Revelat Naturam Honorem

May 30,1917

First thing in the morning I wrote a letter to my friend, Dr. John McRuer. I wrote it in time so that Shannon could get in the post today and so that Annie couldn’t try to read it, if I left the letter lying around.

Since I stayed at the Lodge, I decided to make myself useful. The day was cold and overcast but it was a good day for working in the garden. The chance of frost was pretty much past, so it was fine to plant the rest of the garden. Earlier in the spring, Annie had started about two dozen tomato seedlings inside the lodge. The seedlings were strategically placed on the window sills around the rooms, including the guest rooms. It was now time for the mass exodus of the tomato seedlings. I helped Annie bring them out back to plant. Shannon was with the horses going to the station to deliver the mail and to pick up guests, if any. Annie knew better than to track him down afterwards for help because all he would do is tell Annie that she was doing it wrong and order her around. Annie knew that I just did the work and didn’t say too many words. I never had too much to say about my paintings, and no need to waste my breath on tomato plants.

While I was working in the garden, Mark Robinson came by for a surprise visit. At first I though it odd that he would come down outside of his normal routine and unannounced. I thought it was about my canoe up by Joe Lake, He knew I’d pick it up today, it wasn’t missing so I was a bit mystified on what the business was.

“I need to check the bush phone lines. I’m sure a moose got them down somewhere along the track, I need to find the break and report it. Do you want to come”

What Mark was really looking for was a friend to accompany him on a walk. I was more than happy to oblige. I just needed a few more moments to put the tomato plants in line and I was ready to go.

“Sure. Let me finish the plants, first.”

Once the gardening operation was complete, we started to walk toward Canoe Lake Station. When we were well out of earshot of anyone and anything, Mark began, “Tom, I need to ask you a few things”

Not unusual for Mark to request something of me.

“Tom, you shouldn’t have disappeared with Fannie, yesterday. Bartlett wanted to ask you something. He asked me to relay the request, but only if you can promise the utmost secrecy.”

Now this was an unusual request.

“Bartlett’s been talking to Sam Hughes again. That telephone of his, he can get calls from Ottawa and Lindsay.”

Sam Hughes was fired by PM Borden last fall. He was the Minister of Militia and Defence, but after the Ross Rifle failure and other shenanigans to undermine Borden in Britain, he was forced to resign. Hughes was now a back-bencher spending his time between Ottawa and his hometown in Lindsay. In Lindsay, it was hoped, that Hughes would have nothing better to do. But it was inevitable that he was hatching some other dubious military equipment scheme. It looked like there was yet another scheme afoot.

“Hughes and Bartlett are Orange Lodge Brothers.” Mark said. “Remember before the War, the Canadian Corps of Guides that got disbanded. He wants to start another Corps, but a modern intelligence unit. A Secret Ranger Corps.”

Immediately, I recalled that visit back in March I had in the Shack in Toronto. I wondered if the two were connected. As Mark described Hughes’ scheme, I’m became convincedit was.

“Bartlett has sworn me to secrecy with my job on the line. Hughes wants to start up a Secret Ranger Corps, like the Corps of Guides,. He wants to set it up first in the Park. It’ll start as a secret affiliate of the Lindsay Orange Lodge.”

I had heard Samuel Hughes was becoming unhinged, but this was taking the cake. Besides, I never had much time for the Orange Lodge, or the Masons for that matter. It also sounded too much like the Episkopon that John McRuer told me about at Trinity in Toronto.

“Not really interested Mark, why are you telling me this?”

Mark replied, “They need a secret seal made, and your name came up. They want you to draw it.”

I paused for a moment, “What’s the motto?”. Every secret organization worth its salt has a motto. I never dreamed I would get a commercial art job in the middle of the wilderness for an upstart secret society. But it was intriguing.

“Revelat Naturam Honorem.”, Mark replied, “Nature reveals honour”

“OK, I’ll think about it. What about the image? An All Seeing Eye on the top of an eastern white pine?”

Mark laughed, but then he turned serious.

“Yep. But don’t tell Shannon. He’s Catholic. Bartlett doesn’t want any Catholics involved. It’s my job on the line, remember?”

Typical Orange Lodge, pressure and control tactics, I thought. That was the end of the conversation for now. We walked along the rail line and found the break in the telephone line. It wasn’t a moose after all. It looked like one of the glass insulators broke and the wires got grounded. A heavy wind or a lightning strike.

“Tell Bartlett, the Germans took the line down. Tell him we saw them running away.”

Mark smiled and we began the walk back to Joe Lake. I picked up my canoe and Mark went up to the Joe Lake Station Master to report the location of the break.

On the way back, I found a crop of new mushrooms that sprouted up overnight on a bed of dead hemlocks. Thriving on darkness and death – just like a secret society.

