Lawrie Dickson’s Shack


April 29, 1917 Lawrie Dickson’s Shack.

Today was Sunday, a day of rest. Or it was supposed to be a day of rest. Sunday doesn’t make too much of difference to me, except I notice that everyone is a little better cleaner, scrubbed from the Saturday night baths.

The walking paths were drying up. That meant the women were getting a little more adventuresome in their walks, especially Daphne Crombie. She convinced Annie to go for a walk up to Algonquin Hotel for a 11am lay service that Ed Colson was holding for he quests. Ed was a former Sunday school teacher and a lay preacher. He said that if anyone ever needed to be married or buried in Mowat Village, he was the one to provide the service. Trouble was that the population of Mowat Village was hard pressed to support a marriage (you need at least two people). As for burial, you never know when you’d need someone for a ceremony.  8 year-old Alexander Hayhurst passed away in 1915. He died of diptheria. Molly Colson came by a couple of times to tend to his illness, but it was Ed who ultimately commited to the Cemetery up on the hill.

I was sketching from a knoll overlooking Potter Creek. The ice was pretty much out near the shore and around to Joe Lake Dam. There was still lots of ice in Canoe Lake (it wasn’t officially iced-out, according to our criteria established a few days ago). I had a nice view of Lawrie Dickson’s shack. It was pretty close the shore. The birches were submerged in the high water which was less than two feet from his door.

As I was sketching, lo and behold, who strolls into view? Annie and Daphne. Annie had a red coat and a pink hat on, and Daphne had on her blue coat and white hat. I shouted for them to stop. I raised my paintbrush and they knew exactly why I issued to order. I quickly mixed up the colours and painted them into the picture. It took me less than two minutes, and when I was finished, I waved my hand and let them on their way.

I was pleased with the sketch. With the strength of the sun now, the leaves will be coming out any day now. The trees no longer look like skeletons – you can see that the canopy is getting more body, the buds are getting bigger and bigger. And then one day, leaves will be everywhere.

Guide’s License


Guide License, April 28, 1917

I got my Guide License today. I wasn’t going to get it but Mark Robinson thought it would be a good idea and a dollar well spent (that was the cost of the license). Being a guide was the first step to being a Park Ranger. I wasn’t planning to be a Ranger, but Mark said it was a good option to have if there was a call-up for the army. Park Rangers were still needed on the home front.

To get the license, I had to go to Park Headquarters at Cache Lake and have a visit with George Bartlett, Park Superintendent. Bartlett didn’t really like me but Mark called ahead and put a good word in for me. Mark said that the less I said to him, the better. Bartlett didn’t like men talking back to him, and if necessary, he’d put up a fight. Bartlett was a fighter when need be. He got his reputation when he had to put a lumber camp back into order. He just asked that his back was covered and he took on thirty men at the camp. After a half-dozen were knocked silly, he had the camp back in order. No one ever challenged his authority after that.

Queen’s Park gave Bartlett almost absolute authority and that included the guides. There was a strict code to be followed that included no drinking while guiding. One guide went on a bit of a bender one day, and the next day he had his license taken away.

I met with Bartlett in the early afternoon. I hitched a ride on one of the trains from Canoe Lake Station to Algonquin Station. The conductor let me ride on the back of the train. It was fine ride, especially over the trestle bridge near Cache Lake. I could see the guards on both ends of the trestle. Guards were stationed twenty four hours a day, and whenever a train passed by, they were ordered to traverse the bridge, crossing each other in the middle. Their job was to inspect for burning embers or anything that could set the trestle on fire. At the middle, there was a small platform just big enough to hold two men. After each train passed, it was a race to the middle. A brief rest, and then a race to the other side. The trains were pretty frequent some times, so the two men would wait in the middle for the next train to pass before racing to the other side. Some said it was good soldier training – sheer boredom, interrupted occasionally with sheer terror.

Bartlett looked me over, and I could tell he wasn’t convinced that I should get a license. But he had Mark’s good word and gave it to me anyway. I had the license put under Mowat’s Lodge name. Shannon would expect me to work for him, not the Colsons.

