AN ADDRESS BY
GREGORY CLARK FAMOUS HUMOURIST
Chairman: The President, Mr. H. G. Colebrook
Thursday, April 13th, 1950
The title of our distinguished guest's address today suggests that we may be going to hear something about some of the poor little fish that should have been thrown back or about the great big ones that went back under their own steam.
Anyway, it is a great pleasure to have the inimitable Gregg with us.
His background is distinctly colorful--Born into the journalistic World--his father having been Editor of the Toronto Star for many years--he has pursued that profession right through. After attending Harbord Collegiate and the University of Toronto, he joined the Toronto Star in 1911 and remained with them until 1945. During these years however, he served with distinction in two World Wars.
In the first as a Major from 1916-18, being awarded the M.C. In the second from 1939 to 1945 as an accredited War Correspondent in Italy, Normandy and elsewhere, having seen also the Great Retreat in France in 1940.
In addition to his humorous writings so well knownin 1936 he began feature writings such as the Royal Coronation--the Papal Coronation etc.
In 1945, we find him taking up Radio Commentating--later associating himself with the Montreal Standard and as a columinist with "The Packsack" a feature appearing daily in several leading newspapers across Canada.
Inventor of Trout Fly patterns
Contributor to conservation ideas on wild life and fishing-He himself has fished in Canada, America, Europe and Africa.
NOTE: In addition to his accomplishments as a writer, humourist and orator, Greg Clark is a talented actor. So much so that his gestures and facial contortions during the telling o f his stories created gales o f laughter making it impossible for our stenographer to get a true word for word transcription. That is the reason this is presented in the form of a report.
Mr. Clark said he could bring us a message but largely as the result of that experience referred to in the very kind introduction, he has lost faith in messages, having listened to them and transmitted them for the last thirty-five years. Privately, he doesn't think anybody knows what they are doing and if we do, he would rather not know what it is.
In honour of the fact that this is Wild Life Week throughout Canada, and in view of the fact that the Trout Season opens in two weeks and a couple of days, he thought he might interrupt the tenor of our normal paths with a discussion on a subject that he has given a great deal of attention to since an experience when, as a young man, he went with his father on one of many fishing trips, and he said, "A sportsman is one who not only will not show his own father where the best fishing holes are but will deliberately direct him to the wrong ones."
This is what you might call a parental warning from a life-long study of a sportsman. It seems to him that the sportsman comes nearest to the natural man.
His first story had to do with the thing that comes immediately to mind when he hears an angler and that is Veracity. Some years ago, with his late partner, Jim Frise, they went for what was then the closing of the season of muskies, to the Kawartha Lakes on the 14th of October. It is now the first, but the 14th was a sort of holy day in the Angler's calendar. Arriving at Burleigh Falls they found only one other angler there, an old friend from Wellington, W. Va., a small, frail, elderly gentleman, silver gray, with about $2,000 worth of fishing tackle with him. He was a very gifted and brilliant muskie fisher.
At that season of the year the muskies have gone into the hard shores, because the vegetation is decaying and the water around the beds is filled with stinking weeds, so the muskies go on the hard shores and there you fish casting to the shore. And there the muskies are found, great fish in 2 or 3 feet of water, and when they take your bait they can't go down, they must come up, and you are guaranteed a magnificent sport.
The three proceeded down to Stony Lake, because that October day there was a fitful Eastern wind not too good for fishing and the shores were like a paisley shawl for colour. It was a mystical day. His friend was first, Jim Frise next and Greg came last. Important to the story is the fact that the American was a quiet and very reserved gentleman, while Jim having been associated with Greg for twenty-five years had not had much opportunity of developing the art of conversation. The American's guide was an Ojibway, and Jimmie's guide was Buster Brown, an Ojibway, but his guide was Scatty Hogarth, who had been born in Scotland, married an Ojibway, and lived on the Reservation. Scotty and he were vocal anglers.
With Scotty Hogarth at the paddle, Greg could not help but exclaim on the beauties of nature, the mystical qualities of the day, and could not refrain from remarking on the skillful paddling of Mr. Hogarth, who, in turn, could not resist saying, without doubt Greg was the finest caster he had ever seen.
A half or three-quarters of an hour after starting Greg was delighted to land, most vociferously, a muskie of about 11 pounds. The other two had not so much as a rise, not even from a bass.
Greg came up with his third, and most magnificently landed a 14-pound muskie. He was through for the day. They proceeded to the shore and had lunch. The guides had the large muskie, the gentlemen the smaller ones. Greg told all concerned he now, having had his limit of muskies, any other fish which he caught would be brought to the attention of the nearest warden, and with that clear in his conscience, they proceeded.
The day grew more fitful, the day grew more beautiful, the day remained unpropitious. But the American continued, with all his skill, Mr. Frise with all his skill, and they never got so much as a rise from a bass.
