April 16, 1917 Inners and Outers

April 16, 1917

I wrote a letter early this morning to my father. I promised Shannon that I would take the mail to the train station first thing in the morning. Shannon needed to get his order to the Renfrew Creamery so he couldn’t afford to miss the mail today.

Shannon asked me to walk with Mildred on her way to school this morning. Mildred is the daughter of Shannon and Annie. She’s thirteen, and this will be her last year of school (Gr. 8) unless she decides to go to high school. That would be in Kingston where she has some family. My feeling she is going to stick around working at the Lodge, or at most get a job at the Highland Inn. She’s too attached to her mother and grandmother to stay away for long.

Mildred looks like Shannon, but she has the resolve of Annie. She’s pretty smart with numbers too and she’ll probably end up as a store or play clerk, like what Winnie does in Huntsville.

The walk up to the schoolhouse is a good mile or more. That’s if the crow flies. But you have to make your way around the chip yard, so by the time it’s done, it’s almost another half-mile . There’s some other kids from a family that live in a Gilmour shanty house further south on the road. Shannon takes turns to give rides, taking them to school and bringing them back in the afternoon. When the weather gets better the kids will walk alone. But today was a problem for Shannon. He had to put an end to the milk cow (the one with mastitis) and needed the wagon. The other family had an emergency – the mother had an attack of some sort. Molly Colson went to see her last night and the kids were in no condition to go to school today. It’s safe for an adult to to walk along, but with all the deer around, the wolves are still hanging around too. They are fewer in number due to the poisonings, but lately they’ve been getting closer to the houses.  Wolves normally don’t like to be around people, but there’s speculation there’s been some cross-breeding with dogs, or they’re being fed by the poachers makes them no longer scared of people. So that’s why Shannon asked me to walk Mildred up to the school this morning, just to be safe. Shannon said he’d be done with the cow and would be able to get her in the afternoon. Despite his faults, Shannon is a good father to Mildred, and she’ll turn out to be a good girl.

After dropping Mildred off, I decided to pay a visit to Annie Colson at the Outfitters Store. She was busy getting things ready. Said she didn’t have much time, but she made tea and we sat and chatted. She was happy to be on her own venture now. She worked for long enough at the Highland to get sick of the “Inners” as she called them. The city-slicking guests who dressed up and took for granted room-service in the wilderness. At least with outfitters store at the Algonquin Hope, she hoped to deal with “Outers” as she calls them, people who know their way around outside.

I dropped the mail off at Joe Lake Station instead. It didn’t really matter whether it was Canoe or Joe Lake Station it ended up in the same mailbag. I just had to make sure it was the Arnprior-bound bag.

I went to the east shore of Joe Lake and found a north-facing slope and made my sketch. It was similar to what I had painted a couple of days earlier, but it was mostly more mature maples this time. There was a number a sap-pails on the trees. I don’t think these were Shannon’s or Ed Colson’s either. I had no idea whose pails these were, so I left them well enough alone.

The water is running pretty hard at Joe Lake Dam. The streams have all much broken free of ice now. The winter scenes in the woods are becoming a bit tiresome now so I think I’ll try some rapids in the next few day.

I heard what I thought was thunder or dynamite. It wasn’t either. It was the lake ice cracking.

April 16, 1917 Letter to Father

April 16, 1917

Mowat P.O. Canoe Lake

Dear Father:

I have been up here for two weeks making sketches. Had intended going up home for a day or two before coming here but wanted to be here before the snow was gone so could not spare the time. The lakes are still frozen over and will be for two or three weeks yet and there is still about two to three feet of snow in the bush so I expect to get a lot more winter sketches before the snow and ice are all gone.

Tom Harkness and Walter Davidson were in to see me the day before I came here also Miss Andrews and Low Julian (I don’t know if the last name is spelled properly or not) but I don’t think they enjoyed the show a great deal as they are taking lessons from Manley the worst painter in Canada.