I spent the afternoon hanging around the Highland Inn. They were getting ready for the tourists. I visited Tom Salmon who was in charge of the outfitting store there. We talked about fly fishing. His father was a champion fly caster in England. He showed me his father’s rod and some flies that he’d been working on. I also met this kid, Ralph Bice. He was about seventeen years old and he got his guide’s license as well. His father is a Park Ranger and I recognized Ralph from a few years back. He was grown up, but I wouldn’t quite call him a man yet. I could tell by his mannerisms he didn’t think much of me. The feeling was mutual.

I took the train back the same way I came. I could see those two poor souls getting ready to run the bridge. The trestle might survive the war, but I have my doubts that these soldiers would.

Since the better part of the day was for business, I didn’t have much time to sketch. When I got back to Mowat Lodge, I set up on the veranda and did a quick sketch of the lake. I’ll probably scrape it later. Daphne was asking me questions while I was sketching. I answered politely, but I wasn’t really engaging the conversation. The sketch suffered from the lack of my full concentration. Another reason to scrape it.

Someone brought a book on the Colorado and the Grand Canyon. I learned there was a direct route from Chicago. It would be easy to get there – steamships were quite frequent from Depot Harbour to Chicago, the grain ships coming from the west. My good friend John McRuer lives in Colorado. I could visit him. A possible adventure if things don’t turn out here.

Swift Water


April 26, 1917 Swift Water

I spent the day alone today. Walked far away from everyone. The landscape is changing every day, faster and faster. I can see the trees are beginning to bud, but the cold nights will hold them back and one day they’ll burst out. One day the lake is covered in ice and the next day it’s completely free. You never know when things are going to change for the better or for the worse.

All the lakes and streams are high in water. I walked up to Baby Joe Lake, near Burnt Island Lake and this is the scene I found. Painting on a rock by the rapids is different than in the woods. You’re perched in the open and the sounds of the rapids drown out all your thinking. It was a good escape for me. I needed to get away from my thoughts for awhile and paint, just paint. The talk with Mark yesterday is haunting me. There’s not many men back alive from the front, so the stories about what’s really happening no one knows. Mark was telling about the soldiers that weren’t wounded in the physical sense, but had what the doctors called ‘shell shock’. They would start jibbering, running around, eyes bulging out, and limbs flailing. The British officer had a cure for shell shock – execution. Mark said he saw an officer execute eighteen solider in a matter of minutes, three of them from Mark’s own battalion. The officers were especially ruthless with the colonials, slapping them on the side of the head, saying they were a shame to the Empire before executing them.

To add to the insult, Mark had to write the letters home for these executed men. The censorship and the propaganda officers approving the letters before being sent meant that Mark could only write things about being brave and glorious, and they didn’t die in vain. There was no glory, it was in vain, and every letter that Mark wrote took away part of his soul, he said.

I was indifferent about enlisting. Had I been subjected to enough persuasion, even two months ago, I would have probably enlisted, but there was no way I would now. With conscription being a near certainty, I needed to think of ways to avoid the service. Bachelors up to age forty-five would be conscripted. That meant I had only two options before me – disappear or get married. The second option didn’t necessarily exempt me from service, unless there was a child.

With the weather being warmer, more people are starting to come. The Blechers are expected soon. They come in early May. Martin Blecher Sr. is retired and he comes with his wife, Louisa, for the summer from Buffalo. Their children (adults, actually), Martin and Bessie come too. They’re an odd lot. They’re not too friendly, Louisa likes to chase people off their land and the shore in front of their cottage.

Mark Robinson and the War


Spring, April 25, 1917

I sketched this not too far from the Lodge.  I was looking away from the lake. You can see the skeletons of a few dead pines from an afterburn and the groves of small birches. It’s the birches that always come in first.

I spent a long time talking to Mark Robinson today. We spent time together walking along the rails to clear any brush that might catch fire and to check on the bridges and trestles. No problems yet, the flood waters are starting to recede a little, but he’s still following orders by Bartlett to check the rails, bridges and trestles twice daily.

