Please Join Me – Invitation to My Spring Exhibition May 24, 1917

Mowat Letterhead-640May 22 1917

You are invited to attend my Spring Exhibition to be held on the Victoria Day Holiday at Mowat Lodge on May 24, 1917 (two days from today). I will be showing my boards I have painted from March until May.

The agenda for the evening:

5pm Arrival and viewing of Sketches. Over 60 of my sketches will be on display in the Mowat Lodge Dining Room.

6pm Dinner. A menu of Annie Fraser’s finest. ( I have been told alcohol will not be provided.)

7pm A brief talk about my sketches.

I sincerely hope you can come. We are expecting about 25 to 30 people: guests from Mowat Lodge, some from Hotel Algonquin, and neighbours. Mark Robinson, Algonquin Park Ranger has accepted.

If you cannot attend in person, please follow the evening by telegram as I have made special arrangements to run messages up to Canoe Lake Station.

As it promises to be a fine evening, please join me, if you can.

Affectionately,

Tom Thomson

 

May 21, 1917 After the Storm

May 21, 1917 After the Storm

We woke up wet. Soaking wet. It rained all night and despite my best efforts to set up the tents so there were no leaks, the rain came in. In my other travels, I’ve been in this situation a few times. It can be miserable, but eventually the rain breaks and the sun comes out and you can dry things out. The key to getting through this type of situation is faith that the weather will eventually change, and everything that is wet and stinking will eventually dry up and smell sweet once again.

Unfortunately, the city folk don’t understand this Northern version of faith, and when things get wet, they get all panicky and irritable. That was the situation with Dr. MacCallum and Arthur today. I could see that they were trying to be as stoic as possible but they wanted to dry out by an indoor fireplace. I would have entertained another night of camping but I was a bit concerned about Charlie. The consumption was getting to him. He tried not to show it but I could see it. A good guide carefully reads his group before providing honourable options when a trip needs to end. I suggested that we canoe back along the Oxtongue into Smoke Lake and stop by for some tea at Nominigan Lodge. This would provide a brief respite from the misery. After that we would make our way back to Mowat Lodge by late afternoon or early evening where Annie would be sure to have some dinner for us. No one protested so I assumed full agreement. Like a captain on a ship, I had full authority. I figured the slight detour to Smoke Lake would not look like a desperate beeline back to Mowat so it wouldn’t seem like a defeat. Dr. MacCallum hadn’t yet seen Nominigan so this would be his opportunity to see what a real tourist outpost looked like. Luxury and all.

When we canoed to Smoke Lake another thunderstorm came in. It lasted about 45 minutes with the rain and when it stopped, I decided that the Dr. needed another en-plein-air experience. The sky had shades of purple and offset against the deepening green of spring made for a nice picture. I pulled the canoe to the side, hopped on a large rock by the shore, pulled out my sketch box, and was sketching full tilt before Dr. MacCallum could even get himself out of the canoe. Charlie and Arthur waited a few feet offshore. It’s really too bad that no one brought their Brownie, because it would have made a fine picture of the Dr. and me. After about a half-hour, I was done the sketch. I packed up and we set off for Nominigan. There we had tea and biscuits. Some newspapers were lying around so we smoked our pipes and read the latest news. The headlines were about Borden being back in Canada drumming up support for the Conscription bill. I didn’t need to be reminded that I would be called up if the bill came to be.

When everyone dried out, we started again toward Canoe Lake. It wouldn’t be a long trip back, but I decided to take a slightly different route that involved a short portage. A canoeing experience for a city-dweller is not complete without a portage. For some strange reason it gives city folks a sense of invincibility – that they can conquer land and sea. I’ve learned on my trips to ensure at least one portage, even if I had to carry everything – canoe and all.

We got back to the Mowat Lodge around 6 p.m. in the evening. I could see from where we landed the Blechers and the Trainors were there. The lanterns were on and smoke was coming from the chimneys. It looked like Winnie was hard at work getting the Manse clean for summer. It always takes a few good cleanings to get the dust and mildew out of the corners. Windows are a labour intensive task, but from where I could see, the windows were looking clean. The front porch also looked to be scrubbed from stem to stern.

