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Letter from Mrs. Barbara Macdonald re Nootka trip

This information was provided courtesy of the Vancouver Art Gallery Library.


4(?) Isabella Street, Apt. 805
Toronto 285, Ontario
17th June 1969

Dear Miss Francis,

Thank you for sending me a copy of "The Western Years" which I realize has been a tremendous amount of work for you. I hope you don't mind if I plow right away into what I find not quite accurate. The Nootka period is what gets written of in the wildest way

We went of(f) on the "Maquinna" to Nooka (sic) with Tauber & Les Planta but we had provisions and equipment with us - tents, saws, food, and of course an axe or two etc. "A shawl an axe and five dollars" - we were not so impracticl (sic). We didn't have much money but it was more than five dollars. The "Maquinna" docks at the Nootka Cannery so we couldn't land at Friendly Cove. Friendly Cove is an Indian settlement and Indian property and we couldn't have lived there any way. Before going to Nootka we had been in touch with offices in Victoria to find out if there was land to buy and were given the number of a lot - not Indian land. However we didn't manage to break trail to the piece of land suggested but just squatted on a piece available - quite a few miles from Friendly Cove. We couldn't have lived in two shacks lately abandoned by counterfeiters. This Nootka story is a long one and quite interesting but I would rather not go into it. It was tough in some ways but we had a lot of fun. All the same you can take it from me that Jock wasn't going to go back to Vancouver. He liked the art world and liked people. I heard many years later that Les Planta had developed TB whether this is true or not I don't know. He certainly showed no signs of it at Nootka. He left to take a job at the Nootka Cannery to earn some money and Tauber joined him living some time in the Nootka Hotel. We remained where we had put a house together. Later Mrs. Clegg asked us to stay with her and we must have been with her about a month. She bought one of Jock's canvasses of Nootka which was wonderful of her which gave us money when we went back. Living was cheap in Nootka and money went far.

When we left Nootka for good Jock wasn't broken or depressed except that he had to be careful of his back. When we were living in Barclay Street he had a spontaneous numoflex (?) which took him some time to get over and he was depressed then. The Vancouver Gallery bought his canvas Indian Burial and the money tided us over that spot.

The next thing when we were living in Capilano Jock went with the Harris's on a painting trip to the Rockies - Fiona and __ (word missing) didn't go.

About Dr. Paillthorpe (sic?) - Rev. Mednikof (sic?) was not her patient but her helper in her work and a very clever man. Dr. Paillthorpe and Rev. Mednikof and Jock became very good friends. Jock and I stayed with them many years later when we were in England. They thought a lot of his painting and did influence his watercolours & encourage him.

There is one other thing as I read over the summary - "planting crops at Nootka." I haven't an idea what you mean. We didn't plant crops. I had a garden of sorts which was my domain with little soil and nothing came to anything!

Les Planta was never very ill. Tauber had had enough of Nootka and Les was his particular friend. When they left & went to live at the Cannery Hotel they broke with us and were on their own. Later when we were back in Vancouver Les and Tauber were also in Vancouver and there was nothing wrong with Les. I knew and liked his mother & was in touch with her & his sister & neither of them said Les was ill.

Jock did a lot of very delightful sketches in oil on board while at Nootka that sold right away and so we lost track of who had them. I would like to see them all collected together for once but I am afraid that isn't possible. He did also experiment with which later were called Modalities. I have a rather nice one done then which was always my favorite. The first canvas he painted in Vancouver on this experimental basis was bought by a Mr. Hawies (sp?). The National Gallery sent me a snapshot of it & asked me about it. I'll enclose it & would appreciate it if you would send it back to me. It's the only record I have of it.

I must compliment you on the monumental job you have done getting all this information together. Whole lots of it I have quite forgotten. The Nootka episode is fairly clear in my memory it was so personal. I can't always remember when he painted certain pictures but I expect he dated them. Memory plays strange tricks sometimes.

I am writing to you on this scribble pad paper as I have nothing else in the house and I am still held up with my broken hip having over done it and put myself back in the house. It's a great nuisance to feel well and not be able to get around.

Here I go again - I guess there are still some inaccuracies - he did have an enlarged heart during the war and was a year in hospital after he came out of hospital I think he said his heart was 2-1/2" too big or something like that. Any way his heart was in such a bad condition they didn't expect him to live when he was shipped over from France. He got the Design Diploma - I see that's right - in Edinburgh.

You say Jock and Varley made the decision to break with the V.S.D.A.A. which isn't quite right. This was the depression - Varley was let out and Jock feeling this was unfair joined him to start the new school. However this is perhaps best left unsaid. It was a bad situation. If Varley wasn't exactly let out or least (sic) he wasn't offered enough to live on, I forget the details. The School Board announced that they would not pay salaries to the Art Staff and that they would have to manage on what money the fees from students brought in. Scott divided it up according to what he thought fit.

Well those are the vissitudes (sic) of life. Now it's all over and done one wonders why it was such a bother I guess, so many misunderstandings. Do I sound doddering?

Well I really think I have finished finding faults. Thank you again for sending me a copy of "The Western Years" I do appreciate all the work you have done.

         Yours sincerely,
             Barbara Macdonald


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