July 4, 1917 Trouble with the Sketches

July 4, 1917

Today is Independence Day – for the Americans, that is. The Blechers decided to celebrate in full patriotic glory and in contravention with the Park and Provincial regulations – flying the American Flag above the Red Ensign. The Blechers have done this before. Regulations state that flags of other countries can’t fly above the Canadian or Ontario Red Ensign. But that was the case right now. It was most likely Martin Blecher Jr.’s doing. He liked to instigate conflict for the sake of it. Mark Robinson had warned him of an earlier infraction in the spring. Another time when Martin had done it, I obliged him by removing the flag in the middle of the night and put it in the cage of his pet groundhog. As for today, the flying of the American flag flying could be sign of patriotism or an instigation for yet another conflict. I suspected the latter. It also wouldn’t surprise me that Louisa, Martin Jr.’s mother would make a proclamation that the Blecher leasehold was U.S. territory and U.S. laws and justice would be applied. For the Blechers, the saying goes, “Like Mother, Like Son.” Martin Sr. and Bessie are pleasant, it’s the mother and son that always seem to be the problem.

Someone must have told Mark Robinson about the flag (it wasn’t me) because he wandered down in the morning. That wasn’t part of his usual routine. I saw him coming as I was sitting on the verandah. I was fixing a shirt of mine. I also had to darn a couple of holes in my socks. I preferred doing this type of work outside because the light’s better out. From my vantage point I could see Mark check the Trainor cottage and then walk over to the Blechers. There was brief yelling and screaming (Martin Jr. and/or Louisa) and once that subside, Mark reappeared into view. He walked up the path and stepped up onto the verandah.

“Can you believe those folks?” Mark shook his head. He took off his hat, wiped his brow and sat down beside me. The air was oppressive today. It wasn’t hot, but the humidity was at saturation that you couldn’t do anything without breaking into sweat. It was these days, when your clothes hung on you like a damp washcloth and your hair felt like a greased rope. There wasn’t anything you could do about it except endure it. At the camp site you have option of stripping down to your drawers, but the unwritten lodge decorum dictates being fully-clothing and long-sleeve when there are women around. Men are also supposed to wear a tie at all times. I’m glad that Shannon enforce that point of the dress code, otherwise I would have been gone long ago.

“Mark, I’ll take care of the flag tonight,” I said.

“Tom, don’t you be taking the law into your own hands!” Mark replied, “If it’s still there tomorrow, I’ll write a note to Bartlett. He’ll scare them by saying they’re violating the terms of their leasehold.”  That was the end of the flag discussion.

“What were you checking up on at the Trainor cottage?”

“Nothing much,” Mark said. “I heard the Trainors haven’t been up as much as regularly as they normally are. Just checking to see if anything’s amiss. Say, Tom, your sketches are still there.”

“Indeed, they are. I haven’t looked at them since Victoria Day. Are they still on the porch?” I asked.

“No, they’re just inside the front door. What are you going to do with them? Aren’t you worried they’ll be stolen?”

“Given the circumstances, they’re in the safest place right now. If I had them at the lodge, I probably would have thrown them in the fire or Shannon would have lifted a few to sell to his guests.”

“OK, Tom, but you’d better do something soon.” Mark had a worried look. He was worried I’d lose them.

“I might send the lot down to Toronto and Dr. MacCallum to deal with them,” I replied. Normally I’d take them back with me in the Fall, but I wasn’t going back to Toronto. Mark didn’t know this part of the plan yet. Nor did he know I was leaving within days.

I looked directly at Mark, “I need you to do a favour for me. If circumstances don’t permit, can you make sure they get sent to Toronto?”

“I’m not sure I can do that, Tom.” Mark lowered his eyes and took a draw from his pipe. “Right now they’re in the possession of the Trainors. Wouldn’t be right for me to go in and take them.”

“Mark, if something does happen, can I count on you?”

“Tom, I don’t know what you’re getting at. Sounds like you’re trying to wind up your affairs here.”

I realized I might have gone too far with the request, “No worries, Mark. Things will sort themselves out. I’m going away for a few days fishing trip. Just keep an eye on Shannon.”

“That I can do Tom,” Mark smiled. He knew what Shannon could do in the dishonourable department. “I’ll keep your back. How’s the Big Trout up at Joe Lake Dam? Is he still smarter than you?”

I smiled, “Well let’s find out.” I had my gear on the verandah and was planning to go up there shortly. So I grabbed it and Mark and I walked up together and I fished for a couple of hours but with no luck. So the Big Trout is still smarter than me – for today, that is.