As I was bringing up the canoes Winnie came out to greet me. She said she saw our canoes in the distance and was sure it was us. That was earlier in the afternoon, so it wasn’t us. The only thing I could think of were poachers. Mark Robinson said to keep an eye out, but I never saw any. Who was on the lake at that time was anybody’s guess. Winnie was happy to see me. I said I would come down later once I got the boys sorted out of their canoe gear at the lodge and taken care of with Annie’s cooking. But I ended up seeing the evening out with Shannon with some whisky which he produced from his secret stash in the storehouse. We sat on the porch and talked until the early hour. Dr MacCallum, Arthur and Charlie turned shortly after having dinner, about 8:30.

I told Shannon that I was done my sketches. He’s excited about the dinner and art show and is a fine idea to celebrate Victoria Day (this Thursday). He suggested that we invite some folk down from the Algonquin Hotel, and some of the neighbours. If everyone accepted, we’d have a party about of 45-50. Of course, Shannon was thinking about charging non-lodge guests for the dinner to make some extra cash. I said I would leave the details to him. So it was set – Thursday would be the art show. To further the excitement and festivities I would ask Lawrie Dickson to bring up his Victrola and George Rowe to procure some fireworks. I knew George, if he couldn’t find fireworks, he could improvise with dynamite and kerosene. He could set up a bonfire that could be seen (and possibly heard) across the lake.

I realized I was supposed to go back and see Winnie tonight. I’ll go see her in the morning.

 

May 20, 1917 Confessions at Tea Lake Dam

May 20, 1917 Tea Lake Dam

We started off early. Just after breakfast, around 8:00am. It’s the four of us going on a canoe trip: myself, Charlie Scrim, Dr MacCallum and his son, Arthur.

We had a good breakfast at Mowat Lodge. Annie knows know how to send off a canoe party on a full stomach. The night before I brought the canoes down to the summer dock so we still needed to bring the supplies, the tents, blanket and fishing gear. I also had my sketch box. Of course, that was the main point of the trip. Dr. MacCallum wanted to see me sketch en-plein-air. We were only going away for a few days, but I’ve learned that the shorter the trip, little difference does it make in the gear you take. It was threatening rain all morning, so I packed a couple of extra rubber sheets and another canvas tarp. Nothing is worse than sleeping in soggy blankets and if the temperature dips you have to be careful of hypothermia – even in the spring time.

We got off to a good start. But after 20 minutes, the sky turned purple and was threatening lightning. The wind picked up, so we stayed close to the shore and waited. Sure enough, a thunderstorm rolled through and we watched as the lightning came down. It didn’t strike Canoe Lake, but I could see it was striking near Tea Lake – that’s where we were going.

My plan was to catch some Brook trout for lunch and dinner. As the days were getting warmer, the trout were going deeper. They were no longer close to the shore looking for flies, they were moving to the centre of the lake. I was using copper wire for trolling and a William Wobbler. I was in the second canoe with Charlie Scrim while Dr MacCallum was ahead with his son. During the day, we didn’t have a chance to talk much. That was okay. I didn’t really want to talk much during the day. I knew the opportunity would come during the evening after we set up camp.

When we got close to Tea Lake Dam, the clouds made for a fine scene. I told the others that I planned to make a sketch and would set the canoe by the shore. Dr. MacCallum came with me and Charlie and Arthur went fishing. I told them that we need three more trout if we weren’t going to go hungry this evening.

The Dr. watched me as I sketched. He knew from previous efforts, that I didn’t like to talk until I got the main composition settled. The higher clouds were reflecting the late afternoon sun, a glorious white, while the lower clouds had a sombre gray. It was a nice contrast, and with Tea Lake Dam off in the distance – a man made square holding back the water – it made a nice scene.