Am stopping at the Post Office here until the ice goes out when I will start to camp again. have tried fishing thru the ice two or three times but have had no success yet have caught some ‘ling’ which is a cross between an eel and a fish but they don’t use them up here.

I did not send any paintings to the O.S.A. Exhibition this year and have not sold very many sketches but think I can manage to get along for another year at least I will stick to painting as long as I can.

I got quite a lot done last winter and so far have got some pretty good stuff, since I came here and expected to do a great deal between now and June.

Have not decided if I will stay here the whole summer or not.

Hoping you are all well. I remain your loving son.

April 15, 1917 Catching Ling and Field Glasses

April 15, 1917

It’s Sunday today. I thought of going to the Colsons at the Algonquin Hotel. Ed Colson is a lay preacher and they hold a service 11am but I decided to stay back for Annie’s Bible reading.

Despite its larger population in its glorious history, Mowat Village never had a decent church. Despite the village being named after the Provincial Premier, Oliver Mowat, it never gained any stature. There were missionaries that came to minister to the souls of the village – that’s how the Trainor cottage, the “Manse” got its name, but a church was never established. The leases down by the shore were once owned by a Reverend Turk, a Methodist minister from Owen Sound. The Manse (now the Trainor cottage) was large enough to hold services for those interested, which wasn’t very many. Back in the day, there were a lot of French Canadians in Mowat Village. They didn’t have a priest or a church. And I’m sure that the Methodists just assumed that the French, being Catholics, were destined to Hell and not worth saving.  Thus the French never viewed the area as being home, and  were the first to clear out when the village began its decline. Shannon said there were are a few left when he first arrived in 1907, but they were gone soon after. “Gone to Hell, I think” Shannon said.

A couple of years ago I asked my parents if they ever heard of Rev. Turk in Owen Sound. The answer was an emphatic “No! Why would we know any Methodists? They’re worse than the Baptists!”. Rev Turk, according to Shannon, was an odd missionary and that he was rather ‘loose in his beliefs.’ I thought this was a judgemental statement by Shannon, because his belief system, in my view, was on one of the lower rungs of the religion ladder.

Rev. Turk finally came to his senses in 1910 and decided to leave his calling and cash out his village investments. He had a lease on a large shore lot, and sold part to the Blechers (the southern part), another part to the Trainors (the Manse on the southern part) and, between these two, another lease to the Hayhursts. The result was three unrelated vacationing families, living in  close quarters by the shore. In the evenings, there was much entertainment to be had on the verandah on Mowat Lodge. Shannon has a pair of field glasses, and the pastime of many evenings was to pass these glasses around to observe the comings-and-goings near the shore. The Blechers were especially entertaining because the younger ones would fight like roosters. Once there was something floating in the lake; it took the field glasses to discern that it was a chair that originated from inside the Blecher household. Over time, the passing of the field glasses become an illicit and secret ritual known only to the Mowat Lodge residents. Everyone was forced to swear not to reveal this secret to the cottagers down by the shore. Shannon was gracious enough to let the consumptives in on the secret;  it helped them to pass the time while on doctor’s orders.

My friend Charlie Scrim had arrived the other day. He was in rough shape when he first arrived so I let him alone. I promised to take him ice-fishing when he felt better and before it’s too dangerous to go on the lake. Today, he was feeling better, and the ice was getting more rotten, so today was the day of opportunity because tomorrow might be certain death. We decided to go after the Sunday noon dinner. 

Charlie and I are very good friends. We met the previous summer when he came from Ottawa for recuperation. He was diagnosed with the consumption and immediately dispatched from working in the family business in Ottawa to recuperate here in the Park. The Scrim’s have a florist business in Ottawa and a big part of their business is flowers for funerals and memorials. Since consumption was a major driver of the flower business, I suspect that Charlie’s condition became an awkward reminder that his demise might be the next occasion for flowers. More likely, the family didn’t want the word get out that there was a consumptive working in the flower shop. It would be bad for business. So Charlie, as a consumptive and like many out-of-wedlock pregnant women, disappeared without notice to visit a distant relative. And that’s how many of the consumptives show up here at Mowat Lodge. I am not sure where the pregnant women go, but it certainly isn’t anywhere in the Park.

