About the Author

James King

James King is the author of four previous novels: Faking (1999), Blue Moon (2000), Transformations (2003), and Pure Inventions (2006). He is also the author of eight works of biography, the subjects of which include William Blake, Margaret Laurence, Jack McClelland, and Farley Mowat. His biography of Herbert Read, The Last Modern, was nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award. James King lives in Hamilton, Ontario, and teaches at McMaster University in the Department of English.

Books by this Author
Blue Moon

Blue Moon

A Novel
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tagged : historical, crime
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Early Snow

Early Snow

Michael Snow 1947-1962
by James King
introduction by Michael Snow
foreword by Shelley Falconer
edition:Hardcover
tagged : canadian
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Etienne's Alphabet

Etienne's Alphabet

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also available: Paperback
tagged : historical
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Faking

Faking

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : literary
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Inner Places

Inner Places

The Life of David Milne
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
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Inward Journey

Inward Journey

The Life of Lawren Harris
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also available: Hardcover
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Jack: A Life With Writers

Jack: A Life With Writers

The Story of Jack McClelland
edition:Paperback
tagged : literary
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Michael Snow

Michael Snow

Lives and Works
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also available: Hardcover
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Excerpt

Chapter One: Origins

In Michael Snow’s ancestry, the two solitudes of Canada are resolutely conjoined. His father, Gerald Bradley Snow, was of Anglo-Saxon lineage, his mother, Marie-Antoinette, was Quebecois.

Gerald Bradley Snow (1892–1964), later an engineer and a veteran of the First World War (he served in France as a lieutenant in the 48th Highlanders), attended high school at St. Andrew’s in Aurora and then studied at the University of Toronto. More reserved than his classmates, Bradley (the name he used commonly) excelled in school. His son inherited what could be called his artistic side from his mother and his deep understanding of technological complexities and processes from his father. He had an excellent understanding of how things work, of how things fit together.

Bradley Snow was the son of A.J. Russell Snow (1857–1937) and his wife, Katie Beaty (1880–1940). A.J., who was born in Hull (now Gatineau), Quebec, became a lawyer who argued many cases before the Privy Council, served on several royal commissions, and was “Registrar of Alien Enemies” during the Great War.

The father of A.J. Russell Snow was John Allen Snow (1823–78), who was the son of John Snow (1793–c.1823) and Barbara Allen (b. 1799). Barbara was born in Woburn, Massachusetts, and moved to Canada when she was a year old. The move to Canada was initiated by Philomen Wright, a cousin of the Allens. Having acquired the rights to a large parcel of land on the area of the Ottawa River now known as Gatineau, he developed a small colony there. In 1816, when Barbara was seventeen years old, Philomen sent his son Ruggles to England to acquire cattle and engage workmen. There, he hired John Snow, a wheelwright from Chittlehampton, Devon. John and Barbara married on January 4, 1820.

Their son John Allen Snow was educated at St. Lawrence Academy in Potsdam, New York, and trained as a surveyor after he returned to Canada. He married Emma Catherine Bradley in 1850. Three years earlier, he became deputy provincial surveyor and mapped portions of, among other places, Muskoka. He was later sent by John A. Macdonald to survey the land that was under dispute in Manitoba during the Riel Rebellion.

Katie Beaty was the daughter of James Beaty (1831–99), who had been born at Ashdale Farm in the township of Trafalgar in the county of Halton, Ontario. James’s father, John (d. 1870), had immigrated to Canada from County Cavan in Ireland. James, who married his cousin Fanny Beaty in 1858, served as mayor of Toronto from 1879 to 1880 and was the founder of the newspaper, the Toronto Leader. He published one book, the Quaker-inspired Paying the Pastor: Unscriptural and Traditional(1885).

A.J. Russell and Katie Snow had seven children: Gerald Bradley, Kallie, Beaty, Geoffrey, Enid, Dimple, and Rhoda. When Geoffrey was killed in action at the Battle of the Somme during the Great War, Bradley might have been fundamentally shaken.

