April 26, 1917 Temple Blue

April 26, 1917

I spent most of the day outside and alone. I walked far away from everyone. I wanted to be with my own thoughts and with what nature had to tell me. The spring landscape is changing faster and faster every day. A scene to paint can suddenly appear and then disappear forever. The trees are beginning to bud out, but the cold nights are still holding them back and one day the leaves will burst out, like they’ve been there forever. But forever is an illusion of the present. Everything changes, nothing is forever. Open water is appearing at the shores. One day the lake is covered in ice and the next day it’s completely free. Like the ice was never there. You never know when things are going to change but never for forever.

Right now, the lakes and streams are high in water. The sound of rushing water is everywhere. It’s in my head. I can feel it in my bones. But I hear other notes and rhythms of spring. I hear chirps of the songbirds, the taps of woodpeckers, and a strange drumming sound. It sounds like a plane starting up in a distant flying exposition. I learned from Mark Robinson that it’s a ruffed grouse beating its wings, but the aeroplane-like sound brought back memories of aeroplanes. It brought back memories of me meeting Orville Wright last fall. The drumming sound stopped. Thoughts of planes and world adventures flew away into the distance and it was the honking sounds of the landed geese that brought me back to where I am now.

I needed a new scene. I walked up to Baby Joe Lake, near Burnt Island Lake and this is the scene I found. Painting on a rock by the rapids is different than in the woods. You’re perched in the open and the sounds of the rapids drown out all your thinking. It was a good escape for me. I needed to get away from my thoughts for awhile and paint, just paint. The talk with Mark yesterday was still haunting me. Mark said, there’s not many men back from the front that talk so the stories about what’s really happened no one knows. Mark told me about the soldiers that weren’t wounded in the physical sense, but had what the doctors called ‘shell shock’ – jibbering, running around, eyes bulging out, and limbs flailing. The British officers had a cure for shell shock – execution. Mark said he saw an officer summarily execute eighteen soldiers in less than three minutes, three of them from Mark’s own battalion. The officers were especially ruthless with the colonials, slapping them on the side of the head, saying they were a shame to the Empire before administering the bullet. Mark said he remembered them screaming for their mothers. Adding to the injustice, Mark had to write the letters home for the dispatched men. The censorship and the propaganda officers meant that Mark could only write things about being brave and glorious, and they didn’t die in vain. There was no glory, it was in vain, and every letter that Mark wrote took away part of his soul, he said. That’s why he was still frail.

Before the conversation with Mark, I had been indifferent about enlisting and although I was anxious, I was accepting of my eventual fate. I tried to enlist before, but like most men did but I was rejected. Had I been subjected to enough persuasion, even two months ago, I would have probably tried again, but there was no way I would now. With conscription being a near certainty, I needed to think of ways to avoid the service. There was talk that bachelors up to age forty-five would be conscripted. That meant I had only two options before me – disappear or get married. The second option didn’t necessarily exempt me from service, unless there was a child.

With warmer weather more people are starting to arrive in the Park – mostly American visitors. But now that the Americans have declared war, they might not come up in the number from previous years. The Blechers from Buffalo should be here soon. They come in early May. Martin Blecher Sr. is retired. He comes with his wife, Louisa, for the summer. Their children, Martin and Bessie come. By their age, they’re adults, but by their behaviour, that’s another matter. Martin Sr. is friendly, but the mother and children, they’re an odd lot. Not too friendly, Louisa likes to chase people off their leasehold, Martin makes a show of cleaning his guns in the boathouse, and Bessie screams louder than any creature that lives on Canoe Lake.

When I returned to Mowat Lodge, I entered through the back kitchen. Only Annie was there. She gave me a mischievous look, came close to me, and with a wet cloth.

“Tom, you have a streak of paint on you. If it were any other colour than blue it’d look like someone smacked you on the side of your head! Let me take care of that.” Annie began to raise the cloth. Her touch through the cloth was gentle. As she wiped the paint off, I could feel the cloth’s warmth along the side of my left temple.

