character.

“This house,” said Jim, “looks as if a chartered accountant lived in it or maybe a draughtsman who designs the insides of vacuum cleaners.”

“I bet,” said I, “it’s a man who manufactures those dry paper moulds you buy a dozen eggs in. Or maybe two ladies who work in the parliament buildings.”

“Let’s get to work,” said Jim, looking up and down the dark, silent, deserted street in which dwelt in security and happiness several hundred of our fellow beneficiaries of modern civilization. It was eight o’clock.

While Jim carried a veranda chair out and hung it in the maple tree on the lawn, I crept up and tied the fire-cracker business to the front door knob and ran the string to the veranda, so that when anybody opened the door, the thing would explode just as the door began to gape. All was quiet.

We walked cautiously around to the back, for fear of a dog, but there was none. Two ash cans stood at the back door, one empty and one nearly full. We propped the full one on top of the empty one against the back door in such a way that whoever opened the back door would get a pinnie full of ashes.

Something Not on the Program

On the side door, which had a screen door outside, we arranged a tin pan that we found on a window sill. Working very quietly and smoothly, we filled the can with water from the hose tap and then, opening the screen door slightly, we propped the pan on top so that whoever opened that door would get a sprinkling.

“Tee-hee,” giggled Jim. “How do we start?”

Tip-toeing up to the side window, I let go the tick-tack. It was a good one. In the silence of the peaceful night, it made a roar like a truck changing gears. We scurried out and lay down beside the hedge of the house next door. Jim stuck the pen shooter through the bushes and waited. A figure appeared at the front door glass, and Jim let fly a burst of peas that rattled viciously against the pane. The figure ducked and vanished. As we lay there, we saw window blinds pulled up and lights went out as figures moved about inside the house.

“We can’t ring the bell yet,” whispered Jim. “They are watching.”

Cautiously creeping along the hedge, we made the side drive, and in the back yard, we approached the lighted kitchen window. Nobody was there. I let go the tick-tack again with a terrific wham. As we ran to hide in the next yard, we saw people rushing into the kitchen. We just got down when the back door opened, there was a crash, a wild yell and a cloud of ashes rose and obscured the back door. The door slammed.

Silence.

“That guy sounded like a big fellow,” I whispered to Jim. “I hope he has some sense of humor.”

“He got a gizzard full of ashes,” admitted Jim.

By now all the lights in the house were out. So we went over a wire fence and through another yard and came back to watch the front door.

Jim let go a tentative flight of peas against the downstairs window from amidst the hedge. He let go another. The chair up in the maple tree chose this instant to change its position slightly with the wind ablowing. And there was a curious shaking and quivering in the tree as if someone was hiding in it.

“That’s swell,” said Jim. He let go another blast of peas.

Then we heard the side door creaking softly, as someone came creeping to make a flank attack. The creaking ended in a tin pan clatter, a loud splash, and another angry bellow. That door slammed.

As we lay, snorting and choking along the hedge, we heard footsteps approaching down the street, so we lay very still until they passed. But they did not pass. They turned and walked up the front walk of the house we were dealing with. Through the hedge, we beheld another large man walking unsuspectingly up to the door that was all rigged with a string and a fire-cracker to welcome him.

We lay tense. He stepped on to the veranda of the dark house. He rang the bell. We heard it ring.

Instantly the front door opened. Someone had been crouched behind it. A blinding flash, a terrific report, down from the veranda leaped the visitor and right behind him, his arms clawing, came another figure who seemed to glow with rage in the dark, like a fire-fly.

Guilt lends wings to your feet
We propped the ash cans against the back door

World Hasn’t Changed Much

“Help!” roared the visitor.

“Aarrh!” roared the pursuer, leaping on the visitor’s back, and the two of them rolled to the lawn.

Jim and I were transfixed with horror. It sounded like a dog fight, with snarlings and gruntings and thumpings.

“We’ll have to stop them,” said Jim.

“Let them get a little tired first,” I whispered.

But Jim got up and I had to follow. We ran around the hedge and stood over them while the one on top, who was damp and had ashes in his hair, glared speechlessly down at the dim face of the visitor.

“Mr. Parkins!” he gasped.

“Let me up,” growled the man underneath.

The man on top staggered to his feet and helped the other up.

“Mr. Parkins …” stammered the householder. “Was it you?”

“It was me,” declared Mr. Parkins, brushing himself off, “and if your idea of talking business is to shoot at a man when he calls at your door and then pursue him on to the public street and beat him up, then, my dear sir, the deal is off. I never heard … never … I …”

And we thought he was going to burst into tears.

“But Mr. Parkins,” said the first man, “you put ashes at my back door, hung water over my side door, rattled my windows… I thought I was being threatened by a gang.”

“I simply walked up to your door,” said Mr. Parkins grimly, “rang the bell, and instantly, you jerked the door open and shot at me. Do you deny that?”

“Gentlemen,” said Jimmie, and there were three or four other neighbors gathered around by this time, “this is most regrettable. Mr. Parkins here had nothing to do with the ashes or the water. I saw him come to the front door after the ashes and water had been spilled.”

“Heh?” said the householder.

“Some boys were playing Hallowe’en tricks a little in advance of the season,” said Jim, “by way of rehearsal, you might say, and in the midst of these little pranks, Mr. Parkins walked up and rang the bell.”

“How do you know?” growled the householder, who was, as I said, a big man.

“I was watching them,” said Jim.

“So was I,” said I.

“And so was I,” said a voice behind me. “I live next door and I saw these two crooks for the past half hour prowling around your house, Mr. Figsbee, and …”

But Jim had started and I was not long following.

We stuck together, and for the first two blocks they were not far behind. But guilt lends wings to your feet.

“I tell you what,” said Jim, as we sat in a drug store having a soft drink to settle our wind, “you might say the world has changed much.”

“It has its moments,” said I.

“As of old, the fellow who plays the tricks has the fun and the victims see little in it.”

“And fewer people play tricks,” said I. “That’s the only difference.”

“Finish up your drink,” said Jim, “and if you make it snappy, we can get home in time to go with our wives to the second show.”

“Maybe,” said I, “there’ll be a real good comedy.”


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.

John Barrymore and Greta Garbo were early movie stars.

Bring ‘Em Back Alive was a jungle adventure documentary from 1932. Hell’s Angels was a war film from 1930.

Ed Wynn and Jack Benny were popular radio comedians.

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.

The images from this entry are a little different, as they are not from microfilm. I actually own an original paper copy of this. Many people may not be aware of how large old newspapers were. This is a broadsheet format, that was 17 inches wide and 23 1/2 inches tall. (43 x 60 cm). An iPad is shown for comparison.

Superior Complex

Lunging After Muskellunge

October 29, 1932

These illustrations by Jim appeared with a story by John Herries McCulloch.

October 29, 1932
October 29, 1932

Deadline!

October 30, 1943

“Pigskin” Peters was in the Army during World War Two, and you had to recognize that packages could take a while to reach their recipient. The post office would suggest deadlines if you hoped for your packages to make it by a certain date. It almost feels like this was also a public service announcement, just to make sure the reader knew the deadline too.

Surrealism

The elderly gentleman and his daughter took a look at “Split Infinitive”. “He’s got it at last,” said he.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 22, 1938

“I think,” said Jimmie Frise disgustedly, “I’ll turn surrealist.”

“What are you now?” I inquired sweetly.

“I get so tired,” said Jim, “drawing this mug of yours every week. Sometimes I feel I can’t go on.”

“If you turned surrealist,” I asked, “how would you draw me?”

“Oh, boy,” mused Jim happily, “what wouldn’t I draw. Punkin on a boat. Ripe tomato singing. Pot full of spinach.”

“You could also,” I pointed out bitterly, “do some nice work on yourself in this cartoon. For instance, string bean partly sliced. The theorem of a pair of old scissors. Or nocturne in three pool cues.”

“You’ve got some nice surrealistic titles there,” stated Jim.

“Jim,” I asked, “what in the dickens is this surrealism? And by the way, is that the way you pronounce it?”

“Sur, meaning beyond,” explained Jim, “and realism. Beyond or above reality. That is what surrealism means.”

“It sure is beyond,” I confessed. “The pictures I saw at the Exhibition looked decidedly unreal. I mean, there were faint suggestions of hands, toe nails and things like that in them. But the rest of the picture was just a lot of formless shapes. Why do they put in suggestions of real things? Why not just paint a lot of different colored blobs?”

“Because,” explained Jim, “in all surrealism there is a faint suggestion of reality. Reality left behind. Reality only an echo, or perfume, a lingering, fragile, all-but-gone memory.”

“Come clean,” I coaxed. “Isn’t surrealism just nutty? Aren’t the people who paint these pictures just slightly touched? As well as those who see anything in them?”

“No,” said Jim, soberly. “I read in the catalogue of the Exhibition that surrealism was born of the disillusionment and despair that followed the war.”

“Ah, another war legacy,” I muttered.

“The way everything went cock-eyed after the war,” continued Jim, “affected even art. So the surrealists demand of art that it take into account not only the realities of what we see with the waking eye, but the fantastic and irrational things we meet in our dreams, in our subconscious selves, in those moments, of which there are many, when our minds and imaginations wander loose, detached from the actual world around us, dreaming and thinking idle, grotesque, often mischievous things.”

“We all have those moments,” I confessed. “To myself, I call that going slumming inside myself, and I try hard not to do it. I’ve got myself trained now to always take myself along as professional guide and bodyguard.”

“In order to cope with the eternal mystery of life,” said Jim, “we must know all about life. Art and literature have devoted themselves for countless ages only to the presentation of the better, the higher, the cleaner side of life. Hence we have no knowledge of life as it truly is. Not in other people, mind you; but in ourselves. To arrive at a true and just understanding of life, that eternal mystery, we must face life as it really is, and write about it and paint it and express it. Only when we have all of life before us, can we know about it. In the past, art and literature have merely put on a show, an unreal, pretty and entertaining show; yet on the basis of that show humanity has tried to arrive at a workable understanding of human nature. It can’t.”

“I never read these dirty modern books,” I declared firmly.

