The Man Who Painted Toronto's Portrait

Thursday, 1 November 1894 - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The once colorful maple leafs of autumn are giving up the ghost and are littering the streets. The cold rain hits your skin and feels almost sharp. The precipitation will soon turn to snow. My stay here in Toronto is about up, but I wanted to visit one last person--one many consider Canada’s greatest Victorian painter--Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith.

Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith
Frederic Bell-Smith currently lives at 366 Jarvis Street. It’s not far from the bustle of downtown. I introduced myself as an art collector interested in viewing possible purchases. The lady, whom I assumed was his wife, Annie, took me to Bell-Smith in his studio. I knew he had recently retired from teaching (his last position as Director of the Toronto School of Art in 1889) and was now relying on just his painting to support his family.

Square jawed and stout, Bell-Smith looked more like a banker than an artist. His eyes though had a dreamy far-away look that would not have gotten far in the cut-throat business world. He stuck out his hand to me. “I have some landscapes from my recent trip to the Rockies. Mr. William Van Horne, general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway, gives free passes to artists.” Bell-Smith chuckled. “I think he hopes we will be inspired to paint the Rockies so others will want to visit them. It certainly inspired me.”

Mists and Glaciers of the Selkirks
I smiled. “Yes, that would be an ingenious advertising ploy.”

He showed me a half-dozen landscapes of mountains and lakes, all breath-taking, but small enough to hang in the dining room. It was then I noticed a large canvas on the other side of the room. It was huge! Almost six and a half feet wide and over four feet tall. The painting was still in progress and the figures roughed out. My heart stopped with a sudden recognition.

“I’ve seen this before,” I blurted, then caught myself. “I mean, there is something familiar about this.”

Lights of a City Street (click on to enlarge)
“It’s the corner of King and Yonge Streets just a few blocks from here. It’s an experiment. I don’t know if it will work. I thought I would try painting the landscape of Toronto and try to capture its spirit.”

“You’re a native?”

“No, born in London. My father was a painter, too. Did portraits. He decided to immigrate to Montreal. I followed him the next year. I was 21. I’ve been toying with moving back to Europe. I could probably make more money, but...I don’t know. Toronto is booming right now. It’s very exciting. I’m hoping to show that in the painting.”

“I see you are showing the new electric streetcars. And your police officer looks vaguely familiar.”

“You have probably seen him. That’s Bill Redford, the constable that is stationed on that very corner. They man tipping his hat is my son the reverend and the fellow being assaulted by the newsboys is me.”

I had to laugh. “Bringing back the old Renaissance tradition of the artist sticking themselves in the painting, eh?”

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to ever sell anything this big. And I’m not sure if people will even like something as mundane as downtown.”

I wished him luck on his experiment. I told him I liked several of the landscape paintings, but wanted to bring my wife back to help me pick out the perfect painting for our parlor. If I picked wrong I would never hear the end of it. (My poor imaginary wife gets blamed for all sorts of things.) I would have loved to have bought a painting, but that would have removed it from the 19th century and changed history. I’ll just have to visit them in a museum when I get home.

Westminster Bridge
As for the experiment, Frederic Bell-Smith will finally get the courage in 1897 to publicly display Lights of a City Street. The natives will instantly recognize the corner and be amazed at how an ordinary scene could be made so beautiful. It was such a hit that he began painting more cityscapes not only of Toronto, but also of London on his numerous visits.

Bell-Smith also found a buyer for his huge masterpiece almost immediately. Simpsons Limited will buy and display it at their Queen Street department store. No doubt it brought in many customers. It will eventually wind up in the art collection of the Hudson Bay Company, but will remain where the public can view it. Lights of a City Street might be privately owned for many centuries, but it has always been recognized as belonging to the people of Toronto.

In 1895 Frederic Bell-Smith will even be given the unprecedented opportunity to have Her Majesty Queen Victoria sit for him. She seldom poses for anyone. Luckily he is friends with Louise, a fellow artist and the wife of the former Governor General of Canada. She is also the daughter of Queen Victoria. She managed to talk “Mum” into allowing Bell Smith to paint her.
(He added himself in this painting, too.)


Saving the World One Child at a Time

Friday, 27 October 1894 - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Last week I visited the Lakeside Home for Little Children on Toronto Island. It is a summer retreat for convalescing patients of the institute I recorded today. The Victoria Hospital for Sick Children, which opened two years ago, and is a an impressive state of the art hospital with 320 beds. Quite a far cry from its very humble beginnings.

Victoria Hospital of Sick Children
Back in April of 1875, a 31-year-old housewife named Elizabeth McMaster stumbled upon the death statistics for Toronto. She noticed half of the deaths were children. This was common in the Victorian Age, but McMaster decided to do something about it. Many of these deaths might have been prevented if the children of poor families could have access to medical care. London had a children’s hospital. Why couldn’t Toronto?

