November 28, 1916 Letter to Father

Tuesday, Nov 28, 1916

c/o Studio Building, 25 Severn Toronto

Dear Father,

I made it back to Toronto a couple of weeks ago. Sorry I did not write you sooner but the business of getting settled back here in the City kept me from writing any letters. A letter from George was here for me when I arrived. I haven’t had a chance to write back to him yet. He wants me to come visit him in New Haven, CT. I’m not sure if I can, if I do, it will be after Christmas.

I had a good run fire-ranging in the eastern section of the Park. Mostly around Achray. I made it to Pembroke and Bonnechere and Paugh Lake close to Barry’s Bay. I got some mason jars in Barry’s bay and while we were laid over I made blueberry preserves. The season was good this year and they were plentiful. I shipped them down to Toronto and I will bring a jar up with me.

Am sorry also I didn’t make it to Owen Sound on my way. The connections are bad from the Park and I needed to get back with my sketches. I was thinking about going to Collingwood/Meaford and taking a stage across but it was too expensive and walking not possible because I had too much with me. I’ll be up at Christmas, most likely a few days before and will stay for New Year’s. I plan to stay for a few days in town but also at Tom and Elizabeth’s in Annan. Please say hello to them. If you see the Rosses or Rutherfords, please give my regards to them too.

My plan is to paint here for the winter. I made quite a few good sketches this past summer and fall and had a quite a load coming back to Toronto. The past week I’ve been getting the place together so I can start on the canvases. Dr MacCallum is letting me stay here in the shack behind for a cheap rate. Not quite like the Chat. Laurier, but with a good fire going you’d be hard pressed to find the difference.

Please give my love to Mother and Auntie and tell them I will be up at Christmas. I’m looking forward to a fine time.

I am your affectionate son,



November 27, 1917 New Book, New Journal Entry

November 27, 1916

New book, first journal entry.

I picked up the book up at the art shop where I get supplies. I like the cover. I was going to use it for sketching, but when I opened it and saw it had lined paper, I got the idea of writing a journal. I bought the book anyway.

I’m not much for writing so I can’t promise that I’ll be making this a regular item. I’ll try my best. I enjoying writing letters, but I never write about what I truly think because I don’t know who’s going to read them.  My letters have been read by others, especially at Mowat Lodge, where it’s a recreational pastime for the nosey women.  I’m sure Annie Fraser has read all of my letters. But I am going to take care that this journal is private so I can record my thoughts. Sketches and paintings are good for expression, but there are secrets and hidden feelings within that will never be revealed unless I write about them. That’s the reason for the journal.

I’m settled in the shack now. I’ve been back the better part of two weeks.  After my time was done in Achray and Basin Depot, I went to Canoe Lake, South River (Tom Wattie) and back to Canoe Lake. Coming to Toronto, I stopped over in Huntsville at the Trainors. The connection to Owen Sound is poor so I didn’t visit my mother and father. I came straight back to Toronto. I’ll see them at Christmas.

I brought with me over a hundred sketches. I sent about sixty, early in the summer, before I went fire-ranging. I still had a few at Mowat Lodge – that’s why I went back. Though I sent a shipment down earlier I still had a good two dozen at the Lodge. When I returned, I set the sketches out to dry a bit more. They might seem dry but they stick together if they’re bundled for a long time. I had to tie them together for the train and I took them apart as soon as I got here. Only two were badly wrecked. I can probably fix them but I doubt I will be selling them so it’s not worth the trouble.

I have to start working on canvases. Dr MacCallum came by and had a look at what I had done over the season. He suggested a couple for canvases. I haven’t decided which ones to paint yet, but I am pleased with the sketches I made near Grand Lake and on the Petawawa. Dr MacCallum said he sold seven of my sketches over the summer and put the money in my account. I should have enough to tide me over the winter.

Gloomy here in Toronto. I’ll be glad to leave again in the spring, early in the spring, I hope. I plan to keep to myself as I don’t like what’s going on in the City for the War effort. There’s a new folks in the Studio Building. Jim MacDonald and Bill Beatty are still there. So is Curtis Williamson. There’s some ladies too, Dr. MacCallum told me, but I haven’t met them yet.  As my mail is addressed to the Studio Building, I’ll be dropping by most days, so I’m sure to bump into them.

I can’t promise how much and when I will write. I can paint like a storm but writing’s another thing. I can take inspiration from the boys at the Front who are writing endless streams of letters back home.  I’ve seen how the girls and wives hang onto these letters, slipping them into their purses and pockets for safekeeping, I’ve seen letters where there are sketches and pictures, but it’s the pencil-written words of  “I love you, Mum or Sweetheart” that have the most power. Maybe this journal will have that power too, but I’m not sure to whom. Maybe it’s just for me and I will just keep it that way.

First major snowstorm. Almost a foot of heavy snow. A tree came down took the electrical and telephone lines out for all of Rosedale. Winter’s justice for the rich. I only have the one bulb, so it didn’t make much difference to me. I’ve kept my lantern

Tomorrow is stretching canvas.