The Split Infinitive

“Then that is probably why you can’t ever,” replied Jim, “have any understanding of human nature. You admit that you occasionally, when you are not looking, slip away on a little slumming trip deep within your own nature.”

“Yes,” I retorted, “but I have learned how to take myself along as a guide. I don’t go as often as I used to.”

“You’re forty-five now,” smiled Jimmie.

“To heck with surrealism,” I declared.

“It is the coming thing,” replied Jim.

“It will die,” I claimed, “of malnutrition. Nobody will buy the silly pictures.”

“Thousands of people are buying them,” countered Jim. “Those pictures you saw in the Exhibition are the classics of the surrealistic school and are valued at huge prices by the museums that own them.”

“It’ll die,” I predicted. “A brief and passing fancy.”

“Why,” protested Jim, “I know an artist who is painting surrealist pictures and making money for the first time in his career. For 20 years, he has been painting landscapes and still life and he never sold $200 worth in a year. Yet in the past six months he has made over $1,000 painting surrealist subjects.”

“Let him make it as fast as he can,” I laughed, “for he’ll be back at the still life in another six months.”

“Don’t you ever believe it,” cried Jimmie. “This man has arrived. Inside of a year, the name of Philip Phowler will be known to the world.”

“Phooey,” I argued.

“Listen,” said Jim, “right now he is working on a commission. One of Toronto’s wealthiest old art collectors has commissioned Phowler to paint him a picture called ‘Split Infinitive’.”

“Split Infinitive,” I gasped. “What a beautiful subject for an artist to paint.”

“He’s getting $250 for it,” added Jim.

“Split Infinitive,” I scoffed. “What the dickens kind of a picture could anybody make out of that?”

“It is a tremendously interesting subject to paint,” declared Jimmie. “Absolutely fascinating to the artist and completely fascinating to the person who looks at it with understanding.”

“Split Infinitive,” I muttered.

“Don’t you see the possibilities,” cried Jimmie, “in surrealist technique? What is a split infinitive? It is an error in grammar. It gives away the character of those who use split infinitives, such as ‘to really go,’ instead of ‘really to go.’ It shows them up as incompletely educated persons. It shows them up as slipshod persons who lack the niceties of expression.”

“Sissy,” I submitted.

“Sissy, if you like,” said Jim. “But amongst a very large group of people, a split infinitive is as revealing as seeing a man eating peas with his knife.”

“Did you ever try eating peas with your knife?” I demanded. “It’s the hardest thing in the world to make peas stay on your knife.”

“In this painting of the ‘Split Infinitive’,” went on Jim, “the artist has to catch a suggestion of all the things associated with splitting infinitives. The senses of the superiority of those who know about the split infinitive. A sense of the type of people who do split them. A sense of shock and a sense of ignorance. Some feeling of the great mass of mankind, healthy, hearty and ignorant, who not only don’t know about split infinitives, but who simply couldn’t care about it, physiologically.”

“Some painting,” I agreed.

“The artist, in order to paint this picture,” went on Jim, “has to retreat within his own soul and ponder all the aspects of the split infinitive. The purely technical aspect, the split. The social aspects, that is, the division of human beings into classes, some who care and some who don’t. The aspect of wealth, made or inherited, so that those who inherit wealth and go to expensive schools, are in one class, and those who made wealth belong to another class and who only know about split infinitives by the expressions on the faces of their children. For instance, thousands of people who shudder at split infinitives are the children of people who made their fortunes in a foundry, and who only understand about splitting profits.”

“And how the heck,” I demanded, “could such a painting ever interest the beholder?”

“It all depends,” said Jimmie, “on the intelligence of the painter and the intelligence of the beholder. But that is true also of even the simplest painting. If a painter is not clever and the picture he paints is looked at by a stupid person, it amounts to no more than a surrealist picture.”

An Incredible Canvas

“I’d love to see this picture, ‘Split Infinitive’,” I admitted.

“Sure you can,” cried Jim. “We’ll slip over at noon. It’s not quite finished yet, but that will be all the more interesting. To see Phowler at work on it. He will explain each part.”

“That’s the trouble,” I claimed. “I don’t like pictures that have to be explained. I like a picture that steps right out at you.”

“You would soon get tired,” said Jim, “of mere decoration eternally.”

“In life at its best,” I countered, “the mind should be used as little as possible. And you know it.”

So we went across King St. at noon and upstairs in one of those ancient blocks of business properties dating to about 1860. And on the third floor we found Phowler’s studio, with a queer sign done on it with pieces of lath, blotting paper, a chicken feather and a little cheap paint brush.

“That design,” explained Jim, “spells Phowler, in surrealist terms.”

We rapped. There was no answer, though we could see cigarette smoke coming out the transom.

“Maybe surrealists,” I suggested, “are too far beyond reality to answer knocks.”

So we opened the door and walked in. Phowler was not to be seen. On a little table, made out of broom handles and ornamented with a fringe of curled pipe cleaners, a cigarette burned showing that Phowler was likely not far away.

The studio was an extraordinary mess. The windows were filthy. A big drape of raw burlap covered one wall. There were old boxes and junk of every description, old vinegar jars, a dilapidated baby carriage and an iron hitching post with a horse’s head design standing about; and the place was a complete litter of paper, dirty paint cloths, bits of canvas and pictures hung crooked, upside down and leaning against everything that was solid enough to stand.

“And it smells,” I commented, sotto voce.

On a large easel stood “Split Infinitive.”

It was an incredible canvas. There was a mottled magenta background or sky, across which flew curious geometric objects like pieces of a broken dish.

In the foreground, which was evenly divided between olive drab and peacock blue, were drawn a human hand, with two thumbs, fingers all extended; a lumberjack’s double bitted axe, blue and pink; a human nose, its nostrils curled up in terrible disdain; a can of worms, only the worms were drawn as tiny, elongated human beings, nude, all crawling and writhing, as if in agony.

“I suppose,” I supposed, after I got my voice, “that the box of worms is both the kind of people who split infinitives and the feelings of the better-class people who shudder at such vulgarity.”

“Do your own thinking and feeling,” said Jim. “It doesn’t help surrealism to talk out loud.”

So all to myself I supposed that the magenta sky with the pieces of china flying across it pictured the mental agony of people with finer sensibilities, when they read or hear a split infinitive. The horrible contrast of olive drab and peacock blue indicated the muddy nature of the masses and the blue blood of the classes.

“I don’t like this picture,” I stated emphatically, at the same time stepping backward.

Unknown to me, underneath all the rubbish with which the floor was covered, there was an electric light extension cord. My heel caught it. The cord was also passed under the legs of the easel. As I tripped, the easel received a violent jerk and with staggering suddenness, the easel threw itself sideways and the picture leaped into the air.

“Look out,” shouted Jim.

I made a tremendous leap to catch the picture, a sort of rugby tackle, but my snatch at the edge was miscalculated, owing to further entanglements in the electric light cord. Jim, in his effort to grab the picture, collided with me. I got a ghastly, sticky grip on some part of the picture and as I whirled to avoid it, the picture landed on the floor, butter side up, and I fell on top of it, gliding stickily and greasily across the upper half.

“Oh, good heavens,” moaned Jimmie.

Sense of the Imponderable

We picked up “Split Infinitive.” It was a most sickening sight. Where the seat of my pants had wiped across the upper half was just a smear of old paint and new paint, biliously stippled red and yellow. The broken objects were just dim outlines. Where my hands had clutched at the lower corner, another wavy smear existed, all but obliterating the human nose and part of the worm can.

“Oh, oh, oh,” groaned Jimmie, terrified.

“Pssst,” I hissed.

Footsteps were coming up the hollow echoing staircase of the old building.

Frozen with horror, we stood, staring at the ravished painting.

In the door stepped an elderly little gentleman with a beard, adjusting to his eyes a pair of heavy gold-rimmed glasses on a wide, black ribbon. Behind him came a young lady who turned out to be his daughter, for whom he was purchasing the painting. She was one of those intellectual and dowdy young ladies with her mouth open most of the time.

Without a word, they walked past us and took one look at “Split Infinitive.”

Then pandemonium broke loose. The old gentleman turned and grabbed his daughter ecstatically. They began doing a dance.

“He’s got it, he’s got it,” shrieked the old gentleman, almost insane with joy. “He’s got it at last.”

And they stopped only long enough to take another wild glance at the mutilated masterpiece before going into another barn dance.

“Oh,” cried the old gentleman breathlessly to us, his eyes glistening with joy. “I was so afraid he wasn’t going to get it. That sense of the vague, the imponderable, the unspeakable. I begged him the day before yesterday. I explained and argued. Yesterday, I threatened. I told him, unless you catch that sense of the obtuse, the incongruous, the capricious, I would cancel the commission.”

“But now, father!” cried the young lady. more bedraggled looking than ever.

“But now,” shouted the little gentleman “I shall double the price. Five hundred dollars.”

And lost in speechless admiration, the two clutched each other and stood, rapt, breathing heavily.

And in came Philip Phowler.

He crept in the door, all dirty smock and tousled hair.

When the other two saw him, they ran at him and embraced him. They shouted such words as grandiose, illusion, vibrancy.

I kept turning my back and getting nearer and nearer the wall for fear they should see the seat of my pants.

They drew Phowler around to where he could see the ruined painting.

He never even started. He never even gasped. He never so much as changed his facial expression.

And Jimmie and I excused ourselves, saying we would come back at a more auspicious time.

And I backed out.

“He’s got it, he’s got it,” shrieked the old gentleman, almost insane with joy.

Editor’s Notes: This story was reprinted on December 23, 1945 under the title “Finishing Touch”, with very few modifications. The drawing at the end was the one included in the 1945 version.

Eating peas with your knife was a common reference to someone who had no manners at the time. Details on why this is can be found here.

Miracle Year for Salmon!

Leo Briar, 16-year-old student at Magee high school, Vancouver, is one of hundreds of volunteer workers who are helping to haul in this year’s record salmon catch and pack it for shipment overseas.

Like an answer to prayer Canada is hauling in its greatest catch in history, packing it all for Britain and starving Europe…

By Gregory Clark, October 17, 1942.