While I was fishing, I was watching the clouds – big clouds. The humidity of the day was being drawn up by the heat, forming huge clouds. They were big enough to hid a flotilla of Zeppelins. Judging the the colours of the clouds, it was a sure thing that it would rain like the Dickens tonight. I’ll stay at the lodge again tonight because Shannon has pretty much made me paid for my stay. I was also thinking of what to do with the sketches. I’m glad I asked Mark to take care of them on my behalf, if need be. I couldn’t trust Shannon and I certainly couldn’t expect the Trainors to honour any of my wishes, especially if I was gone with Winnie. Everyone respected Mark, and he was a Park authority. If things ever turned sour, I knew I could rely on Mark to settle things for me the fairest way possible.

The clouds cleared later in the evening and the full moon shone through. It reminded me of a sketch I did in 1915. But I was in no mood to make a new sketch. I’m trying to get rid of my old ones.

July 3, 1917 A Year’s Savings Gone

July 3, 1917

I’m planning to leave this Sunday. At Winnie’s urging I needed to settle my accounts with Shannon this week. We had agreed on rates back in April and by mid-July I would be getting about $100 on my loan. Since I was going to leave a week earlier than I had planned I thought it fair just to ask for $100 and not worry about the week. I had $13 in cash and $37 in the bank. So the total sum I had was $150, about a year’s worth of savings,after living expenses, for a worker. If I was frugal, I could easily live on this amount for a year, even supporting a wife and child. I recall Lismer saying that when he came to Canada, he only had enough for his fare and $5 left over. He quickly found a job, bought a suit on credit and he was on his way to being established in the New World. I was feeling good about the whole situation until I talked to Shannon.

“Tom, things have changed since we talked last April. I’m afraid the rate’s has gone up to $2 per day.” I was dumbfounded. A quick calculation revealed that by Shannon’s new terms, instead of receiving $100, I’d be owing Shannon $12.

“Shannon, that wasn’t the deal we made back in April,” I tried not to show my exasperation.

“Sorry Tom, those are the new terms. You can’t exactly leave it, so you’ll have to take it.” Shannon shrugged. I’m pretty sure he knew exactly the situation I was in, and I wasn’t in a position to bargain.

“Shannon, I need the loan settled. I’m planning to leave for out west mid-July.” I lied, I was going to leave a week earlier. I wanted to be out of the country before the bloodhounds got onto our track.

“Okay, Tom. I’ll cut you a deal. I’ll settle for $25 and get the money to you next week.”

I hated dealing with money, “Shannon, can you get it for me on Sunday?”

“I’l try, Tom. Cash is short around here.”

I felt betrayed. I don’t care that much about the money. It was the going back on the deal we had made in the spring. But I hate conflicts too. I was never that good at dealing with my own financial affairs – not that I was incompetent. I just didn’t care that much. My older brother George managed my affairs when I was out West, and back in Toronto, Lawren Harris and Dr. MacCallum did it for me. I know the man of the household is supposed to take care of these things, but I fully expect Winnie to manage our accounts. She’s trained in such things and I believe that is the success of our relationship. She worries about the numbers and I worry about the art. And we meet in the middle with fishing. I can’t think of a better arrangement with a woman than what I’ll have with Winnie.

After that episode with Shannon, all I could think about was fishing at Joe Lake Dam. I got my gear and went out back through the summer kitchen. Annie was in the kitchen making strawberry pies. The strawberries are ready, and Mildred had gone out in the morning and picked a few pints.

“Tom, you going out fishing?” Annie asked.

“Yes, Annie,” I replied.

“Well say hi to Annie Colson while you’re up there, ” Annie said. “Please tell her I’ll be needing some baking supplies: sugar, baking powder, flour and some molasses. I’ll send Shannon to pick them up when the next train comes in.”

There was no reason for Annie to tell me this detail. The only reason I could fathom is that she sensed the tension and the only way to cut it was to talk about something mundane and trivial. That was such a Victorian way of dealing with personal crises. Much like a sergeant serving tea to a soldier shot in the stomach. Medically, it was the worst thing you could do, but the act of courtesy was really a shrouded act of denial awaiting the inevitable outcome. Annie realized I would be leaving soon. Unlike an anonymous and impersonal enemy bullet, the results of her actions (inappropriate, I might add) were driving an inevitable outcome.

I spent the afternoon at Joe Lake and caught nothing. Mark Robinson dropped by and watched me for a while. Mark’s son, Jack also came along and I showed him a few casts and how to tie a lure. I talked about the “Big Trout” I was trying to catch. I told him that “Big Trout” was starting to get the reputation that he was smarter than the local artist. We fished for a while longer and from where we were fishing we could see the berm by the Shelter House. I told Mark that if the berm prevented either of his daughters from rolling into the lake then I had truly served my purpose here in the Park.