Since Charlie was in better spirits, we spent the morning catching up on the goings on in Toronto and Ottawa. I told him that it was exceedingly unpleasant for a single man to be seen alone in the city, hence my early departure up north. Charlie said much the same of Ottawa, but he said the city was still pretty jittery after the Parliament fire and reports of night-time air raids threatening attacks from over the border. The possibility of raids were never substantiated, but after Premier Borden ordered a blackout in 1915, anything was credible. Other reports of sabotage put people on edge: the Black Tom explosion in New York, the trestle incident on the Vermont border, and attempted bombing of a munitions factory down in Windsor. The official word on the Parliament fire was that it was an accident, but the perfect act of sabotage always looks like an accident. The report said flames came out of nowhere in the Parliamentary reading room, most likely from a forgotten lit pipe. But the speculation by many that it was a incendiary fluid poured on the newspapers by a German saboteur.

I told Charlie that Park Superintendent George Bartlett was getting jittery too. I told him that Mark Robinson just came back and is staying at the shelter house by Joe Lake Station. Mark’s supposed to keep an eye on Sim’s Pit and the trestles. Bartlett trusts Robinson more than any other ranger. A few years ago, Mark single-handedly apprehended a suspected killer and disarmed his from his gun. Bartlett commended Mark on his bravery and duty, but then ruled the incident as an accident and let the man go. Within the Park, the Province gave Bartlett the powers of judge, jury, police and coroner. Everyone jokes that while God is the supreme ruler of the Dominion, he plays second-fiddle to Bartlett in the Park.

After our chat, I went out for a quick sketch and was back in time for 11:00am Bible reading. I like this time of day in the spring time because of the contrast and angles of the shadows. Between 10 and 11 is the perfect time of shadows and bright sunlight and I wanted to catch a good scene before noon. I hiked up not too far away from Canoe Lake Dump. The path to the dump was pretty much cleared off. No bears to be seen. Shannon had mentioned he was going to make a trip when it was dry enough so I told him I’d have a look and let him know the condition of the path. It’ll be at least another two weeks before he can make the trip. Despite the dump in the foreground, I had a good and view of the lake. I sketched, sitting on old chair with no back. I’m not sure why the chair was still in the dump. It could be easily fixed. I’m sure if Shannon sees the chair he’ll bring it back.

In the afternoon, I went ice-fishing with Charlie. We went down to the shore of Canoe Lake just in front of the Blecher cottage. We walked down from the Lodge, about 250 yards from the cottages and the shore.  A challenging walk for any consumptive. and Charlie was tuckered out by the time we got there. We went out about a 100 yards, and chopped a small hole. We quickly caught some ‘ling’, and eel-like fish. We threw them back into the water, because Annie doesn’t want those things in the lodge.  ‘Any watery relative of the serpent is not welcome in my establishment’, Annie once acclaimed when she first saw a ling. I thought she was talking about Shannon not being welcome.

We tried again an again; no trout, just ling after ling. We came back empty-handed but Charlie was in better spirits after the expedition.

The Sunday finished out as any Sunday should.  A fine dinner, and whisky by the fireplace. The field glasses were on the fireplace mantle. They would remain there unused, until it came close to ice-out later in the spring or when the the cottagers moved in for the summer.

That’s it for now. I plan to to write a letter to my father later this evening or early tomorrow.