November 25, 1916 Song from an Unknown Logger

November 25, 1916

I learned this song from a logger I met on the Mississippi log drive. You can sign it to most melodies.

It’s fifteen a month and found
Bring your own tea
The shanty’s set high and sound,
Blankets is free.

Toad moss burns good in a pipe,
New bunks ain’t sour,
The salt pork don’t come too ripe;
We got clean flour.

You got bad hurt, you come in
We treat you fine.
We got white cloths in a tin
Some iodine.

You look like real good stayers
Born to do it;
The company’s good payers,
No worry to it.

From here Brule landing
The rampikes climb
We leave no pine top standing
Come break-up time.

November 10, 1916 Last Supper at Mowat Lodge

November 10, 1916

It’s my last evening at Mowat Lodge. Tomorrow, I plan to take the early morning train. I’ll stop in Huntsville, if the Trainors will have me, I’ll stay, or make my way back to Toronto.

Today I worked hard for Shannon. I helped him get things in order for winter. George Rowe and Lowrie Dickson helped out too. Sawing and stacking wood for the winter mostly. We moved the canoes into the storage shed and pulled one of the docks out of the water. We left the other dock – it was too far gone – the winter freeze-up will put it out of its misery.  We had to clear out the creosote from the chimneys. It builds up during the summer and you need to clear it out before the winter. It’s a dirty job but George was up to it.

Since it was my last night at the lodge, Annie made a nice supper for us all. Since I’m the only guest left at the lodge, I feel more like family. Shannon, Annie, their daughter Mildred, Shannon’s mother, Old Mrs. Fraser, and me. Shannon was feeling gracious, so he invited George Rowe and Lowrie Dickson, so it was the seven of us together in the kitchen. With three kerosene lights at full blaze and with the heat of the cook stove, it was cosy and bright – it was the cosiest and brightest place to be on Canoe Lake that evening and for a moment I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. But it would end tomorrow as I made my way toward the cold electric lights of the city and the grey film of smoke that smothered everything outside.

As is his usual manner, George kept us up to date with all of the rumours running along the rails. With so many grain cars going through the Park, grain was being siphoned off to feed the moonshine stills. Grain cars left on sidings overnight would mysteriously lose their cargo. The chief part of the mystery was how much grain could be spirited off into the bush without a trace.

The train derailments were happening with an alarming regularity. The rumours were that the saboteurs (along with the moonshiners, I reckoned) were hard at work disrupting a vital lifeline to the War. Early in the spring, 15 cars accordioned themselves into Joe Lake, almost taking with them a Pullman passenger full of troops. It took two days to pull the cars out and since the Hotel Algonquin was not yet open for the season, Shannon got the business of lodging for two nights. And Annie did what she does best – feed an army. George said the derailments were the insidious work of the Ottawa Road Master, of German descent. The railway sacked him after the Joe Lake incident. In my own mind, the saboteurs had easy work – they just had to sit back and watch the line fall into disrepair on its own. Later in the summer, there was another terrible accident. A double-header derailed and the engines fell on top of each other in a mud pond. Five people were killed – an engineer, a brakeman, and three firemen. There was a runaway train, eastbound from Rainy Lake. The engineer and brakemen gave chase with a handcar, and the stationmaster signalled ahead for the westbound trains to stop and pull off onto sidings. The runaway train eventually ran out of steam before it reached Canoe Lake.

The train comes through tomorrow at 8:15 in the morning. Shannon promised to bring me up to the station in the wagon. We stored the hearse earlier in the week and got out the sled runners for the wagon. When there’s decent snow on the ground, Shannon will get George or Lowrie to help him switch the wheels with the runners.

It’s getting late. I’m sitting by the fireplace in the dining room. My gear is packed and by the door. My sketches are tied up and bundled in burlap. Over a hundred I counted. I didn’t paint much when I was fire-ranging in the summer, but after I got fired, I painted two or three sketches each day for a month in the eastern end of the Park on the Petawawa with Ed Godin.

Time to call it a night. I plan to stop in Huntsville for a day or two and then make my way back to Toronto.



November 9, 1916 Letter to Winnie Trainor

Mowat Lodge                      Algonquin Park
~~~ Best Trout Fishing in Park ~~~
~~~ Only 8 hours by Train from Toronto. 6 hours from Ottawa ~~~
~~~ Telegram: Canoe Lake ~~~

Nov 9, 1916

Dear Winnie,

I’m here at the Frasers and plan to leave on the Sat. morning train back to Toronto. I can stop over to see you in Huntsville if your parents will have me. I’ll bring some cranberries that I got in Achray.

Sorry for not writing this summer. The fire-ranging in the dry weather took all our time. We fought a number of small fires, thankfully no big one like the one in Matheson.

I can come by the store around noon. If it is okay with your parents, I’ll stay on, but if not I can catch the next train to Toronto. I checked your cottage. Everything is ok. A skunk tried to get in underneath for the winter but Lowrie and I got him out and closed the hole back up.



November 9, 1916 Letter to JEH MacDonald

Mowat Lodge                      Algonquin Park
~~~ Best Trout Fishing in Park ~~~
~~~ Only 8 hours by Train from Toronto. 6 hours from Ottawa ~~~
~~~ Telegram: Canoe Lake ~~~

Nov 9, 1916

Dear Jim,

A short note to let you know I’ll be returning to the City next week. I’m still at the Frasers helping them get settled for the winter. Am planning to stay another two days and leave on Sat. morning train. I may stay over a night in Huntsville so expecting to be back on Monday or Tuesday latest. Obliged if you can make sure the Shack is unlocked when I return. You can ask Bill to check.