Once I got the composition, I started talking with the Dr. We talked about art, the War and the shortages in Toronto. We have a good relationship and I respect his point of view and knowledge of the North but sometimes I wonder about his notions of what art is about. He was talking about the new Canada artistic movement. Something that wasn’t European or British but something that came from the land itself. I understood what he was talking about, but I wasn’t sure I was agreeing with his idea of Canadian nationalism through art. We had the Algonquin School as we called it, but I didn’t really see the need to turn it into a patriotic endeavour. He said I had something that the other artists didn’t have – that I had a sense of the wilderness and knew what could be expressed through art. I laughed and said that I could pick the trees out and catch fish better than any artist. But my art was from my knowledge of the country, not from being a superior artist.

Then I told him. I told him, I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay around much longer. I was thinking about going to the Rockies, like Alex had done a few years ago. But more recently, I was thinking about going to Colorado, to visit my friend John McRuer who moved there in 1916. I’ve been reading about the Southwest, the Grand Canyon. I also told him about Winnie. I wasn’t sure where the relationship was going and whether I could accept the obligation.

Needless to say, the Dr. was pretty quiet when I made the revelation. He first said a few words trying to convince me to stay. I said I hadn’t made my mind up yet and was confiding in him. I asked him to keep this in confidence. He said he would also support me by ensuring that my paintings would sell and would continue to direct the funds into my account wherever I was.

I knew I could trust him. But I knew he was disappointed in my plans and anxious to convince me otherwise. Charlie and Arthur came back in the other canoe. They managed to catch another three trout. We had a good meal that evening and we camped on Tea Lake. In the middle of the night, it rained like the devil. Everything got soaked.

May 19, 1917 Dr. MacCallum Arrives

May 19, 1917

Dr. MacCallum arrived at Mowat Lodge this morning with his son, Arthur. They came on the train around 12:30 and Shannon brought them back shortly after 1pm. Annie knew they were coming so she kept a hot lunch ready for them. We are going canoeing for a few days before Victoria Day.

Earlier in the morning, I went to Mark Robinson’s shelter hut near Joe Lake Station. The main reason why I went was to ask Mark if I could hang my sketches there. I also was thinking about holding my spring show there because it was close to the Hotel Algonquin and it would be easier for their guests to come. Mark said no. He was worried about having the sketches stolen while at his place. I said I would take full responsibility but he still didn’t want to do it. That was ok. I’ll have the show at Mowat Lodge and I’ll make it an art showing event during the evening dinner time.

In the afternoon, while the Dr. and Arthur took a nap, I got everything set for the canoe trip. I got the foodstuffs: maple syrup, flour bacon. Coffee I got from the Colson store and some Klim too. As for the canoes and blankets, I am using my own canoe and Dr. MacCallum will be renting one from the Frasers. I also got several blankets and my own too. I have two tents, one is my own and the other is from the Frasers. My other tent I left set up at the Hayhurst campsite. Since the train trip was pretty tiring for the both of them I suggested they stay the night with the Frasers and we’ll get underway after breakfast tomorrow (Sunday). Charlie Scrim is coming too, so we’ll be an even party of four.

I saw Winnie only for a few moments today. I told her I was busy getting ready for a guiding trip with Dr. MacCallum. I told her I was being paid for this trip so it was my priority to get things ready instead of spending time with her. I’ll try to see her later this evening, but I will be staying the night at Mowat Lodge because we want to set out early tomorrow morning. Dr. MacCallum wants to take a close look at my sketches and talk about my plans. I was thinking about inviting Winnie up to the lodge for dinner tonight but I don’t think it will be wise have Winnie in this conversation and it might be awkward with the other guests. I’ll keep the invitation when I have the show this Thursday (24th). We’ll be back on Wednesday night. That will give me the morning to set up. I hope to make two or three more sketches while canoeing with Dr. MacCallum. He wants to see me make sketches firsthand.

May 18, 1917 Night at the Manse

May 18, 1917

I was with Winnie last night. I set up my campsite at Hayhurst Point but later in the evening I canoed across the lake to visit Winnie.  By the time I decided to go, the other cottages were dark; there were no lights at the Blechers, and Mowat Lodge, more than 200 yards away, so I wasn’t worried about my landing being detected. Once I made it to the Manse, I never made it back.

