June 21, 1917 Hesperus and Phosporous

June 21, 1917

It’s the summer solstice today. For the first time ever, the sun sets after 9 o’clock. It’s been setting a few minutes after 9 for the past few days now but since Daylight Savings Time went on for the very first time this year, it’s made the evenings longer. The extra hour is supposed to save coal and electricity in the cities. It doesn’t make any difference here, save for the changes it makes to the train schedules. Shannon said the extra hour of daylight is good for the crops. I believe he was joking on that point, but  you’re never sure. Astronomy is not his strong point. He’s hard-pressed to find the Big Dipper. He doesn’t understand the fuss about the Northern Lights, which the city folk like to call “Aurora Borealis.” Shannon thinks that term is a shameful waste of syllables.

Once, in jest, I said Shannon was as “constant as the northern star,” hoping that he would catch the allusion. I quickly realized it was lost on him on both counts. First – the reference to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar – Shannon’s literary depth went as far as compiling a grocery list. And second – that the North Star stayed in one spot in the sky – Shannon was still struggling with the concept of an extra hour of daylight. I could understand him not grasping the first allusion, but the second one, I found it inconceivable that he didn’t know that one. It’s fortunate that  Shannon does not have to rely on the stars to navigate Canoe Lake at night-time. He just has to follow the smell of Annie’s cooking.

The weather has turned for the better. The evening was serene. It was warm and the slight breeze  kept the bugs away. Knowing the weather would be nice, I decided to camp for the evening at Hayhurst Point. My campsite there is semi-permanent. It was my home away from home – just few minutes escape by canoe and easy to get back into operation.

I managed to catch a good trout for dinner. I wasn’t sure if I was going to catch anything, so I brought a few slices of bacon with me as well. I decided to prepare  both. I have more than enough food, so I’d keep my eye on the lake and if there happened to be a passerby, I’d invite them for supper.

The evening was beautiful, and nothing could be better than preparing a meal in such pleasant weather. I got the fire going, cleaned the trout, packed it with some flour and butter and put it in the reflector oven beside the fire. Then I started on the bacon and tea. There is a special trick to making tea. Most people think you add the leaves after you boil the water, but that’s not the case. You start with lake water and cold as you can get it, throw in the leaves, and remove the pot just before it comes to a boil. The real trick is to bring the water as close to a boil, but not quite  boiling.

Bacon preparation has its secrets too. You can’t just fry it. You have to parboil it first. The bacon has lots of salt for preservation, so you have to get that salt out first. You put an inch of water in the frying pan with the bacon and bring it a boil for a couple of minutes. You remove the water then fry it.

During meal preparation time, you have to keep your eye on the tea. It’s the making of good tea that makes the best tips for guides. properly steeped tea makes everything taste good. It has to be the right temperature, served at the right time, just before the meal. As soon as the lid shows a hit of steam coming from it, you take it from the fire. Once removed, you throw in a handful of cold water and that makes the leaves go to the bottom. That’s the secret technique – the other secret, as I said, is to make sure it is timed with the other food preparation.

After about a half-hour my dinner was ready, tea as well. Nobody came by in a canoe, so I had no dining partner. That was okay. I had dinner by the shore by myself. I watched the sun go down. The evening star was out – Venus, or Hesperus as it is known in Greek mythology. For all the wisdom of the Greeks, they never knew that Phosphorous (the morning star) was the very same Venus of the evening before. Hesperus and Phosphorous were the very same being, but the Greeks never figured this out. It was only when man learned that the heavens didn’t circle about the Earth that the someone figured out they were the same. It was the myth that kept man away from the true fact of the matter.

This train of thought reminded me of the ‘Wreck of the Hesperus,” the poem I knew by heart, and sang to Fanny Case and her girls. In some ways I feel the inevitability of the ‘Wreck of the Hesperus.’ Is this my fate too? Maybe I need to write a new poem called, ‘Rise of Phosphorous’, about the evening star, Hesperus, disappearing into the night, only to reappear the next day as Phosphorous, a new and different being to everyone. The secret that Venus held for millennia – that Hesperus and Phosphorous, were the same – and nobody knew. A  poem is a myth that creates a new reality.  Or maybe, it is the other way around. In either case, I needed a new reality, not just a new poem or myth. Poems and myths are for others. I’m not sure where these thoughts are taking me.

I hear the whistle of a distant train. Just a single long whistle. That means it is about to cross a trestle bridge , warning everyone well in advance.

The whistle has jolted me out of my thoughts and I look back out towards the shore. The sun is going down. The wind has stopped and the lake has turned to golden glass. It is about as peaceful as it could ever be. As for the heavenly bodies, I can only see Hesperus, but the other stars are coming out. I can’t yet see the Northern Star. But since it is constant, I knew exactly where to look. It will appear in due time. And tomorrow I will see Phosphorous.

