gentleman tattooist, altruistic sophist
It was in a tarpaper shack (literally) in New Scotia that the man, the drifter, the jack-of-all-trades master-of-fun, George Michael Brown III was born. Poor and too proud to remain in the sparsely settled backwoods of Antigonish, his mother Mirjana, an immigrant from Germany, insisted on what would be an ill-fated trek to York Region ...Read More
in the year of 1974.
The journey produced a healthy baby brother, Johnny Nicholas, but George Brown Sr. was lost to the wilderness on a search for demon-whisky somewhere around the now thriving city of Toronto.
For years, the family drifted around southern Ontario until they settled in County Niagara, where young George began to show promise not only as a polyglot and orator, a scholar and an instrumentalist, but also as an enthusiast and budding designer of the visual arts.
Working various jobs to help support the family, as well as his two children, George found himself dabbling in carpentry, apothecary work, stocking groceries journalism and bartending. The tremendous and exhilarating nightlife and saloons, joints and dancehalls of the otherwise sleepy canal ports of Thorold and St. Catharines were appealing, and he made his way as an amateur musician from time to time, but the idea of becoming an apprentice in the bewildering art of tattoo had always nagged at him.
While he commenced studies in English literature at Sir Isaac Brock's Academy of Learning and Dollar Store (which he would eventually complete at the Academy of York) and ran a local dancehall and bawdy-house, he took up an apprenticeship at the Belmont Tattoo Lounge. In short time, he began to long for his supplanted home of York, and he followed his wife, Leslie, to the city of Toronto, where she had established them. He was quick to take the opportunity for employment under a ubiquitous yet mysterious tattoo shop.
For seven years George Michael brown III plied his trade, learned from the practitioners of the art around him, became an erudite member of the tattoo community, basked in its rich history, was edified in the perplexing machinations of the oscillating perforation machines, and drank. It was during this time that he met an artist with like sensibilities and equally powerful compulsions toward drink and song.
He wore his hat at a rakish angle, the gentleman Matthew Ellis, and George thought for sure this man must be part tracker-scout and part Cornish heathen. He was, of course, wrong on both accounts, but the fervor that the men shared for the art of electric tattooing and art in general led to a partnership, what is now known as "The Society of Seven Crowns".
Master Matthew Ellis came from the stock of good, solid working folk; his father toiling with the aeronautical crews spawned from the work of the Wrights and followed by Pearson, and his mother holding positions from the serving of some of the area’s finest roasted fowl, to the overseeing of electro-mechanized systems based on the difference engines of the Babbage line. Matthew seemed designated to become the same....Read More
Yet it wasn’t hard to see that he longed for more. After attendance and graduation (Magna Cum Laude) at the Pavilion of arts at the Academy of York, Matt Ellis, then a young man, harrowed and haunted the local alehouses of York’s elected epicenter, Toronto.
It was in these later years of the last century that our hero stumbled upon the mystical art of the tattoo.
Having dabbled in the art of electrical tattooing during his time at York, he temporarily tucked the diversion away in order to conclude his scholarly pursuits. Now, after much perambulation and carousing on Queen Street, he found himself at the stately Stainless Studios, where under the tutelage of nouveau Fakir and germaphobe Thomas Brazda, Matthew became utterly fascinated and enthralled with the numinous art form. After a brief stint honing his craft with the electrical oscillating flesh perforators of Edison, O’Reilly and Walters at Stainless, Matthew moved on to a more enticing position in the northern sector of the city.
The crews that flourished under this shop umbrella helped drive and inspire Matthew further toward the beckoning of tattooing’s siren call; the art encompassed him, and slowly crept its ink-black tentacles not only into his mind, but to the very depths of his heart. It was here that Mr. Matthew Ellis met one Mr. George Brown III, who intrigued him with his seemingly photographic memory and similar lust for the Tesla-like machinations of perforation and permanent pigmentation. Further, both of these (cool) gentlemen had the alma-matter of York in common, as well as having been initiated into organizations such as “Ingestors of the 50” and “Sons of the Absinthe”.