VANCOUVER

Captain Joe Katnich is 40. He is master and owner of the 63-foot fishing boat Westview, home port, Vancouver. In 10 days, Captain Joe and his six chosen crew netted 50,000 sockeye salmon averaging seven pounds apiece, in this greatest salmon run, this most miraculous salmon run, in Canada’s history.

Captain Joe owns the boat, but, for the salmon season, charters it to the big canning company which takes his fish, so as to put himself and his crew on the old-established co-operative basis with the cannery.

The catch is divided into 11 shares. That is tradition. To the boat, 2 1/2 shares. To the net, a vast, complicated seine, 1 1/2 shares, making 4 shares. The remaining 7 shares are divided equally among the seven aboard, master and six of crew.

50,000 fish at 6 1/2 lbs.

325,000 lbs. at 13 1/2 cents.

$43,875 or, with “scrap fish” added, $44,000. Each share, $4,000.

For 10 days’ work, each of the crew gets $4,000. The net belongs to Captain Joe, so he gets another 1 1/2 shares, or $6,000 more.

For 10 days work, in this miracle subterranean blizzard of precious sockeye storming up from the Pacific, Captain Joe gets $10,000.

From the 2 1/2 shares belonging to the boat, he gets a rebate, for chartering it to the company, of another three or four thousand.

High Man of the Run

For 10 days, then, of this incredible gift of the sea to us poor, food-rationed, anxious and bedevilled humanity, Captain Joe Katnich is somewhere near $15,000 richer; his crew of six, plain, strong, brave men of the sea, Slavs, Swedes, Natives, walk up the catwalk to the cannery offices and draw a yellow cheque each for $4,000. And, in the day and night humming cannery, vast and white by the teeming. stupendously generous, life-giving river, by the action of these seven men from the 325,000 pounds of fish they caught, stream out more than half a million cans of salmon, one pound, half pound and quarter pound.

To go to Britain! To go into food reserves on our coast, and in Britain. Food reserves for a starving Europe. One of the mightiest weapons of war. The promise to France, Belgium, Holland, Russia – them all.

“But,” said Captain Joe with one of those permanent Slav grins, “don’t think I’m rich. When the government gets through with that $15,000 – poof! – taxes!”

“Where do you come from, captain?”

“Yugoslavia.”

“When?”

“1925. I take one look. I made a couple hundred. I go right back and get my wife and baby.”

“Did you learn fishing here on the Pacific coast?”

“No, SIR! My family have fished the Adriatic since olden time; since the Romans.”

“You glad to be a Canadian!”

“Ohoho yes!!! Who isn’t? And it was not hard to be. In 1930, five years here, the company (packing company) think I am safe man, so they choose me for master of one of their boats. In 1936, I got enough money to buy my own boat. This is her. The Westview – 63-foot. The best.”

And best she is. For, unless the incomparable storm of salmon runs far longer than any one dreams, Captain Joe Katnich is high man of the great 1942 run, with his 50,000 big fish.

The Canneries Glutted

There were any number of other boats that made over 30,000 fish catches, some over 40,000. A few boats landed square into the middle of the run, even though it had passed up the gulf past the hordes of State of Washington seiners, and made one-day hauls of 12,000 fish. One captain got 15,000, had his boat filled to the point of sinking and then threw his seine again and filled it and had to wait until the “packer,” the company boat that comes around and takes some of the fish off the seiners, arrived. He had nearly 3,000 corralled in that net, overflow.

Of course, it is silly to try to depict this great miracle of the fishes in terms of one boat, one master, a few men.

Over 45,000,000 pounds of sockeye salmon were caught in this one swift run of only a few days. The canneries of the B.C. coast were glutted. Day after day the government had to order “cease fishing” to the seiners so that the fish would not be wasted, so terrific was the catch and so hopelessly swamped were the canneries.

All this miracle came following the dedication of the whole catch to Britain. Was it a miracle? Was it answer to a prayer? And what these Canadians have done, the Americans have done equally, in the lower American waters through which the mighty Fraser salmon run has to pass.

Well, to a stranger like myself, this spectacle at the Fraser’s mighty mouth looked more like some Wagnerian regatta of the gods than a mere industrial scene. When we speak of the large seiners like Captain Joe Katnich’s, it is nothing. There are only 100 of them. When we speak of the gill netters, in their little 30 and 40-footers, who do not go out in the treacherous gulf but labor in the more or less sheltered mouth of the Fraser, it is nothing: although there are literally hundreds of them.

They’re “Dollar Fish”

There were rowboats in this miracle. Little one-man dories. As we cruised with camera up and down the miles of river mouth in a speed boat, we saw and talked to kids, two in a boat, with a gill net 100 feet long, which they laid out over the stern of their skiff, who had got 160 salmon yesterday and had 60 more, at noon, as we passed; and they, like kids, hauling in their net into the silly little boat, with the high waves running, and taking the big seven-pound sockeyes out of the meshes and the 10 and 15-pound chums and an odd cohoe (“scraps,” says the cannery man, not meaning any insult to the fish) and one loner, a shy lad of about 20, toiling alone with a big net over the stern of a rowboat I wouldn’t go out on Toronto bay with! The sea running, the crazy little craft bouncing and rearing, with 20 sockeyes all over the floor of her, sliding; and 60 the day before.

At a dollar a fish. “Dollar fish is what they were called along the coast; although, at an average of 6 1/2 pounds, they came to 80 some cents.

“There goes a dollar,” yelled one gill netter indignantly, as our speedboat hove near and he, in paying attention to us, allowed one writhing, sea-bred seven-pounder to struggle out of his grasp from the net and back into the sea.

That sockeye, released from the mysterious net and from the hands of man, put on an incredible performance. In a vast arc, three hundred yards, at intervals of about 20 yards, it leaped along the surface, in terrific muscular leaps of 20 feet, a living torpedo, plunging, careering madly over the surface, either in terror or ecstasy; until it finally went deeper and leaped no more.

The seiners, the big boats, left at 4 a.m. from the Fraser and went as far out and down the Gulf of Georgia as they needed to meet the incoming miracle. Early in the run they went far down, near where the Americans were making their first, their choice skimming of the mighty crop. As the 10-15 day stampede drew northward to the great Fraser, home of them all, the seiners backed up, day by day. The seiners go forth in as much of a flotilla as they can, because the channels and the tides which the sockeye ride are well known to the captains, and the best captains are watched narrowly by all the rest of the flotilla.

Overside goes the dory: grabs a rope attached to the outer end of the piled seine net, with its thick corks to float it, and its big fat lead weights to sink it. And its brass rings, big around as a tea plate, to purse it when the fish are in the bag.

Past the American seiners, far more numerous, has come the silver tide. Past the seiners out of the Fraser it surges. And then the gill netters get their chance.

Besides several days of the run on which the government called a closure by reason of the glutted canneries, Saturdays and Sundays are also closed. This lets a share of the sockeye get safely past the perils of man and up into the Fraser to go through Hell’s Gate and hundreds of miles up into the rivers and lakes where they spawn and make their promise of another record run four years from now.

The gill netters are the little people of the miracle. But they have the most fun. The average gill-net boat is a chunky little craft of 32 feet, with a small cabin forward, a round drum amidships for helping haul in the net and a sort of slide or pulley at the stern over which the 150-fathom – or 300 yards long – net, with its floats and sinkers, comes, hand fed, but engine-drum hauled.

You will see little boats like them all over the waterfront of the world, in Muskoka, on the St. Lawrence, even up on the lumberjack lakes.

The reason we pick the Geddes boat, which is only a 28-footer, is because Mr. and Mrs. Lawrie Geddes were the captain and crew, man and wife, and mighty pleasant young people, too. Geddes and his wife come over to the Fraser mouth, 15 miles from Vancouver, for six months of the year. Then tie up their boat and come home to Vancouver for the other six months, where he works in the shipyards.

How the Gill Netters Work

We came alongside and talked to them, all bobbing up and down on the windblown Fraser fresh off the gulf. They had 165 fish in the boat at the moment. No. 167, because there were two threshing about in the net, half up over the stern, right where Mrs. Geddes had slipped the clutch as we hove alongside. Yesterday they took 300.

Mrs. Geddes was about 27. Lawrie Geddes about 30 or 32. Six of the spring, summer and autumn months, they fish together for a living, with gill nets, as now, in the great sockeye run; with plain trolling when the huge spring salmon or tyee are on the move, 20 to 80-pounders. They have a happy and amusing life. When we took our picture of them. Mrs. Geddes said, “Goodness, I haven’t even had a chance to redd the place up.” The place being this little boat which, with its cabin, is their home for months of every year.

Beaming at the whoppers in their fishing smack are Mr. and Mrs. Lawrie Geddes.

Nothing like this 1942 sockeye run of the dollar fish have the Geddeses ever seen; for it was 1913 when the last great sockeye run was recorded. They make enough, in ordinary seasons, to keep them happy and paid for their time. This year, they will probably pay off all the family debt.

They feed out their net both day and night. Picking a clear spot in the crowded river, they start feeding their gill net, 900 feet long, over the stern. Mrs. Geddes lets the engine slowly pull ahead while her husband feeds its neatly folded length over the roller at the stern. Once they get a few yards of it out, it is easy to feed the rest off. They may lay it straight out, in a line; or curve it; or make a letter S of it. For this net does not enclose the salmon. The salmon, running this and that up the river, now fresh water, hit the net, shove their heads through, are caught by their shoulders. And if they try to back up, are trapped by the gills.

On the end of their net is a small wooden buoy with a bright cloth flag on it. At night, they put a lantern on it. This to warn the fishermen not to foul their net, although most of the fishing boats have a guard or skeg around their propellers, so they can ride right over a net. And if they do, okay, for sooner or later, in a madhouse like this, somebody is going to run over somebody else’s net,

The net is fed out to its full length. With its corks holding its top edge up and the weights holding its lower edge down, there it rides, 12 feet deep in the river.

Some of the gill netters leave it only half an hour. Others leave it two or three hours and have a nap in the little cabin of their craft, or eat a meal. It is all a matter hunch.

Just When They’re Needed

Of the little rowboats and skiffs we were able to get little information beyond the number of their catch which they could shout to us, because we dared not run to close in on them, due to the rough sea in the river mouth. They were all being run by boys, some of them appearing to be under 18.