But at 2.30 Greg landed an eight-pounder, and asked, "Does anybody want a muskie?" At three o'clock he hooked and landed one of 15 pounds. By this time, he assures us, Mr. Scotty Hogarth and he were a pain in the neck to the others.
Important to the story is this fact: that Greg was wearing a rust red Harris Tweed Jacket and Plus 4's, and a black pullover sweater which his wife had knitted, a sleeveless black pullover sweater underneath the rust red outer garment, that was rather a memorable combination-rust red and black.
Now Greg had grown a little warm with taking all these fish and all this conversation, and he had taken off his jacket, pulled the sweater over his head, and put it over the array of comestibles. At that moment both his associates were busy-neither of them saw him remove his jacket.
The very next cast he made he hooked some wild celery-reeled off, and as he reached in the water to remove the celery he saw a monster coming--it was a fish of at least 18 pounds. He threw himself back, the muskie took the block, struck him on the chest, left a trail of slime, went over his shoulder and fastened in the sweater, and when his two friends looked back they beheld the muskie in the air over Greg's head, waving his sweater. The poor fish looked like a Spanish bull and could not see what was doing. They removed the sweater and the hook, held it up to his friends, this magnificent fish. Greg saw they had ceased fishing and the two were proceeding with their guides toward him. Scotty said, "They think it took your sweater off."
As they drew near, Scotty and Greg were busy exclaiming upon all the wonders they had ever seen in their angling experience, there had never been one like this. The friends landed alongside and looked at him in astonishment. Scotty handed over the sweater, there was not a tear in it, just a few loose threads.
Their American friend said, "How did he do it?" Greg said, "I saw him coming, he reached down, and click (Showing how the sweater went up in the air with the fish) and that is all I know."
Jimmie said, "But it is impossible." And Greg looked at him in some astonishment.
They went ashore, Greg taking the sweater and continuing to wring it out. His companions stood at one edge of the shore. It was a mystical day, the sky gray, fitful, it was getting towards an October evening. They looked at each other, then looking at Greg, the American came up and said, "Look Greg, it is completely and totally impossible that that fish could have pulled that sweater off without removing your jacket." Greg said, "My friend, it is the last day of the muskies, we have had a beautiful day, at least I have. Now don't let's get involved in anything. Let's say it didn't happen."
The American looked at him almost reverently and said, "But, My God, I saw it."
Scotty and Greg returned to the canoe and went back to the hotel, and up to his room where he had some other form of comestibles.
There were some other Americans staying at the hotel, and their gales of laughter could be heard mixed with the angry, strident voices of Greg's companions. Then they all came upstairs, and one of them said, "I'm Turley from Cleveland, and I have an affidavit here, these men witnessed a muskie pull your sweater off without removing your jacket. All you have to do is get a Canadian attorney to make this legal." Pocketing the affidavit, Greg then came clean.
He tells this story for the reason that when you doubt the veracity of an angling gentleman, give him the benefit of the doubt. When he says he saw a fish this long and this deep, whenever he indulges in any of the familiar, what appears to be excesses of "angling talk," remember that like his friends and their guides, they were victims of an optical illusion.
His second story was not so pleasant, reflecting less pleasantly upon the character of anglers. If any McMillan's were in the gathering, Greg begged them to realize that name was given this man in order to disguise his real identity.
He was an insurance man, a man considerably older than Greg, but never in all his experience of men had Greg held a man in greater contempt. He was a reprehensible character in every sense of the word, one of the most contemptible men, as you will shortly agree.
They had a little party, which Jimmie Frise was in. They went to the Kawarthas and rented a cottage. Staying three or four or five days, and agreeing that they would take the gross weight of fish each day--the man with the greatest gross weight of fish free; the man with the least weight of fish paying the full expense of the day, including rent of the cottage, etc. They divided up, and each morning they fished alone, because as Lord Byron has said, "Angling is the solitary sport."
Never once in seven or eight years had that man McMillan paid. Why? Because he was an expert bait caster and he was even known to bait a trolling line. He would take for gross weight of fish, not only muskies, large and small, but also rock bass, sun fish, dog fish, and a conglomeration of others he would put in his basket, and submit them, fighting as only lawyers and insurance men can.
Now on this day this man was around behind the Sugar Loaf Island, when an Indian came in a canoe, ceased paddling, and floating by, said, "Do you want to see a fish?" McMillan said, "Yes." The Indian came alongside and in the bottom of that canoe was the most beautiful jade green muskie fish, a beautiful, massive muskie.
McMillan said, "What are you going to do with it?" He said, "I don't know."
"Would you sell it?"
"How much do you want?"
McMillan said, "I'll take it."
When the Indian started to put it in the boat, McMillan said, "Leave it where it is." He reached in his wallet and took a dollar out, which he gave to the Indian.
