Some Letters by Burnett Alexander Ward
By 1915, Burnett "Ted" Alexander Ward was thinking about leaving Bracebridge and moving on to new things. In a series of letters written in 1915-6, we get a glimpse into the mind of a young poet and soldier emerge.
The series of four letters were written to Reverend Calvin McQuesten and are located at the Whitehern Museum Archives in Hamilton, Ontario. The young Ted Ward met Rev McQuesten when he had briefly served as the minister at Knox Presbyterian Church in Bracebridge, Ontario. At the time of their correspondence, Calvin was living in "The Manse" in Buckingham, Quebec.
The letters were transcribed in 2002 by the staff at the Whitehern Museum and are reposted here:
12 February 1915
Dear Mr. McQuesten,
I got your letter last Dec. and was very glad to hear of your Call. It will be a good church if there's a millionaire number--good financially. And then you're fond of Quebec. Did Fielding get the stuff down all right? He's so careless I hope nothing was hurt.
Mr. Gilchrist seems doing well in B.B. but they raised his salary, and at last report storms were brewing. Look-out for squalls.
The Bible Class has 80 numbers and the guild is almost out of business. But the piano is nearly paid. The old guard are hanging on for that purpose. Hilda Johnson however, is gone. She married Gordon Brown of Sumacher in December. I hear they're thinking of forming a boys' club and making a girls' club of the guild. I'll be sorry to see it done away with.
This place is in Haliburton. It is a small village on the T.B. & O. Railway. There are four stores in it, a town hall, blacksmith shop, tinker's shop, jail, creamery, two saw mills, two churches, and a school. The latter has 49 scholars of whom I have charge. It is the toughest in the inspectorate which is saying a great deal. It is slow work getting control, but I believe I'm managing throughout this stage of the game [?] [?] [?]. It ran well for several years.
The churches are Mormon and Methodist. The Mormons are in the majority. They're the most two faced bunch I've run up against yet. A young Anglican student, Kinggerly, conducts services here, so as I can't stand the Methodist man, I have turned Anglican. He's a fine young fellow, a Trinity man and one of the most unconventional guys you ever ran up against.
I am enclosing a poem I wrote last fall and sent to the East & West. I had a bad writing streak on at the time and it was the result. It was accepted and I got $3.00 for it. I wish I could turn the stuff out so as to make it pay. I'd quit teaching, that's a cinch. I signed the pen-name Jules Ramy to it, but they ignored that, why do you suppose that was?
Trusting that in your new charge you may have all success and happiness, I remain,
Your sincere friend,
12 March 1915
Dear Mr. McQuesten,
You will be surprised to have me write so soon again, but the truth is I want to ask a favor [sic].
I am leaving here, and I hope school-teaching forever. The case is this: I have told you a lot in my two letters about Hal, it's people and children. Well I have one of the hardest schools in Ontario. Certainly in the county. The people are practically in league against the teacher. Or, in insider phrase, they haven't the least idea of co-operation between the school & the home. If a kid is punished he is promptly removed from the school, or else a note is sent to the teacher demanding that the child should be exempt from punishment.
Well the first thing I did was to suspend the son of the school board on a charge of highly immoral conduct. There was a fuss right away. The secretary of the board, a personal friend, and one trustee, one of the squarest men I ever met, upheld me, but the other trustee is completely under the thumb of the chairman, Pete Barr. Well things were coming to a climax, when suddenly young Barr was hauled up for a charge of rape committed at the Skating rink one night. Well my charges were substantiated, but I was in for it. Pete called a meeting of trustees for tonight. It was like that annual meeting a year ago. I won't go into the details but I had a really lively time. I resigned, and then told them some things for the good of their souls. It was good, and oh Pete was mad. Altogether I had a good time, and one I'm not ashamed of. My two friends enjoyed it too, although they tried to smooth things over, but I had to resign to get some things off my system.
Now here I am, without a job, at least I will be at Easter. Say could you, before then, give me some pointers as to how to get into a newspapers as reporter or some such thing? I want to tackle it. Could you please just give me information as to where or how to apply? I would like to tackle it. The experience alone is valuable, even if I don't follow it up.
I am not going to teach anymore. If I can't get a job either on a paper or in the mills, I will go back to school, and try to back the term's work I missed. I hope you will answer this soon and give me the necessary information if you can without inconvenience.
How did you like "Le Voyageur" I think I'd make any great dab at poetry. I'm letting my hair grow long these days to see if it helps any. (I am 60 miles from a barber. He's at Lindsay). Hoping that you are making a much better success of the ministry in Bolingbroke than I am of the teaching game here. I wish to be remembered as
Your Sincere Friend,
Apr 21 1915
Dear Mr. McQuesten,
You will excuse the pencil but I've lost my fountain pen and can't write worth a hang with the others.
I got your letter with your very kind offer of help in good time, and am ashamed not to have answered it at once, but I was very busy in my last week at Gooderham and have been busier since I came home. I won't be going to the city till fall. Then I guess, and hope, it will simply be on my way to California as I have the chance of going to Los Angeles then, and I may go. I have an aunt and uncle there and can visit them till I get on my feet. I expect we might all go, as father's health has been none too good this winter. So you see, although I am very grateful for your kind offer of testimonials, I may not need them after all.