Now armed with the implements of this electric age, and after a decade of experience and study, Matthew, along with the enigmatic Mr. Brown, bring to you “The Society of the Seven Crowns”. A place where mastery in the amalgamation of fine art, mechanized fabrications, the unabashed attention to the mystifying and awe-inspiring art of the tattoo can be experienced. The Rev Matt Ellis has found that his forays into the larger and grandiose compositions brought to the Western world via the orient bring him much pleasure…not that any art that fits finely and exquisitely on the body doesn’t stir the humors within this practitioner of the varied and colourful world of fleshly animations.
Lurking in the back alleys of London and St. Thomas stalked a killer. A number of bodies had begun to pile up, and the citizenry of South-western Ontario grew nervous, to say the least (terrified, to say the most). Worse yet, body parts were found strewn all over the gutters and sewers and no lawman had a clue where to begin to look for the suspect who the papers claimed had a surgeon’s skill with ...Read More
a blade, and left a mysterious ink mark under the skin of each victim…that of a small serpent.
Savannah Parent spent her formative years in the London/St. Thomas area, and was fascinated with art at an early age. She found the region stifling however, and travelled to the York region to attend an art academy before the age of twenty. There she studied various artistic styles and began to fall in love with the arts of skin pigmentation and “soul-staining”. Upon returning to South-western Ontario, Savannah found herself under the tutelage of the proprietors of Lucky Devil: Home of the Mark-of-the-Beast special. But her heart began to yearn once more for the sights, sounds and smells that swelled over thick from the streets and seeped into the alleyways and side-roads of York.
For a brief period the killings stopped in London, and the residents sighed relief, hoping that the killer, perhaps a military person or dark drifter, had moved on to another berg, or better yet, had met an ill fate his or herself. But alas, after a while, the murders resumed and became fevered and relentless for a period of three years, when suddenly, as abruptly as they had begun, the slayings ceased.
Savannah decided that she would continue her career in the town of York, studying and tattooing medium-large scale realistic specimens and highly rendered and stylized fantasy art (with a nod to nostalgia and a heavy lean on portraiture). Her mentor and superior-the elusive and equally mysterious ‘Colourful’ Carl Carscallen, owner and proprietor of Waycool Queen Street. For five years she lugged her medical bag through the downtown streets from her home to Way Cool, enthusiastically applying images to the skin of the eclectic clientele associated with York’s art, music and fashion districts. Eager for a more privatized setting, she searched for and settled on the studio for the Society of the Seven Crowns Tattoo, a mid-town haunt for high-society opium abusers and low-brow vaudevillians. A real den of seediness, but ideal for Ms. Savannah Parent’s purposes, to be sure.
In the town of York, a series of grisly murders that had begun three years prior began again. Disappearances of local vagrants resulted quite often in the discovery of body parts marked with the mysterious sub-dermal image of a single serpent. Only one witness had survived to tell of a dark-cloaked female figure carrying what appeared to be a medical bag in the area of one such incident. 6 years hence, the discovery of the bits and pieces have concluded, but the mysterious disappearances continue.
“By god, we’ll knock you down a peg or two!” exclaimed one voice. Another shouted, “He thinks he’s better than us!”
I listened outside of the window as Michael John Beddome, my friend and colleague, was berated endlessly (or so it seemed), by the members of a society to which he desperately wanted to belong. “But at what cost?”...Read More
I asked him days before. Later, as I trembled in the rain, having followed him secretly for blocks and blocks of busy street to this back alley locale, I began to truly understand the horrors that lay ahead for him…and I began to weep.
“You’ll unlearn everything you’ve learned, relearn that, and unlearn it again, only to learn a whole new set of things to unlearn!!! Hear me, fancy-pants?”
I attended the Ontario College of Art and Design with Mike Beddome. He was a talented young man who grew up in some of the Northern-most regions in Ontario, and we were all jealous of his artistic prowess. For some reason, however, he became fascinated with “The Society” and their reputed goal to “change the colours of the people of the earth.” I could only assume that this meant marking them with the revolting skin designs that had been emerging in the brothels, bars and barrios, and I couldn’t help but feel that he was on a dark path, from which I wanted to protect him at all cost. When we graduated in 2011, he laughed and lit a cigar with his diploma, as I watched his imminent descent in horror.
“God, give him some more pemmican. He looks pale. Hahahahaha!” Chills ran down the spine, as the cackles grew louder and other voices joined in.
