May 24, 1917 Drunk

May 24, 1917

It’s 9:30 am. My head is pounding. I can hear the bustle of the guests down below. Looking out the window, it looks to be a beautiful day, but I know differently.

Yesterday, by  late evening I was drunk. Dead drunk. I didn’t make it back to my room until early morning. For the better part of the night,  I was sprawled out on the verandah in front of Mowat Lodge. I awoke when I heard the rooster crow from across the lake and made it back to my room upstairs just as the day’s new light was rising.

I’ve had this sort of headache before. It’s not the booze, it’s the change in weather and this headache is telling me that today is going to be the perfect storm. When you sketch the weather and landscape, day-by-day, you get the feelings into your bones and you know that’s something going to happen next. It’s not prediction; you just know when something in the present will be no longer and never again.

So it will be tonight. I can’t write more now. I’ve got things to do.

May 23, 1917 Plans on a Trestle Bridge

May 23, 1917

Tomorrow is Victoria Day, or ‘Empire Day’ as many still call it. I was reading some of Wilfred Campbell’s poetry, I forget the title of the book, but it was something like ‘Ode to the Greater Empire’. Tomorrow is going to be a big celebration and Annie was busy preparing for the better part of the day today. By comparison, Shannon spent the day drinking and telling tall stories to his guests. I heard some talk about Zeppelins and the Park airship service he wants to set up. Public relations, he calls it. I call it sloughing around.

On the balance Shannon is a good man. Sometimes. What really keeps him on the straight and narrow is the wrath he gets from Annie when he goes astray. I feel for Annie, she’s the one that does the lion’s share around the lodge and that is certainly the case for the holiday.

Shannon is thinking about organizing a regatta tomorrow. Unfortunately he has little notion beyond that it involves boats in the water. We talked about it and the idea of a regatta devolved into some sort of canoe race out and back. We’ll figure out the logistics tomorrow.

I spent sometime talking to Dr. MacCallum. He’s had enough of canoeing and the outdoors (after our rain-soaked trip) so he’s been staying by the fireplace. Arthur has begun having eyes for Mildred (Shannon’s daughter). He’s a bit older than her and watching their to-ing and fro-ing has put a smile on more than a few of our faces.

Dr. MacCallum is still aghast at the idea that I might go out to West. He tried to broach the topic a few times over the day, but I was short in my replies – I simply shrugged my shoulders and kept on talking about other things. He also chided me for not sending anything to the OSA Spring Exhibition this year. I could feel my guard go up. For sure I needed the money if a sale came through the exhibition, but I did not want to be subjected to the critics. I wouldn’t do that for any price. He said he’d try to put a few of my sketches on consignment. Bill Beatty’s got a shop at Scotia Junction, so when he leaves he’ll take some sketches for Bill to sell. Scotia Junction’s a good spot because of the connection. The Park-bound tourists from Toronto and from Depot Harbour are well-heeled and like to buy souvenirs of the Park from Bill’s store.

Sketching season is pretty much done. It’s too green now and the bugs will be ferocious until July. With the sketching behind me I plan to do some guiding and help plant the gardens for the Trainors and Frasers. The rule of thumb in the City is to have your garden in by Victoria Day but that’s a risky rule here and things are usually a week later. Judging by the temperature fall this evening, we may even have frost. Sometimes frost can be as late as June here. Overall, the weather has been pretty cold and bad and I have only camped a few nights and I’ve been keeping my room at the lodge.

I visited Winnie later in the afternoon. I must admit that things seem a bit awkward between us. I can understand why. She started asking me about the money Shannon owed me and I told her about the arrangement we had where some of the loan would be used for my room and board at the lodge. Winnie was also worried about the conscription bill and what it meant for me. I told her I didn’t want to talk about it, I had more immediate worries and then it came out – she wanted me to marry her. What could I say? Before I even had a chance to react, she said I needed to get the money back from Shannon and that I needed to buy a new suit. The ceremony could be in Huntsville in June and that we needed to find a place.

I felt like I was standing helplessly on the middle of trestle bridge with a train barreling in from the end. There were two options – face the inevitable fate or jump off into the waters below. At that very moment, Winnie’s father Hugh came out onto the porch, and what was an intensely private conversation turned into bland pleasantries. The contrast was too much and after a few moments, I bid good afternoon to them both. As I was leaving, I announced to Winnie that I would come down tomorrow evening to bring her back to the lodge for dinner. Hugh said he might come up later tomorrow evening to see the show. With that, I made my departure back to the lodge.

