Thursday, December 10, 2009

Trout Fishing in Ontario

Hemingway discovered the variability of the short sentence slugging it out at a newspaper desk in Toronto on the shore of Lake Ontario. This doesn’t mean the short sentence is Canadian. The short sentence was American before Hemingway discovered it. The Canadian sentence is still a long sentence.

-- David Donnell, Hemingway in Toronto: A Post-Modern Tribute (1982)

Before he was famous, the American writer Ernest Hemingway spent some of his formative years as a writer in the City of Toronto, provincial “muddy York,” writing his mornings for The Toronto Star, when it used to live on King Street. This much is already known. But others have come through the city as well, although not nearly, perhaps, as influential. Later on, San Francisco writer Richard Brautigan became famous through a little novel influenced by parts of Hemingway, writing his own short sentences in Trout Fishing in America (1967), said to be titled after articles Hemingway wrote for the Star, including “Trout Fishing in Spain” and “Trout Fishing in Europe.” There is even a piece on fishing in northern Ontario’s Sioux Ste. Marie—“At present the best rainbow trout fishing in the world is in the rapids of the Canadian Soo”—the piece “The Best Rainbow Trout Fishing” for the Toronto Star Weekly, August 28, 1920, that is perhaps more notable for how it begins, merging more than one of Hemingway’s interests:

Rainbow trout fishing is as different from brook fishing as prize fighting is from boxing.

Did Hemingway even do much trout fishing in the area? There aren’t that many articles about such. He might not have written much fiction about Toronto, but he sure did complain a lot, especially in his letters, to Gertrude Stein and others, about just how he felt about this provincial and northern town. As Donnell continues in his lovely little folio:

One contradictory reason for Toronto having been a good place for Hemingway to spend two work periods in his early twenties is that Toronto was exactly the kind of large and prosperous and oblivious protestant city likely to give someone like Hemingway a strong push in the right direction, a direction of some remove and of some remove in regard to subjects of a general popular nature. Toronto and the Star may not have had a Picasso but they were good for rough shoves. A very clean respectable city. Not a great place for art as Hemingway makes clear in his story about art-retailing on a retnal basis but a progressive city. Caught between the old English traditions and the reality of being the northern part of North America.

If you dig through his articles, you might not get a sense of where he might have fished, but you know that he did. There is, at least, one of the lesser known pieces, “Trout Fishing,” published in The Toronto Star Weekly on April 10, 1920, and reprinted in Ernest Hemingway: Dateline: Toronto, Hemingway’s Complete Toronto Star Dispatches 1920-1924 (New York NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985), that tell us that. As William Burrill discovers later, for his own Hemingway: The Toronto Years (Toronto ON: Doubleday, 1994), editor William White doesn’t get to every Hemingway piece in the Star (a number were uncredited), but he sure got to a lot, covering a myriad of his trout fishing bases. But still, is this Hemingway giving the newspaper what it wants, or really writing what he thinks about Canadian fishing? To perhaps escape the confines of his King Street West office, and an editor working hard to frustrate and humble the cocky upstart. The young expatriate, later known as a world-class sportsman, Hemingway doesn’t get into specifics of where these streams lay, perhaps for the sake of saving such for himself, but ends his short piece with:

There are the two kinds of trout fishing. Ontario affords the very best of both kinds. I would go on and write some more. But there are too many trout fishermen in Toronto. The city would be paralyzed. Imagine the havoc in offices and families if they all left the city tomorrow.

Everything would be tied up, from the streetcars to the Parliament House.

Besides, I can’t write any more just now. I’m going trout fishing.

a fragment of a work-in-progress, Sleeping in Toronto; other fragments appear at Open Book Toronto;


Conrad DiDiodato said...

love the Toronto pieces, rob
(& tribute to Hemingway)

the next Toronto poet laureate??

Mark McCawley said...

Rob, my experience as a creative writing instructor has taught me that most Canadians cannot even use a semicolon properly. If the Canadian sentence is a long sentence, then it's my opinion that it's a run-on sentence (with plenty of spelling errors).