“Nature Reveals Honour.” Nature reveals dishonour too.

Letter to John McRuer

Mowat P.O.  Algonquin Park            May 30, 1917

Dear John,

How is Denver? I am sure the air is much better than Huntsville, especially with the dampness and cold we have here. The weather is miserable and it never seems to want to warm up. I spend a lot of time reading,  doing odd jobs and fishing. Got a Guide’s license too, but don’t expect too much work from it.

I had Shannon send you a sketch a few days ago. Did you get it? It’s from my sketches this spring, one that didn’t end up in Potter Creek.  I hope it cheers you up and reminds you of our trip on the Mississagi. If I took pictures I would have lost the rolls by now.

I am considering going to the Rockies this summer. I may go further North, Yukon, maybe, but as you are sick I may make it down to Denver to visit you.

Here in Ontario conscription talk is getting louder.  I thought I might make myself scarce later this summer as the bill might pass in July. No thoughts of going back to Seattle but I may need to go out of country, Denver could be a good choice.

I’ve gotten along well with Winnie this Spring. She was up earlier and she is fine. We had a good time together. She wants to marry. I’m not sure because it would change everything for me.

I am planning first to go to the Northern part of the Park late July/ early Aug. Possibly to Ottawa for a few days. I should go to Owen Sound because I didn’t  visit my father this spring. They would be especially pleased to see me and  I could help out my brother-in-law Tom for a few days in Annan. The colours of the bay are nice there in the late summer. Worth a visit by itself.

That’s it for now.  If you wish to mail me, send to P.O. Mowat Lodge. Don’t write too much. Annie likes to read my letters. I’ll be here mostly, until late July. Camping away maybe one or two nights away but nothing longer. I hope you are feeling better. Please give my regards to the Mrs.

Yours Truly,

Tom Thomson.

Miss Fanny Case

May 29, 1917

I awoke late in the morning. After the previous night’s drama, my clothes smelled of cinder and soot. Ordinarily, the smell doesn’t bother me, but the fire on the tracks must have been burning something else than just brush or wood. It was oil or grease and that left a heavy unpleasant smell on my clothes.

I had another change of clothes back at Mowat Lodge. When I did go camping, Annie said that I didn’t have to vacate the things from my room unless the lodge was full. And that certainly wasn’t the case so far this spring. The numbers were down and Shannon had fewest number of guests around this time of year since 1913.

It was a similar story at the Algonquin Hotel and the Highland Inn too. The numbers were down all around. Shannon said that he thought that people might be scared to take the train. German saboteurs ready to blow up a trestle at a moment’s notice. The “eye witness” accounts regularly published in the newspapers led many to believe an attack was imminent. And the sighting of sentries posted on the major trestle bridges made the passengers nervous about getting to the other side. I had noticed when I took the train north in the spring that whenever we crossed a major bridge, the passengers in the car would go quiet. Nothing was said, but you knew everyone was nervous. The conversation only started up again when the bridge was far behind.

The other reason, Shannon said, that folks were worried that the trains would nationalized. Most people thought if the trains were nationalized, they would stop running; the whole point of nationalization was to keep them running. Almost every day there was an editorial in the paper that the railway should be nationalized. The Grand Trunk had heavily over-extended itself with the GT Pacific and it was keeping the Government hostage.

So nobody up here talks about art, literature or poetry anymore. Just conscription, sabotage and nationalization.

I canoed over to Mowat Lodge and got a change of clothes. Up in my room I noticed a few things were rearranged. It looked like Annie was looking through my things again, my letters in particular. The harmless letters, I let her read, but the more private ones, I kept with me in my sketch box or I burned them after I read them.

Once I changed, I went downstairs and I scrubbed my own clothes in the back kitchen. Shannon’s mother was there too doing laundry for the guests. She’s there most days doing laundry. Shannon likes to keep her in the back. She said she could do mine for me, but I said she had enough of the guest laundry and I could do it myself. Once I finished, I hung it out back. It was a humid day and I doubt it would be dry by evening.

I then canoed up to Joe Lake Dam. I left my canoe and walked up to Mark Robinson’s shelter house. He was there but said he would be going over to the headquarters to talk to George Bartlett about the fire incident last night. He was going to use the bush phone, but the line was out. Probably a moose broke the line again. Another project – to find the break and to string the lines even higher.

We took the train to the Algonquin Headquarters. It’s situated on Cache Lake by the Highland Inn. The Rangers had free passage on the train between stations, and they could take anyone with them (me today). On the train were a bunch of school girls coming in from Buffalo. I immediately knew where they were headed – Northway Lodge, the girls camp set up by Miss Fannie Case. Fannie’s quite the modern woman. Back in 1908, Fannie set up an all-girls camp on Cache Lake and it’s now quite the operation. Taylor Statten is trying to do the same on Canoe Lake, an all-boys camp, but I say the Fannie has Taylor beat in terms of the better camp. Fannie must have arrived a week or so ago to set thing up and this must be her first batch of girls.