Early on, the Beaty side of Michael Snow’s ancestry made a name for itself in journalism and politics. The Snow side also produced a very distinguished attorney. Similar claims hold true for the artist’s mother’s family.

* * *

Marie-Antoinette Françoise Carmen Lévesque (1904–2004) was an outgoing and vibrant woman; a classically trained pianist, she had a passion for the arts. One of four children, she had two brothers, Marcel (1908–79) and Robert (1917–2005), and a younger sister, Pierette (c.1906–19), who died at a convent school (Saint Joseph Academy) in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Along with her talent as a pianist, she was also particularly adept at languages: she taught herself Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian. She was so skilled in Spanish that she was later employed to host a Spanish-language radio program for the Spanish consulate in Toronto. Their father was Elzéar Lévesque (1875–1937), the son of Delphine Tremblay and boat captain Elzéar Lévesque. The younger Elzéar studied at the Séminaire de Chicoutimi and law at Laval University. In 1884 he married Caroline Denechaud (1875–1942), daughter of Macaire Denechaud, a merchant, and Françoise Moreau.

Elzéar was a candidate in the provincial election of 1908 and the federal one of 1911. In 1922 he founded the Compagnie Autobus & Taxis 500. Later, he invested in the Compagnie Hydraulique du Saguenay; throughout his lifetime, he was active in the real estate development of Saint-Ambroise, Saint-Honoré, Chicoutimi, and Jonquière. He was the mayor of Chicoutimi from 1912 to 1922.

Caroline Denechaud was one of sixteen children born to Macaire and Françoise. Marie-Antoinette’s paternal great-grandfather was the Hon. Claude Denechaud, a representative for Quebec City in the province’s legislature. His father, Jacques Denechaud, a surgeon, arrived in Quebec from France in 1752 and was on duty at the hospital when the English won the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

In Chicoutimi, Elzéar and Caroline’s majestic house, a large brick structure on a hill, was surrounded by a low stone wall. Earlier, in 1912, Elzéar had built an island cottage at Lac Clair; when that burned down in 1918, he built a similar one, facing the other way, on the same island. Elzéar was a person who sought out the best. He had a superb wine cellar and assembled a large collection of books related to all things French.

After completing his studies in Toronto, Bradley worked as a surveyor in the Saguenay region of Quebec; his assignment was to prepare a report on the feasibility of building a rail line from Chibougamau to Chicoutimi (about 350 kilometres) — the project was not undertaken. A bit later, around 1924, he became the chief engineer and head of construction of two bridges in Chicoutimi, where he then resided.

He and Marie-Antoinette met at a ball given by Sir William Price, the Quebec-based lumber merchant. The two fell in love and decided to marry. When Marie-Antoinette told her father that she and Bradley intended to marry, Elzéar received communications and in-person visits from the local Catholic hierarchy, which threatened his daughter with excommunication if she married a Protestant. Despite the Church’s warnings, she went to Toronto, and there she and Bradley wed on October 29, 1924, with his family in attendance.

The strong bond between the young couple was possibly triggered because each had lost a sibling. In Marie-Antoinette’s case, her parents had taken her and her sister by train to the school in Massachusetts. When, after three months at the school, her sister was taken ill with the Spanish flu and died suddenly, her parents returned to the States to take their surviving daughter back to Chicoutimi.