June 20, 1917 Aliens in the Park

June 20, 1917

There’s a reason why everyone wears long sleeves in the Park. Yes, even in the middle of summer. Bugs, thistles, hawthorne bushes, raspberry thorns, poison ivy, blood root, water hemlock.

Lowrie came back with a report that he saw some water hemlock in the swampy area on near the dump. Shannon and I decided to investigate. We were in for a surprise. There weren’t just a few – there were hundreds. They were all waist-high now and by the end of the summer, they’ll be taller than an enlisted man. The water hemlock masquerades as a pretty wildflower. It smells sweet, like parsnip because it’s related to parsnip, but don’t try to eat it, it’s deadly poisonous. The sap, just a little bit, is enough to kill a full grown man. We all knew the story. Back in 1914, two American guests at the Hotel Algonquin set out for a three day canoe trip, never to return. After a week, a search party was sent out and they were found – dead at a campsite. They found a collection of water hemlock roots beside the dead men. The roots had bites out of them. .

 

We’ve all learned not to touch the stuff. Last summer, Lowrie got the sap on his arms and he couldn’t show his skin for the whole summer. Each time he exposed him arms to sunlight, he got burns ten times the worse than what you’d ever get from the sun. Shannon brought his scythe along, and he decided the best way to deal with it was to cut it down and keep an eye on it.

Giant Hogweed is an alien species in the Park. Someone brought it from overseas to decorate their garden and it got out in the wild. It looks like a wild carrot – a wild carrot from hell actually. It’s also surprising to know that many of the flowers in the meadows are not native either. Like Hogweed,  many of the garden flowers brought over from England have established themselves in the Park and are pushing out the native species. Once the pine trees were cut and cleared away, it gave these alien species opportunity to establish themselves. It’s ironic – we’ve sent our men to England to fight, and in return they give us flowers that grow in the land that should be worked by these very men who’ll never come back. It’s also ironic when people come for the ‘untouched nature’ of the Park, what they are really seeing is alien second-growth.

Aside from plants, there are other aliens in the Park. Enemy aliens as they’re called. The camp at Sims Pit has enemy aliens, and by rights, Martin Blecher Jr. is an enemy alien too.

Earlier in the morning I canoed by the Blecher boathouse. The doors were open, and I could see inside. Martin’s putt-putt boat was parked inside. Inside there was a workbench and repair tools. Martin was pretty handy with tools and he had all the expensive ones. I guess he has it pretty good; his father is a retired furniture magnate. I’m sure his father is the the one paying the bills.

I figured that Martin was sleeping once again in the boathouse. I heard the fights over at the Blecher cottage. He and his sister get into some pretty nasty fights and you can hear the yelling all the way up to the Lodge. The day before yesterday, I saw that  furniture had been thrown into the lake. I could only speculate that the nature of that fight resulted in some sort of eviction and Martin moving into the boathouse.

Martin saw me out front, “Just remember I got a gun for trespassers,” Martin gestured towards his workbench and to the gun mounted on the wall.

“Yeah, Martin. I was only passing by to say hi.” I drew my paddle back into the water and glided out of his line of sight. There was no need for him to be unfriendly. I think it’s more out of habit that he is so gruff. I’m pretty sure he learned it from his battle-axe of a mother, Louisa. Once she chased me off their property with a broom.

I try to think of other things, but Winnie is on my mind almost all the time. It’s been a few days since I sent the letter to Billie Bear Lodge. I haven’t heard anything back yet, so I’m getting worried. I am starting to think of another plan, that Winnie and I will rendezvous up in South River and then go out West from there – to North Bay, and then to the Soo. My friend, Tom Wattie and his family live in South River. If I don’t hear from Billie Bear soon I’ll  ship some gear to South River. That way, when I do leave from here, it won’t look like I’m leaving for good. I’ll wait a few more days before I decide what to do.

I went up to Joe Lake to fish this afternoon. A girl guest from the Algonquin Hotel came down to watch me. I ignored her, then she said, “You are a disciple of Izaak Walton!” I smiled and kept on fishing. I knew the game. Annie Colson gave the girl that quote. I’m sure the girl was quite smitten with me and wanted something smart to say to me. It’s happened before. The girls always seem to go to Annie for advice on what to say to me and this is the quote she gives them. It’s a game between Annie and me. The girls don’t know they’re part of a game. It’s harmless game, and I don’t do anything with it. I’d never want to get into that type of situation if the game ever got serious.

