[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Douglas Gibson’s new book Stories About Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Others, running every Friday. The following is from the chapter on artist, author, hunter, and Igloo Dweller, James Houston.]
When James Houston received an honorary degree from York University in 2001, as his publisher I was asked to summarize his career for the lunchtime crowd of special guests. “James Houston,” I began, “is the most interesting group of people you will ever meet.”
The list of characters includes: accomplished artist, instructed as a boy growing up in Toronto by teachers including Arthur Lismer; soldier, as a long-serving member of the Toronto Scottish Regiment and the illustrator of the Canadian Army’s Second World War marksmanship training manual, Shoot to Live — (he was such a marksman that an old friend at his funeral told of asking him just how good he was — Jim shyly mentioned that he could hit a playing card at a hundred paces, and when the friend was underimpressed, Jim moved his hand from palm out to hand-edge out, adding, “Sideways”); and a serious art student in post-war Paris (until, he said, his mother became suspicious), who returned to set up a commercial artist’s studio in Grand-Mère, Quebec, its deliveries handled by a kid on a bike named Jean Chrétien.