April 25, 1917 Mark Robinson and the War

April 25, 1917

1917 Spring

I sketched this one not too far from the Lodge.  I was looking away from the lake. You can see the skeletons of a few dead pines from an afterburn and the groves of small birches. It’s the birches that always come in first.

I spent a long time talking to Mark Robinson today. We spent time together walking along the rails to clear any brush that might catch fire and to check on the bridges and trestles. No problems yet, the flood waters are starting to recede a little, but he’s still following orders by Bartlett to check the rails, bridges and trestles twice daily.

A troop train passed through and I could see Mark’s face cringe with sadness. I asked him about the War and said he was lucky to make his way back. Since he was one of the older men (almost 50 years) he was ordered to stay behind and let the younger ones fight. It was terrible to behold he said. He didn’t like talking about it, but he said one thing that really shook me. He said the deaths were completely useless. It accomplished nothing. He said it was the old men at home who started the war, while the young men would fight and die. And it was the old men who lived to glorify what the young men had sacrificed.

Mark told me (in confidence) that there was simply no use fighting. The British had no regard for the Dominion and Colonials. When the British ordered an attack it gave the German machine gunners straightforward work. Indeed you could the disbelief in machine gunners’ eyes when the British sent wave over wave of young men to their deaths. If it wasn’t the German machine gun bullets that killed the men, it was British chlorine gas. A breeze in the wrong direction took out a whole regiment, killing one half, and blinding the other.

He said that when he took the shrapnel, it was a relief. Although wounded he knew he’d come back alive, and he did. The young fresh faces he saw going in the other direction, he knew they weren’t coming back. His view of the war had changed since coming back. He didn’t see any point in fighting the way they did. Mark didn’t really talk to anyone about his opinions and beliefs especially with George Bartlett. Mark respected authority and kept his mouth shut. But with me he was open and honest. He said, ‘Tom, get out while you have a chance’

I may pay a visit to Lowrie Dickson tonight. He has the only whisky in the Park.

April 24, 1917 Ice-Out and White Paint

April 24, 1917

I took a walk this morning down Gilmour Road towards Gill Lake and then to Bonita Lake. This is the south end of the Canoe Lake that flows into Bonita and the start of the Oxtongue River. Because of Tea Lake Dam the water level is higher and connects the two lakes. I walked to below Tea Lake Dam when the Oxtongue River starts in earnest and I found a good place to paint. There was still some snow on the sides and the water level was high, but the flow was so furious that it was rapids without sight of any rocks. I was surprised at the amount of snow remaining. There’s nothing left out in the open by the lodge, but I keep different parts of the Park can have different climates. Between two lakes, there can be a half season’s difference in the weather.

By the time I got back I had walked a good ten miles. The sun is getting earlier and stronger every day. It rises at the inhumane hour of 5am  but this is supposed to change with the switch to Daylight Savings Time. This is supposed to be the first year, but the railways are against the time change so I doubt it will make any difference in the Park. It’s the trains that run the clocks around here.

Word is that things are getting tough in Toronto. They want to send the kids away during summer to help on the farms. The gardening clubs are gearing up too. I’m sure that the Arts and Letters Club is having its first of many gardening committee meetings. Gardening, which everyone did without question on the farm has now turned into a fashionable patriotic duty for the city folk. Oh, that shovelling horse manure should become a patriotic duty too, but the men of arts and letters have to draw the line somewhere. There are plenty of Macedonians for that.

Back at Mowat Lodge, the big topic under heavy debate was predicting the ice-out date. With all the snow and the cold spring so far, this is turning out to be one of the later years. It’s been as early as April 14 (since the arrival of the Frasers in 1908) but this year’s it’s going to be late. Shannon’s got a pool going and I wagered that it would be May 1st. The current debate centred on the exact determination of what ice-out means. We decided that it means that no ice can be seen across the lake from Mowat Lodge to Hayhurst Point. Shannon wanted to bring the prediction to an exact hour and therefore our definition of ice-out need to be more precise. We decided that from the vantage point of a chair on the top of the steps, looking through the area beneath the Mowat Lodge and the two poles on either side, this prescribed area needed to be free of ice for a period of one hour. When asked who would perform the duty of ice-out observer, Daphne offered up the services of her husband, Lt. Crombie, as he was out the verandah for the better part of each day. We all agreed and we outfitted Lt. Crombie with field glasses and a dinner bell to ring once the ice-out determination was made.