They did not bring their catch into the big canneries, and we were unable to locate them along the shore. But they were having the most fun of all, their feet braced on the gunwales, as the crazy little craft bucked and leaped. If they got as much each day of the run as they had when we passed, they would make several hundred dollars; their license costs them a dollar; and their net, new, $300 from the company; or a second year net, $150. One young fellow in the Western Leckie Co. which makes nets, took his holidays in the upswing of the run, bought a fishing boat for $350, got a net for $150, caught $900 worth of fish, sold the boat for $450, and came back to work much refreshed by his vacation. And besides, he will sell nets much more efficiently from now on!

It would be nice to take another couple of pages of The Star Weekly to tell the why and wherefore of this miracle of the salmon run of 1942. For there is a why and wherefore. Twenty years ago, the salmon industry in B.C. was a $20,000,000 producer. Ten year ago, it had fallen to a mere $3,000,000. The scientists and the business men got busy. They are finding out new things about salmon every year. Why, when they dwindled to the vanishing point, this colossal resurgence of the sockeye in 1942, this year of crisis and of need?

Well, maybe the editors will let Norman James, the photographer, and me go rampaging around, at their expense, to view more miracles. This is a miracle at Hell’s Gate, on the Fraser. There, 130 miles up from the mouth, these billions of sockeye have to negotiate a terrible door. Some years it is closed. Some years it is open. Sometimes, the day, the week it is open the sockeye are not there. They are miles away, hundreds of miles, at sea. Or strewn downstream dead, from having assailed Hell’s Gate a week too soon, or too late. Then, one year, they arrive and find it open. And they are in plenty. And they go through. And then the miracle blooms. For down, the next year, come their billions of babies. And on the fourth year, return again in the marching myriads.

Then we get the miracle, like 1942.

And in 1942, it is miracles we need.


Editor’s Notes: This story was published in the middle of World War Two.

A seiner is a boat that fishes with a seine, a large net with sinkers on one edge and floats on the other that hangs vertically in the water and is used to enclose and catch fish when its ends are pulled together or are drawn ashore.

To “redd up” means to tidy up.

It’s a Barn-yard Call

October 16, 1937

One Sure Thing

I felt two large hands seize me by the shoulders from behind. And, glancing back, I saw another very large and heavy stranger had Jimmie by the shoulders.

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 19, 1946

“Your prejudices,” declared Jimmie Frise, “are costing you money!”

“I’m willing to pay,” I retorted, “for my principles.”

“Look,” pleaded Jim, “it’s a sure thing.”

“In this life,” I countered, “nothing is sure.”

“Aw, for Pete’s sake,” cried Jimmie. “I tell you we can pay for the winter’s coal with this race. It’s the end of the racing season. All kinds of long shots come home at the end of the racing season. It’s the time for trainers and jockeys and horse owners to balance the budget.”

“You mean,” I sneered, “that racing is crooked…!”

“No sport on earth is as rigidly policed as horse-racing,” replied Jim hotly. There’s a continent-wide organization that embraces every track and every breeder and every angle of the horse-racing game and it is devoted to keeping horse-racing on the level….”

“Okay,” I scoffed, “then how about these benefit races, for balancing the budget?”

“At the end of the season,” said Jim picking his words carefully, “there is a sort of devil-may-care spirit that enters the sport. Trainers who have been nursing their horses along, so as not to overtax them, allow them to go full out in one last fling. Jockeys who are cautious riders suddenly became inspired with the spirit of the end of the season and ride with an abandoned quality that upsets all the calculations of trainers, other jockeys and all the dopesters who do the adding up.”

“Adding up?” I inquired.

“Sure,” said Jim. “How do you suppose the experts pick the winners? Simply by adding up all the factors that go into the race; the condition and past performance of the horse; the trainer; and the jockey. But at the end of the season, all these factors are muddled up by this sort of last-fling spirit. Nobody knows what horse is going to win.”

“Nobody but you!” I laughed.

“More long shots come through this week,” insisted Jim, “than at any other season.”

“Because nobody can pick the winner,” I suggested.

“Exactly,” agreed Jim.

“Then how do you know you’ve got a sure thing?” I triumphed.

“This horse, Schnitzler,” stated Jim flatly, “has been running second and third all season. Why? Because his trainer has been ordering the jockeys to ride him easy and let him develop himself. No forcing. The trainer figures, from Schnitzler’s pedigree, that he is a horse that develops slowly but steadily instead of one of those flash performers that is all through before he’s four years old.”

To Balance the Budget

“It’s all Dutch to me,” I interrupted. “Jim, look. I just don’t care for racing. It’s like stamp collecting. Either you like it or you don’t like it.”

“Schnitzler,” said Jim slowly, “is going to win today in the fourth race. And it’s going to pay 30 to 1.”

“You mean.” I asked, “that for a $2 ticket, he’d pay $30?”

“For a $10 ticket,” said Jim in a low, vibrant voice, “he’d pay … THREE… HUNDRED … DOLLARS!”

“Aw, Jim,” I pleaded, trying to wake him from the trance, “how do you know? What facts have you got to justify this fixation that’s got you, like some sort of lunacy…?”

“I,” said Jim, still in that low intense voice, “know the trainer, I know the jockey and… I know the horse!”

“Ah,” I said, “so you’ve bet on him before?”

“I bet on him all through the season,” admitted Jim.

“But he always came second or third?” I inquired.

“And I always bet him on the nose,” said Jim.

“And you’re going to bet him today again, on his last race of the season?” I demanded.

“The budget,” said Jim with that faraway look that hypnotized race fans wear, “the budget is just about to be balanced.”

“Tomorrow maybe,” I sighed, “you’ll wake up. Ten or fifteen dollars poorer…”

“I’ll have the money,” said Jim, with certainty, “for the winter’s coal.”

All this was at 10 o’clock in the morning.

At 1 o’clock, Jim appeared at the office door with his hat on.

“Coming?” he said heartily.

“I…” I said.

It was a beautiful day. Too beautiful to sit alone in an office pecking at a typewriter.

“Well,” I chuckled, “I might as well go, if for no other reason than to watch the expression on your face as all these castles in the air come tumbling down…”

So we drove out to the track in the lovely Indian summer afternoon and once again I found myself in that completely alien atmosphere of the race-track, surrounded by thousands of people all concentrated on a sport that leaves me cold. I never feel so completely a stranger on this earth as at the race-track. Sometimes I feel all these thousands are queer. And then, suddenly, I feel a little queer myself.

We got into the grandstand where Jimmie seemed to know everybody by their first name. It was like a club. Very chummy. Full of a lingo of its own. I began to feel queer.

These race meetings are something like a symphony concert. Each race is like a number on the program. Each number builds up, like a symphony, to a familiar climax. The first race, there was the usual tuning up, as the horses were walked to the starting post. Then the intense gathering up of feelings and emotions as the horses prepared for the start. That would be like the fine string music of the symphony. Then, suddenly, like the brass and woodwinds of the orchestra letting loose, the start! Then a kind of gathering pandemonium, as the orchestra of these thousands of fans swelled and rose to a crescendo that ended as climactically and violently as a Beethoven symphony …

Jim’s horse lost. He also lost the second race, and the third.

He asked me to come under the grandstand for a cup of coffee and while we were drinking the coffee, he asked me if I had any money.

“I never bring money to a race-track, Jim,” I informed him. “You know that. I have my principles. And I safeguard them.”

“Haven’t you got even five bucks?” pleaded Jim.

“I haven’t got even five bucks,” I replied firmly, fondling the $10 in $1 bills I had in my left-hand pants pocket.

Jim looked desperately around.

Meant For a Killing

“Look here,” I said sternly, “didn’t you say this horse Schnitzel or whatever it is ran in the fourth race?”

“Yes,” gritted Jim. “And I want to put 10 bucks on him. But that last race, the brother of one of the jockeys gave me a hundred to one chance on that horse I bet …”

“I see,” I said, amused. “Sure things all over the place!”

“I was going to make enough to put maybe 30 or 40 bucks on Schnitzler,” pleaded Jim. “But now I’ve only got four bucks left. Do you see anybody you know that you could borrow a few bucks…”

“I certainly do not!” I stated sharply.

“Six bucks,” muttered Jim bitterly. “Six bucks, six measly bucks. Take a walk around and see if there’s anybody you …”

“My friends,” I stated, “are not to be found around race-tracks. Why don’t you make a touch on any one of those sportsmen surrounding you up in the grandstand? You call each other by your first names…”

“I…I…” said Jim anxiously.

We finished the coffee and walked out on to the lawn.

Jim was acting like an expectant father. He was breathing big deep breaths, biting his teeth together, putting his hands deep in his pockets and pulling them out again. He looked at his four dollars several times. And he kept his eyes on the clock. All around us, the eager swarms were reading their programs with fatuous expressions. Already the procession towards the betting enclosure had begun.

“Hello, Mr. Clark,” came a pleasant voice.

I turned and recognized one of my neighbors from up the street.

“Why, how do you do!” I replied heartily. “Are you a follower of the sport of kings?”

“Oh, I usually come out for a few races,” said my neighbor, whom I had always taken for a deacon at least.

Jimmie was gripping my elbow and squeezing it meaningfully. I shook my arm free.

“How have you done?” asked the neighbor.

“Oh, I don’t …” I began.

But Jimmie, linking his arm through mine to show we were buddies, broke in: “As a matter of fact,” he said, “my little friend here has been cleaned in the last three races. And he’s trying to borrow six bucks off me…”

“I am not!” I cut in indignantly, but Jim got a Judo hold on my funnybone that almost made me screech with pain.

“Six bucks is all he wants,” cried Jim jovially. “But one of my superstitions is, never lend money to the guy you came to the races with. It’s okay to borrow from anybody else. But NOT the guy you came with …”

“Why,” laughed my neighbor, reaching into his pocket.

“Not…” I began but again Jim, laughing jovially, gave my elbow such a horrible dig with his digits that I felt myself wilting And at the same instant, he reached out and took the $6 my neighbor was holding out, and stuffed them playfully, in my breast pocket.