Shortly after graduation, he received an apprenticeship with an adept artist named Mr. Joe Baker, and Michael quickly picked up the art medium under his tutelage. Despite my disliking for the art of tattoo, I’d have to say that he accelerated quickly. But why throw away a perfectly promising art career to consort with the worst kinds of people from the underbelly of society? My mind boggled.
“I hope you’re awake enough to comprehend this…this is a new world, and this is your new home. Old arrangements ain’t being honoured…ya get me son? Get used to it, fancy pants!” What the hell were they talking about?
The Society, though extremely secretive and largely elusive, had gained quite a reputation. Legendary spectacles and events curated and promoted by the society drew enthusiastic crowds and revelry, but nobody knew much about the members or what went on behind the closed door of their clandestine quarters. Dark tales circulated regularly, and children were told to afford the members a large birth, should they happen upon one. Mike Beddome became drawn and his curiosity gave way to obsession. As he developed his skill, he began to openly speak about his desire to become a member of the society. In one seedy establishment, on one particularly dark night, he met a young Asian woman who claimed to be a member and promised to introduce him to the others. Within a week, he had packed up Bowzer and Sheeba, his beloved hounds, and little else, and simply vanished.
So when I caught sight of him that cold, rainy evening, I was compelled to follow. Perhaps I could talk some sense into him…snap him out of his trance-like state and make him aware of the perilous danger he may face. He rushed into the hidden-in-plain-sight doorway before I could get his attention, so I secured my poition under a partially opened window in the back of the building. As I listened in terror, I realized that Micheal was experiencing a transformation of sorts. His being was being torn down and stripped. There was little I could do now, without putting my own safety at risk. I shooed away some young raccoons and hurried out of the alley way to hail a handsome, and went home entirely discouraged.
As it happens, a girl wandering the streets of York with little direction or aim can truly find herself in a world of trouble. Robyn Lee’s background is as shrouded with mystery as it is riddled with intrigue, and her disappearance for an entire year (purportedly into the criminal-laden far reaches of the outback of Australia, though she’ll claim otherwise), only adds to the perplexity of the story of Robyn Lee....Read More
Seemingly out of the clear blue, she appeared on the scene, a girl of sixteen haphazardly scribing those she met in the alleyways and gambling dens that littered the underbelly of Hogtown. Half Chinese, half German-Ukranian, she would swill steins of beer and whilst taking the hardest of mah-jong players down and loudly espousing the tenets of Marx in a mildly audible Russian accent. Who was she? From whom did she learn the mysterious art of tattoo? And what was the meaning of that cryptic mark that peered out from her laced boot?
She claimed to be an acrobat of sorts when drinking port wine, then, on long absinthe binges, she would spin sagas about her time with the traveling theatre and learning from the masters of that art at the University at Ryerson. Robyn Lee would declare in one breath that she had extensive training in the field of medicine and, with a laugh, shift gears to talk of her short stint running a petting zoo in Kartoum. But the nights would inevitably end in discussion and execution of symbols and signets etched into the skin of her cagey and sketchy companions.Then…suddenly…she disappeared.
Rumours spread amongst those who could only loosely call themselves friends to the secretive young woman who never let a soul near enough to truly ascertain the truth about who she was, and what it was she really was up to. Political assassination was insinuated by some. Was she a spy? For whom did she work and where did she go during her long sabbaticals? Letters would arrive randomly from Sydney, Melbourne and Cairns, all in different handwriting, claiming that she was studying and working under masters of tattoo from the likes of Electric Ink, Fox Body Art, and Obsession ink, respectively. An entire year went by. Suddenly, she returned…but with an entirely different gate and demeanour.
Reticent as ever regarding her own life and experiences, the woman who asked to be referred to only as Ms. Lee now spoke solely of a Society with whom she’d come into contact. “They have taken me in, and accepted me into the fold, for which I am forever in their debt. They spent long hours indoctrinating me on their manifestos and methods, and they, of course helped me immensely after my escape to…I meeeeaannn my trriiipp…” Her eyes sharpened on her audience that evening, the elusive Robyn Lee, and she surveyed the room carefully. “Let me just tell you this, my friends,” she said, with a palpable sarcastic tone. “IFFFF one were to be in a bind, and IFFFF one were to seek asylum, one could do a whole lot worse than to come across the members of the Society. And IFFF they chose to take you in, you’d be wise to accept their help, and careful to keep your tongue at bay. And raccoon meat is more tender than you could ever imagine.”And with that bizarre revelation, she wandered up Yonge Street, past Eglinton Avenue, and up the stairs into the foreboding hallway that gave way to the Society of the Seven Crowns.