June 18, 1917 F-A-T-E-7-8

June 18, 1917

The dew was heavy this morning. I couldn’t walk more than 10 yards and my boots and trousers were soaked. The tall grass in the meadows is already starting to seed so my clothes were covered. Patches of milkweed are cropping up everywhere and I could see hanging from the milkweed a caterpillar pupa that was about ready to emerge as a Monarch butterfly. It’s called metamorphosis – the final stage – turning into a full-blown butterfly to enjoy the final few weeks of its life.

I studied  Monarch butterflies when I went with my Uncle Brodie on field trips in Toronto. He was an expert on insects, entomology, I think it is called. We called him “Dr. Brodie” which gave him the air of a scientist and researcher, but he really got his Dr.’s degree by  taking a dentistry course  which he dropped after two weeks. Needless to say, the Dr. title stuck, and Dr. Brodie became one of the foremost insect experts in Toronto. His reputation was so well regarded, he was consulted in the creation of the the Park.

A fascinating thing about  Monarch butterflies is not that they migrate from far down South –  they come from as far as Mexico. The fascinating thing is that there are four generations of butterflies when they’re here. Right now, this is the start of the second generation. The first one got its start in early May. They live for about six weeks, mate, lay eggs then die. There’ll be a third generation, and then the fourth, for some mysterious reason, has a longer life and the Monarchs migrate back down South. It goes to prove that while things get passed down through the generations,  some generations have what other generations don’t have. I often wondered about this. Did I have a distant relative from far back who was like me? Not my father, nor my grandfather. Not even my great-grandfather, but possibly my great-great grandfather. If I have a son, will he be like me? Or his son? Or his son’s son – my great grandson? What do I have that I do not know?  What will I pass down to my fourth generation? Maybe it’s my turn to migrate?

The pondering stopped when I saw Lowrie Dickson down by the shore. He hailed me down and motioned toward his shack. That was an invitation. So I made my way down, wet boots, wet trousers and all.

“Tom, I got somethin’ to show ya!” Lowrie greeted me as I got closer. “C’mon in!”

I entered his shack, and George Rowe was there too.

“We found this at the dump. We heard about them and gave it a whirl.” Lowrie showed me a board of sorts. It was an Oujia Board.

“My goodness, that’s the board Annie threw out. I thought Shannon would have burned it.” Then I remembered, Shannon hid it in the horse barn. It eventually must have ended up in Canoe Lake Dump.

“Yep. It’s a bit worse for wear.” Lowrie was proud of his find. “But you can still see all of the letters.”

I wasn’t really the superstitious type, but I was in the same camp as Annie. I didn’t like these things. “You tried it?” I asked.

“Yep, with an upturned shot glass.”

Oh my goodness. First of all you aren’t supposed to try the Ouija while drinking. Second, you weren’t supposed to use an upturned whisky glass as the planchette. The spirits would get downright ornery.

“Lowrie, I don’t like these things,” I said.

“I know Tom, but I think it’s broken.”

Now how in the world could a Ouija board be broken? Save for the board itself being broken in half, or using of a whisky glass as a planchette, I couldn’t begin to fathom what a ‘broken’ Ouija board would entail.

“Lowrie, you’ll have to explain to me, exactly what is a broken Ouija board?”

“It kept saying the same thing over and over, no matter what question we asked it”

Now I was intrigued, “What was it saying?”

“‘F-A-T-E-7-8’ and then ‘Goodbye.’ Every time.” Lowrie said.

“Fate 78?” I repeated, “Lowrie, you still have your Victrola? What’s the RPM?”

“78 revolutions per minute.” Lowrie paused and his eyes brightened up, “I get it, Tom! You think it’s tellin’ me to play a song?”

“Maybe.” I was feeling pretty smug. On a lark I thought the 78 might refer to a record. When I went down that line of reasoning things started to fit together. I had read in the papers that Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Song in a Storm” had been put to music by Sir Edward Elgar and was called “Fate’s Discourtesy”. The song was recorded as part of “Fringes of the Fleet.” It was available as a 78 RPM for the Victrola. A strange coincidence. A good yarn for Lowrie.

“Lowrie, it’s telling you to buy more music.”

“I ain’t got money for that!” Lowrie objected to the thought of spending money for music. He managed to get his records from the Highland Inn. The manager there gave him the played out ones when they got too scratchy, since Lowrie’s Victrola was the only other one nearby. The scratches really didn’t make much difference when Lowrie played the Victrola on the lake in his canoe. The pleasant surprise of music coming from the lake earned him tips from the guests. Sound quality was secondary to the surprise factor.

“Maybe the board is telling you to expand your repertoire,” I said.

“Yeah. I’ll go to the Highland to get more scratchies.” Lowrie seemed relieved. Message of the mystery spirits is resolved.