Usually Winnie is here with her parents. They arrived together, but I had heard that Hugh was called away suddenly for business and his wife went with them. It was close to Victoria Day (24th) and Winnie had already decided to take the week off so she stayed by herself. I’m not sure whether the circumstances were contrived, but they were circumstances.

Winnie had the woodstove on when I knocked on the door. The temperatures, while warm during the day, would dip down to the low thirties during the night. There was going to be frost. I didn’t mind the temperature drop myself. My blankets were thick and with my woolen pullover, my toque and my other pair of dry woolen socks I could easily survive, even be comfortable. But the temptation was too much, like a Siren calling across the lake. My intention was to visit Winnie for a late night tea only, but when I got into warmth of the Manse, I didn’t have a particular urge to canoe back to a cold set of blankets inside a damp, musty and frosty tent. So I decided for the warmer option. Winnie did not protest that I stayed for the night.

Winnie is a dear. We have a grand time together. Unlike the other girls, she likes to be out in the bush and she loves fishing. I enjoy her company when she’s here. I know she wants more from our relationship, but I’m not sure where or what I will be doing in the near future. She knows about my uncertainty, and doesn’t really want to push the point yet. I don’t want her to the push the point yet either. I don’t know what I want either way. She scolded me for the money I lent to Shannon for the canoes. Had she known, she could have gotten them for $50 cheaper in Huntsville and I’d be that much more in the clear.

I got back early in the morning. Undetected. Later, Charlie Scrim and George Rowe rowed over to give me my mail. Peculiar, because they knew, I’d still be coming over daily, but I think they were worried I might disappear unannounced. They gave me a a letter from Dr. MacCallum. I opened it. He’s finalized his plans. He wrote that the three-week canoe trip was too ambitious and would come up the 19th with his son Arthur and start out from Canoe Lake for a four day trip. They’d be coming to Mowat Lodge instead of the Highland Inn. He said he needed to go up to Georgian Bay afterwards to check on his cottage and he wanted to make the trip before my show that I was planning to do on Victoria Day (24th). I haven’t done much planning. I was just going to set them around the dining room so people could look at them before and after dinner.

I’m pretty much done the sketching for the spring. It’s getting too green for paint and Shannon wants the sketches out of the dining room as soon as possible. Winnie said it was okay to keep the sketches at her parents’ place (the Manse).

I caught a 3 lb brook trout which I had for an early lunch. I caught it with a flyhook at the mouth of Sims Creek. It’s an inlet by an old Indian Camp where they used to make birch bark canoes (Mark Robinson told me this). There’s a sand beach there, good for landing canoes, but the fishing is also good in the inlet. That’s probably why they made camp there.

The sun was high up in the sky. I could see the cottages and the lodge across the water. The reflection on the windows looked like distant diamonds, except for the broken ones on Shannon’s storehouse. They looked like the gaps left behind by broken teeth.

Since I knew for sure that Dr. MacCallum was coming up for a four day trip, I had to get the provisions organized.If we’re to be back in time for the 24th then we’d have to leave late tomorrow or very early the next day.

May 17, 1917 Setting Up Camp

May 17, 1917

Even though there was a frost last night, I decided it was warm enough to set up my camp on Hayhurst Point. I’ll still take my meals at Mowat Lodge and check for my mail but I’ll be staying here most nights from now on.

I can’t be too far away, as I might be taking on some guiding work. Hayhurst Point is a favourite spot of mine – across the lake – I can see the cottages and higher up on the hill behind, Mowat Lodge. I can see smoke rising from Hotel Algonquin. My camp site is enough away that I’m not bothering Thomas and Mary Hayhurst (after whom the point is named). They’re friends of the Piries and Bertrams who have cottages on Gilmour Island. They came to Canoe Lake about the same time as the Frasers, but at the suggestion of Dr. Bertram. Thomas has weak lungs and the advice of Dr. Bertram was to spend time among the evergreens. Two years ago, their son Alexander died of black throat diptheria. I remember Mark Robinson bringing the casket across the lake by canoe. Shannon transported it with his hearse to the cemetery. It was a sad day for all around Canoe Lake.