“There you are! Come on,” he chuckled, “come on and let’s place the bet…”

And before the slightly puzzled gaze of my neighbor, he swung me around and started up the lawn.

At the same instant. I felt two large hands seize me by the shoulders from behind. And glancing back, I saw another very large and heavy stranger had Jimmie by the shoulders. And we were both being propelled forward at a rate that kept our feet trotting smartly to keep us from falling.

I struggled.

“Here, what the dickens are …” I shouted.

But the two of us, side by side, were hustled through the crowd, up the lawn, out the side entrance past the grandstand and towards the gate.

In the privacy of the entrance, the big men relaxed their shoving. I shook myself.

“Will you inform me,” I demanded, setting my hat back on straight, “will you inform me the meaning this outrage!”

“Okay, bud,” said my man, dusting his hands. “Okay, scram!”

The whole thing was incomprehensible, bewildering. Out-of-place though I feel at a race-track, this was too much.

“I’ll call the police!” I grated, readjusting my clothing.

“Heh, heh, heh,” said both the large men.

“Look,” said Jimmie, who was pale as Swiss cheese, “look, boys, you’re making a mistake. My friend was only …”

“Aw, stow it, bud,” said the one with the black hat, “now scram. We seen the whole transaction. We seen you approach the gent. We seen you pass the tip. We seen you accept the money …”

“Jim!” I commanded. “What is this all about?”

“These are the Pinkerton men,” explained Jim pleasantly. “They watch out for touts and hangers-on. They have mistaken us for touts…”

“Heh, heh, heh,” agreed the two large men, preparing to shove us right out the gate. “If we ever saw a tout, this little guy is the champeen. Come on now! OUT!”

“Too Late”

And before I could even go of my own volition, the big fellow in the brown hat took me by the back of the coat collar and the pocket and fingered the 10 one-dollar bills I had there.

Jim followed.

And the two large men walked businesslike back into the grounds.

“But the race, the race!” suddenly yelled Jimmie, snatching the $6 from my breast pocket and adding it feverishly to his $4. “We’ve got to get this on the race …”

“Jim,” I ordered loudly, “I came here as an innocent spectator. I have been treated to every indignity…”

A bugle blew.

“Too late, too late!” moaned Jimmie, leaning against the fence, a broken man.

We stood there. We heard the silence fall. The slow, muttering silence. Then we heard the wild horse roar … “They’re off!” Then we listened to the rising symphony of the roaring grandstands. Then a mad cheer.

Out the gates poured the little dribble of people who always quits after the fourth, or fifth, or sixth race.

“Who won?” croaked Jimmie, seizing one of them by the lapels.

“A horse named Schnitzler,” said the passer-by disgustedly. “Paid 30 to 1.”

Jim crumpled beside the fence and sat, huddled, counting the $10 in his hands.

I ran my left hand cautiously into my pants pocket and fingered the 10 one-dollar bills I had there.

“Okay, Jim,” I croaked too. “Let’s go and get the car and go home.”


Editor’s Notes: As noted before, Jim was the gambler of the two, who would participate in activities like attending the race track and pool halls that Greg would not. Greg was more of a follower of his Victorian upbringing. Jim was hoping for enough money to pay for all of his coal needed for a coal furnace for the upcoming winter.

Touts at race tracks were people who offered racing tips for a share of any resulting winnings.

Pinkerton men were a generic definition for private detectives. In this case they would have been hired by the race track to root out undesirables.

Who Wouldn’t Be a Sport Announcer!

Over the radio it sounded like the thundering herd in fall gallop
A sharp tag on the wire and warning shout from above would remind me where I was.

By Foster Hewitt, October 13, 1928

The Lot of the Radio Man at the Big Games is No Bed of Roses

A radio announcer’s job is no bed of roses, particularly in the sporting line. To most people it gives the impression of the luck some fellows have of being able to attend so many games and then to have the best seat in the house for the occasion. It sounds easy but as a matter of fact it’s hard work.

A sporting announcer, has a life similar to an actor on the stage. No matter whether he feels under the weather or not he has to suddenly “come to life” and take part in the game Itself whether the stock market goes up or down or it rains or shines. Sports broadcasts are handed in the same way as any other kind from a technical standpoint. Remote control equipment consisting of a two-stage amplifier and telephone equipment is located at the field near the announcer; the stadium or arena is hooked up with the radio station by special telephone wires. At the station the lines run through a speech input amplifier and then direct into the transmitter where it is broadcast to all those within range of the station. A radio operator is required at either end and telephone men are ready for any emergency.

Out of town pick-ups such as rugby games from Kingston and Montreal are handled in a similar manner only long distance lines are held open and more telephone men are used to make sure there is no hitch in the broadcast.

The main point in broadcasting sport is to keep up with the play. Detail is essential and listeners-in are just as interested in knowing about the crowd and their actions as they are in the actual description of the game. An odd joke or two helps to keep the listener in a good mood, but a little of it goes a long way.

Toronto’s First Sport Broadcast

Sports broadcasts for CFCA date back to March, 1923, when the first hockey game was broadcast from the Mutual street arena. The main difficulty encountered in this respect was to keep the cheers of the crowd subdued in such a way as to make the announcer’s voice clear and above the hullaballoos of an exciting game. It was agreed that a closed-in box was the solution, but the main problem was the size. First of all the box had to be on the rail so that the players could be easily identified. Then A.B. (Andy) Taylor, the rink manager, had to be considered. He raised the point that the box couldn’t be of any height as it would interfere with the spectators’ view. Another point was that the seats were practically all sold and only the space for three seats could be spared. Out of all these conditions CFCA’s first “coup” was built. It was 3 ½  x 4 feet and 4 feet high. It had glass on three sides with a heavy wire netting to protect the glass. A stool with legs six inches in height was placed inside and the stage was all set. The first broadcast nearly ended in disaster. When I did finally get in and closed the door all the air was cut off. In a few minutes my head started to go round. The heat of my breath blurred the glass and obscured the view. The game was between Kitchener and Parkdale and went 30 minutes overtime before Kitchener finally scored the winning goal.

The spectators in the rail seats, although warned before the game to keep their seats, leaned over the sides in such a way as to cut off any view of the players in the corner of the rink. The broadcast was completed with the microphone set out on the edge of the rail where the play could be followed. The cabinet was used many times after that but several holes were cut in the box to give the announcer an even chance to breathe.

In April 1923, the final game between the Granites of Toronto and Hamilton Tigers was broadcast from the rink in Hamilton. In those early days radio equipment was very crude. Instead of the complete remote control equipment of to-day only the ordinary telephone transmitter was used with the receiver off the hook dangling by your side. I was stationed on the players’ bench along the boards of the rink. During the intermission between the second and third periods we started to give the summary. Hamilton is one of the best sporting towns in the world and nobody denies it, but there were many there that night that wanted to tell the world about how good Hamilton was and to even more strongly stress how unimportant Toronto was. The barrage increased in intensity when a few loyal Toronto supporters started to talk back. Pandemonium reigned. To get away from all this turmoil I placed the telephone underneath the benches, crawled under and completed the preliminary story. The last period was hectic. Granites started off with a lead of two goals obtained in the first two periods and were trying to nurse their hard-earned lead. The Tigers, urged on by the frantic Hamilton rooters were in a frenzy. After ten minutes of play Tigers scored their first goal. Spurred on by this success they scored another two minutes later, tying the score. Alex Romeril, one of the Granite players, who was sitting on the Granite bench beside me, in his excitement picked up the dangling receiver and smashed it on the boards. That meant that while I could still go on talking I couldn’t hear whether it was going out or not. In the last five minutes a heavy mist came off the ice and the players disappeared from view every few minutes. The game ended in a tie score but as Granites had a lead from the first game played in Toronto they won the title. It sure was a struggle.

Girls Out-Talk Announcer

During the Varsity Grads-Port Arthur Allan Cup finals at the Arena two girls were seated beside the broadcasting booth. If there ever was a talkative pair they were “it.” They yelled and screamed for Port Arthur from start to finish. In desperation I made the mistake of asking them to be a little more conservative in their words of encouragement. It was just like throwing a match into a can of gasoline. They shouted even louder than before and capped it all by draping themselves in front of the box so that it made it well nigh impossible to see all of the play. A radio fan in some remote part of Saskatchewan wrote me and repeated a number of the things he had heard the girls say. If nothing else the two girls added lots of the so-called “local color” to the broadcast.

If there ever was a battle royal it was the eastern junior hockey final between North Bay Trappers and Kingston. North Bay led going into the third period 3 to 1 and looked like easy winners. Suddenly Kingston took a new lease of life and encouraged by the tremendous bellows of encouragement from Captain James T. Sutherland, which, by the way, cut into the microphone like a knife, the Limestone City sextet tied the score. In the next thirty minutes of overtime the packed arena went mad. Many frenzied North Bay fans in their eagerness to see the play scrambled on top of the broadcasting box and nearly upset the works. As fast as I would turn them away others climbed aboard so that over the radio it sounded like a broadcast of the thundering herd in full gallop. After that broadcast the booth was nailed down.

For our broadcasts of hockey games to-day a large platform is located under the rafters on the west side of the rink in line with the penalty time-keepers. While it is a considerable distance from the players all the corners of the ice are visible and there is plenty of fresh air as the broadcast is conducted in the open. At this height the roar of the crowd serves as good background but is not loud enough to affect the announcements.

At Opening of Detroit Olympia

I had the honor of broadcasting the first professional hockey game for WGHP Detroit on the occasion of the opening of the new Olympia rink last year. The Olympia is very similar to Madison Square Garden and is just about the same size.

Ottawa and Detroit were the two teams and the rink was packed with 18,000 excited fans. A university band of 150 pieces supplied the music and the tremendous double-decked structure was covered with flags. It was a wonderful sight and thrilled one to the core.

The remote control equipment, which took over a day to install, took up a section the size of a box at the Toronto Arena.

The microphone was placed on a pedestal right by the boards and I had to stand in plain view of everyone and at least 500 people in the rink could hear practically everything I said as the crowd was all around me. It was like delivering an address to the multitude, both seen and unseen.

Before the game the band paraded all over the ice and the thousands stood up and cheered. Just before the game the band played the two national anthems and then they were away.