Elizabeth McMaster
McMaster started a committee of eleven like-minded women, and collected enough funds to open the Hospital for Sick Children. They rented a modest house and installed six iron cots. The ladies volunteered as nurses, and McMaster also doubled as the manager, public relations, bookkeeper and anything else that was needed.

McMaster had her work cut out for her. Although she encouraged parents to pay what they could, it was never enough to cover costs. She didn’t want to turn away any child just because their parents were struggling. She went about the community begging for money to save the children.

Their first patient was a scald victim named Maggie. By the end of the year 44 children had been admitted and 67 had been treated as outpatients. The next year they moved to a larger house with 16 beds. Twice more they moved to larger buildings, but what they needed was a real hospital.

McMaster’s enterprise came to the notice of John Ross Robertson, publisher of the Evening Telegram. He became chairman of the Hospital's Board of Trustees and used his clout and own money to build Canada’s first pediatric hospital. McMaster handed over the command to the committee and earned her certification as a registered nurse (a rather new profession) so she could take over as Lady Superintendent.

I searched for McMaster but found she had left. Apparently she and Robertson had irreconcilable differences. Too bad. I was told she was now working in an American hospital. Still Elizabeth McMaster shall be remembered as the founder of the Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. The Victoria part never stuck. Instead it will keep the name McMaster gave it, although it will one day go by the nickname “SickKids.”

Lakeside Home for Little Children
The Hospital for Sick Children will not only become one of the leading pediatric hospitals in the world but also one of the leading research hospitals after it teams up with the University of Toronto. Although the first research laboratory won’t be set up until 1918, the hospital has already been on the forefront of innovation. A few of it’s milestones are or will be:
1883 - Opens Canada’s first a fresh air sanitarium for tuberculosis on Toronto Island (Lakeside Home for Little Children.)
1892 - First hospital to open a school for its patients
1899 - Opens first children’s Orthopaedic Shop to provide splints, braces and other specially designed prosthetic appliances.
1908 - Installs the first milk pasteurization plant in Canada
1919 - Pioneers blood transfusions for children
1921 - In partnership with University of Toronto, discovers insulin.
1930 - Invents Pablum to combat infant malnutrition
1934 - Demonstrates the value of enriching milk with vitamin D as a cure for rickets.
1951 - Develops a heart-lung machine.
1957 - Performs first Innominate Osteotomy, a surgical procedure to repair congenital dislocation of the hips.
1963 - Develops the surgery called the Mustard Procedure used to help correct heart problems in blue babies.
1979 - Invents continuous passive motion for use in reconstructive joint surgery
1987 - Identifies the gene responsible for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, followed by the discoveries of countless genes causing other diseases.

Elizabeth McMaster set out to help the poor children of Toronto. What she started will one day help sick children all over the world. In trying to save hundreds, she will save billions.

website for Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)

Commercial for the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children

SickKids--Together We Will


The Boy in Blue

Friday, 19 October 1894, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

This week I have been staying in the Hotel Hanlan on Toronto Island. Until 1858, this island was a peninsula, until a big storm washed away the connecting land. The island is really a shifting sandbar, but people build summer cottages here anyway.

Toronto Island, across the Harbour from Toronto
One of the first settlers to the newly formed island was an Irish fisherman named John Hanlan. He built a home for his family on the east end of the island, but in 1865 a storm blew the building off its foundation and across the harbour to the west end of the island. John took the hint and built a small hotel on the spot for the tourists coming from across the bay. This is now called Hanlan Point.

I have been staying at Hotel Hanlan with a lovely view of the harbour from my window. John passed away some years ago, but his son Edward, better known as Ned, has taken over. Ned in fact invested quite a bit of money in enlarging the place. Ned got rich rowing. In fact many a Torontonian got rich betting he could out row everyone else.

Hotel Hanlan in 1894
Living on an island and the son of a fisherman, Ned could easily row across the harbor by the time he was five. He rowed several kilometers everyday so he could attend school on the mainland. He developed a technique while still a child, so he could beat all the adult fishermen to market with the fish he caught so he would get the best price.

Ned Hanlan rowing in a competition
In 1871 at the age of sixteen, Ned began competing in rowing races and became the best in Toronto. Five years later a group of astute investors decided to form a syndicate club to back Ned so he could compete professionally. They bought him a state of the art racing boat with two new innovations: swivel oar locks and a sliding seat. Both helped the rower lengthen his stroke. Soon Ned was competing in the United States and became the North American champion. In 1880 Ned went to England to become the world champion.