That was the end of the Ouija board discussion. I spent the better part of the evening having drinks with Lowrie and George. We must have been loud because Martin Blecher dropped by. He was about to complain, but then George offered him a shot and he joined the conversation. It also turned out that Shannon’s nostrils must have been burning because he showed up too. Together, we had a good time at Lowrie’s shack.

As things were winding down, George Rowe said, “A good time, gentleman. Next time it’ll be up at my cabin. Maybe the weekend after Dominion Day;  July 7 or 8.”

The Ouija board message jumped out at me.

“July 7 or 8 – FATE 78.”

I started to put the pieces together in my mind:

“FATE 7-8.”

Maybe 78 referred to the numeric date “7-8”, or, “July 8th.”

“FATE July-8th”

Maybe something fateful was going to happen on July 8th. I dismissed the notion. Nothing more than superstition. I went back to my room for the night.

“FATE July 8th”

I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

June 17, 1917 Eleventh Commandment

June 17, 1917

In growing up in the the Presbyterian Church there were two additional commandments that I was made aware of. These were unspoken commandments; I don’t remember hearing about them in the Auld Kirk, but they were the two commandments that ruled our daily lives.

The Eleventh Commandment went something like this: “Thou shalt not show any emotions.” The Twelfth Commandment was a bit vaguer: “Thou shalt not show that thou are upset with thine Transgressor.” The Twelfth had an important elaboration: “If thine Transgressor is not present, thou can speak of his transgressions with all Those who are present.” The Twelfth Commandment provided the general framework for dinnertime conversation.

The Eleventh commandment was  straightforward and that was the commandment currently in effect. I’m sure later in the day, the Twelfth would take over dinnertime.

I had breakfast in the back kitchen. It’s amazing when all of the pent up emotions of betrayal and anger could evaporate with a simple, “Good Morning, Tom.” That’s how Annie greeted me. I didn’t say anything and in observance of the Eleventh, I didn’t smile either.

Shannon came in and said his plan for haying would be delayed another week or so. It rained last night (thunder and lightning too) and the way the weather looked, nothing would be dry for another week. The big clue was the direction of the wind. It was coming from the East. When you had an East wind with clouds and rain, the bad weather wouldn’t leave. Besides, it was Sunday today. Shannon would not be doing anything of industry today. I was surprised Annie let him talk about work.

I said I wasn’t going to church. Shannon offered to bring Annie up in the hearse. I noticed a change in Shannon’s attitude.  It looked like he really wanted to go with her.

“Annie, I’ll come with you. I want it to be known that Catholics can be good church-goers too.”

I was surprised by Shannon’s grand statement. Maybe this was some sort of penitence for unacknowledged wrongdoings. My guess that Shannon’s move was to head off some of the anti-Catholic sentiment going around. I had learned in Huntsville, that the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was whipping up anti-Catholic sentiments. So Shannon’s motivations might be two-fold: first, to maintain good Protestant-Catholic relations, and second, to ensure the temperance movement doesn’t gain too much traction in these parts.

I replied, “I won’t be going. I’ll be staying back.” My adherence to Eleventh Commandment was in full effect this morning.  I showed no emotion. I sipped my tea.

Shannon spoke, “Tom, I know you won’t be doing this today, but I am short of paddles.” It was Shannon’s oblique way of requesting that I do some work for him – he needed some paddles for his boats. I was the only one who could supply them – by making them.

One thing that’s a problem at these lodges is having a good supply of paddles. Nothing is worse than to have a boat with no paddle. Either they break, or they disappear into thin air.  Unlike canoes which disappear and eventually turn up to make their way home, paddles are another matter. They disappear. Mostly, they get lost or forgotten. I’ve recovered a few on the shoreline or along a portage.  Once in awhile a guest tries to take one home for a souvenir and then there’s an embarrassing scene at the train station. I can understand the temptation. I always had one back at the Studio. Just holding it in my hand reminded me what I was missing and what I was looking forward to. Paddles aren’t that expensive. I can’t understand folk, especially rich folk, trying to steal something to keep a memory alive.

Making paddles was more of a pleasure for me than a labour. So I didn’t mind working on them on Sunday, but I did it out of sight behind the store house. I don’t recall paddles ever being mentioned in the Bible, so I wasn’t worried about a specific prohibition. I wasn’t worried about being struck by lightning because that would have happened last night’s thunderstorm.

When Annie and Shannon left, I walked over to the chip yard and fished out a few end pine planks (the end planks are the ones with the bark that come off either side of the sawed log.) Ordinarily, this is scrap, but it makes perfect raw material for a canoe paddle. Using my axe and hunting knife, I can shape and carve a paddle in about a half an afternoon. It was demanding enough work that that  kept my mind off other things. I made two paddles today.