I hope you and the Mrs and doing well. Please give my regards to Thoreau.

I am bringing almost 100 sketches back with me. The Dr. will be happy.

I remain yours,





October 31, 1916 No Reformation Day

October 31, 1916

This is my last night at Mowat Lodge, Hallowe’en night.

The guest list at Mowat is pretty short right now. I’m the only one on the list, if I’m considered a guest. It’s only Shannon, Annie, their daughter, Mildred, and Old Mrs Fraser, Shannon’s mom.

Annie hates Hallowe’en. She has the same sentiments with the Ouija board. Mankind has no business conjuring up the spirits. That’s the job of the Lord to send the spirits – not mankind to send them.

Where I grew up, Hallowe’en had stiff competition. I don’t know whether it was by accident or by design, but it was the same day as Reformation Day, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door. For me, it meant an obligatory church service, when the other kids were going out for their treats. Well, anyway, most of the kids first had to go to the church service in Leith, and I was no exception. We were excited, not because of the service, but that we could go down to Princess walk in the village to get our candied apples. The apple farmers up the line came to the village with their candied apples to give away along with a six-quart basket of apples to the kids. It was a sight. They’d bring their wagons, set up their pumpkins and candles, and what was otherwise a dark night in the village became a festival. Afterwards, I’d walk back with my sisters and brothers (my parents went straight home after the church service) and we’d marvel at the trees, devoid of their leaves, looking like skeletons in the night. During the dark journey back, we’d tell each other scary stories. My favourite was about the lost coffin up by Coffin Cove, named after the lost coffin, of course.  The story told of a shipwreck one night years ago on the bay where a soul was lost.  The next day a coffin was delivered to collect the body, but the body was never found. And then the coffin mysteriously disappeared. Since that day, people say they’ve seen a ghost wandering on the shore looking for its body and the coffin to lay itself to rest.

We walked by the church and we avoided the cemetery, not because we were afraid of the ghosts. From our stories, the ghosts mostly came from shipwrecks and stayed close to shore ( I never went to the shore alone at night). Nothing to worry about one or two concessions in from the shore.  A few years earlier someone knocked over the gravestones in the cemetery and each Hallowe’en since, the church elders made sure that someone was on guard during the night. As for the knocked over gravestones, I’m sure it was the two Mitchell boys. They wouldn’t be smart enough to think something like that by their own, they’d have to do it together. They were always getting in trouble together.

Back here at Mowat Lodge, it looks like it’s Hallowe’en but it’s certainly no Reformation Day. Shannon was never particularly astute at religious observances and I doubt the lodge front door, in its condition, could bear the burden of having 95 theses nailed to it. Shannon, being the good Catholic he is, would not have suffered the indignity having theses nailed to his front door, much less being obliged to their urgings. “This business of continual repentance is for the birds.”

This year, for both Shannon and me too, Hallowe’en and Reformation were not on the top of our minds; it was Temperance and Conscription. Since the Province passed the law in September, in Shannon’s words, the towns were drying up faster than his old milk cow. The Tourists were drying up to a trickle too. Conscription, with recruitment not replacing the troops at the front the signs was becoming even more worrying. Forced military service would become a reality, if the church recruiting committees had their way.

To formally send off the night Shannon and I had another few drinks before we turned in. The women had turned in hours ago and it was just Shannon and me. I helped him put the lamps out. I’m planning to catch the train early in the morning and he promised to bring me up. Besides, he had to pick up the mail and was expecting sundries coming in from Renfrew.

Shannon and I staggered up the stairs. In my room, my gear was packed except for my blankets. I needed them for the night. My sketches were down in the front, already packed for the journey back to Toronto. My remaining gear (snowshoes, paddles, extra rod, lures, etc.) was stored inside of my canoe in the storehouse. All ready to be retrieved next spring, if that’s what fate would allow me once more.

I was expecting it to be another cold night, but mid-afternoon the rain came in from the south and brought with it a surprising warmth. By suppertime the temperature rose into the fifties. We were on the verandah in our shirtsleeves and if I did not have a calender in hand, I had the same feeling as a night in late spring, just before the leaves burst onto the trees.

In my room, I counted my cash on the bed and it was short. I knew I still had some on account in Toronto, but I doubted it was much. I was planning to stop at Scotia Junction to see if the sketches I left there earlier in the fall had sold or to get some cash for them in advance. After I’ll go to Huntsville, Barrie maybe, and then finally make my return to Toronto.