All the other racers had sliding seats, too, but Ned was the first to learn how to really use it to the best advantage. Only 150 pounds and less than 5’9”, he was smaller than most of the men he raced against. However they rowed with their arms; Ned used his legs. He rowed 36 strokes per minute while others rowed 44, but each of his strokes had more power and took him further. Ned was so fast he once mocked an arrogant competitor by crossing the finish line, then doubling back to where his opponent was so he could beat him twice in the same race.

Ned Hanlan
During Ned Hanlan’s career he won more than 300 races and suffered defeat less than a dozen times. He has recently retired and is now concentrating on the hotel. People are trying to talk him into going into politics. He will eventually become an alderman. However, his real passion is still rowing. He will start coaching the University of Toronto Rowing Club in 1897, then in 1900 go on to coach the Rowing Crew at Columbia University in New York. He will pass his secrets on to the next generation. Ned Hanlan is considered the father of modern one man rowing, better known as sculling.

Ned Hanlan always wore a blue shirt when racing, earning him the nickname “the boy in blue.” He will be remembered as the greatest Canadian athlete of the nineteenth century. And all because he couldn’t afford to ride the ferry to school.


Home Children

Thursday, 11 October 1894 - Toronto, Canada

Toronto Boy's Home
Today I visited Toronto Boy’s Home here at 214 Farley Avenue. This is the Receiving and Distributing office for Dr. Barnardo's Home Children. Boys come here from Britain to be sent out to farming communities to be trained as agricultural workers. These are poor orphans given the opportunity to escape the slums of the cities and breath the fresh air of the country. At least that was the story the manager, A. B. Owen, gave me. The boys I saw ranged in age from 7 to 14. They looked confused and lonely. The youngest one whimpered that he wanted his mum. Home Children was a lofty idea that went terribly wrong.

Home Children is something most historians try to sweep under the rug. Between about 1869 to 1930, 100,000 children were shipped from Britain to Canada. 100 years later it will be estimated that 11% of the population of Canada will have descended from Home Children. These children were not adopted and given homes, but were sent out as servants and laborers for room and board. Outside of not actually being bought and sold, I believe that is the definition of a slave. How could anything this horrible not only be allowed to exist, but be applauded by liberals everywhere.

Girls sent to Canada from Britain
Poor children living on the streets had always been a problem throughout history. The Victorians were the first to really try to do something about it. They opened shelters for these children and were soon overwhelmed. In 1869 one well meaning woman, Annie MacPherson, came up with a brilliant idea. Why not send these children to Canada where families would welcome them as more eager hands to help on the farms. This certainly had to be better than the child laboring in the factories she had seen. About 50 agencies followed suit.

Dr. Thomas Barnardo
In the 1880s another reformer, Dr. Thomas Barnardo, jumped on the bandwagon. The problem was Barnardo saw all poor people as vagrants and criminals. He was not above kidnapping a child from the slums and sending them off to Canada. Parents in dire straights from illness, unemployment or the loss of a spouse, would come to him asking him to care for their child until they could get back on their feet. They never saw their children again. It's estimated only one-third of the Home Children were actually orphans.

The Home Children were to be sent to good homes where they would learn a trade. Most went to rural communities too far away for inspectors to bother checking up on the child. It is estimated that 70% of the children were abused in one way or another. It was not unheard of for these children to be housed in unheated barns like animals--and whipped like animals. As for the fate of the girls...we won’t go into that.

Home Child plowing
The lucky ones were treated with tolerance, but never treated as family. They were servants. Other children were told not to play with Home Children since everyone “knew” they were all pick-pockets and carried disease. Letters from their families back in Britain were never forwarded. These children grew up alone and unloved.

More than one ran away. Most that toughed it out left the farms and headed for the cities. One-sixth of them earned enough to return to Britain where they stayed. The grand scheme to create an agricultural workforce failed in most cases. The rural countryside had too many bad memories.

Home Children working in a field
Many of the Home Children fought for Canada in World War I, and died on the battlefields. Survivors carried on, made lives for themselves, married and created the families they sorely needed. Few spoke of their childhoods, ashamed of the stigma.

Mr. Owen wanted to know if I would like a lad to train as a servant. I told him I wasn’t shopping, just looking for a charity to put in my will. I was half tempted to take the youngest and find his mum for him, but of course the Institute of Time Travel would never allow that. Maybe this poor lad will grow up to become someone critical to Canada’s history.

Owen showed me about the place. It was clean, if stark. Each boy had a trunk with new clothes and necessities to start their new lives. I honestly believe Owen thought he was sending these boys off to a better life. I left feeling frustrated I couldn’t tell him the truth. Would he believe me?

I have no idea why they are called “Home Children". Willingly ignorant reformers made them "Homeless Children".

The Workhouse and Home Children

British Home Children in Canada-Two Survivors stories