A few more words about paddles. I would never trade my good paddle for one of these pine paddles on a long trip. But I would lash one, sometimes two in my canoe, for those rare cases when you do lose or break your paddle. If a home made pine paddle got lost or broke, it’s no big deal. It was easier to make another. But I never would want to lose my good ash paddle. It’s thin, sleek, elegant and strong. I never plan to lose it. I’ll keep it until the day I die.

June 16, 1917 Letter to Billie Bear Lodge

June 16, 1917

I left early from Huntsville. I caught the early morning train and got off at Scotia Junction. I didn’t have to wait long before the train came in from Depot Harbour. I made it back to Canoe Lake by noon.

Before I left Huntsville, I wrote and posted a letter to Billie Bear Lodge. Maybe everyone believes that Winnie is in trouble and we should be married but nobody knows our plans to leave. We’ll leave sometime soon and to somewhere far. I don’t know where quite yet but I won’t be like my grandfather, leaving for another country, leaving bastard children behind. I could start fresh somewhere else, but I didn’t want to leave behind that kind of legacy.

When I got off the train I decided not to go back to the Lodge right away. I took a walk and found myself going to Mowat Cemetery a quarter mile west of the Lodge. It’s an odd sort of cemetery – there are only two graves there. I find this surprising because of the size that Mowat Village reached in its heyday, over 500 souls. Someone told me that the adults never wanted to be buried here, the bodies would be shipped back home to their families. Another told me that there lots of graves here, but they’re unmarked graves of infants. In the early days, the ones that died, died before they were baptised. There was no point in having a Christian burial, just a spade in the bush and silence afterwards.

So it was my impression that nobody wanted to die near Mowat Village or if they did, they’d do their best not to make it their final resting place.  Maybe people got some special sign before they were about to die, that they had to leave. Or if they died, they had arranged beforehand to be shipped elsewhere for eternal rest. I knew that George Bartlett  didn’t like people being buried in the Park. Of the one or two deaths in the Park each year, usually lumber men,  Bartlett made sure the bodies were expediently shipped out. Overseas, soldiers would rest where they had fallen in No Man’s Land. But in the Park, they got the bodies out as fast as they could.

At present, there only two occupants in Mowat Cemetery. James Watson and Alexander Hayhurst. I remember hearing about Alexander’s death in 1915. He was only 8 years old, died of diptheria. It was one of Mark Robinson’s last duties as a Ranger before he went overseas, to transport the body to the cemetery. The other occupant, James Watson, worked for Gilmour Lumber Co. He died on his first day on the job. No one knew how to contact his family, so they buried him up on the hill and Mowat Cemetery came into being.  Annie told me she doesn’t believe the grounds are  consecrated. “People buried in unconsecrated grounds become ghosts,” Annie says. She’s sure she’s seen the ghosts of Alexander and James wandering down by the shore at night. “Heaven forbid, if they ever come to the Lodge.”

I thought about the gravestones in back in Leith cemetery. They’re covered in lichen. The  older stones, majestic as they are, the letters are now faded away and you can’t read them. The smaller stones are knocked over. And the engraved bricks they put in the ground for infant babies are completely covered over, unseen. It doesn’t matter whether you leave or die. You are forgotten in the end. Maybe it is best to be buried in unconsecrated ground. Like the soldiers overseas. They won’t be forgotten for a long time.

The weather had changed for the worse again. Yesterday, it was warm and brilliant sunshine, and today it’s back to a drizzle and in the fifties. I was wondering if Shannon had cut his hay later last week. It certainly wouldn’t be ready to bring in. If this rain keeps up, it will rot into the ground.

I made my way down to Mowat Lodge. The cemetery is on a hill and the walk down gave me a good view of the lakeshore and the shoreside dwellings. Last time I was here it was in early spring and the white snow made it look pristine and beautiful. Despite the green, it now looked truly ugly. I could see the vast expanse of the chip yard, once a former part of the lake, now filled with millions of board feet of wood rotting into a spongy mess. I saw  lifeless forms of dead trees, roots drowned by the risen lake level. And the logs, the ones that should have been masts for ships or beams for buildings, bobbing in the shallow water or washed up on the mud shore. It wasn’t really mud, it was the muck of rotting bark. I once saw beauty in this, but I began to wonder about the destruction of it all. Gilmour Lumber never cleaned up their mess and I doubt Huntsville Lumber will either. The tourists think this is nature and beauty. I guess most don’t have anything to compare it to except for the factories, slums and tenements in the city.

Shannon was out front. He saw me coming. By the looks of it, he was repairing the front stairs. I knew the steps were iffy, but they must have broken through. Shannon had some pine planks which he had cut to size and was laying in as replacements.

“Back from your camping trip, Tom?” He looked me over, “Helluva a shirt and a shave for a camping !” I knew  my story about camping rang as hollow as an empty store tin.

