Louise Thomson Henry to Blodwen Davies, March 11, 1931

Louise Henry, Saskatoon, Sask. 
Mar. 11, 1931 

Dear Miss Davies,

I would just like to tell you first of all how much I enjoyed the booklet on the life of my brother Tom. There is no other writer I know of who could tell his story so beautifully and sympathetically and I appreciate this more than I can tell you.

My earliest recollections of Tom picture him as a beautiful brown eyed, rosy cheeked little lad with a very happy disposition and a capacity for fun and enjoyment of life above the average. Many a good romp and play he and a younger brother Ralph had around the old house with the boys of the village, when the five would wax fast and furious. There were so many things to make life pleasant…swings, skipping ropes, sleds, lawn croquet, a merry go round. Which father either made or got for us, and a turning lathe, he and the boys made, and there was the music which we all enjoyed so much. Mother never knew how many boys would come down for breakfast. Visitors I mean.

When a child, Tom was delicate and had several attacks of congestion and inflammation of the lungs. Finally the Dr. told Mother to keep him out of school for a year and let him roam the woods with a shotgun, which he did, wearing an old felt hat which he soaked with water and shaped to a point over a broom handle, decorated with squirrel tails and wild flowers. In this way he became an expert with the shotgun and rifle, to his own delight and Mother’s despair.

[...] I just recall a story about Tom. Once at work he was annoyed by a very blatant prayer meeting being held in an empty room in the building, and as he had reason to know the religious profession was much more pronounced than the performance, it rather got him on edge. He put up with it for a while then he quietly walked across the floor, opened the door and said  “Say folks, it isn’t necessary to shout like that at the Almighty. He is not that far away.” Then he closed the door and went back to his desk with a dry grin on his face. His religion went deeper than most people knew and could be summed up in a few words...do justly, love mercy, walk humbly, and say nothing about it.

At one place where he had a room in Toronto he had a card tacked up on the outside of his door with skull and crossbones and ‘The Devil’s Den” written below it. I remember one time he and a friend, Will Gracey rode up to Leith from Chatham on their bicycles. On their way up they came to a place where there was a garden party in full swing. Here was a chance for some fun and they decided to stop and help out with the programme. Tom had his mandolin along and they played and sang several songs. When they finished they passed a hat for a joke and were rather overwhelmed with the way the audience entered into the spirit of their prank. As far back as I remember Tom was fond of drawing and so often his pictures were of a sailing vessel with sails set to the breeze, and some years later his dream was realized in part. He had pleaded with Father for permission to put a small sail on the family row boat and Father finally consented. When Tom and his chum David Ross had the boat ready for the try out, there was a stiff breeze blowing and as luck would have it, Joe Coture, French Canadian fisherman and an expert sailor came in sight with his two masted fishing boat, which had the reputation of being the fastest boat of its kind on the lake, under the able management of Old Joe, as he was familiarly called by the younger generation. In telling of the big outing afterwards David said, “We passed old Joe so fast, we made him think he was backing up”. Tom, like the other boys around Leith was an expert swimmer and I remember one summer in the camping season Mr. Merchant, who had a cottage on the shore, had his fine yacht anchored near the dock when a strong breeze sprung up and was dragging the anchor and the yacht was drifting out into the lake. Tom and David saw the situation and swam out, boarded the yacht, and brought it back.

He was a great lad to walk when he was home and I remember one night he faced a blizzard and walked ten miles to a party. On another occasion he walked to Meaford about twenty miles away rather than bother with a horse and buggy, although Father begged him to take them.

He was very fond of sports and was an ardent foot-ball player before he left home, and in one game he had one great toe broken but stayed with the game till the finish, kicking with the left foot. Of all outdoor sports, I believe fishing was his favorite pastime.

He would sit for hours waiting patiently for a bite, and if there were fish to be had he would get them. At one time Tom was fond of hunting and I remember one time he told us of shooting a deer, but that was the last deer he ever shot as the look in its eyes was too human.