April 14, 1917 Of Sick Cows and Infirms

April 14, 1917

1917 Winter in the Woods

It was Saturday morning breakfast this morning. On Saturdays, Annie likes to put on a bigger selection than the other days of the week. On Sundays she likes to have a humble breakfast, while on weekdays it’s more of a simple working man’s breakfast. Today it was pancakes, bacon, brown beans and maple syrup (Shannon’s maple syrup and it still tasted funny)

I found out there was a crisis in the barn this morning. Annie went out to milk the cow and could get nothing more than a yellowish puss from it. She came back in a panic and Shannon went out to try to milk the cow. After some swearing and a few kicks (both by Shannon and the cow) nothing came out, except for the ooze. It was mastitis. The cow had mastitis. It’s a nasty infection in the udder that turns the milk pretty much into cheese. The cow’s udder was rock hard and it looked in pain. It wasn’t just one quarter, it was all four quarters that were infected. This cow wasn’t going to be long for this world, and a surfeit of old cow stewing beef would be in short order.

That meant Shannon needed milk for the week. In a pinch he could borrow some from the Colsons, but he’d have to start ordering from Renfrew. Grocery shipments came in on the Friday train. They had a special ice-car to ship milk and butter but it only came once a week. You had to place your mail your order in on Monday, and it would arrive on Friday. That meant almost a week of milk rationing. We could make do with cans of Klim (evaporated milk) that was left over from last season.

A few things about the rail services here in the Park. Mail and newspaper delivery was about as good as it gets. Ironically, being in the wilderness here, we had better connections to the outside world than most of the province. The rail stations had telegraphs, Park Headquarters and the Rangers’ cabins had telephones. You could phone to New York, Ottawa and Toronto – if you had friends on the other end with a telephone. They were still pretty new and most business was still done by mail and telegraph. Mail was especially efficient. I could send a letter by noon the one day, and it would be in Toronto or Owen Sound by noon day after next.

Food shipments were another matter. The railwaymen treated food shipments as their own traveling buffet. They would help themselves to the sausage, butter and fruit as they saw fit and to cover their tracks they would feign an unloading accident on the station platform. Once Shannon returned thoroughly enraged, when his orange crates were busted and all of his oranges had rolled down the hill into the lake. In his rage, he neglected to notice that he was missing several pounds of butter, links of sausages and milk. Annie noticed this when she reconciled the shipment with the order but by that time it was too late. As a result of the unreliable food shipments, the Frasers try to order as little as they can or food that takes some effort to steal and prepare – like bags of potatoes or flour. But they needed milk, so they had no choice to start ordering again.

I went sketching in the early afternoon. It was spring in the openings, but it was still as much as winter in the woods. I went due west into the bush and came across a grove of young maple saplings growing beside a pine stump. The stump was over 3 feet in diameter, so the fate of this tree (from many years ago) would have been a mast for a tall ship. You could see the maples were competing for the light and were growing as tall and quickly as they could. Only a few would survive into maturity. I couldn’t help but relate this to Vimy and the boys overseas. Thousand had to die, so only a few fat old men could benefit in their armchairs. Like a lumber baron or an industrialist.

When I returned, the consumptives were out on the porch. It was a miserable day for them. The cold wind was coming straight at them from across the lake ice. One of them was in tears and wanted to go back in. But Shannon wouldn’t let them. He had to follow the doctor’s orders or he wouldn’t get the extra doctor’s allowance they paid him. Fortunately, Molly Colson came by to check up on them. While she is a hotel proprietor, she is a nurse too. She has an arrangement with George Bartlett to keep an eye on the sick and be ready in case on an emergency. She’s delivered babies in snowstorms, mended broken limbs in lumber camps, and now, treating the infirm at Mowat Lodge.

Shannon was happy he didn’t have to pay her any money, but he did send her off with a jug of this maple syrup. The faster he can get rid of the stuff, the better.


April 13, 1917 Path Behind Mowat Lodge

April 13, 1917

1917 Path Behind Mowat Lodge

This morning I went out behind Mowat Lodge. The sun was back out, and the ice pellets that fell early in the morning were quickly melted away by the sunlight. The snow is still deep in many places and along the paths that have been travelled on by sleds and still solid with the snow. It’s a contradiction that the better travelled paths in winter are the most difficult to traverse in spring time. I walked along one of the paths and came upon this nice scene later in the morning.

