Peter's first trip west was as a boy of eleven in the summer of 1929, and then again in 1932. These trips had a profound effect and impact on him.
In a letter written by his father in August of 1932, events and itinerary were described to Edith who was 'summering' in Barrington. In it Clarence describes the road trip with Peter and seven other relatives from Meota, across Alberta to the foothills and then into the Rockies. He notes the inclement weather and the incredible beauty of the landscape:
"The mountains looked wonderful, so clear was the air and the sky full of magnificent clouds like fleecy pillows... I wish you could have been there. Jasper lies in a huge bowl made by the surrounding mountains. The Athabaska River flows through the valley. In the clear evening sunlight the surrounding grandeur of the mountains was a sight to set one's spine a-tingling. Edith Cavell clad in snowy white and lit up by the light of the setting sun was taking on a pinky colour as an evening cloud does. No good to describe such magnificence unless you are a poet and I believe it would tax a poet's skill." Also, " Away in every direction stretched mountain peaks and about sixty miles away to the west was Mount Robson, high above the others. We seemed in a world removed. There was no wind and the silence was profound. Away below was a train winding along but no sound. In the valley the Athabasca wound away like a silver ribbon and it all looked so grand and peaceful. Scrubby but delicate little flowers with bees working in them were quite common. On the top we came on a rock ptarmigan (which is something like a partridge) with five young ones. The old one gave a signal and all the little ones hid in cracks of the rocks. Then she jumped up on a huge boulder and allowed us to all but touch her. I made some movies of her. Peter planted a flag on the top of a rock and we went over and ate snow from a small snowfield. Slid as if on skis down the slope of it and generally tried to make an adventure out of it...
Back home in Montreal, the movies continued to be an accessible and welcome form of entertainment and escape for Peter:
"Compared to the large downtown theatres, our neighbourhood theatre would have seemed in a different class. The others had names like "The Palace", "The Princess", "The Capitol" - whereas ours was simply called "The Monkland". That was because it was located on Monkland Avenue in an unimpressive part of Montreal. However, it held then and holds now a cherished place in my heart. It had pretensions to an elegance it could not quite achieve, designed to represent a Roman amphitheater, with a night sky effect and clouds drifting across it.
If you arrived before 7 o'clock, admission was only 20 cents, so at least once a week I would bolt down my supper and head for the theatre to take advantage of this fact.
The movies I preferred were those which might be classed as "Romantic Adventures" - pictures with titles like "The Prisoner of Zenda" and "Under Two Flags". As they unfolded on the silver screen they showed me a world far removed from what I felt as a teenager to be the emotional emptiness of my own. They were peopled by handsome men who knew exactly what to say and how to say it, and girls who always fell in love with them before the final reel."
As a youth in Montreal, Peter loved to ride the streetcars, and did so regularly over the years from his early teens and on into adulthood. He kept memories of the routes, the observation cars, the switches, the transformers, Place D'Armes, "The Glen", "open enders", vestibule cars, hanging on the open platform ... and eventually riding the streetcars to work at Taylor Advertising as an aspiring young artist. One destination of note was the art gallery:
"On Sherbrooke Street there stood a large stone building that held a very special place in my life - the Montreal Art Gallery. From Sherbrooke Street you ascended a flight of steps and entered the building. Another flight led to the second floor where the galleries were located. I spent many hours taking in the permanent collection, and the R C A shows."
With his growing independence, on some winter week-ends Peter spent his energy at the ski hills on the outskirts of Montreal:
"There are memories of skiing Thorn Hill, and Hill 70 in only a windbreaker, with $10.00 skis and bamboo poles... Herringboning up the hill and looking down at what was, for me, a terrifying drop to the valley floor below, I had the growing urge to go straight down, to schuss the hill. The idea nibbled away at my sense of caution until, yes, there was the exhilaration of that first run, and the wonderful feeling of achievement at the bottom."
Mayfair in January
Peter attributed his academic failure in his last year at Westhill Highschool to the inordinate amount of time spent at the movies, as well as the attention and effort he squandered on his model of the Bounty - the only piece of handiwork he ever did that drew palpable admiration from his father.
After the usual angst and turbulence of puberty, his struggle with mathematics in school, the trials and tribulations of scoring 3% on his final Grade Eleven algebra exam, and graduating with a "Highschool Leaving Certificate", Peter was faced with the task of choosing his vocation. The only thing he felt he might actually succeed in was Art. After a two-year correspondence course in commercial illustration he attended classes at both Sir George Williams College in Montreal and The Art Association of Montreal.
In the summer of 1938 Clarence, Edith and Peter took time to tour the United States in the family's newly acquired DeSoto. There were the expected challenges of long-distance travel, but the Ewarts enjoyed this, their most epic adventure to date. Early on, there was a "near death experience" when Clarence, unaccustomed to highway driving, tried to pass another motorist and, to avoid an oncoming vehicle, crashed into a roadside shrine. There was "no joy in Mudville" until the car was repaired. Lessons were learned, and from then on Peter was allowed more frequently to drive the car. They went to Boston and then headed for the Grand Canyon, travelling further east to the Redwoods in California, north to revisit the Canadian Rockies, through the prairies and home again to Montreal.
On the road
Edith in the Redwoods
Was there ever a year like 1938? Boxers with names like "King Levinsky", "Slapsie Maxie", "Two-Ton Tony" and "The Brown Bomber", and musicians who were known as "The Duke" and "The King of Swing". In Montreal there was a twenty- year-old who had stars in his eyes, and a dream in his heart of going to New York and studying art, becoming successful and winning the heart and then the hand of a lady fair, and living happily ever after...