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Old Masters

Old Masters

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Pure Inventions

Pure Inventions

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also available: Paperback
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Roland Penrose

Roland Penrose

The Life of a Surrealist
edition:Hardcover
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The Way It Is

The Way It Is

The Life of Greg Curnoe
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

Greg Curnoe had a supremely happy childhood and cherished memories of it his entire life. As a man and an artist, he fed off those recollections. Unlike some who experience idyllic happi¬ness as youngsters and then feel deprived by the rigours of adult experience, he was never cut off from his early formative years. In fact, he refused to part with them. Even as an adult when faced with failure, sadness, and anxiety, he retained a childlike surety that his was a blessed existence. He had a confidence that he could overcome any obstacle thrown in his way. This sense of security he received from his parents. For him, his childhood home was, in many ways, a place of refuge.
He was born a bit after his due date on Thursday, November 19, 1936, in Victoria Hospital in London, Ontario. Despite his tardy appearance, mother and baby were fine.
Greg was the first child of Nellie (1909–99), née Porter, and Gordon (1909–85; always called Gord) Curnoe. Gord’s father, Richard, arrived in London, Ontario, in 1879 at the age of nine with his parents, John and Elizabeth, née Rowe, from Sunny Corner, County Gwennap near Redruth, Cornwall. The sur¬name Curnoe is derived from Old Cornish and signifies a person originating in Cornwall. John had been a miner and immigrated to Canada when the tin mines in his native county were shuttered.
The parents of Richard’s wife, Sarah, née Cundick, had immigrated to Canada in 1869 from Westminster, Dorset. Her sister, Emily, was born in England in 1869, but Sarah was born in Canada in 1871, probably in Watford. The two sisters moved to London, where they worked in a laundry. There, the two sisters met two brothers: Richard Curnoe married Sarah, and John Curnoe married Emily. John and Emily operated a bakery and had eleven children. Richard and Sarah had four children: Verna, Hilda, Gord (Greg’s father), and Lorne.
Richard, a painter and striper (someone who paints stripes on railway cars), was employed as a foreman at A.B. Greer Carriage Makers until 1917, when he left that firm for the London and Port Stanley Railway. He died in 1936 of, according to family legend, lead poisoning. Apparently, he was miserly. “Dick doesn’t give me much money,” Sarah com¬plained. As a result, she would secrete money in various parts of the house, even behind picture frames. However, Richard did purchase, in 1917, a Model T Ford. As an older woman, Sarah developed diabetes and when gangrene set in, one of her legs was removed above the knee. She was apparently active in local women’s groups and would “even lend her best Bridal Rose china to the church for social events, not caring if they came back chipped.”
Richard and Sarah’s son Gord attended Chesley Avenue Public School and then London Central Collegiate, where he completed junior matriculation (grade ten). He then became the office boy at The Farmers’ Advocate, originally a populist magazine devoted to the concerns of farmers. He took night classes to learn about the printing trade and eventually became office manager. As a young man, he was known for his dapper clothing and good looks.
Nellie was the fourth child of William and Grace, née Peak, Porter, who immigrated to Canada in 1907. Like his father and grandfather, William also came from the docks area in East London and Bromley and was a carpenter and joiner specializing in making the wood-lined cabinets for passenger ships. In 1898 he married Grace Peak in Ilford, northwest of London. When William wanted to move to Canada, Grace demurred, largely because she did not want to be separated from her mother. Eventually, the elder Peaks agreed to go with them.
In Canada, the Porters and Peaks settled in London but then moved to the more rural area of Glendale, south of the city. When their prospects living on the land did not improve, the Porters moved back to London, where William established William Porter and Son, a building company. He built a number of small and large houses, some of them extremely expensive. However, during the Depression, when several contractors he had worked for declared bankruptcy and could not pay him, he suffered severe financial losses.
When Nellie was ten, she and her parents moved from Glendale to London, where she went to Wortley Road Public School and then Beal Technical, where she completed grade ten. She then found employment in the office of Smallman and Ingram, London’s largest department store. For three years her steady boyfriend was Seth Trusty, to whom she wrote every other day. When he moved to Chicago for further schooling, their romance trailed off, and she took up with Gord Curnoe after they met ice-skating at the London Arena.
