Odds and Addenda: Some Connections and One Mystery

By David Frank

Every writer of history has had the same experience. You write and revise and rewrite and revise again. You consult friends and colleagues, go through peer review, follow up, do more revision. Then you publish what you believe to be the last word on a subject. And then you discover it is not.

You might even find technical misteaks that escaped your attention and eluded copyeditors and proofreaders. Oops, that should be mistakes.

But this is not the place to revisit avoidable errors. We are talking about addenda here, not corrigenda.

People are reading your work! They make comments, and sometimes additional evidence comes to light as a result. That’s what led to my last contribution to this blog, a supplementary note about William Ambrose John based on information from a reader who knew things I could not have known some twenty years earlier.

C.B. Wade, research director for District 26, United Mine Workers of America (centre), with union officers and visiting artist Avrom Yanovsky (fourth from left), 1947.

In the current round-up, my first exhibit is the group photograph in my article on C.B. Wade, the pioneering union researcher and labour historian of District 26, United Mine Workers of America, which appeared in Labour/Le Travail in 2017. The caption did not give names, except to identify Mr. Wade at the centre. I described the others as union officers. One of them looks very much like his grandson Robert, whom I knew when he was director of the Miners’ Museum in Glace Bay. And one of the men on the right is almost certainly the union president Freeman Jenkins, though I’m not sure which one.

And, to my embarrassment, the slight man just behind Mr. Wade, turned out to be the subject of another article I was working on at the time. That one, which was published in the journal Left History in 2018, was about the graphic artist and cartoonist Avrom Yanovsky. He was Winnipeg-born and Toronto-based, but the connection was that during the coal miners’ strike in 1947, he visited Glace Bay to assist the union in their publicity campaign. I tell this story briefly at the start of the article about him. This picture was obviously taken during that visit.

Miners’ Museum Director Mary Pat Mombourquette with one of Avrom Yanovsky’s Glace Bay lithographs.

When I showed the photograph to Anna Yanovsky, the artist’s widow, she confirmed my hunch. She also remembered a letter she had received some years earlier from the Miners’ Museum in Glace Bay, asking about an edition of lithographs based on the sketches her husband prepared while in Glace Bay. Thanks to her generosity, I was able to deliver a set of the prints to the current director of the Museum.

Meanwhile, during one of my visits to the Beaton Institute, the archivist Jane Arnold mentioned that they had acquired a collection of cartoons by Josh Silburt, who was an editorial cartoonist at the Sydney Post-Record at the end of war in the 1940s. Unlike Yanovsky, who was well-known for his politics, Silburt did not advertise his views while in the employment of mainstream newspapers. Nevertheless, he lost his job at the Post-Record after inviting the visiting Communist Party leader, Tim Buck, to dinner. This was the end of his career as a cartoonist, but Silburt went on to achieve recognition for his fine art, much of it influenced by the landscapes of the Group of Seven. His son has published a handsome collection that includes insightful commentary on his father’s life and work.[1]

Speaking of artists, there is also something to add to my recent discussion of Lawren Harris, which was published this past summer on activehistory.ca. I wrote that after the release by Canada Post of a stamp featuring “Miners’ Houses”, a canvas that Harris painted after a visit to Glace Bay during the 1925 strike. I also noted two additional works related to his visit to Glace Bay. After publication, I heard from people working on an exhibit of Group of Seven art related to the Atlantic Region, and this prompted me to see if Harris had done more preparatory work at the time.

This led me to a preliminary pen and ink version of the painting, which is held at the Art Gallery of Ontario in addition to the final work. In this drawing, the basic elements are already there. There is also the barest outline of a solitary figure trudging up the hill in front of one of the houses. That image does not appear in the finished painting but shows more definitely in Harris’s relatively well-known print, “Glace Bay”, which was published in Canadian Forum in July 1925.

Also, I found that a collection of Harris’s drawings issued in 1982 included three pencil drawings from his sketchbooks that are credited to “Glace Bay, Halifax c. 1921-1922”.[2] One (“Miners”) is a rough drawing of half a dozen men seated haphazardly in a club room of some kind, mostly with their backs to us, possibly a pool table in foreground. A second one (“Faces”) shows several drafts of a woman and children. Similar faces, in more stylized form, are front and centre in the Canadian Forum illustration.

But the dating of these sketches to 1921-22 seemed odd, and I was lucky to be able to consult with Joan Murray, the art curator who co-authored the book. She pointed out that the dates in the captions were not necessarily accurate as they had been added some years later by Bess Harris (whom Harris married in 1934). It may have been assumed that, because Harris was in Halifax at this time and travelled to Newfoundland, he would have gone to Glace Bay on the same trip. Of course, the train from Halifax would take him straight to North Sydney to board the ferry for Newfoundland, so it’s not clear that he would have visited Glace Bay as a matter of course. It’s possible he did spend time there at that time, but there does not seem to be any direct evidence of this. Since we know that he was in Glace Bay in the spring of 1925 (and wrote about it), it seems likely these sketches were also made in 1925 and should be seen as part of the preliminary work for “Miners’ Houses”.

Untitled drawing by Lawren Harris, credited to “Glace Bay, Halifax c. 1921-1922”. The location depicted not known.

Something of a mystery attaches to the third (untitled) drawing in this group, also credited to “Glace Bay, Halifax c. 1921-1922”.  It shows a shoreline with a few small boats and a cluster of buildings on a rising incline, including a church on higher ground and steeper hills beyond that. There are no elevations of this scale in Glace Bay and the drawing does not look like any Glace Bay scene that I am familiar with. Everyone I ask has the same response. I have scouted a few other possibilities but nothing seems to fit. Possibly it is a location that Harris sketched on his return trip to Toronto, and not necessarily on Cape Breton Island.

Or perhaps it belongs to a whole other context. For now, we can leave this as a small mystery and just say that the file is not closed.


David Frank is a professor emeritus in Canadian history at the University of New Brunswick.


Notes:


[1] Allan Silburt, A Colourful Life: The art and drawing of Josh Silburt (Renfrew, Ontario: General Store Publishing House, 2013).

[2] Joan Murray and Robert Fulford, The Beginning of Vision: The Drawings of Lawren S. Harris (Toronto and Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1982), pp. 76-81.

About The Acadiensis Blog

The Acadiensis Blog is a place for Atlantic Canadian historians to share their research with both a scholarly and general audience. We welcome submissions on all topics Atlantic Canadian. If you are interested in contributing to the blog, please contact Acadiensis Digital Communications Editor Corey Slumkoski at corey.slumkoski@msvu.ca.
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