“Yeah, Shan – camping.” Shannon knew by the tone of my voice, that this was to be the established fact, although it was not the truth.

“Yessiree! The fish must been relieved. You didn’t even bring your fishing rod.” He winked at me while drawing from his pipe. “I’ll be done fixing these stairs soon. Care for a drink?”

“No.” I left it that and went in.

Then the words started to go through my mind. I wasn’t saying anything out loud, but that made little difference.  “Shannon, you have no idea what you’ve done. Both you and Annie have been first class in destroying my life. Not only my life, but Winnie’s too.” Secrets, lies, and ruined dreams. That’s what the world seems to be all about now.

I kept quiet. I went to my room. No one knew of our plans. No one. It was going to stay that way. But it is going to be a race against time. And it needs to be a race of stealth and precision. No one could know of our plans, save for a few trusted souls. And even these few souls could not know the full extent. If knowledge got out the net would be descend. I’d be sent overseas, and Winnie to one those houses away from everyone. No one, especially at Mowat Lodge, could know.

June 15, 1917 Last Night in Huntsville

June 15, 1917

I wasn’t expecting to be staying here. I’m at the Dominion Hotel here in Huntsville. I can’t really afford it, but here I am nonetheless. After the way the day turned out, the only place that would put me up for the night was the hotel. For a price, of course. I got one of the cheap rooms. I stayed here once back in 1912 with Alex, before I knew the Trainors.

In the novels I’ve read, a day like this is called the point of no return. Like two trains on the same track hurtling at full speed toward each other. It’s like one of those points in your life when nothing is going to go back to normal. You just hope to pick up what you can from the wreckage and carry on as best you can.

I’ll write about what happened, but first I’ll write about what I hoped to happen. I caught the morning freight train at Canoe Lake Station. The train usually has second class passengers coming in from Madawaska. Rarely does anyone ever get off this train and Shannon never bothers to bring his hearse up that early. “People in second class never tip, and if they want to stay at the Lodge, they can walk down.” Those were Shannon’s words of wisdom. These words of wisdom turned out to be really sad when a consumptive unexpectedly came on second class, and had to wait for three hours before Shannon would pick them up.

This morning, the station master wasn’t there and Mark Robinson was away in Barrie (he tries to greet each train to check  for for poachers). I had to wave the train down myself. No one saw me board, so no one knew where I was. “I’m going camping,” was the lie I had put about over the previous days.

The train is perilously slow going through the Park. If you’re lucky, the train reaches a top speed of 15 miles per hour. This train was empty, so it was going a bit faster than usual. It was probably going to pick up grain from a laker at Depot Harbour. At each trestle, the train would stop, the trestle was inspected by the engineer, and then a crawl across the trestle at an old man’s walking pace. At Brule Lake we stopped to fill up for water. Shortly after we reached the summit – 1,607 feet – it was downhill from here to Georgian Bay. We made it past the washout, several section men were there, and we passed through Rainy Lake Station; we didn’t stop, nobody flagged the train. We didn’t reach Scotia Junction until well after noon. I was the only one to get off and I had to find the conductor to let me off train. Otherwise I would have ended in Depot Harbour. If that happened, I probably would have boarded the laker upon its return and kept on heading West.

At Scotia Junction, I didn’t have to wait long. Within minutes a southbound train came from North Bay and I was on my way to Huntsville. I got there around 2 pm. My plan was to surprise Winnie at work but I decided kill some time and go to the barber. There’s nothing better than a professional shave from a barber. I decided to buy a new shirt from the men’s clothing shop and put it on right away. I felt clean and crisp – like a million bucks, as they say.

Winnie works as the bookkeeper at Stephenson & Anderson’s Grocery Store on Main Street. I came in and said hi to the girls and walked to the back of the store. Winnie works in the office in the back near where the shipments come in. I made sure I came as close to 5 pm as possible because that’s when her hours end and I didn’t want to distract from her work if I came earlier. I hoped to set things right between us. Something you can’t do with letters. And then make plans for the future.

I opened the door and I saw her. Her back was facing me. She was bent over tallying up receipts. “Hello, Winnie,” I said quietly.

She whirled around in her chair, “Tom, what on earth are you doing here?” I could see the shock and surprise on her face. My sudden presence was like a lightning bolt out of the blue sky.

“I came to see you, Winnie,” I stepped into the office so the stock boys couldn’t hear us. I left the door open, so as not to arouse any speculation. “We need to talk and make plans. We can’t do this by letter.”

Winnie stood up, I could see the tiredness in her eyes. Somehow, I knew this wasn’t just from emotional strain. I had seen other women with the same look when they were early.

“I know, Tom. We must. But I wish you had let me know you were coming.” She started to gather her things up. It was near 5 o’clock. The end of the workday.