I looked for where I had my tent last year. It was between two jack pines. The ground was still level from what I had cleared out last year. There were some depressions where I chopped out some projecting roots and I had to fill the holes with sand to make it smooth. I brought my canvas tent which I had stored at Mowat Lodge (my silk tent was in South River). The previous years I used a rope between the trees but this year I decided to make a more permanent fixture. I chopped three small trees, one to use as ridge pole, lashed to one of the jack pines, and the other two to form the front support of the tent, a lean-to of sort. This configuration gave me some flexibility where I could face the front of the tent. I made it face due south, so I could see the full glory of Canoe Lake, I could see Little Wap, Big Wap, Gilmour and beyond Cook Island. It was a grand view, and I felt like I was looking into my future and my fate.

I swung the canvas over the ridge pole. It had a musty but pleasant smell. It had the smell of past winter. I knew the smell would be gone after a day in the wind and the sun. I fashioned tent pegs by splitting slabs off an old pine stump near by. The stump was nearly three feet across, a reminder of the majestic pines that once dominated the landscape here. No more. I pegged the sides down and the tent began to take shape as a shelter and and a home. It felt good. To make a soft bedding I cut the branches of several balsam firs and spread them on the ground inside the tent. I brought three blankets with me. I spread them out on the firs. My oldest (and most threadbare) blanket was on the bottom on the branches.I would sleep underneath the other two. My Mackinaw coat, rolled up, would be my pillow. With the blunt end of my axe, I hammered a three-inch nail into the jack pine, about four feet off the ground. That’s where my lantern would hang.

I brought a cheesecloth to hang across the front, to keep out the mosquitoes. They still managed to get through, but the cheesecloth reduced the numbers enough that there’s a fighting chance for comfort.

Outside, I drove a nail in the other Jack pine to hang up my provisions. Mostly to keep it away from the chipmunks. They were the greatest threat for stealing food. If you didn’t pay attention, a chipmunk would gnaw through your canvas pack in no time flat. People asked me if I was worried about bears in the Park. I said no, chipmunks were the biggest threat.

I set up the fire pit. The rocks were still around from last year’s camp but scattered about. I placed the rocks into a circle and started a fire with some kindling I made from the stump. For supper I brought a can of beans which I heated up in the frying pan on the wire grill I set up. My reflector oven, I left aside. I’d be using it tomorrow but not tonight. I burnt my tongue when I started in on the beans – I didn’t let them cool down enough. I had that funny feeling on my tongue for the rest of the night. I didn’t make tea because it would hurt too much. A swig of water soothed the burn, a swig of whisky made it burn more.

I smoked my pipe while I watched the sun go down in the west. Across the lake I could see the lights at Mowat Lodge. I could also see the lights at the Trainor and Blecher cottages. I thought I could see a silhouette in a window but I’m sure it was either my imagination or the cooling air playing tricks with the lights. The frogs were peeping but subdued. The water was lapping quietly on the shore. I heard a loon cry only once, and it was a long cry. I rolled up my coat for a pillow and began to make my bed. The fresh cut evergreens made a fine smell over the smell of my socks which I hung to dry at the front of the tent. I could feel the temperature going down, but I could easily stay warm. The cool temperature was a blessing because it kept the mosquitoes down. Before I fell asleep, I remembered that I hung my pack on the nail outside. My canoe was pulled up onshore. All was good for the night.

 

 

 

May 12, 1917 The Trainors Arrive

May 12, 1917

The Trainors arrived this Saturday morning. It’s their first time up at the cottage this year. Hugh, Margaret and of course, Winnie.

Shannon took the hearse up to Canoe Lake Station to meet them. I went along with Shannon. We waited for the train to come in and it arrived about 10:30. It’s pretty quick to come from Huntsville. Down to Scotia Junction, a 20 minute layover and then on to Canoe Lake. Overall it takes just about 3 hours to come in from Huntsville. It’s easy to come in the for weekend That’s why Hugh Trainor bought the cottage at Canoe Lake.