Then he took out a card and folding it lengthwise twice, he asked the Indian to open the jaws of this beautiful fish, and down in the soft gullet of that fish he pressed this piece of paper until only 1/2" of it projected.
Then he said to the Indian, "Now, on the other side of the Island, you will see a queer character fishing, and I want you to go alongside him, and if he wants to buy it, sell it."
There was Greg on the other side of that Island, fishing, filled with zeal. He had made no secret that he was going to beat McMillan: this time he was going to pay, and Greg fished carefully, with stealth, cunning. And he had one little miserable pound-an-a-half bass, when around the Island came the Indian. He paddled up nearby, let his canoe drift, and he said, "Want to see a fish?" Greg said, "Sure."
He came alongside and in the bottom of that canoe was this most beautiful jade green muskie. He saw this masterpiece and looked carefully around the horizon in all directions. He studied the stumps and trees and bushes of Sugar Loaf Island. Greg said to the Indian, "What are you going to do with it? Would you sell it?" He said, "Yes." Then, "How much?" He asked, "$2." Greg said, "Slip it here."
Greg then was faced with a problem only the clergy will understand. He said, "Now, if for the rest of this day I have luck, if fortune smiles upon me for the remainder of this day, I will not use that fish, but if I don't have any luck, I am afraid-" In other words, he passed the buck. But don't think he did not fish with the greatest devotion for the balance of that afternoon. He fished as hard as he had ever fished in his life, and not one other fish did he get, only that measly little bass.
Adopting the air of the conquering hero he took the prize back to shore, and all his friends were at the dock to meet him, and he was more than surprised at the warmth of the reception they gave him. They assisted him in carrying it up. And they weighed it. They continued their praise and expressions of admiration. He told them every detail of its catch. Told a dramatic, beautiful story of the capture of this masterpiece.
Taking the lantern to peer at the fish, they exclaimed, "Look at these jaws! Look at the teeth!" They opened its mouth. McMillan looked in and he said, "What is this?" Greg got down and looked, risking his hand he put it in that dreadful maw. He took hold of that little white object, he took hold of it. McMillan insured it.
That is the kind of stinker you will find amongst Sportsmen.
His next story is an anticlimax, but it refers to a man known to all of us for so many years. He couldn't refrain from telling it.
It is about Sir William Mulock, Ontario's grand old man, the Chief justice, who lived to 92, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or one of those years. Resolutely he went trout fishing up to his private pound in Markdale.
The paper with which Greg was then associated, they made him the demi-bottle of the grand old man, and every time he went fishing in the Open season Greg had to go along as an amanuensis, and he went along with Sir William and gave them, every first of May, a familiar story of the grand old man opening the trout season. And he tells us privately that all those trout you saw heaped up, he saw them all.
On this day they were driving up. Sir William, as you may recall, was a nimble man on the dollar, and they had his Cadillac, and behind it was a home-made trailer, loaded with everything a gentleman would require. As they came near Dundalk the road was filled with the most colossal pitch-holes you ever saw. Holden was driving, the housekeeper up in front, Sir William in his sports jacket. They proceeded until they hit this pitch-hole, when there was a loud crack, and the home-made trailer, with all its contents, climbed the stump fence.
Greg started to bail out, but he said, "Oh, no, Clark, stay where you are--Holden will attend to it."
In due time Holden brought them the glad tidings that nothing was broken, miraculous as it may seem. Meanwhile traffic was stalled, but when anybody got off to see what happened and saw the reverend countenance of our Chief justice they went back to their car and waited.
They got a little sorry for the poor fellow stuck immediately in front of them, because he had stalled his engine and done that fateful thing, lifted the hood, and he was perspiring profusely.
Sir William called to Holden to put a stick at the door of the car, and come down. He did, and was asked, "How was it coming?" he said, "I have sent for the farmer."
"You might bring Mr. Clark and me each a bottle of beer," said Sir William. He said, "Very good, Sir William." And he came down and got a bottle each for the Chief justice and his demi-bottle.
Sir William took the bottle, and Greg kept pace with his great old friend; as he got down that far, Greg got down that far, too. After they got down about that far, Sir William said, "Holden, you might get another bottle of beer and give it to this poor chap here who is having trouble with his car." And Holden, scrunched down on the floor of the car, said, "Sir William, you can't drink beer on the public highway."
"Hide it! Hide it! Damn the laws, they change them every twenty-five years." And believe it or not, they proceeded the 17 miles to Markdale, with the Chief Justice of Ontario and his amanuensis, each with their index finger stuck down a partly consumed bottle of beer. In closing, Greg said, "As I said a moment ago, the Sportsman appears to me to be nearest to the natural man. Philosophy since time began has concerned itself with good and evil. I don't think the natural man is either good or evil: I think he is just a little bad.