In 1912 my husband went East with his Mother’s body to have her laid beside his Father in Leith cemetery. Tom had just come home from the North for a few days, and there was a young artist with him whose name was Broadhead. He told Mr. Henry about some very interesting experiences they had had in the North Country. One story he told was of a very narrow escape he and Mr. Broadhead had while running a rapid with the canoe pretty well loaded with supplies and their season’s sketches. The canoe struck on a submerged rock and they lost most of their best sketches, most of their supplies, and came very nearly losing their lives. Mr. Broadhead said that if Tom had not been such an expert canoesman, they would both have been lost. My husband asked Tom if he was not afraid to be so much alone in the woods with so many wild animals roaming about. “Why,” he said “the animals are our friends. I’ve picked raspberries on one side of a log, while a big black bear picked berries on the other side.”

      He also told him of one time he was tramping through the woods when he heard some animal coming towards him through the undergrowth and to his surprise it was a large timber wolf, one of the largest he had ever seen, its head, neck and breast were jet black and the body the usual grey color. He said it was the most beautiful animal he had ever seen. The wolf came so close to him he could almost have touched him with his hand, sniffed him up and down and Tom said “he apparently decided I was alright, so he turned and went his way and I went mine.” He said “Do you know, Jim, I don’t tell that story, only to those who knows one well. I told it to some folk in Toronto and the look they gave me was enough.” Some time after this one of his friends was going through the woods and he saw an animal which tallied with the description on the one Tom had seen. He was a great lover of animals but children were his special delight.

         You have probably head of the time he tore up a cheque in a Toronto bank when they would not cash it-for without someone to identify him. He knew that the teller knew who he was and he resented this red tape.

         About the books he read I could not be sure, it is so long ago but I know he was fond of reading and he would get so immersed in his reading he would pay no attention to what was going on around him. When I was home in Owen Sound last summer my aunt told me what Tom had once asked her what kind of reading she liked best and she said she liked reading stories but she liked poetry best too. I know he had a great admiration for Burns and one Christmas he gave Mother a large card with that verse of Burns; beautifully printed in large fancy letters....Father and Mother were both fond of reading Dickens’ books of which we had twelve volumes, I remember on night Father wakened the whole household laughing at Dickens’ description of an American eating horse at breakfast. Mother asked him what he was laughing at and he got the book and tried to read the passage to us but was overcome again at the humour of it.

         Father had a very keen sense of humour which was one of his most lovable qualities. He used to read aloud to us a good deal and on another occasion he was reading the death of little Paul in Dombey and Son, and he was so overcome with the pathos of it that he had us all in tears and he could not finish. He said ‘Oh I can’t read it, you’ll just have to read if for yourselves and he walked out. I know Tom read most or all of these books. We had a good library at home with books for every Easter and Tom usually was busy with a book or strumming on his mandolin or playing the violin when he was home in the evenings.

I have a very fine pen and ink sketch of McKim’s home just across the road from our old home which was done about the same time... The oil sketch which I presented to the Memorial Gallery is one of the Petawawa River, with very high banks  the sun shining on one side. The other side is shadow. The colours in this picture are very rich and lovely...

         I remember my brother-in-law telling of Tom being held up in Seattle while he was there. He was taking a short cut home one night when suddenly there was a man came behind him and the first thing he knew he was looking down the barrel of a revolver and told to come across. One of the boys said to him when he got home, “And what did you do Tommy?” Tom got up and in his own comical way, put his hands up and shook till his knees knocked together. They took his watch and what money he had.

        I forgot to mention Father’s garden. I have never seen people so fond of flowers and both Mother and Father were. If there was a new kind of rose came out, father was not happy until he had it in his garden and he had a lovely collection of twenty one varieties and all colours, beside all kinds of lovely flowers. Last spring for all he was not in his usual robust health, he put in four hundred gladiolus bulbs and he lived to enjoy the gorgeous blooms in his sick room.

Yours very sincerely,

Louise Henry

P.S. I forgot to tell you that Tom tried to enlist the time of the South African war but was turned down on account of fallen arches and the condition of the toe he had broken playing foot-ball. He was provoked about this as he could walk twenty miles without feeling it. L.H.