I asked him about the War. He said he was lucky to make his way back. Since he was one of the older men (almost 50 years) he was ordered to stay behind and let the younger ones fight. It was terrible to behold he said. He didn’t like talking about it, but he said one thing that really shook me. He said the deaths were completely useless. It accomplished nothing. He said it was the old men at home who started the war, while the young men would fight and die. And it was the old men who lived to glorify what the young men had sacrificed.

Mark told me (in confidence) that there was simply no use fighting. The British had no regard for the Dominion and Colonials. When the British ordered an attack it gave the German machine gunners straightforward work. Indeed you could the disbelief in machine gunners’ eyes when the British sent wave over wave of young men to their deaths. If it wasn’t the German machine gun bullets that killed the men, it was British chlorine gas. A breeze in the wrong direction took out a whole regiment, killing one half, and blinding the other.

He said that when he took the shrapnel, it was a relief. Although wounded he knew he’d come back alive, and he did. The young fresh faces he saw going in the other direction, he knew they weren’t coming back. His view of the war had changed since coming back. He didn’t see any point in fighting the way they did. Mark didn’t really talk to anyone about his opinions and beliefs especially with George Bartlett. Mark respected authority and kept his mouth shut when necessary. But with me he was open and honest. He said, ‘Tom, get out while you have a chance’

That’s when I knew I had to start making plans. I plan to do some guiding to make a bit of extra cash, and when the time comes, I’ll leave. July or August. The Rockies or Colorado.

The Rapids


The Rapids, April 24, 1917

I took a walk this morning down Gilmour Road towards Gill Lake and then to Bonita Lake. This is the south end of the Canoe Lake that flows into Bonita and the start of the Oxtongue River. Because of Tea Lake Dam the water level is higher and connects the two lakes. I walked to below Tea Lake Dam when the Oxtongue River starts in earnest and I found a good place to paint. There was still some snow on the sides and the water level was high, but the flow was so furious that it was rapids without sight of any rocks. I was surprised at the amount of snow. There’s nothing left by the lodge, but I keep forgetting the different parts of the Park can have very different climates.

By the time I got back I had walked a good ten miles in my estimation. The sun is getting earlier and stronger every day. It rises at the almost inhumane hour of 5am, but this is going to change this Sunday when we switch to Daylight Savings Time. This the the first year. One of the reasons for DST is to save on fuel. It’s reckoned that the extra hour in the evening will mean less fuel will be burned (wood and coal). There’s a coal shortage in Toronto due to strikes and it’s expensive too. Shannon was going to ignore it, but Toronto is switching and the train schedules will be changing too. Shannon has no choice.

When I got back the topic under heavy debate is the ice-out date.
Everyone is trying to predict when the ice-out will be this With all the snow and cold spring this will be one of the later years. It’s been as early as April 14 (in Mowat Lodge memory term – since 1908) but this year’s it’s going to be late. Shannon’s got a pool going and I wagered that it would be May 1st. The discussion turned to exactly defining what ice-out means and we decided that it means that no ice can be seen across the lake from Mowat Lodge to Hayhurst Point. Shannon wanted to bring the prediction to an exact hour and therefore our definition of ice-out need to be more precise. We decided that from the vantage point of a chair on the top of the steps, looking through the area beneath the Mowat Lodge and the two poles on either side, this prescribed area needed to be free of ice for a period of one hour. When asked who would perform the duty of ice-out observer, Daphne offered up her husband, Lt. Crombie, as he was out the verandah for the better part of each day. We all agreed and we outfitted Lt. Crombie with a dinner bell to ring once the ice-out determination was made.

Everyone is in good spirits It’s getting warmer and I’m glad with my circumstances here. Annie is switching into spring cleaning mode and I’m helping with some of the more arduous task. She likes the windows to be cleaned on the outside in the spring and the fall, so I volunteered to climb on the roof of the verandah and clean the windows on the second floor. I found it strange to be looking into my own room on the second floor.