July 2, 1917 Ash Can

July 2, 1917

Last night turned out to be quite a celebratory affair. George Rowe showed up later in the evening. He had procured some fireworks and needed a willing audience. Lowrie came too. He had returned from Huntsville (I was not expecting him) and was George’s fireworks assistant (pyrotechnician, I think is the proper term.)

George and Lowrie set up the fireworks a good 300 yards south of the Trainor and Blecher cottages. Far enough away from the cottages but more importantly, away from the chipyard should anything catch fire If anything did catch fire, it would be close to the Canoe Lake dump, which Shannon would set on fire once or twice a year to get rid of the trash.

And sure enough, during the firework performance something did catch fire and we had to rush down the old Gilmour Road to put out a stump that was the unlucky recipient of a malfunctioning firework. Despite the mishap, it was all great fun and the fireworks were a spectacle to behold. I got to practice my Fire Ranging skills once again.

After the fireworks, I didn’t go back to the campsite but stayed in my room at the lodge. I don’t have many belongings there, most of my stuff is at the camp, but I have a few books in my room. Mostly books that have been lent to me or ones that I have picked up after the guest have left. Lawren Harris, the last time we were together, gave me his copy of ‘Art” by Clive Bell. He said it was a good read on art theory and that I should read it. I started it and read a good description on the aesthetics of art. He described art as being a form of lines, colour and a sense of space that invokes emotion in the observer. Bell also said that art has nothing to do with facts or representation – an immaculately produced drawing can have absolutely no artistic merit at all. Being a trained as a commercial artist, I knew exactly what Bell was getting at and I felt vindicated in what I was doing with my spring sketches. So far this is a good book and I’m glad that Lawren encouraged me to read it.

Harris had also mentioned the Ash Can School. It was a group of artists down in Philadelphia. The group had only recently become known as creating “ash can art”. I am not sure what the name actually meant other than they were trying to represent things as they really were – not some muddy or washed out pastoral pastiche scene. What this group of artists was painting in the city sound like what I was trying to paint here in the North. Harris said, that this group would be good to fall in with, if I ever decided to go south of the border

So I started to mull over the idea of going down Philadelphia with Winnie. I’m not sure how long my funds would tide me through (once I got them from Shannon), but I am sure I could get along with the Ash Can artists. Philadelphia could be an initial stopping point before going further south and west. I think that Winnie has some relatives in Pennsylvania. I doubt we would ever consider seeing them, but just the fact of having relatives close by might be a comforting factor for Winnie. I was also considering going to New Haven Connecticut, where my brother George is. He’s the head of the art society there, but unfortunately it’s my sense that the members there are similarly cut in the cloth as the O.S.A. members in Toronto. I am also sure that once I arrived there, George would implore me to ‘do the right thing’, the ‘right thing’ being whatever he tells me to do. When I meet up with Winnie, we can then make up our plans and decide.

When I went out on the front verandah this morning, I noticed that Canoe Lake had a very strange haze on it. It wasn’t fog. It was a smoke haze from a distant forest fire. I had seen this before where the haze would be blown in from hundreds of miles away. I remember the Matheson Fire from the previous year (July 1916) I was a fire ranger at the time, and  although the fire was hundred of miles away, the smoke covered the entire Park and the lakes had the same eerie haze as Canoe Lake does now. I doubt the haze came from George’s misfired fireworks, but maybe George decided to a repeat act at the Highland Inn and started a doozy of a forest fire. By my knowledge, the Highland Inn could be burned down to the ground at this very instant.

So I decided to spend the day at Mowat Lodge. There was about twenty guests. This kept Shannon and Annie busy, especially to settle in the new one. I stayed in one corner and read Bell’s Art for the better part of day while thinking about my plans. Shannon and Annie could see that I didn’t want to be bothered, so they left me alone. The other big piece of business I needed to settle with Shannon was getting the money I loaned him. I wasn’t looking forward to that discussion, but I needed to have it. I needed the money by the end of the week.

July 1, 1917 Dominion Day

July 1, 1917

Today was Dominion Day.

Since it was the 50th anniversary of Confederation, Shannon thought it would be a good idea to have a celebration on the summer dock by the lake. Normally, the big celebrations only happened on Victoria Day, but Shannon read in the papers that Ottawa was marking Dominion Day as a special occasion and there were celebrations happening in Ottawa. Not be outdone by the capital of the Dominion, Shannon decided to have his day long pageant, which was a bust on Sovereign’s Day.

