How I got here
Stories on how people found your way to the Gatineau Hills written by Chelsea writer Phil Jenkins.
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the July 04, 2018 issue. Reprinted with permission.
The man behind the canvas
By Phil Jenkins
Travellers and residents making the bumpy journey along Burnside are more likely than not to see a man standing on the roadside before an easel. On the easel, approaching completion, there will be an oil painting of the virtues of that visually pleasing road. When completed, the painting will make its way indoors to the 120-year-old, red-brick, artfilled home of the artist known to all who stop to chat at length or bid a passing good-day as Mo. At any one time, a dozen or so recognizable landscapes will be squatting silently on his porch floor, while Mo enjoys conversations in both official languages, with more visitors than a Saturday night emergency room.
Mo, a loose-limbed, moustachioed man who spends his waking hours under a baseball cap, grew up in a small Ontario village called Curran. Curran is a dot on the map small enough that the Welcome To and Come Again signs are on the same post. It's in farming country, east of Ottawa. Growing up, Mo recalls spending more time outdoors than in, the opposite, perhaps, of today's young people. He learned nature's names and ways in the fields and woods, much as gamers nowadays learn characters and strategies.
Thirty-four years ago, Mo was living in Ottawa, employed as a top-drawer accountant, working for a series of NGOs, never living in one place long, occasionally managing bands on the side. In his leisure time, he was more likely to pick up a guitar than a brush, and one fateful day he got a phone call (now an endangered form of human contact) from his buddy Roch, a drummer. Roch lived on Burnside. The only time Mo had been to Wakefield before was in a university bus in 1969, in the dark, to witness some music at the Wakefield Inn. While the jammers jammed, Mo, who was house-hunting for an older place to buy in Ottawa, noticed the house next to Roch's was abandoned, dilapidated, and barely visible under the overhanging trees. It appeared beyond repair; to Mo it looked like home.
The next day, another phone call from Roch told him that a For Sale sign had appeared outside the abandoned house, and he should make a bid; an older couple was on their way to view it. Within days, the house was Mo's. Some time thereafter, the house habitable, he began putting down the yard brush and taking up his paintbrush again, filling canvas after canvas with the casual beauty of his street, his neighbourhood, his region. (The colouring book of Wakefield views he produced as a fundraiser for the Centre Wakefield La Pêche raised a considerable amount.) Intending only to stay a year or two, he realized - as many others in the village and beyond have done before and after him - that this is the place where he was meant to be.
Return to list.