As the caravan arrived at the edge of the Town of York, the townspeople looked on, and they shared a collective expression of worry on their faces. It was rumoured that she was amongst the members of the rag-tag band. Further, suggestions had started to circulate that she had intended to take root in Hogtown, specifically in the Yonge and Eglinton ...Read More
neighbourhood. No longer content with wandering, she was to settle in with none other than The Society, as if The Society wasn’t a source of concern as it stood. No direct evidence was necessary, as we all know how rumours begin their lives, grow past their infancy rapidly and eventually become fully formed and as real as you and I…at least in the minds of the audience. But now it appeared that the earliest reports were correct. That she had arrived. That she was saying farewell to her quasi-family unit and that she would soon reside amongst the citizens of Toronto. What was to be done?
She, of course, was Sinead Stewart. I won’t, at present, delve into the details of her purported crimes, as I am confident that you are all aware of their nature and aftermath. That no charge would ever be upheld is a travesty, but we will set that aside for now, as I feel that some history and context will shed some light on information presented the following chapters of this book. For now, let’s compile a profile of this young woman, attempt to map her movements, and (perhaps most appropriately put) draw a picture of her arrival in the City of Toronto.
Born to an Irish mother and a father who would intentionally shroud his origins in mystery, Stewart (aka Brinsley Schwarz, aka Carmina Hellenova, aka the Scourge of Streetsville…and a host of other names we will be introduced to in coming pages), began life in Edmonton. Several addresses can be linked to the Stewarts as they made their way to Hamilton and Burlington, where Sinead spent her formative years. Neighbours and landlords along the way now report gaps in their presence during these short residencies. There is speculation form a former landlord that the family had even spent time in a Kibbutz in Israel during a particularly long hiatus.
School records indicate interest in the arts, and there are some documents that prove that Stewart attended the Academy of Arts known as Sheridan College for a brief time. But at the age of 21, Sinead was instructed in the art of the tattoo and education took on a different definition. She began to spend time in the parlours on the outskirts of York. She held stints at Kreative Kaos, Great Canadian, True Grit and the Shop That Shall Not Be Named, all the while honing her skills at adorning people with the colours of the world. But she would frequently be swept away by the raucous ensemble that seemed to follow her wherever she would land, and subsequently she would disappear for long periods (including ports in the west Coast of Canada, Australia and the Carribean, if eyewitness reports are to be believed). Conveniently, as we now know, these absences would forestall attempts from law enforcement to interview her as a person of interest.
Sinead’s longest period of rest (two years, all done) was with the parlour Skintricate Tattoo Company. During this time, she developed an art style that was attracting clients from all over the region, despite the swirl of rumours surrounding her and the mysterious band of strangers that seemed to sweep her up when things would become uncomfortably hot with the authorities. It was toward the end of this stretch that whispers could be overheard about her appearance in the Yonge and Eglinton back alley associated with the Society of the Seven Crowns.
Initially, this was considered by the general populous to be speculative and the stuff of tabloids and bar room blabbery. It was doubtful that the people of Toronto would stand for it, and surely law enforcement knew how to handle the situation. But the festivities at the bonfire on the precipice of the city’s limits seemed to confirm all. And if that wasn’t enough, as the light grew even dimmer over York, several of its citizens witnessed the young woman’s entrance to the barely visible door that led to the Society’s belly, bags and little dog, Bronx, in hand. Sinead Stewart had arrived in Toronto…and had, in fact, joined the Society of the Seven Crowns.
The fattest man in the room grabbed a mitt full of cash from the table as he winced through the eye-watering smoke of his half-chewed cigar. He peeled off three bills and handed them to the fighter, who was exhausted but unbeaten for the evening, and happy to get her hands on the take. Though, as she watched the yellow stained shirt back of the fat man walked away, ...Read More
she realized that he reaped the majority of the spoils from her pain and sweat. And her palate rebelled at the bitter taste. She wasn’t a veteran to the back alley sport, but she was long enough in the tooth to be hungry for her share. She knew that she wanted something more.