The crowd readily took to the “fastest game in the world” and entered into the hockey match with as much pep and noise as they do for a world series baseball game. Ottawa won the game 3 to 2, but it was tied with five minutes to go so that the result was always in doubt.

Rugby is another sport governed by the elements which help to “put over” a broadcast.

It was two years ago and Varsity were scheduled to play Queens at Richardson stadium in Kingston. Varsity had to beat Queens to win the Intercollegiate title. The roof at Richardson stadium was never built as a point of vantage for a broadcaster; the roof slopes towards the ground on an angle of 35 degrees. The authorities believing that no one would ever be crazy enough to go up on top, had built only an iron ladder running up the outside of one of the corner towers.

As all rugby games should be seen from a height we decided that the root was to be our location. All the equipment had to be carried up this ladder, then on to a slippery tin roof and then held in place so it wouldn’t slide off. It was a drop of over 50 feet and when looking down and juggling a heavy battery at the same time it was no wonder that the equipment was not in place before one o’clock after two and a half hours of the trickiest work imaginable. Once up we hadn’t nerve enough to come down.

Luckily one of the operators had brought a lot of extra wire, so they put it around my neck and under my arms and lowered me to the edge of the roof. I put a soap box in front of me, placed the microphone on it, braced my feet on the flagpole and the eavestroughing and tried to make myself at home.

The game was so interesting that at times I would find myself just about hanging over the edge, but a short sharp tug on the wire and warning shout from above reminded me where I was. During the last period it started to rain. The bitter cold wind from the lake then changed it to hail and by the end of the game my clothes were frozen to the roof. I went to move and I was stuck fast. A none too gentle yank at the wire from above at the most inopportune time freed most of me with the exception of a certain amount of coat and I was dragged to the top. Queens won the game 3 to 1 and brought about the first three-cornered tie in the history of the Intercollegiate series.

Describing Rugby from Snowbank

The following week we ventured to Montreal for the first of the play-offs. All night going down on the train the snow fell so that when Montreal was reached it was a typical northern scene. On visiting Molson stadium, the McGill field, in the morning, there was more than two feet of heavy snow on the ground. Things looked hopeless for rugby. The Varsity team had failed to bring their snowshoes and were plainly worried. McGill had prayed for a dry field for their fleet half-backs and this was the answer.

I was sitting in a four-foot snowbank all set to go when a touchline official called the referee and pointed to us.

At 12 o’clock the sun came out and the snow stopped and the scrapers were brought on the field. For over two hours the men worked until the field was fairly well cleared. Huge snowbanks were at 30-foot intervals when the two teams took the field. The stands were jammed to overflowing and the McGill students were noisily confident.

As all the stands were open we put up our equipment along the touchline close to the 50 yard line. We had a long table with the radio equipment placed on it and I was sitting in a four-foot snowbank all set to go. Just as the game was to start a touchline official called to the referee and pointed to us. He promptly held up the game, came over where we were and ordered us off the field, claiming that some player might injure himself against the table. Things looked black. We moved back to the cinder track but that wouldn’t satisfy the officials, so we finally ended up in front of the McGill team’s bench. The sub players did everything but throw us out, but we stuck to our post and grinned and bore the abuse punctuated with snowballs from the McGill spares.

The game was wonderful. Varsity had McGill backed up on their own line three times before the Blue team was able to break the gallant red line for a touchdown; Stollery, the star U. of T. plunger, doing the trick in the last period. Up until then the game had been tied 2-2 with the battle see-sawing every few minutes. The Varsity supporters were wild with joy. The McGill team became desperate. On their own 30-yard line they attempted an onside kick. The kick was blocked and a Varsity player dribbled it over the McGill line and fell on it for a touchdown. There was no holding the Toronto supporters then. With a minute to go they rushed along the touchline in front of us, raving like a lot of maniacs.

I stood on the table, then climbed on a chair on the table to see over their heads, but it was hopeless. The whistle blew and the surge of the crowd carried both the chair and myself off the table. It was a wild stampede. But the equipment was unscathed. The next thing was to get Warren Snyder, the Toronto captain, to say a few words over CFCA. I rushed out in the centre of the field where a large mob had “chaired” Snyder. First I yelled, but it was no use. I tried to push the crowd the right way but this failed. In desperation I kicked one of the roofers on the shins and yelled “McGill” and then ran, but they didn’t chase me. l finally grabbed Coach Ronnie MacPherson and yelled “radio” in his ear. Instantly the word through the mob and I had to use what little speed I had to beat the crowd to the microphone. When I got back to the equipment I was out breath. Both Ronnie MacPherson and Warren Snyder said a few words to the radio fans and the broadcast was over. It took me over two hours after the game to take the mud off my clothes to make myself presentable to go to the hotel. On every step my feet would sink at least three inches into the ground. With all our work completed we just made the 11 o’clock train as it was pulling out of Windsor station. We got aboard while she was pulling out. This ended a hectic day in Montreal which started at 7 a.m.

Too Cold and Stiff to Stand

The final game at Toronto with Queen’s and U. of T. was another fine game with Varsity trimming the tricolor 8 to 0 for the college title. The blue supporters rushed on the field and hundreds joined in the snake dance. In all the excitement my new hat blew off and it lit in the midst of the wild-eyed throng. I’d like to gamble anything that every soul in that stadium walked all over it and knocked it further into the mud. After the crowd had gone we sent out a search party for the missing hat, but it was lost but not forgotten. My other hat had been crushed in the McGill mud the previous Saturday, but I had rescued it on its third time down.

The Ottawa-Varsity Dominion final was cruel. It was played at Varsity stadium on one of the coldest days of the year. A terrific gale blew from the north cutting right through everything. Expecting to be cold I wore an aviator’s helmet, two sweaters, a heavy coat and a pair of over shoes. I would have been just as warm with a pair of pyjamas. There was no holding that wind. It went through me in the first five minutes so that my jaw wouldn’t function. Some kind soul had set up two oil stoves right beside us, but the wind was so strong that it carried the heat right away. All it did for me was to burn my hand when I got excited when both teams were rushing after one of the many loose balls during the game. At the conclusion of the game I was positively frozen. I felt like Vierkoetter looked when he was taken out of the water this year in the Wrigley swim, and he looked terrible. I couldn’t move. I was as still as a poker. One of the operators who must have run over ten miles on the roof during the game to keep the blood circulating, punched me, rolled me over like a bag of potatoes and generally knocked me about for ten minutes before I could stand on my feet. I sat in the ticket office for over an hour beside a hot fire before I had thawed out sufficiently to go home. For the past ten weeks of the rugby season I had taken turns at getting soaked one Saturday and frozen the next, but had no ill effects afterwards. The following Saturday I went to a theatre and got a cold that kept me in bed for three days. Such is life!

Leadley’s Mustache Grew Rapidly

Last year’s Dominion final between Hamilton Tigers and Balmy Beach was another thriller.

As is the custom, all our equipment was set and ready by 1.30 p.m. At 1.45 the heavens cut loose with enough rain to drown us. As there is no shelter on the roof of the Varsity stadium we had to lie down and take it and try to imagine it was Saturday night. When everyone was really soaked the sun had the nerve to come out for few moments. The field was nothing but mud when the ball was kicked off. Balmy Beach stepped right into Tigers and before the much touted yellow and black clan had settled down the Beachers had gained a winning lead. During the game I moved from one puddle to another but each and every one was the same. I was the human sponge that day. I never realized before that I could “take in” so much water.

As all rugby fans know, the tricky “Pep” Leadfey has a Charlie Chaplin moustache. Oa catching one of Foster’s high punts he set sail for the Beaches line. Two of the purple and gold’s outsides hit Leadley coming and going and all three disappeared from view in the mud. When Leadley came up for air his moustache had grown one hundred per cent. He had a cake of mud under his nose that must have weighed two pounds. Exhausted as were the battling players several of them were seen to have a real laugh at Leadley’s expense. “Red” Moore, and all that the same implies, had his hair a purple shade after being doused in the slimy mud. Several of the players, after being tackled, did the breast stroke or Australian crawl before they realized they were playing rugby and not a contestant in one of the Wrigley swims.

At Maple Leaf Stadium

For baseball we are located on the roof back of the home plate where the play can be watched very closely. The main worry from the announcer’s standpoint is ducking fly balls. During the course of a game two or three fouls generally come too close to be comfortable. On one occasion a foul tip came up so fast that I didn’t have time to duck it. I stuck my hand out to protect the microphone and it hit me square on the wrist. As a result I couldn’t move my hand for two or three days after.

Of the boxing bouts handled by CFCA the Rocco-Gold flyweight battle was a standout. The two mighty atoms banged away at each other for the entire ten rounds. We were located close to Rocco’s corner at the side of the ring and in the intermission between rounds we would get some of the water meant for the battlers.

One of the chief difficulties of an announcer is to get a location from which to describe the event. For the Joe Wright reception the event was handled from on top of a ten-foot ladder at the back of the stage at Sunnyside. For the. Prince of Wales reception we were located on the alcove above the steps of the city hall. For the Granites Olympic hockey champions of 1924 welcome we were right in the throng on the platform at the city hall.

CFCA, as in hockey and rugby, was the first station to broadcast horse races direct from the track during the last four years of the Ontario Jockey Club’s meetings at Woodbine Park. These broadcasts have been graphically given by W. A. Hewitt, sporting editor of The Star. The microphone has been located in the back of the main stand directly in line with the finishing point. Race broadcasts due to the ever changing of positions and the bunching of horses is exceedingly difficult to handle. Even with powerful glasses the horses are hard to identity as they speed around the big mile track and must be “called” by an expert.

The second and third Wrigley marathon swims in Lake Ontario off the Toronto Exhibition grounds were the longest continuous broadcasts in Canada and probably in the world.

Last year for the second Wrigley swim we were located on top of the captain’s cabin of the S.S. Macassa, which was recently lost in Georgian bay with twenty lives. We cruised from 8 in the morning until 8.45 at night until the German swimmer, Ernst Vierkoetter, crossed the finishing line victor after the 21-mile grind. The day was long and tedious. The boat was too large to be handled and the two hundred press representatives aboard had a hard time making “copy” as the boat “parked” in one spot for hours at a time despite the repeated requests of those aboard to move on.