Shannon was there upon my return. Annie had gone to bed, so the whisky bottle came out. Dr. MacCallum was in bed, or in his room reading. Shannon and I shared a few shots and smoked our pipes by the fireplace. I had a feeling that tomorrow, there would be a perfect storm.

May 22, 1917 Arts and Letters Club

May 22, 1917

Today Mowat Lodge was like the Arts and Letters Club on a bad day. By that I mean there were too many people around talking about things they pretended to know about. Word had gotten out that I would be having an art show after dinner on Thursday and about 25 people are expected to show up for dinner. Several Americans were going to be coming from the Hotel Algonquin. The anticipation for the show was growing. Many of the guests had seen my sketches drying in the dining room, but none had seen the series presented as a whole. In my estimation, I have about fifty or sixty sketches. Many are in the the store house, several are in my room and the balance are in the dining room.

That’s where Dr. MacCallum was today – in the dining room. He was carefully looking over my sketches. Every once in awhile, he would pull me over and ask me question about a sketch and I would just shrug and be short about my answer. Truth be told, I was never fond of talking about my own pictures. I figured that people could judge them for themselves. Sometime it was amusing to listen to Dr. MacCallum. He knew less about art than he admitted. What he did know was the Northern country, Georgian Bay, in particular, and what a painting could express of the area. He was less familiar with this area of the Park, but I could tell he was quickly translating his experiences into the new context.

I didn’t want to disappoint his theorizing about art, but I’m not sure he appreciated the amount of perfection and effort that went into what most perceived as a slap-dash technique. The times I spent with Alex, Arthur and Jim, in the Studio and in the Park, I picked up the technique from them and they helped me along. What I discovered, and I believe it comes from my childhood days, was my knack for observation and finding a good picture. Then I would apply the best technique and if it didn’t work, I’d scrape and start over. The secret I’ve learned since becoming an artist full time is to be bit cagey about your feelings and motives. If you play it right, people think you have a special gift or are a genius. Nothing is further from the truth.

After a while, I got fed up with the small talk and decided to go for a walk. I needed to have some time to myself so I walked up to Potter Creek just past Canoe Lake Station. I walked a pathway into the woods and came across a palette knife stuck in the ground and a few broken sketches. I had forgotten about these. These were from over a month ago when I became frustrated and broke several of my boards. In my haste, I left my palette knife behind. It seems like no one has been here since, because the knife most assuredly would have disappeared. The bugs were fierce. I won’t be sketching for much longer. Things are becoming greener and the scenes more uninteresting. Tomorrow might be my last day sketching.

I walked back along the shore, past the sawmill, chipyard and visited Winnie at the Manse. Her parents had arrived earlier in the day. They seemed out of sorts but they invited me for tea and pie in the kitchen. Afterwards, I sat with Winnie on the front porch and we looked out onto the lake. Near the shore we could see numerous logs floating underneath the surface. Like stripped corpses, dead bodies, spirits of trees haunting the lake.

I told Winnie about the dinner on Thursday and asked her to come. She accepted. I could tell there were other things she wanted to talk about, but I didn’t want to. I knew what she wanted to talk about. But not today.

May 21, 1917 Soaking Wet

May 21, 1917

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 20, 1917 Tea Lake Dam

May 20, 1917

Tea Lake Dam

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

We had a good breakfast at Mowat Lodge. Annie knows know how to send off a canoe party on a full stomach. The night before I brought the canoes down to the summer dock so we still needed to bring the supplies, the tents, blankets and fishing gear. I also had my sketch box. Of course, that was the main point of the trip. Dr. MacCallum wanted to see me sketch en-plein-air. We are only going away for a few days, but I’ve learned that no matter how short the trip, it makes little difference in the gear you have to take. It was threatening rain all morning, so I packed a couple of extra rubber sheets and another canvas tarp. Nothing is worse than sleeping in soggy blankets and if the temperature dips you have to be careful of hypothermia – even in the springtime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 19, 1917 Dr. MacCallum Arrives

May 19, 1917

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

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

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

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

May 18, 1917 Winnie

May 18, 1917

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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