Nellie, who was performing in a play, invited Gord to attend. He did. They met again after another play at Hyatt Avenue United Church. After a three-year engagement, they married, both age twenty-six, on June 29, 1935. They had decided on a lengthy engagement because Gord wanted them to be financially secure when they began married life. Nellie cashed in an insurance policy and Gord added in money from his savings, and they purchased a plot of land in South London on Langarth Street, where Nellie’s father would build their house.
Eventually, Gord and Nellie became well-suited to each other, but that was not the case at first. Gord found it difficult to adjust to married life. He had been hesitant to set a date for the wedding because of money worries. Nellie wanted to give notice at Smallman and Ingram, but Gord procrastinated. In addition, in their early married days, Nellie found Gord “vague, distant, and unable to explain to her why he seemed upset. The carefree beau she had known had changed into a worried husband.” She was very upset when he somewhat offhandedly remarked one day: “We can always get a divorce if we don’t get along.” Early in his marriage, Gord went to his mother’s home for dinner every noon (his father had died in 1936). His mother, Sarah, had to remind him: “Your place is with your wife.”
Gord and Nellie did not like the damp, sour-smelling house they rented on Springbank Drive, near the Coves, a closed loop of the Thames. Gord, anxious to be rid of that place, drove every day to Langarth Street where William Porter was building the house for his daughter and son-in-law.
The house was ready at the end of August 1935. Although the couple had wanted to construct their house of brick, they could not afford this luxury. Instead, they settled for a blue-painted stucco that was given a half-timbered treatment at the front of the bungalow. The roof was steeply pitched, the entrance red brick, and a small elevation made it slightly higher than nearby residences. With her father’s assistance, Nellie designed the interior: a central hall, a small kitchen, a dining room, a large living room, a large master bedroom with a walk-in closet and another bedroom overlooking the backyard.
William Porter installed baseboards and a living room man¬telpiece from chestnut; there was a bevelled-glass-panel door in the front vestibule; the kitchen counter was inlaid with tiny diamond-shaped ceramic tiles. Most of all, Nellie treasured the three leaded glass front windows.
Langarth Street is on a grid pattern, and most of the houses were bungalows on small lots. Many had been built piecemeal by local contractors; a few homes looked like simple cabins. Some of these houses in the forties and fifties still had outhouses in their backyards. Wharncliffe Road, where Grandmother Porter lived, was west of the house. To the east was Wortley Public School, to the north the Thames and the London Arena. Farther north was the downtown section of the city.
Two months after the Curnoes moved to their new home, their first baby arrived. Greg believed he was named after Gregory Peck, although it is possible he was named after a character on the long-running (1933–60) radio soap opera The Romance of Helen Trent. Greg’s cousin Gary Bryant was named after Gary Cooper and is of the opinion that the Curnoes used a similar process in naming their eldest child.
Gord and Nellie’s marriage became much more harmoni¬ous after the move to Langarth Street and Greg’s birth, but there remained a marked difference between them, originating in the fact that they were from slightly different social classes. Nellie considered the Curnoes a bit rowdy; they were certainly earthier than the Porters. Gord constantly felt he had to prove himself a good manager of the limited resources available to him; if, as is likely, he felt he had married above his station, he wanted to do everything in his power to prove to Nellie that she had made a good choice in selecting him. He remained a worrier whereas Nellie was a much more poised and self-assured person. As a couple, they worked well together. Gord did everything he could to sustain his family; Nellie assured Gord that his efforts were the right ones.
Nellie and Gord took the baby with them everywhere they went, especially the Porter home on Wharncliffe Road and the Curnoe home on Hamilton Road. After the great London flood of 1937, the three of them — Greg on Nellie’s lap — drove to Springbank Drive, where water rose to the top of the verandah of their old home.
On the day Greg was christened at Hyatt Avenue United Church, the Curnoe family church, Gord, a derby hat roguishly perched on his head, smiled at the camera as he held the infant aloft. The baby had to have a regular schedule, the new mother had been told. So when Greg slept through the four hours allotted between feeds, Nellie would wake him up. Later she remarked, “That’s why he always hated regimentation.”

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Transformations

Transformations

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary
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