I got a parcel from Jim (my paints). Jim’s wife sent along some homemade biscuits and a jar of preserves (black currant jam, I think). I also got a letter from Florence. She will be coming in May. Algonquin Hotel is too expensive for her so she’s asked me to reserve a room for her at Mowat Lodge.

Dark Waters


Dark Waters, April 23, 1917

I wrote a letter to my brother-in-law this morning and decided to take a long hike up along the creek to Potter Lake.

The creek is pretty swollen and the current is running fast. I can canoe a good portion of this creek in the summertime but I wouldn’t even try any of it now. The clear sections of the creek are easy to canoe, but right now the current is so fast that you wouldn’t have a chance to stop yourself before you hit the rocks. The water is pretty high, reaching to the roots of the pine trees on the rocks. I’m always amazed how tenacious these trees are. Wherever there is  a hint to soil or something to grab onto, a tree is sure to grow.

Writing the letter to my brother-in-law started to make me think about my plans this summer. Shannon wants me to be a guide so I’ll need to get a license. I’ll have to go to the headquarters at Cache Lake. I plan to go there this Saturday as I’m sure George Bartlett will be back from one of his Park excursions. He likes to be at the Headquarters on the weekend because that’s when the guests arrive at the Highland Inn or and leave. Usually there’s some business to attend to, issuing fishing licenses, keeping bank drafts for safekeeping, etc., so he likes stay around.

I’m not going to do fire-ranging. It’s a job that takes away from everything else. Last year was really tough. When you’re a guide, you’re wanted company. When you’re a fire-ranger, you’re the last person they want to see and it makes for some awkward exchanges. No one, especially lumbermen want to be too chummy with the fire-rangers. Plus there were some pretty bad fires last year. A few bad ones in the Park, but there was a really bad fire up by Cochrane. That fire wiped clean of the face of the earth, complete towns and townships. I don’t want the spectre of my carelessness hanging over me, if a fire started on my account.

On the way back, I dropped by George Rowe’s cottage. It’s just above Joe Lake Dam and what passed for a canoe landing in front of this house was no longer there. I’m not sure if it disappeared this spring, or was removed last fall. George didn’t know. He was too soused when I asked the question.

I walked back by the bridge over Potter Creek by Canoe Lake Station. I took the shortcut by the school ( the black tar paper institution of higher learning), went around the chipyard and back to the lodge. About six deer were looking at me during my way. Annie Colson has started to feed them at the store, and the darn animal have lost their fear of people. They’re little more than pets now. That’ll change when the deer-kill starts soon.

Letter to TJ Harkness

Mowat P. O.
Algonquin Park
Apr 23

Dear Tom,

I have been here over three weeks and have done considerable work for that length of time.

I got a copy of the O.S. Sun and it seemed to be well filled with bunk, however the foolishness of newspaper matter is well known and I knew nothing about it in time to have it stopped.

Am staying at the P.O. until the ice goes out of the lakes which I expect it to do sometime this week then I will be camping again for the rest of the summer. I have not applied for the firerangers job this year as it interferes with sketching to the point of stopping it all together so in my case it does not pay. In other words I can have a much better time sketching and fishing and be further ahead in the end.

I may possibly go out on the Canadian Northern this summer to paint the Rockies but have not made all the arrangements yet. If I go it will be in July and August. We still have a foot or two of snow on the north side of the hills yet but another week we’ll see the end of it, and we have nearly another month before my friends the black flies are here. The leaves do not come here before May 24th and often not until on in June.

Well I will get this started towards Annan hoping you are all well there. I remain

your aff. brother
Tom Thomson

Northern Lights


April 22, 1917 Northern Lights.

I was at Mark Robinson’s shelter house all night so I decided to make my journal entry before I make my back to Mowat Lodge. I know I’ll end up sleeping all day.

It was around 10pm last night. I was about to go to bed when I looked out my window. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Northern Lights. I grabbed my paints and decided to go to Mark Robinson’s. I didn’t want to disturb the guests here and I knew Mark would enjoy my company even though it was in the middle of the night.