This path in the sketch is one several paths that run off from Gilmour Road down towards Canoe Lake. You can see the lake in the distance, still iced over but the ice is getting rotten and blue. Birch trees are on both sides of the path, and there is the occasional spruce tree. These paths were used to haul the pine logs down towards the lake and then towed up toward the sawmill.

I also helped Shannon this morning to get some balsam boughs. He was going to George Rowe and Lowrie Dickson to help him out but they had a falling out. Shannon said emphatically, “They were drunk, so I fired them.” I knew that this wasn’t a big deal, because he’d hire them again the next day.

The balsam boughs are the latest in Shannon’s scheme to promote the health-compelling benefits of Mowat Lodge. Drafty doors and windows also provide health-compelling benefits according to Shannon. Every week he puts fresh boughs of balsam in the rooms of the consumptive guests. Apparently the emanations from the boughs are helpful for breathing. For an extra charge, Shannon also makes bed mattresses out of the boughs. He got the idea when he heard that the Nominigan Lodge uses the boughs for bedding. It doesn’t look too comfortable to me. I asked Shannon about the shingles on the roof. He said he’d get to it, once he got some new hired help.

In the afternoon I decided to pay the newly-fired employees, Lowrie and George, a visit. They live about a half a mile north the lodge on a small point of land just across from where the lake splits into Potter and Joe Creek.  When I walked there, I passed by the cemetery, on the right, up on the hill. The cemetery has good view of the lake, and it’s easy to locate because of large birch tree. It must have gotten a headstart after the clearing, because it was alone, and it was larger that the other birch trees in the area. As it was the only decent tree in the area, it must have been the reason why the cemetery was located there.I could see the path up to the cemetery, but it was still covered in snow – there was no reason for any to go there. There’s only two graves there, the one is recent, from 1915 when Alexander Hayhurst died from diptheria. The family’s cottage is across the lake, near where I camp. I rememeber when Mark Robinson had to bring the casket across the lake by Canoe and Shannon brought it up to cemetery. A sad affair.

George and Lowrie live together.  They’re like father and son and they are the extent of the Canoe Lake labour market (they’ll get re-hired again by Shannon because they aret the only option). Their house is one of the old Gilmour cabins. They invited me for the evening (I warned Annie that I might not be back) and the liquor came out fast and furious. Dinner was nothing fancy. George had a stash of ship biscuits, which he soaked in water first then heated up in bacon grease. It went well with the whisky. Truth be told, anything goes well with whisky, even nothing.

George told me that he got a lease from the Province for the northern part of the Canoe Lake Sawmill. He was planning to build a new cottage on part of the old foundation and use what wasn’t already scavenged by the locals. He wasn’t worried about getting materials because he had ‘connections’ in the Park. He said he wanted to build a private indoor bathroom, just like what Bartlett had at the Park Headquarters. To his knowledge that was the only one in the Park. Even the at the Highland Inn, the rooms didn’t have private bathrooms. George wanted his own private throne in the Park. I had to admire for his acute resolve and lofty ambition.

We drank the evening any and I stumbled back at midnight.There was a thunder and lightning storm earlier in the evening but we didn’t much attention to it. I heard a few parting rumbles of the storm and saw the lightning strike the other lake.

April 12, 1917 Moving On

April 12, 1917

Winter Scene

I wrote a letter to Jim MacDonald. I wanted to get it posted this morning so it gets on its way to Toronto. The main reason for my letter was to ask him to send up some paints. I’m not yet running low, but I’m using a lot of white, more than I expected. I also forgot my flyhooks in the Shack so I asked him to find them and send them up. I’m keen to go fishing in the open water soon. I can see the brookies and they will be biting soon.