During the course of the day our boat took on over 30 swimmers that were forced out of the race owing to the cold water.

At 8.30 after Vierkoetter crossed the finishing line every whistle available was blown, the thousands on the shore cheered and the tremendous volume of sound stopped the short wave transmitter on the boat from oscillating. At the time I didn’t know that the transmitter was off and I must have talked for over 15 minutes to myself without my voice going out on the air. I got the actual finish on the air, however, and I suppose that was the big thing.

This year’s Wrigley and consolation swims were handled perfectly by the engineering staffs of all the Toronto stations. It was the wonderful co-operation of the local radio stations that made the swim broadcasts the success they were.

A low power short wave transmitter was placed in one of the cabins of Herbert Hatch’s yacht, the Toddy. Batteries were used in place of a generator and the transmission from the boat was clean-cut. At the Press building a short wave receiver picked up the broadcast from the boat and sent the announcements to the loudspeakers on the shore and over land lines to all the Toronto stations. There was not a hitch in the transmission at any time.

I think the worst experience on the boat was to hear your own voice come back at you from the loudspeakers on shore. No matter where we went out in the lake the voice would simply haunt you. During the dark hours that we fol. lowed Georges Michel, the French swimmer, out on the outer course, the voice could be heard coming back to me about four seconds after I had spoken into the microphone, and we were at least a mile out in the lake.

During that long night vigil in the pitch dark, with a cold wind blowing right through us, only snatches of the swimmer could be seen. It was like a dream. The multi-colored fireworks at the Exhibition made a weird sight out in the lake. A flash would show two or three power boats almost touching one another. Another flash and the tricolor of France would show up at the bow of Michel’s boat. The next minute our boat would scrape alongside an unknown craft. To add to the creepy feeling shouts would pass from one boat to another and on the still waters would echo and re-echo. Above all the noise on the lake, the screams and shouts of happy persons could be heard coming from the Midway. Without any warning somebody out in the darkness started to sing the “Marseillaise”; it was picked up from boat to boat until half a hundred were singing at the top of their voices in a different time and an unknown key. It was a case of every man for himself.

Fan Letters Greatly Appreciated

At 10.15 when Michel reached the last outside buoy someone shouted “he is out.” The twenty or more boats that had drifted practically as one suddenly put on a burst of speed to get a real view of the gallant swimmer coming out of the water. It was like a traffic light turning green. Our boat due to its quick pick-up and ably pushed by two or three others trying to beat us to it, was right beside the scene in no time. Suddenly the flares went up for the “movie” men and it was as bright as day. Every one blinked and it was hard to see anything after being used to the dark. Michel was all in when taken out of the water by four sturdy lifesavers, and was rushed to the hospital. With the race completed the boats threw caution to the winds and raced each other to the shore.

One of the most interesting sights during the swim was when the various swimmers were taken out of the water. In every case a heavy rope was put over the swimmer’s neck and under his arms and he was held by one of the lifesavers until help arrived. In Vierkoetter’s case it took five men five minutes to haul him over the side of the life-saving launch. Each time they got him at the edge of the boat he would slip back into the water, due to the heavy coating of grease and the dead weight. He was as stiff as a poker and had a glassy stare in his eyes as if he was dead. Most of the other cases were the same, but Vierkoetter was the hardest man to haul into the boat.

In the consolation swim broadcast we took George Young aboard to say a few words over the radio. In helping him on the boat Mr. A. P. Howells was covered with grease from head to foot and looked like a marathon swimmer. George seemed to enjoy getting grease on us as when he spoke into the mike he kept bumping into me until I looked like another contender in the swim.

In CFCA’s sports broadcasts for over five years we have received a great many letters from fans all over America. All the letters are greatly appreciated, but the biggest “kick” of all is to hear from places such as Christie Street Hospital, Hamilton, Gravenhurst and Weston Sanatoriums, patients in hospitals and from persons who are bedridden or have lost their sight. Radio has been a godsend to them and for the announcer to hear that he has brought a little ray of sunshine into these homes and institutions it gives a thrill that cannot be described in print.

There’s a big gang down at “Mike’s” place at Oshawa that attend the various sports via CFCA.

In Little Current a party of ten men close up shop every time a baseball game is put on the air. The fans up north crave hockey and around St. Catharines the boxing fans hold sway.

It is a wonderful listening public and all are good sports.

To be able to “see” the games for good Canadian sports on the radio is not work but a pleasure.


Editor’s Notes: Foster Hewitt is famous as an early sports reporter in Canada. I’ve included this full article by him, which is illustrated by Jim Frise. He worked for CFCA, one of the first radio stations in Toronto, and owned by the Toronto Star. some of the teams and locations mentioned in this story include the Toronto Granites, Hamilton Tigers, Toronto Varsity Blues, the Toronto Balmy Beach Beachers, the Allan Cup, Detroit Olympia, Richardson Stadium, and Molson Stadium. More about the “Wrigley” Marathon Swims held at the CNE can be found here.

Some Punkin!

October 13, 1945

Non-Co-operation

I cast the weedless lure close ashore and drew it splashing and skittering among the lily pads and decoys

By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 13, 1945

“Ducks,” insisted Jimmie Frise.

“Muskies,” I asserted emphatically. “This week-end is the last of the bass and musky fishing in Ontario. It closes the 14th.”

“Ducks,” repeated Jim doggedly. “This week-end is really the beginning of the duck season. They’ll be flying this weather.”

“Jim,” I presented earnestly, “the year 1945 is over this week-end as far as fishing is concerned. Gone forever, 1945! We’ve got the rest of October and November to shoot ducks. But this week-end will never come again.”

“Ducks,” said Jim.

“Have you no sentiment?” I demanded indignantly. “Don’t you realize that there are just so many fishing seasons in any man’s life? When a season ends, it is like a chapter of life closed. We shall not pass this way again.”

“Ducks,” said Jim.

“Aw, ducks!” I scoffed. “The silly things. There you sit, shivering in a clump of dead grass, crouched down. Minutes pass. Half hours pass. Hours pass. Far off, on the horizon, flock after flock of ducks sweep away, like wisps of smoke in the distance. Then all of a sudden you hear a rushing, whistling sound of wings. You jerk awake. Over your head, go six ducks, skating through the air, slithering and sliding in fright at the sight of you quivering below. You yank your gun to your shoulder and blast off. One, two. And then you slowly lower your gun and watch the six ducks vanish in the distance.”

Instead of resenting my contemptuous description of duck shooting, Jim’s eyes gleamed with delight.

“Gosh,” he said, “it’s wonderful!”

“But you missed them,” I pointed out.

“That time, maybe,” said Jim. “But tell me how foolish it is to shoot at ducks coming in to decoys.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “There you crouch, in a clump of frosty bulrushes, on a damp box sogged into a quaking bog. A nasty east wind rattles the rushes around you and coils up the back of your clammy canvas coat. It spits rain a little.”

Jim’s face wore an ecstatic expression as he listened.

“As you peer amid the clattering rushes,” I continued, “you can see your decoys bobbing in the cold gray water, 15, 20 yards out from your hide. They are silly looking things, decoys. All facing the same way. All bobbing busily. You think they look like ducks. So do the ducks.”

Jim took a deep breath and clutched an imaginary gun to his stomach, as he crouched in his chair.

“For suddenly, far off,” I related, “your eye detects a flicker of movement in the gray, dismal light of dawn. Yes. Over on the far shore a flock of 15 blue-bills has curved away and is heading for you.”

“Fifteen!” whispered Jimmie, sliding the safety catch off the imaginary gun clasped to his bosom.

“They are fanned out,” I hissed, “in a wavering, shifting line of fast racing birds. They are going to pass a quarter of a mile to the south of your hide.”

“Aw,” regretted Jim, relaxing the gun.

“But, no!” I cried. They are wheeling! They’ve turned! They have spotted your decoys!”

Jim sank down deep in his chair, his eyes piercing the office wall.

“A mile a minute,” I grated in a low, dramatic tone, “that weaving, shifting line of blue-bills races towards you. They bunch! In the air, they seem to huddle as they flare up and wide, past you and your stupid decoys, bobbing busily on the water.”

Jim sat crouched in his chair, not turning his head, not daring to move.

“Up and wide, they flare,” I hissed, “and swing in an arc, still bunched. Then they begin to fan out. And as they fan out, they begin to drop. THEY ARE COMING IN!”

Jim’s knuckles turned white around the imaginary gun.

“They Taste Weedy”

“Lower, lower,” I muttered, “they are dropping, fanned out. They are 15 feet above the water. They are 10 feet above the water. They are floating in, on set wings, at silent, incredible speed. They are going to pass over your decoys about eight feet up, and land up-wind of them. Their wings are set, taut, curved, to brake them against the breeze…”

“BANG! BANG!” yelled Jim, leaping to his feet and taking aim with the imaginary gun pointed at the office wall.

And with a huge sigh, he fell back into his chair and said:

“How many did I get?”

“One,” I informed him, disgustedly.

“One?” protested Jim.

“As usual,” I advised him, “you fire into the bunch, instead of picking your birds and leading them. You got one. And it just happened to fly into your shot pattern.”

“I picked two drakes,” protested Jim hotly.

“You got one,” I informed him. “A hen.”

“Shucks,” said Jim disgustedly.

He stared into space until the imaginary scene I had built for him out of thin air had slowly faded.

“We’ll make it duck shooting this weekend,” he stated firmly.

“We’ll go fishing,” I retorted. “It is the grand finale, the finish, the glorious end of another fishing season gone into the dark limbo of the past.”

“Fishing,” asserted Jim, “is for May, June and part of July. By the middle of July, you are already sated with fishing. You are already sneaking up to the attic to fondle your guns.”

“There is no week in the whole year,” I countered, “to equal the second week of October for musky fishing. Maybe because it is the last, it is the loveliest. It is fraught with farewell and good-by. The shores are sentimental with autumn’s sweet, tragic colors. The sun is already paling. The wind of October is fitful.”

Jim began scanning the office wall for more blue-bills.