The day after I got home I went to see about the book-case. I found it in good condition and sent Fielding after it. I asked him a day or so after if had got it and he said yes. Then just the other morning he stopped me and said that the G.T.R. would not accept it unless it were taken to pieces and that the freight on it would be 75 cts. & paid. Now I will if you want it knock it up and send it, but I wonder if it were worth it. Meanwhile, it is at Wheadon's (or Lazer's). Taking the freight and cartage we were wondering if it would be worth while.
I was at a Guild Spread last night, it was all right, but I have been at better. There's almost entirely a new crowd running it now.
I am going to school, trying to get up the winter's work for June. I am quite discouraged allready [sic], for I am sure I can't pass. But I'll know that much more anyway.
Had a letter from Harry Loveland last week. The second day they were in the trenches he was promoted to Lance Corporal. His letter would have been quite interesting if it hadn't been for the censor.
Well, I must get at Horace. I hope that you are meeting with all encouragement and success in Buckingham. You deserve it.
Hoping to hear from you soon, I remain,
Your sincere friend,
[P.S.] The Russelites are building a church here. Mrs. Lunn, Mrs. McKay & Mrs. Hutchison are the only ex-Presbyterians concerned.
Dear Mr. McQuesten,
It's such a long time since I wrote and I owe you two, that I am almost ashamed to start this. But if you will take as an excuse the fact that I have been so unsettled since I came from Gooderham that I have had no time or convenience to write, why the procrastination will be forgiven me, I'm sure.
How are you getting along in Buckingham? Do you like it as well as when you went there? We have a young fellow, Athur Lescord, French, in the Camp here, who hails from your town.
I am clerking for the Canada Pine Lumber Co. here in Algonquin Park, and I like it fine. I make more than when teaching, and do less work, although I am Constantly in demand, Couldn't even get out at Xmas! But I am very fond of the woods, and I like shanty-men, always did, So I get along fine. Arthur Lee, is the manager of the firm, he and Henry Warren who was with him at Shire's running the business for the bank. The Foreman in the Camp here Bill Oderkirk hails from Bracebridge too; and is a fine fellow, every inch of his six, foot two, by 240 pound body. The walking Boss, Jack Dawkins was also a Shire man for six years, so I am among men I know.
After I left Gooderham, I worked on the Lakes awhile, and then that job stopped and I got at Shire's. I was there a mouth when Stan Dickie came along and wanted me to Enlist. Now on my way from Gooderham, I stopped off with half-a-dozen other young fellows, all disgusted with teaching, and we were examined for enlistment. I was turned down for eyesight. When I got home mother got me to promise I would not go without her consent. As I was only 17 then I promised, so when Stan came, I had to get it, and although father had no serious objection, Mother held out for me staying at home. We had quite a time, but the upshot was that Stan went alone.
Now I want to go in the spring. Mother I feel sure, will not give her consent and I hate to break my promise, but I feel I must or lose my self-respect. I am intending to go to Toronto when the camp breaks up, before the drive, and enlist, if possible, in the Royal Army Medical Corps as stretcher bearer, or if that is not possible in one of the Highland regiments. Now shall I seek mother's permission, which I will not get or go and do it surryptitously [sic]? I would like your opinion on the matter, although my mind is almost made up on the latter course of proceeding. A great many of my chums are gone, I do not whether Harry Lowland is dead of alive, and Stan Dickie is in England now, while Carl Rosewarne is in training.
I hate militarism as much as you, and for fully four years I have seen this coming on and am therefore unable to feel that enthusiasm of patriotism which prompts so many to go. In three hundred years people will think of the nations engaged in this war with the same feeling of compassion and superiority with which we look at the pages of history filled with the senseless strife of the Highland Clans or the petty wrangles of Guelf and Ghibertine [Guelph and Ghibellines]. In every war Civilization, according to the emphatic warrant of the crowd, has been in jeopardy, but is a thing unarrested still and will be ever unspent in force of evolution. Germany victorious, would in the great annals of time be but an infinitesimal blot, but still I would hate to have my descendants, if I ever have any, read that page of history and realize that none of their line was in it. Moreover, I desire to go from the purely selfish motive that everyone is going and I could not stay here and make no effort to go too.
So the Committee of One Hundred is getting busy. I took a petition for the "Abolishing of the traffic in intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes" around the camp last night. We are mostly foreigners, Russians and Pollacks, but out of 36 voting men 29 signed it, and all I believe will vote by their signatures. It is significant that the names of the worst booze-fighters in the camp were on the list, whereas with the exception of two, the men who did not sign, are not drinkers. They were simply apathetic, and said it did not concern them since they did not drink. One of them, ventured to argue with Denny Dwyer in the office to-night, who signed it. Denny is a very hard-drinker, and his boys, two of them, both drinkers are at the war. Denny told the other guy that he'd just as soon his sons were shot, as come back to a wet country. Frank Prunty, the Chief Hotelman in Kearney, was the first to sign out there. He said he'd be cut out of business he knew, inside three years, and that he intended to take it gracefully.
Well this letter is getting long, and I have to rise at 4 a.m. these mornings. Please answer soon and give your advice on the issue at Stake.
Address, c/o Canada Pine Co., Kearney, Ontario.