Time - Space - Equation - Blue River • Christmas • Totems • Emily Carr

Leonard Lea Frazer
A young Emily Carr.
A young Emily Carr.

Emily Carr, (1871 -1945) the Canadian artist from Victoria, BC is well known for adopting a Modernist and Post-Impressionist painting style. However, she also produced a volume of written material which eventually was published as books. Her Klee Wyck was published in 1941 and won a Governor General’s award, in 1942 The Book of Small, memoir of her childhood, and in 1944, The House of All Sorts. Published posthumously, was Growing Pains (1946), Pause, The Heart of a Peacock (1953), and Hundreds and Thousands (1966).

Emily first visited First Nations communities on Vancouver Island in 1899 and, in 1908-1909, the Northern Interior of BC and to Haida Gwaii. Before her art form became popular and was accepted she sold one of her “Kispiox Village” paintings for $166 in Victoria. She thought she was really in the dough. On November 28, 2013 one of Carr’s paintings, The Crazy Stair, sold for $3.39 million at a Toronto art auction.

In 1927 Miss Carr travelled across Canada on the train to Ottawa for the opening of Canadian West Coast Art – Native and Modern where some of her First Nations work was exhibited. On route she stopped in Blue River for 10 minutes. I have included her impressions of the stop as well as her account of Christmas in 1933, 1934, 1935 and 1937. These are excerpts from her journal that was published as Hundreds and Thousands (1966). The photographs of Emily Carr and her artwork are now in the “Public Domain.” I have also included some of my totem pole photos from the same native Village that Carr visited (Kispiox). One can see how she must have been inspired by such wood carvings. So, Dear Readers, Merry Christmas! Enjoy!

Stop at Blue River

Emily with her pet monkey “Woo.”
Emily with her pet monkey “Woo.”

“2:15 pm Ten minutes at Blue River. Had a good walk in the snow. Entered quite a little settlement. The higher mountains are wrapped in snow mists. Oblivious, though, the sun shines coldly, touching the snow here and there with patches of pale gold. What a lot of different varieties of pines there are! Why? How does the seed of different species get here? There are lots of slim straight cedars too. We have left the green river now and are running beside a brown one. The patches of snow and half-frozen ice look like water-lilies. Since we left the ranges with the brown cattle with white faces, we have seen no living creature. There are many little lonely roofless cabins of rough logs proudly used when the road was in construction. How desolate they look!

I should like, when I am through with this body and my spirit released, to float up those wonderful mountain passes and ravines and feed on the silence and wonder—no fear, no bodily discomfort, just space and silence. A logging camp, grey shacks hung thick with icicles, and ruddy-faced men pausing with big hooks in their hands to watch us pass. We're on a down grade. Daylight is drawing in and it is only 3 o'clock.”

Christmas Day – 1933

“That's over. We've turkeyed and mince-pied and exchanged gifts and feasted each other and kissed all round and written and received mail sacks of letters. They have charity-ed and Sunday-School-treated and heard services radioed from Bethlehem and admired church decorations while I cleaned and stuffed turkey, made ginger-beer and candy and pie and cemetery wreaths and done the meniall jobs, and now it can't happen again for twelve whole months and I'm mighty glad. I painted family a little this afternoon. I walked along the cliff yesterday with the dogs. The heavy rains have washed down whole banks. They've slithered and sat low and left bare clay scars, slimy, unbeautiful. I must get out there and study and absorb; realize space and eternity out there.”

Christmas Day – 1934

Kispiox Village” by Emily Carr.
Kispiox Village” by Emily Carr.

“It was still night when I set out for the cathedral's early celebration and it was raining hard and everywhere was dark and wet and mysterious. Only one or two kitchen lights, and all the street lights. Even the children had not opened the one eye that could shut out Santa and rest the tiredness of Christmas Eve shopping. The puddles gleamed under the street lamps and the shadow of my umbrella accompanied me all the way. There is something very holy about Communion before it is light, something dark and warm and mystic in the dim corners of the Cathedral—the pine smell of the decora­tions, the scarlet of the berries and the poinsettia blooms. When we came out dawn was coming, grey and wet. The street lamps were out so the umbrellas had to march alone without a companionable jogging shadow. The houses were still asleep, stuffy people with windows tight closed; robust, uncomfortable souls with blinds and windows wide so that you could picture their red noses and foggy breath emerging from the blankets. Just ordinaries were lighting their kitchen stoves and dragging in milk bottles. I woke the pups and we breakfasted over the fire. We gifted last night.”

Christmas Day – 1935

“Praise be! It's over! Why do we do it? It is not Christian. Oh, I'd have loved to sneak off to the woods and be hidden, the week before and the week behind Christmas, and remember the real meaning of it and give thanks in my heart. I love my friends for their kind thoughts of me, but it's all wrong; it's cheap and commercial and fluffy. You can point to all the full churches and special music and decorations, but what does it all mean to them? The girls would say shame and shame again on me. I get more rebellious every year.”

Christmas Day – 1937

“There is deep snow but it is not bitter. I heard King George VI at 7 o'clock this morning speaking to his empire. It was wonderful. Maybe one day it will come so that the empire can shout back to the King. There is great peace in the cottage this morning. Louise is very busy "lining up" so that she can get away early for all day. Alice and I Christmased yesterday. We had a tiny tree in a flower­pot on the table and the presents round it. In the other window burned three red candles in my old red Swedish candlestick. Louise cooked good turkey and plum pudding and brandy sauce. There was a dandy fire. The lovebirds, chipmunks, and dogs and we ate, en­joyed, and were thankful. Then we undid the tree. Willie came. Edythe and Frederick came in the afternoon. I got millions of presents. People were good and we were happy.”