The Journey for Emma James began in the west end of the city of York, winding its way to the East Coast, and making its way back to the city’s downtown streets. Daughter to a critic of the theatre and an educator, Emma was urged and prompted to become a bit of a renaissance woman. She studied philosophy and critical theory at The King’s College in Halifax, and the art of design, dabbled in comedy on the Vaudevillian stage (under the pseudonym Emma Davey), and learned how to pour the meanest of lattes. Her love for drawing pushed her to copy her favourite images until she could create designs on her own, and upon her return to York, she began an apprenticeship as a tattoo artist. But there was also a spirit for the fight that was welling up inside of her. And Emma realized that if she were to survive on the downtown streets alone, she would have to learn to use not only her wits, but her fists as well.
She happened upon illegal bare-knuckle boxing as anyone does…quite by accident. Stumbling one night upon a crowd under a shower of orange light in an otherwise darkened furniture warehouse alley, she couldn’t resist making her way to the front to see what the excited din was all about. There stood two fighters, of generally the same height and build, awaiting the signal that it was time to commence. Bets were being passed around, and the rancid smoke from cheap tobacco barely overpowered the smell of equally inexpensive alcohol. Somehow she was exhilarated by it all. The fight ended as quickly as it had begun, and as if Emma had fallen asleep and awoke mid-dream, she suddenly found herself face-to-face with the victor. She knew that she must have volunteered, and she certainly had her wits about her, but could not remember moving to the centre of the circle to face this opponent, who (unlike with the previous combatant) towered over her as she stood in the cast shadow. She was horribly outmatched and lost quickly, but found herself going back night after night, nevertheless. She was driven, drawn and passionately awaited the moon’s ascension, knowing what lay in store.
Mornings, Emma would train furiously, late afternoons and evening, she would tattoo out of the local speakeasy, garnering her reputation (“Emma James Expert in Traditional Electrical Tattoo” hung painted on a sheet outside). In the late of the night she would ride her velocipede about the alleyways, vying for a position in a local dust-up (where she was also harvesting a heavy rep). A man had approached her one foggy night and offered representation–a promise to land her the best contenders and a “great deal of money”. She knew instinctively that the money was secondary to the deal, but it was, in fact, of less importance to her as well. Emma James tattoo artist could make more than enough for herself to get by, anyhow. As time wore on, however, and her popularity and prowess as a fighter grew, she became weary of the one-sidedness of their deal. He did little for his take, which was the lion’s share, and she found herself exposed and exploited, rather than protected and promoted. He demanded more, and even her tattoo career took a back seat now to the circus that was building up around her at the behest of the fat man. She began to rue the day she signed her contract.
And then fate intervened, as fate often does. Or was it fate? There were rumblings that the Society of the Seven Crowns had been looking for yet another member, and that the position would be very promising to whomever they had chosen. Further, rumours circulated that they had their eyes on Emma James. And frankly, the young fighter had made it clear to any who would listen that she would be happy to join their ranks. It was amidst all of this speculation and murmur that two hooded figures appeared after yet another of her much anticipated victorious evenings.
The negotiations were terse, and the man could not refuse the offer on the table before him. The fact that the cloaked figures wanted the contract was virtually palpable, and their approach was as un-ceremonial as their apparent victory. The fighter sensed that something positive lay in store for her, despite the deliberate ambiguity of the human forms, who were now whisking her into a hansom and ordering the driver to head to the north of the downtown core of the city. Besides, she could take care of herself…hold her own, as it were. Couldn’t she?
She grinned widely as the cab stopped almost abruptly in front of a building of great notoriety. One whose alley would never be approached by ordinary citizens, nor overtaken by a crowd thirsty for a bloody fight. Even the local police would arc far around the mouth of the alleyway or even cross the street to avoid it altogether. Hustled into the lane and up the stairwell, past the glowing eyes of raccoons in the trees and on the rooftops, she glimpsed a sign…”Society” written in a familiar font…and her nervous anticipation completely subsided. Things were going to change for the better. She was home.