Hugh, Margaret and Winnie stepped off the train. Winnie gave me a big hug. She was happy to see me. She hasn’t seen me since last year.

It was still too early to use the luggage shoot down towards the water. The Trainors were only staying for one night so they didn’t have much with them. So Shannon loaded Hugh and Margaret in the passenger compartment and I suggested to Winnie that we walk to the cottage. She was happy to oblige. It gave us some private time to talk, a scarcity, even in the wilderness that is the Park.

Shannon took off with the hearse. We began the walk. The road had dried up and Winnie only had to mind her dress dragging in the mud a few times. I suggested that she wear pants, just like I had seen Annie Colson do at the outfitter’s store, but Winnie said she would have none of that. Much as she would like to wear pants, she knew her mother would have a conniption, and the conversation would turn, yet again, to what the proper unmarried women needs to do, if she wants to get married. And it wouldn’t be wearing pants. I laughed.  Together, the two of us were the worst unmarried specimens this side of Huntsville.

I told Winnie that I got my guide license and that I would be close to Canoe Lake when the work came up. She knew in my tone of voice that the big unspoken anxiety was the War. It was everybody’s unspoken anxiety. Huntsville’s 122nd Battalion shipped out in April, and would be sailing overseas in June. The boys were writing back from Halifax, having a good time. The mothers were anxious for safe passage overseas. The big story in the letters home was the SS Olympic, the sister ship of the Titanic. They said it was painted in dazzle, to confuse the U-boats. I smiled when I heard this, because Lismer told me the same thing in his letter to me. Ships painted in dazzle. That would be a site. I should paint a canoe in dazzle.

Winnie could tell that I was also anxious about being called up. Borden was back, and it was only a matter of time. She squeezed my hand tight while we walked. But we didn’t talk about it. She knew when not to talk about things, and that’s one thing I appreciated about her.

We got to the Trainor cottage around noon. They asked me to stay for lunch and I obliged. Margaret was pleased at the condition of the cottage and I said that Shanon and I checked it out earlier in the week so there would be no surprises. They came just for an overnight stay, but planned to be up again for Victoria Day and spend a few days beyond the weekend. Hugh said he would be up during the week once in awhile as he needed oversee some of the pine cuts. Margaret was always worried about the appearance of missing church backin Huntsville. She had heard that Ed and Molly Colson had begun doing lay services at their hotel. She wrote a letter several weeks back and requested the lay services be moved to the school for the summer. A tar-paper shack, the school was, but it was more sanctified than any hotel, she said. So tomorrow at 11am, the lay service would be at the school.

As for Mowat Lodge, Margaret considered it the den of iniquity. She tolerated Shannon, only when he wasn’t around. That amounted to that she didn’t tolerate him at all. As for Annie, she was polite to her but cool. So despite being only 200 yards from Mowat Lodge, they had little to do with each other, and when the guests came down to the Mowat summer dock, not 50 yards away, they minded their own business. I was the go-between, the diplomat of sorts, between iniquity and sanctification.

I asked the Trainors if I could store some of my sketches at the cottage. Shannon was getting annoyed at their cluttered presence in the dining room and asked me to find another spot for them. The storehouse was out of the question because it got dusty and the birds would fly in. Hugh said it was okay, the kitchen at the back had lots of room.

I took Winnie out fishing in the afternoon. We caught six brook trout. Enough for a fine meal at the Trainors. In the evening, after dinner, I made a sketch of the sky in the failing light. The dark clouds from a cold front were moving in, smothering the sunlight from the early evening. There was a sense of inevitability in bout the scene I painted. Inevitability about what I didn’t know. After I finished I lit my pipe, and enjoyed the company of the Trainors. We talked about the small things in Huntsville. Margaret couldn’t stop talking about her good word with the Women’s Temperance Union. I could see that Winnie was amused at how serious and earnest I seemed to be on that subject. She knew I was acting. And a good actor I was for Winnie’s parents. I didn’t make it back to Mowat Lodge until late in the evening. Annie left out a burning lantern for me.