The plan was simple, but the burden of effort fell on Annie. First, an outdoor dinner at noon was to be held on the summer dock, then followed by a canoe regatta. Initially, the dinner was to be held on the verandah of Mowat Lodge, but since there were no screens, and the horse stable was close by, there would be problem with the flies. So the decision was made to relocate down at the dock. This meant hauling down tables and chairs over 200 yards, so we loaded up Shannon’s wagon and brought it down to the dock. We set up the tables and seating for about twenty.

We also brought down two fireless cookers. Shannon had procured these earlier in the spring. Fireless cookers had become the fashion since the rise in cost in fuel. Earlier in the morning, Annie had first heated beans on the stove (soaked overnight) and started a large pot roast. When these were well on their way about( about 10am) she transferred the contents to the cookers and we brought them down to the dock. The principle of the fireless cooker was simple and elegant. The pots were inside an insulated box of fire stone and asbestos. The box was then filled with hot cinders from the stove, and the cooking continued. The best thing about the cookers was that we could retrieve the hot food without traversing the 200 yards back to the Lodge. In addition to the hot menu, Annie had prepared rhubarb sauce, bread and butter sandwiches and rice pudding with raisins for for dessert. It was going to be a fine dinner.

The sun was out, it was cool and the wind was brisk, but not so brisk to blow everything off the table. The wind was also strong enough for regatta. We planned to use the canvas canoes that were outfitted with sails.

To start the dinner, Shannon had asked a favour of me. Earlier in the week, the papers had published a song that was to become the new national anthem. It was titled ‘O Canada’ and was going to be used officially open the Golden Jubilee celebrations in Ottawa. It was also going to be performed at the Westminster Abbey religious service to honour Canada’s contribution to the war. So Shannon asked me to practice the song. I didn’t have my mandolin, so I borrowed a guest’s Gibson. The melody wasn’t hard to learn. I found it rather plodding, but I guessed it was an appropriate difficulty level for those who didn’t sing. Similar to Amazing Grace – not the most beautiful song on its own, but when sung together as a group, it had power.  I asked Charlie Scrim to make copies of the lyrics. He wrote out ten copies of the lyrics.

O Canada, our heritage, our love
Thy worth we praise all other lands above
From sea to see throughout their length
From Pole to borderland
At Britain’s side, whate’er betide
Unflinchingly we’ll stand
With hearts we sing, “God save the King”
Guide then one Empire, do we implore
And prosper Canada from shore to shore.

We sang the song at the start of the dinner. The effect was not only powerful it was magical. I played through the melody two times, then I sang it solo for everyone to get comfortable with the lyrics. Then we sang it together. We looked at each and realized that this was to be the song of Canada. The after silence was a golden moment. Shannon began to unload the fireless cookers and the ones with baked beans fell off the side of the dock into the water. We had the pot roast for Dominion Day and the shore minnows had baked beans for the rest of the week.


June 30, 1917 Letter to Winnie

June 30, 1917

Dear Winnie,

I could not make the reservation at Billie Bear Lodge. We must meet in South River instead. I’ve sent some of my gear to the Wattie family and we can leave from there. I am planning to be at the New Queen’s Hotel on Saturday, July 14th. I plan to leave from Mowat Lodge on Sunday the 8th by canoe and make my way to South River. You can take the train early Saturday and meet me there. On Sunday, we can take the train to North Bay or to the Soo to catch a lake steamer.



June 30, 1917 Summer Arrivals

June 30, 1917

It was a busy day at the train stations today. Canoe Lake, Joe Lake and Algonquin Park Stations. The No, 52 First Class East Bound arrived at 12:23pm and the passenger coach was full. Shannon Fraser was there with his hearse. Martin Blecher was there with his putt-putt boat and I went up too, mainly for curiosity, but also to see if any mail came in.

Six guests for Mowat Lodge disembarked. Two guests from Toronto and four from Buffalo, New York. The Howland family got off too. The Dr., his wife and young daughter. They were staying on Little Wap Island at the Statten cabin. Mark Robinson was on the train too with his family, but he’d be getting off at Joe Lake Station, another three minutes journey. Mark stepped out for a moment.”Good to see you, Tom,” Mark smiled as he greeted me. “I got the whole family in the car, got to get back in, see you soon.”

“Hello, Mark,” I replied, “Good to see you too. By the way your berm is done. Your daughters won’t roll into the lake now.”

Mark smiled, tipped his had and got back on the train. After the hubbub of unloading the luggage, it started to steam forward again. Judging by the remaining passengers, it looked like a good twenty passengers or so were heading to Algonquin Hotel or to the Highland Inn.