Everyone is in good spirits It’s getting warmer and I’m glad of my circumstances here. Annie is switching into spring cleaning mode and I’m helping with some of the more arduous tasks. She likes the windows to be cleaned on the outside in the spring and the fall, so I volunteered to climb on the roof of the verandah and clean the windows on the second floor. And I’ll kill two birds with one stone – I’ll fix the roof shingles for Shannon.

I got a letter from Florence. Annie made sure I got it right as soon as I got back. I’m sure Annie was worried that Florence’s letter, left attended in the post office, might set other letters on fire. So she wanted it out of there as fast as could be. Florence confirmed that she’s coming in early May. She’s asked me to reserve a room for her at Mowat Lodge. She’s decided not to stay at the Algonquin Hotel. Too expensive, and she wants to be closer to me.

I also got a parcel from Jim MacDonald. Jim’s wife sent along some a jar of preserves made from the garden, black currant jam. Jim sent me four tubes of white – twice as many as what I asked for. I’m glad he did because the boards made from the crates are gobbling up more than their fair share of paint, especially white.

 

April 23, 1917 Dark Waters

April 23, 1917

1917 Dark Waters

I wrote a letter to my brother-in-law this morning and decided to take a long hike up along the creek to Potter Lake.

The creek is swollen and the current is running fast. In the summertime I can canoe a good portion of this creek  but I wouldn’t even try any of it now. The clear sections of the creek are easy to canoe, but right now the current is so fast that you wouldn’t have a chance to stop yourself before you hit the rocks. The water is high, reaching to the roots of the pine trees on the rocks. I’m amazed how tenacious these trees are. Wherever there is a hint of soil or something to grab onto, a pine is sure to grow.

Writing the letter to my brother-in-law made me think about my plans this summer. I’ll guide for the first part of summer. I plan to get my license this Saturday. I’m sure George Bartlett will be back from one of his Park excursions. He likes to be at the Headquarters on the weekend because that’s when the guests arrive at the Highland Inn or leave. The weekend is the best time to attend to Park business: issuing fishing licenses, keeping bank drafts for safekeeping, etc.

I’ve resolved not to do fire-ranging this summer. It’s a job that takes away from everything else. Last year’s drought made the job really tough. When you’re a guide, you’re welcome company. But when you’re a fire-ranger, you’re the last person anyone wants to see. Lumbermen don’t like to be chummy with the fire-rangers. There were some bad fires last year. A few bad ones in the Park, but a really bad fire up by Cochrane. That fire wiped clean of the face of the earth, complete towns and townships.

On my way back, I walked by the bridge over Potter Creek. I took the shortcut by the schoolhouse (the door still looked broken). I made my around the chipyard and finally back to the Lodge. Along my way, I saw six deer were staring at me. I knew they were coming back from the Algonquin Hotel looking for a handout. The hotel guests were feeding them last summer. Those memories must have stayed with the herd over the winter, so they’re back. They’ve lost their fear of people. That’ll change when the deer-kill starts.

April 23, 1917 Letter to Tom Harkness

Mowat Letterhead-640

Mowat P.O.
 Algonquin Park

April 23, 1917

Dear Tom,

I have been here over three weeks and have done considerable work for that length of time.

I got a copy of the O.S. Sun and it seemed to be well filled with bunk, however the foolishness of newspaper matter is well known and I knew nothing about it in time to have it stopped.

I have been talking to the people here at the Post office about pigs. Have been advising them to get about 6 or 8 small ones and keep them till fall, which they could do without much expense and hang them up for the winter.

Supposing they decide to try it out, what would they have to pay for the pigs and where would be the place to send for them-and could they be shipped by express or freight any distance.

Am staying at the P.O. until the ice goes out of the lakes which I expect it to do sometime this week then I will be camping again for the rest of the summer. I have not applied for the fire rangers job this year as it interferes with sketching to the point of stopping it all together so in my case it does not pay. In other words I can have a much better time sketching and fishing and be further ahead in the end.