“Let’s go outside first, then let’s talk.” I knew there were attentive ears in the store. One of the girls from out front came into the back. The girls never come into the back  so I knew exactly what she was after. We had to go out the front door. I wanted to go out the back but Winnie had to check out at the the employee board to show she was leaving at the appointed time. The exit routine in its entirety was really uncomfortable, because every set of eyes was on both us, including the eyes of the customers.

Outside, the late afternoon sun was still bright. I noticed in the sunlight that Winnie was pale. She had only been to the cottage once this spring, when the weather was bad, so there was not much chance to catch a tan from the sun. But like the tiredness in her eyes, the paleness of her skin was not explained away by poor summer weather and lack of sun.

“Tom, I’m sure my mother knows now. I’ve been ill in the mornings. And I think my sister knows too. She’s training to become a nurse.”

“How about your father?”

“He doesn’t know anything. He’s been away walking the cutting lines for a week now. Did you  see him in the Park?”

“Yes, I did. Earlier this week. I thought he’d be back by now.” I didn’t bother to elaborate that Hugh went away for more than just work. He need a place to drink in peace, too. Nor did I mention to Winnie that Hugh  attempted to give me some roundabout advice on the very matter we were about to discuss.

“Father’s supposed to be back this evening. I’m supposed to be home before 6 o’clock to help Mother with dinner. If he’s not home by then, we’ll keep it warm for him.”

Up until a year ago, the trains ran a pretty tight schedule. You could predict the arrival of a train to the minute and make plans. But the growing fear of saboteurs on the trestles wreaked havoc on the schedules. Once the schedules got so screwed up that two trains met head-on a single track. Thank goodness there was no crash, but it took the better part of the day to sort it out by backing one of the trains up  almost 20 miles to a station that had a long enough siding.

“Well, I’ll come home with you to dinner.” I could see Winnie blanch. There was going to be a train wreck tonight and no backing out. I immediately realized that I had put events into motion and they were no longer under my control.

“Yes, please come for dinner.” Winnie had to invite me, and I had to accept. Now I wished I had never come in the first place. I had become an unwilling participant in the events that were about to unfold.

The walk to Minerva street was only a few short minutes. The talk of our plans was moot now, because we both knew that what was about to happen needed no plan. We came to Winnie’s house. The screen door on the porch was open and we could smell dinner being prepared. Something was being fried on the stove. Probably a poor cut of beef, because beef was so expensive now. But it smelled good.

We went into the house, and there was Mrs. Trainor. She looked at me and politely smiled, “Here for one of your visits, Tom?” She saw that I had my pack with me.

“Yes, Ma’am. I had to come into town to go to the bank. I thought I’d drop by for visit.” I lied.

“Fine, then. I’ll set an extra plate out. You’ll have to wait. We’re expecting Hugh any moment now.”

The trains were now heading full speed towards each other. It was too late for the engineers to do anything. All they could pray for was a quick resolution to whatever fate could bring them. Maybe some would walk away from the wreckage.

I heard the screen door. It was Hugh. He came in. He was dirty and unkempt. He saw me. I was clean and crisp. I must have smelled of aftershave. He smelled of whisky.

“What in hell’s name is he doing here?” Hugh didn’t greet me. He didn’t even look at me. “Winnie, go upstairs. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this. I need to deal with this situation.”

Winnie was white before. Now she was positively ghost-like. She froze. She did not go anywhere. Hugh promptly forgot she was there to witness it all.

“I heard it all from the Frasers!” Hugh growled in a low tone so that the neighbours couldn’t hear. “If you don’t leave now, I’ll send you on your way with stars in your head.” That meant he was about throw his fists. It was going to be a bad scene, unless I did what I was told. I picked up my pack, said nothing, and walked out front.

“Someone should teach you a lesson!” Hugh yelled at my back on my way out. The neighbours heard this. It was dead quiet. He started to say something else, but I only heard the slap of the screen door and creak of hinge as it settled back into the door frame. I stepped off the verandah and went into the street.  The sun was going down and the shadows were starting to get  longer. It was going to be one the first beautiful evenings of summer. There was no reason to be inside anywhere.

I walked a few paces before the screen door burst open again. Winnie ran out. She went down the verandah stairs and with a brisk walking pace, caught up with me on the street. To the casual observer (and nosy neighbour) she tried to make it look like we were going for a regular walk and having a casual conversation. If there ever was a situation where outward appearances were completely at odds with what was actually going, this was it.

“Tom, stop! What are we going to do?”

I kept going, “I’m never coming back to Huntsville. That’s one thing for sure.”

“Tom!” I could hear it all in her voice. Her life was crashing all around her. So was mine.