I walked up the path to Canoe Lake Station. Shannon’s sap pails are still out but it’s nearing the end of the sap season. Maybe a day or two left. It’s the tricky in-between season and the path is snow-slush or mud. It’s still impassable by any wheeled vehicle of sort and it’s tough to get the sled through the mud. It’s hard for the horses to pull through this stuff. This time of the year is hardest for the the horses and in the lumber camps it’s time of of year that they most likely to die from an accident, or exhaustion, having made it through hardship of winter, but unable to cope with the uncertain demands of spring.

The ice was still thick on Potter creek so I decided to cut across where I knew it was still safe and went to Joe Lake Dam.  Below the dam, I walked along Joe Creek, about about 100 yards to a spot where I liked to fish in the summer. This spot stays in the in the shadows and there’s still lots of snow. The creek is flowing clear of ice, but it is still a narrow channel. That was my scene to sketch today.

When I was done, I stopped by to see the Colsons at the Algonquin Hotel. They’re busy trying to get the outfit open by May. Ed and Molly Colson were the managers at the Highland Inn, but during this past winter they decided to strike out on their own and they bought the hotel from the Rochester owner. It’s a big risk for them, but I have full confidence they’ll succeed, mostly due to Molly. Molly’s discipline and resolve to succeed is stronger than anything or anyone in the Park. At the Highland Inn, Molly ran a tight ship and I’m sure she would do the same at the Algonquin. It’s my speculation that their motivation to move was the uncertainty what would happen at the railway hotels. With the Dominion Government considering the nationalizing the railroad, they might also make a clean sweep of the staff of the hotels.

Ed’s older sister, Annie Colson, came along too. She’s going to run the outfitter’s store down by Joe Lake. Annie had the reputation of getting all of the provisions just right for any canoe trip. Nothing to much, or not enough, but just right. She had a knack for sizing up a company just before they left, adding or subtracting provisions, as required.

It was Annie who greeted me at the front door. I could tell she had been working hard but was ready for a quick break. She invited me in for tea in the kitchen. It was warm, the big range was burning full-tilt, heating water for the laundry. Lizzie Dennison was in the kitchen too. She worked for the previous hotel owners. In the winter she was the cook at one of the nearby lumber camps and in spring she’d come to help get the hotel ready for the summer. Molly’s kept her on to work for her.

The tea break was prompt and short. I could sense that Annie wanted to get back to work. I didn’t see Molly but I had a feeling she knew I was around but decided that she had better things to do. I bid good afternoon and moved on my way.

I stopped at the Joe Lake shelter house. I wanted to see how Mark Robinson was doing. I knocked on the door and stepped in. Mark was just getting off the telephone. It was still a novelty for him, George Bartlett had a line installed along the rails connecting from Rainy Lake to Whitney. Bartlett had heard that the Brits ruled India by telegraph and he was determined to do the same in the Park but with the telephone. Mark said he was hoping to get the telephone line run to Scotia Junction so he could call North Bay and Toronto.  On the outside Mark was doing fine, but I could tell that he had something burning on the inside, so I made my visit a short courtesy call, and again, moved on my way back to the lodge.

The day had progressed and it became more beautiful in the afternoon. The sky had the clouds that you only see in the spring. Not the angry thunderclouds of summer, but the cotton puffy clouds that looked like sheep. Over the course of the afternoon, these sheep clouds continued to gather thickly in the eastern horizon while the western horizon was as a clear blue as it could be. I was tempted to sit down and do another sketch but my socks and larrigans were wet. If I still had my camera, I would have taken a photograph.

When I arrived at the lodge, a letter was waiting for me. It was from my father. He wrote that mother was feeling better and the War was worrying everyone. They visited Tom and Elizabeth in Annan, the first time since the beginning of winter. Father and mother visited our former neighbours, the McKeens  but didn’t go to see the old farm. The farm was out of the family now, and it didn’t seem right to visit it any more. I felt the same way too. The farm in Leith had been a good part of my life, but I’ve moved on. I am here now, but I feel like I need to move on.