I may possibly go out on the Canadian Northern this summer to paint the Rockies but have not made all the arrangements yet. If I go it will be in July and August.

We still have a foot or two of snow on the north side of the hills yet but another week we’ll see the end of it, and we have nearly another month before my friends the black flies are here. The leaves do not come here before May 24th and often not until on in June.

Well I will get this started towards Annan.  Hoping you are all well there. I remain

your aff. Brother,

Tom Thomson

 

April 22, 1917 Things Come in Threes

April 22, 1917

1917 Northern Lights

I sketched the Northern Lights at Mark Robinson’s shelter house last night.

At Mowat Lodge earlier in the evening, I looked outside and saw the Northern Lights were starting. It was close to a new moon, the skies were clear and the stars were out as brightly as they could be. I could see the Lights starting on the Northern horizon, so I grabbed my sketch box and headed up toward Joe Lake.

As I walked up, looking at the lights I was thinking about other things too. Since Charlie Scrim has come back, we’ve renewed our friendship. I fear that he’s not going to be that long for this world so I think I’ll stick close by, at least for the better part of the summer. I don’t think he’s going last out the summer. I don’t plan to go Fire Ranging this summer (a thankless job) but instead I’ll take out a Guide’s License and stay close by. But I don’t want Charlie to think I am doing this on his account.

The Lights were getting more brilliant by the minute. First, I was walking, but by the time I reached Mark Robinson’s house, I was in a full run. I banged on the door and bolted inside.

Mark jumped off his bunk. “Tom, what are you doing here?”  Mark looked a frail shadow of himself. The War took a lot out of him. I wasn’t sure if it was wise of George Bartlett to bring him back to the Park so soon after serving. I saw another figure in the shadows. “Tom, this is Mr. Gordon. He’s stationed with me until I fully get back on my feet.” Mr. Gordon came out of the shadows to shake my hand. He looked old too. All the old men are in the Park because the young ones are away fighting. I was the exception.

I shrugged and barely murmured an acknowledgement, “Look at the sky!” I paced back and forth, glaring at Mark. “Black spruce, Mark! Ragged tops. I want the raggest looking tops to paint against that sky. Where I’ll get them?”

Mark knows all the trees around here, not just the species of each tree, but each  tree. “You’re looking for ugly ones, the ugliest looking trees, Tom?” I smiled. Mark knew exactly what I wanted. “Down where you came from, by the school, opposite side the of the creek. There’s some spruce with regular tops, but there are three with irregular tops, ragged as you like. The irregular ones always seem come in threes.”

I got what I wanted. No need to thank Mark. He doesn’t like being thanked. I grabbed my paints and ran back out the door. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a puzzled Mr. Gordon. The last thing he expected to see a driven artist dashing in and out the door during night time. I rushed down by the school and crossed the bridge over the creek (the ice was all gone now). It didn’t take me long to find the the trees against the sky that Mark was talking about. By the time I was finally settled in for sketching, it had turned really cold. What should have been an hour’s of effort turned about to be three. Irregular things do come in threes. Despite the starlight, and the Northern Lights, I didn’t have enough light to see my palette and colours in the box so I had to go back, break into schoolhouse by jimmying  open the door to borrow a kerosene lantern. When I was done, I returned the lantern and noticed I had wrecked the door. I propped a plank against the door so the animals couldn’t get in at least. I promised to myself that I’d fix it it tomorrow.

I could see by the lights at the shelter house that Mark was still up. When I got there  he had the stove going on full.

“I knew you’d be back, but I didn’t think I would take that long.” Mark was by the stove, Mr. Gordon, had gone to bed long ago. I could see that pulled a blanket across his bunk to keep out the light, more likely so he wouldn’t catch another glimpse of me when I returned.

“Let me see what you got, Tom.” Mark liked my boards, and I was always happy to show them to him.

“Mark, let me warm up first.” I put my hands by the fire. My fingers were stiff and numb. By the fire and lantern light, I could see they were covered in paint.