I walked rather quickly, jogged in fact. It took me about 25 minutes to get to the shelter house. By that time the Lights were in full glory. Mark was up when I got there and he kept the stove going during the night.

This is what I painted. I used one of my larger boards that I scraped of earlier. I stayed up until 3am. When I finished I had a few winks at the shelter house. Woke up around 6 this morning. I’ll make my way back to Mowat Lodge but I’ll probably sleep all day.

An update from the afternoon:

I slept until about three in the afternoon. When I got back in the morning I was too tired for breakfast and slept through dinner. I woke and was very hungry so I went to the back kitchen and Old Mrs. Fraser (Shannon’s mother) prepared me some leftovers. She’s particular about saying Grace, so even though it wasn’t a proper mealtime I made the motions of saying a silent prayer (I didn’t pray about anything). It made her happy and I spent a good time telling her about my painting adventure over at the shelter house. I could tell she was mystified by the whole endeavour, but she was also amused. Never in her life, did she dream of staying with her son in an abandoned lumber camp with artists. Things turn out in odd ways, she said, but never odd enough to be not grateful.

Spring Flood


April 21, 1917 Spring Flood

The ice is still on the lakes but it’s flooding everywhere else. Especially by Potter Creek. Below Canoe Lake Station the creek turns into a narrow channel that drains into the lake and it’s this channel where the ice breaks first. Both Potter Creek and Joe Lake drain into Canoe Lake. Joe Lake Dam keeps the water lower but with Tea Lake Dam holding it back and the flow from Potter, the water level rises considerably. The island in the lake, Big Wap, Little Wap, Gilmour and Cook used to be peninsulas.

The sun is strong today and it’s warmer than its been for awhile. There’s a bit of snow left but that’ll be gone today or tomorrow. There’s only snow left in the hills now.

I walked up to Joe Lake Dam. The water is a sight to behold there. There’s ice out in the lake but it’s all broken up by the dam and the water’s pouring through with a thunder. The dam is holding its own but another year or two, it’ll need repair or it’ll be swept away.

I saw a beaver dam. It looked pretty active with fresh cut wood. A wolf was in the distance no doubt scared away when I came. It’s looking for a meal of beavers. The birds are coming back in full force. The Gray Jays are pretty much quiet now because they are nesting. Some geese and ducks are back and they are looking for open water. Potter Creek and Joe Lake dam are the only two open spots so they are congregating there. No wonder the wolves are hanging out.

The wildflowers are starting to come. I see green shooits but nothing in bloom yet. If I see something I’ll bring them back to Daphne. She’ll be happy about that.

I could see some activity at Algonquin Hotel. They’re washing the blankets and they’re hanging outside to dry. Mostly red blankets, but a few grey ones too. Makes for a nice set of colours against the hotel. They should be ready to be open by May 1. Annie will be washing the blankets soon and I need to get my camping blankets washed. It’s a two day affair to do the blankets so I’ll probably help her out.

Mark Robinson told me that more men and materiel will be coming through the Park. Mostly grain from out West but also some munitions and parts shipped in from the Lakes. My guess parts will be coming in from the Kennedy Foundry in Owen Sound too. Mark said the Battalions are coming in from all parts of the Dominion to be shipped out overseas in June. Bartlett’s going to have his hands full making sure the trains get through. No more deaths in the Park I hope.

Letter to Dr. James MacCallum

Mowat P.O.
Apr 21

Dear Dr:

I have been here for over three weeks and they have gone very quickly. For the last two or three days the weather has been fairly warm and last night we had quite a heavy thunder storm and the snow is pretty well cleared off. just patches in the bush on the north side of the hills and in the swamps so now I will have to hunt for places to sketch when I want snow. However the ice is still on the lakes but it is very thin this year on account of deep snow over it through the winter so it will not last very long.

If you come up here this spring. I would suggest that you come some time around the tenth 10th of May as the flies are not going properly until about the 24th.

It is likely the ice will be out sometime this month.

Have made quite a few sketches this spring. have scraped quite a few and think that some that I have kept should go the same way. however I keep on making them

Yours truly
Tom Thomson