“In the water,” I pursued, “the weeds have died. And the muskies, who have hidden in the weed beds all summer, have fled the stinking water of the weed beds for the hard shores. The rocks.”

Jim yawned.

“In two and three feet of water,” I insinuated, “off these hard shores, amid the boulders, the crevices and along the sunken logs, the great muskies of autumn lie waiting and watching. For two reasons have they come into the shallows: to escape the stench of the decaying weed beds and to feed up against the winter on the little fishes and frogs and crawfish that dwell along the shore.”

“Slimy things,” yawned Jimmie.

“You drift in your skiff,” I wheedled, “along the shore, maybe 60 feet out. And you cast, cast, cast. Towards the shore. At every shadow of rock or crevice or log. You cast your plug and reel fast. Unlike in summer, you don’t have to reel slow and deep. You reel fast, your plug just skimming the surface. For when one of those fresh-water tigers sees your bait, he leaps on it like a famished tiger. He is in shallow water. He can’t go down. There is only one way for him to fight, when he feels the sting of your hooks. And that is up!”

“They taste weedy,” sneered Jim.

“Eight pounds. 10 pounds,” I exulted, “maybe 15 or 20 pounds of lithe, green, solid muscle. On the end of a fragile little casting rod. Twenty pounds of solid muscle, leaping, frantic, threshing, boiling in the water, in that cool October sunlight, against that lovely soft tragic shore …”

“I,” said Jim, getting up with finality, “am going duck shooting.”

“Very well,” I said bitterly. “I am going fishing.”

“After all these years,” said Jim, “you’d think a guy would get his full of a stupid sport like combing the water with a wooden plug.”

“After all these years,” I retorted, “you would think an old friend would not desert you on the last day of the fishing season of 1945.”

Jim stood looking out the window for a minute and then said:

“What we can do, we can go together to Blue’s Landing and you can fish and I can shoot. There is good musky fishing there. And the place whistles with ducks.”

So that was the solution. Blue’s Landing is an old favorite of mine for late season fishing. The old hotel is practically deserted by this time, save for a few lean and taciturn Yankees, who know about the mystery and glory of October musky fishing in the shallows, and come all the way from Memphis and Omaha to indulge in it here in the less popular resorts of Ontario. The Americans who come in summer are noisy and lively characters who fish hard and get a lot of sunburn. Those who come in October are silent, cold-eyed Yanks, with very old clothes and very costly fishing-tackle boxes and tailor-made split cane rods made in Bangor, Maine, and costing close to a hundred dollars.

They do not interfere with you, they eat by themselves, they do not crave any company, like their summer brethren. The autumn musky fishers from Mobile and St. Louis are prayerful men.

Voices in the Rushes

But when Jim and I drove in the dark into the hotel yard at Blue’s Landing, there were too many cars huddled in the October night. And inside, I could hear the whoopee of duck hunters.

When I pushed in the front door with my armful of rods and tackle boxes, half a dozen rosy gentlemen around the log fire, in loud hunting shirts, greeted me with stony stares.

When Mike, the hotel handyman, came out from the kitchen, I asked him if there were no gentlemen in the house this fall.

“Oh, yes,” said Mike. “But they’ve gone to bed.”

And he winked meaningly with a nod towards the living-room, where the duck hunters were greeting Jim heartily around the log fire.

“I’ll go to bed, too,” I said, “How’s fishing?”

“Mr. Vince got an 18-pounder this morning.”

So I went straight to bed, giving Mr. Vince’s room a friendly nod as I passed his door. Mr. Vince being an aged gentleman from Wheeling, West Virginia.

Jim came in after I was abed and tried to get me to come down and hear some of the stories that were going around the log fire. But I bade him good-night.

And very early in the morning, long before light, the old hotel was shaking and squeaking with the rising of the duck shooters and the musky fishers.

It was, in fact, a fact, I could hear no sound from Jim’s room and hoped I was ahead of him. But when I got down to the lamp-lit dining-room, there he was in his hunting shirt at the large table with the strangers of the night before. At separate tables, scattered around the room, were the musky fishers, singly, or two by two, but mostly singles. Mr. Vince was by himself. I. went and shook hands warmly and then went to a table of my own. That is the spirit of the autumn musky fisher.

Bacon and two eggs. Home-fried potatoes. Toast, coffee. And pumpkin pie. A good sound breakfast. Eaten rapidly. Because the duck hunters are already scraping their chairs away from the table and, with loud talk, scattering out into the hall to pick up guns and pull on waders and canvas coats.

As arranged with Mike the night before, I got the little red boat which Mike had hidden in the reeds some distance from the boathouse. Mr. Vince had his canoe and John Jacob, the Ojibway, for his guide, and they vanished away into the first mists of dawn. Outboard engines whined and roared as the duck hunters blasted off into the murk. In one of the outboard skiffs, I saw Jim perched up very chummy with a crew of his overnight buddies.

I waited until Mike brought the red skiff from hiding and shoved off to row the quarter-mile to McDuggan’s rocky shore across the bay. The mists of daybreak were still thick when, one by one, the outboard engines died in the distance. And a great silence fell over the world. The hunters were creeping into their hides. The musky fishermen were silently drifting along their favorite rides, flinging their lures towards the stilly shore.

There was just a tinkle of breeze. Little wavelets ruffled the water. I came to McDuggan’s shadowy shore, let my oars drag and began to cast. Not a sound broke the eerie silence. It was still too dark to see the best spots to hit with the lure. Suddenly, over my head, I heard a rushing sound which swelled into a squeaking whistle, and I could make out, for an instant, half a dozen torpedo-shapes hurtling through the air. Black duck, maybe, or mallards. They were heading straight up the shore, so I held my cast and listened. But no shots rang out.

“Heh, heh, heh,” I said to myself, and cast.

Slowly the dawn grew and I could make out the rocks and crevices of the shore. The wind drifted me at a pleasant pace. I did the full mile of rocky shore without a rise of any kind. But so great is the expectation, in musky fishing, that you don’t really need a fish.

There were tall bulrushes and reeds for the next mile of shore with all sorts of lily-pad beds.

“Hey,” came a muffled voice from the first clump of bulrushes, “buzz off!”

“That you, Jim?” I called back.

“Ssshhh!” came a sharp rejoinder. “Beat it.”

Instead, I cast deliberately at the lily pads. As reeled in, I could hear mutters and mumbles from the rushes. I drifted, with occasional pulls on the oars to keep me straight, along the reedy shore, while dawn grew into day. A lovely, chill, misty day, ideal for muskies.

A figure rose out of the rushes.

“Will you,” demanded a voice profanely, “get the heck out of here? There’s no fish along here. You’re chasing all the ducks away.”

“What ducks?” I demanded scornfully.

“You’ve scared off three flights already,” declared the figure in the rushes. “Now get the heck out of here before somebody accidentally shoots your tub full of Number Fives.”

“I’m perfectly within my rights,” I said, aiming a cast for the lily pads 10 feet from where he stood.

He sank out of sight with growls.

By now, it was quite light and I could see the hotel at the foot of the lake, as well as Mr. Vince’s canoe far up the opposite shore and a couple of other anglers’ skiffs at likely spots.

As I was watching Mr. Vince, I saw a flock of what appeared to be red heads come spanking out of his direction. They raced across the lake towards me. But seeing my boat, they hoicked up in a beautiful climb and turned towards the hotel end of the lake.

At the same time, I heard shouts, groans and imprecations from half a dozen places in the reeds.

There She Blows!

Then I heard Jim’s voice:

“Greg! Greg! A huge musky. Just rolled. Hey. Here!”

He was in a point of rushes a couple of hundred yards up.

I rowed smartly towards him. His decoys were spread amid the lily pads.

“Where?” I demanded, as the skiff coasted in.

“Right among my decoys,” hissed Jim urgently. “Cast. Cast.”

I cast the weedless lure close ashore and drew it splashing and skittering among the lily pads and decoys.

“Go ahead, he was a 20-pounder, right under my nose,” urged Jimmie.

I cast and re-cast. There was no response.

“Come in,” urged Jim, “and pick me up and I’ll row you along here. He may be cruising up and down.”

“You stick to your ducks,” I said, suspiciously.

“Come on,” wheedled Jim. “A great big green monster …”

At which moment, from down the hotel end of the lake, a long line of speeding bluebills hove in sight, and I saw an expression of agony strike Jim’s face.

“Get out of here!” he roared. “Or come in here and hide that red tub!”

The flight swept far away to the other shore. Behind it came another and another.

“Get out of there, get out of those decoys!” bellowed Jim. “Or come in…”

“I knew what you were up to,” I retorted, as I snagged a lily pad from my weedless lure. “Trying to get me to let you get hold of this boat …”

“Will you come in and hide that boat?” demanded Jim menacingly.

“I’m perfectly within my rights,” I announced. The season is still open. This is a famous fishing lake. I don’t see …”

Far off, a couple of guns barked with that futile sound that means long shots and missed.

“Spoil sport!” yahed Jim.

“You’ve got all the rest of October and November to shoot,” I stated.

“Will you get out of my decoys?” demanded Jim.

At which moment, from the next point of rushes north, gun went off and a scatter of shot slashed the water about 10 feet outside my boat.

“Sorry,” a voice called, “My trigger caught in the rushes.”

And at the same instant, in the water where the shot had lashed, there was a sudden large boiling of the water, the immense dark green back of a musky arched up, a large reddish tail lifted and slapped the water.

“There!” yelled Jim.

I made a quick, backhand cast. My lure chucked into the boil before it had subsided. I felt the slow, savage tug of a big fish. I struck. The lake seemed to explode.

“Give him line! Let me in. Row with one hand. Hold him. Get me in that boat …”

It was Jim roaring from the weeds.

In musky fishing, once things start to happen, all is a dream.

Somehow, Jim got in the boat. Somehow, we fought the fish back through the decoys and the anchor strings and the lily pads and got into the clear. Seven times, the big fish cleared the water in arrowy, horizontal leaps 10 feet long. From the rushes came the yells and cries of advice that goes with a big fish.

And after horsing him up and down the shore for half an hour, we got him tired and hit him on the head with the numbing-stick and hoisted him aboard.

“The great thing about sport,” said Jim, as we shook hands, “is co-operation.”

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