Out from behind his blanket came Mr. Gordon. I must have woken him, or he was still awake, curious about  me. I didn’t say anything to him, but as I was showing my board to Mark. he remarked, “Oh, it would make you freeze to look at it!” I was pleasantly taken aback and smiled. Mr. Gordon paid me the best compliment ever. I know I’ve done things right, when I convey the right feeling to people that know nothing about painting.

So I’m pleased with this board. I used one of my larger panels that I scraped off earlier. Underneath, you can see the suggestions of an earlier sketch, but it adds to the effect rather than detract. It’s like the unexpected result from some of the double exposures I took with my camera. The result, unexpected and in some cases, surreal.

I made my way back to Mowat Lodge and slept until about three in the afternoon. When I woke and was hungry so I went to the kitchen. Old Mrs. Fraser (Shannon’s mother) prepared me some leftovers. She’s particular about saying Grace, so even though it wasn’t a proper mealtime I made the motions of saying a silent prayer (I didn’t pray about anything, I just thought about the Lights I saw). The prayer motion made her happy and I spent my time eating telling her about my painting adventure by Joe Creek. I could tell she was mystified by the whole endeavour, but also amused. Never in her life, did she dream of staying with her son in an abandoned lumber camp frequented by odd fellows of artists. Things turn out in odd ways, she said, but never odd enough not to be grateful for what life gives you.

I’m glad it was just the two of us talking, because if Annie came, it would have been three. And three’s a crowd.

April 21, 1917 Washing the Blankets

April 21, 1917

The ice is still on the lakes but it’s flooding everywhere else. Especially by Potter Creek. Below Canoe Lake Station the creek turns into a narrow channel that drains into the lake and it’s this channel where the ice breaks first. Both Potter Creek and Joe Lake drain into Canoe Lake. Joe Lake Dam keeps the water lower but with Tea Lake Dam holding it back and the flow from Potter, the water level rises considerably. The island in the lake, Big Wap, Little Wap, Gilmour and Cook used to be peninsulas.

The sun is strong today and it’s warmer than its been for awhile. There’s a bit of snow left but that’ll be gone today or tomorrow. There’s only snow left in the hills now.

I wrote a letter to Dr. MacCallum and then I walked up to Joe Lake Dam. The water is a sight to behold there. There’s ice out in the lake but it’s all broken up by the dam and the water’s pouring through with a thunder. The dam is holding its own but another year or two, it’ll need repair or it’ll be swept away.

I saw a beaver dam. It looked pretty active with fresh cut wood. A wolf was in the distance no doubt scared away when I came. It’s looking for a meal of beavers. The birds are coming back in full force. The Gray Jays are pretty much quiet now because they are nesting. Some geese and ducks are back and they are looking for open water. Potter Creek and Joe Lake dam are the only two open spots so they are congregating there. No wonder the wolves are hanging out.

The wildflowers are starting to come. I see green shoots but nothing in bloom yet. If I see something I’ll bring them back to Daphne. She’ll be happy about that.

I could see some activity at Algonquin Hotel. They’re washing the blankets and they’re hanging outside to dry. Mostly red blankets, but a few grey ones too. Makes for a nice set of colours against the hotel. They should be ready to be open by May 1. Annie will be washing the blankets soon and I need to get my camping blankets washed. It’s a two day affair to do the blankets so I’ll probably help her out.

Mark Robinson told me that more men and materiel will be coming through the Park. Mostly grain from out West but also some munitions and parts shipped in from the Lakes. My guess parts will be coming in from the Kennedy Foundry in Owen Sound too. Mark said the Battalions are coming in from all parts of the Dominion to be shipped out overseas in June. Bartlett’s going to have his hands full making sure the trains get through. No more deaths in the Park I hope.

In the evening I sat by myself reading in the corner. I was feeling pretty please with myself, looking at the sketches set out around the dining room. I’ve been up for almost a month and I’ve made a sketch every day. Some I scraped but I made another right after. If I keep this up until Victoria Day, I’ll have over sixty sketches. If Dr. MacCallum comes up, I could have my own Spring Exhibition. It would be a good way to celebrate.