“I’m going back to the Park first and then I’ll think what’s best next. Winnie, there’s nothing here any more.  People would only gossip and the shame would be unbearable here. We need to leave.”

“What?” Winnie gasped. The shock of having a child was one thing, but seeing your whole life come crashing down, that was another.

I wasn’t looking at Winnie, I was looking straight ahead, as if I knew exactly where I was going. “We need to go out West. Or South. I’m thinking Denver.” The train wreck was now complete. I was now picking myself out of the wreckage and planning amongst the strewn remnants.

“We’ll go to Billie Bear Lodge. I’ll write and set a date. I’ll go from the Park. You from here. I’ll get my friend, Tom Wattie, to help me out.” Tom Wattie, a Park Ranger, was a trusted friend of mine. He lived in the northwestern part of the Park.

“Tom, I can’t leave”

“Winnie, you have to. Otherwise your life is done here.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a figure exiting the Trainor household. It was Hugh, of course. “I need to go before you father makes a scene on the street.”

We walked a few more paces, then I stopped. She stopped too. I turned and faced her. She turned too. After a brief frozen moment, I turned back, and began walking quickly up the street.  Winnie didn’t come after me. She knew there were eyes on her and her father was quickly approaching. It’s one thing to have a family scene in your home, it’s another thing to have the scene on the street. The shame would be absolute. I didn’t kiss her goodbye. I didn’t even squeeze her hand. I just walked up the street and out of sight.

The evening was beautiful. It was only a week from the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. I walked around the town in a daze. The fresh evening breeze made no difference. I felt I had been spit out and there was nowhere to go but out of this town, but it was too late to leave unless I started walking by the rail going north.

I don’t know exactly how I ended up at the Dominion Hotel but that’s where I decided to stay the night. It’s funny how things come full circle. The first night I ever stayed in Huntsville was at the Dominion. Now five years later, the last night I would ever stay in Huntsville was at the Dominion too. Like all of Huntsville, it was dry as a bone at the hotel. I’m never staying another night in this town again.

June 13, 1917 Get Out of My Way

June 13, 1917

I was minding my own business when Martin Blecher came by in his putt-putt boat.

“Get out of the way! Can’t you see where I’m going?” He yelled at me as he passed me on Potter Creek. The wake from his boat rocked my canoe.

Martin got an Evinrude motorboat last summer and now he thinks he owns the Lake. From what I could see, he had a pail of beer with him.

I know exactly where he was going. He was going to see the train come into Canoe Lake Station. It was part of his daily routine. The No. 52 First Class from Depot Harbour comes in every day at 12:23pm – just around lunch time. The eastbound freights and the lower classes come earlier in the morning. The No. 52 is by far the most interesting train to watch coming into the station because you never know who or what would be coming off. Most Park visitors come in from Toronto or Buffalo.  They take the train north from Toronto, transfer at Scotia Junction, and make the final leg on the Grand Trunk to Canoe Lake Station – or more likely, Algonquin Park Station where the Highland Inn is. Joe Lake Station, only open in the summer, is 3 minutes down from Canoe Lake Station.

I was in my canoe, near the Canoe Lake Lumber Mill when Martin came charging through. He’s pretty proud and arrogant about his boat. There aren’t too many like it around. There was another one up by Cache Lake but the owner got drunk, broadsided three canoes and hit a rock or a deadhead. The boat went to the bottom of lake and he got rescued by the canoeists he hit. Martin’s saving grace is that there are fewer canoes to hit on Canoe Lake.

I don’t have much to do with the Blechers. The father is friendly, but the rest of the family, they keep to themselves. I don’t see them much. The Blecher cottage is just a bit south from the Trainor Cottage. Not too far away, but far enough to ignore everyone. There’s the four of them, Martin Sr. and Louisa, and their kids, Martin and Bessie. I wouldn’t call them kids, because they’re adults, but they act like kids. I hear them fighting often. Bessie is a teacher and Martin is private investigator (so he says) during the winter months when he’s back in Buffalo.

My view is that Martin is a blowhard. I never believe anything he says. He is supposed to be an electrician but he says he has started working for the Burns Detective Agency. There was a new hotshot in the Department of Justice, J. Edgar Hoover. He ordered mass roundups of enemy aliens, mostly Germans but Russians too.  Burns did the dirty work of rounding them up. Martin said the expression on an enemy alien’s face is priceless when you bang down their door at 4am. Made the job all the more worthwhile. Needless to say, I don’t like Martin. I did wonder out loud once that he was of German descent, may be was a German and Swiss descent, and he was the most red-blooded American there was.

So I guess Martin is a red-blooded American too. I was going to ask him why he was on vacation in Canada when his compatriots were being drafted and going off to war. I decided to not to say anything while on the water because a Canadian in a canoe is no match against an American in a motorboat.