There was no sign of the Trainors. They might be coming on the Third Class later in the afternoon, but somehow I doubted that they’d be coming at all after what happened in Huntsville. I had written a letter to Winnie, and I would give it to Lowrie to deliver when I was doubly sure they weren’t coming.

Shannon quickly determined that he could not carry all of the passengers with their luggage so he enlisted the aid of Martin Blecher to bring the luggage down Potter Creek. Martin had expected this to happen, so he was ready. It was quite a spectacle to see the luggage go sliding down the chute towards the water. One guest shrieked as she saw her trunk disappear into what appeared to be deep water. The chute was steep and you couldn’t see the dock and Martin’s boat unless you peered over the edge. Shannon liked to shock his guests by tossing their luggage down the chute. It made for a good laugh on his part but I was never sure if it was a wise thing to do with first time guests. First impressions, good or bad always stick. Despite my good and bad dealings with Shannon, I always remember that first time I was in Algonquin back in 1912 with my friend Ben Jackson. We had just arrived, keen and eager and  ready to canoe into a late afternoon storm. Shannon advised that we stay the night and we did. And I’m glad we did. The storm turned out to be minor gale and we would have been in deep trouble, if not in dire distress. Instead, we spent the night with a fine dinner from Annie, and stories from Shannon. We set off the next day in good weather. It was this initial hospitality that I always gave Shannon the benefit of the doubt – on his good days and his bad days.

Martin loaded the luggage into his boat. He also took the Howlands. He’d ferry them over to Little Wap Island after he dropped the luggage off at Mowat Dock. He brought the Stattens over yesterday morning, so their canoe was still on the island. I must admit, that despite his unpleasant character and mannerisms, Martin was always willing to help out when needed. I think that comes from his father’s side, certainly not from his mother’s.

The infusion of the new guests into Mowat Lodge put the whole place into good cheer. There was a general excitement as tomorrow was Dominion Day and it was Canada’s Fiftieth Birthday. Some were saying that we were now becoming a real country, not just another British colony. After the success of Vimy Ridge and Borden’s trip to England, Canada was starting to have some say in the War Effort. Until now, Canada had nothing to say in the War except to fulfil its obligations for men and material. Most of us who were born here thought of ourselves as nothing more than distant British subjects. It was Lismer who made me appreciate that we were different than the British, not simply inferior as they would have us to believe. Lismer said that harshness of the seasons and climate made Canadians more part of nature and its landscape. This wasn’t the case in Britain, where the landscape was secondary to traditions and culture built up over the millennia. Unlike the British, Canadians had more opportunity to be honest with who they are and did not have to hemmed in by dead movements or dead traditions. Unfortunately, Lismer said that most Canadians were unaware of the opportunities they had and were more worried about making a dollar.

So spirits were up at Mowat Lodge. The weather had turned toward the better and the sun came out for the afternoon. The good weather gave me a chance to dry out my canvas tent. I decided to set myself up for a challenge. After catching no fish with Charlie yesterday, I decided to up the ante and try to catch the big one down below Joe Lake Dam. We knew it was down there – at least a twenty-pounder. If I could catch the big trout on Dominion Day, it would be cause for a real celebration.

June 29, 1917 Letter to Lismer

Mowat Letterhead-640Algonquin Park June 29, 1917

Dear Arthur,

I hope this letter finds you well.

I have done no sketching since the flies started. I have been doing some guiding but not as much as I would like. I had some Americans a couple of weeks ago and I have had some political men from Ottawa. There’s word that the Province might allow deer hunting to feed the troops at the front. There’s lots of deer, some are calling it an infestation, like the wolves, better to be eliminated for good of mankind, they say. I’m not sure of that. I get along with the wildlife quite well.

I am getting along with folks here at Canoe Lake. Shannon Fraser is up to his shenanigans, but Annie keeps him in line. With the Temperance Act it is hard to get liquor unless a doctor prescribes, but Shannon seems to know where to get a good supply. I am sure Mark Robinson knows, but he has been away since mid June and turns a blind eye if there’s no trouble. It’s Martin Blecher not Shannon that’s the trouble. Always fighting with his sister, and is always looking to throw a punch at you if you say something untoward.

I am considering going out West later this summer. I received word that John McRuer is terribly sick and might not last out the year. Terrible shame. Later July, early August I am planning a trip to Temagami with Tom Wattie. I’ve sent him some equipment.  I may not return to Canoe Lake but instead go to Ottawa for a few days. I may go visit my folks in Owen Sound. I didn’t see them this Spring.

The War is going on and I don’t like the talk of conscription. Maybe it’s time to move on.

Give my regards to your family.

Yours Truly,

Tom Thomson