The train stopped at the Highland Inn, and sure enough Fannie was on the platform welcoming the girls. And so was Ralph Bice, the 18 year-old holier-than-thou Park Ranger who knows everything. He was looking for poachers. When I stepped off the train, I eyed Ralph and presented myself with a flourish to Fannie. I said with a mock accent, “At your service, Madam”. Fannie giggled, and the girls, as they disembarked the train, stared in awe. I knew I had their rapt attention, so for show, I lilted a few lines of the “Wreck of the Hesperus”

Blue were her eyes as the fairy-flax,
Her cheeks like the dawn of day,
And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds,
That ope in the month of May.

When I finished, the girls shrieked in delight. Ralph stared at me like I had just skinned a poached beaver before his very eyes. In truth, my motivation for the impromptu performance was not for the delight of of Fannie and the girls (although this was most enjoyable), I did it to antagonize Ralph. I could see the smile on Mark’s face. He knew exactly what I was up to.

I decided to help Fanny bring the girls’ stuff to her camp. After that was finished Fannie revived me with a cup of tea and sweetbreads. She asked me to come back and to teach the girls some sketching and fishing. I didn’t oblige immediately, but I said I might be back in a week or two.

I set on my way to go back by canoe instead of by train. I took one of the loaner canoes from the Highland Inn. The hotels shared loaner canoes for those who made the canoe trip from one hotel to the other and then took the train back. The loaners usually balanced themselves out, because the canoe travellers would look to see if a canoe was available, and decide whether to take the train as the first part of the trip or the latter. The loaner I took had “HI” painted on it to indicate the Highland Inn. “AH” is Algonquin Hotel, and “ML” is Mowat Lodge. I had “TT” painted on mine. It’s not meant to be a loaner.

I made it back late in the evening. I pulled the canoe onto the dock at Mowat Lodge. I checked my laundry and it wasn’t yet dry on the line. I was too tired to walk up and fetch my canoe at Joe Lake, so I decided to stay the night in my room. My feet had gotten wet, the water had seeped into my moccasins. It felt good to put on a pair of dry woolen socks for the night. As I went to sleep, the final verse came into my mind.

Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
In the midnight and snow!
Christ save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of Norman’s woe.

Night Fire

May 28, 1917

I was sleeping in my tent when I heard the three whistle blasts – twice. That meant fire. The train engineers were instructed to signal fire if they saw anything on the track, or any fire for that matter. That was the case tonight, despite the time. The blasts came just after 1:30am. I knew it was from the eastbound freight train coming from Depot Harbour. It likely was hauling a shipment of grain from one the lakers.

I knew the train schedules quite well. Whenever I was waiting at Scotia Junction or Canoe Lake Station, I would study the schedule for the Grand Trunk 32nd Sub-Division, or the Booth Line as it used to be called. I had it committed to memory, mostly. It was handy to know the times and intervals between the nearby stations. Scotia Junction to Canoe Lake: 2 hours and 15 minutes; Joe Lake: another 3 minutes; Sims Pit: 2 minutes and the Highland Inn another 18 minutes. It was not on a few occasions that we would ride the rails to save a half-day’s hike between the hotels. More often than not, the Station Masters would let me on the train knowing that I’d return the favour with freshly caught trout.

Train schedules aside, I estimated the whistle blasts to be near Sims Pit. Ever since the big fire near Cochrane last year where over 200 people perished, Park Superintendent George Bartlett was especially nervous that the Big Fire of Damnation was well nigh in the Park. In springtime, it was still the habit of many to burn dead vegetation off the land. But after Matheson and Iroquois Falls were wiped off the map along with several hundred souls, the Province decided to enact fire prevention legislation. This gave the Fire Rangers powers of an arresting officer and the authority to issue travel permits. The expectation was that the Park Guides had the same responsibilities as the Rangers and the unofficial deputation of powers, if necessary.
That was the understood expectation of the Guide’s license. Bartlett informed me that if I didn’t show up when the need arose to fight a fire, he’d take away my license – and my potential livelihood in the Park. He knew that I was a Fire Ranger last year, but he also knew I was an artist. He didn’t think the two should go together, and if he had any doubts about my willingness for duty, he’d be more than willing to take my license away.

“Artists not wanted in the Park.” Bartlett could have said it out loud, but he knew that it had more power left unsaid.

So I got dressed as quickly as possible. I grabbed my spade and took my canoe up Sims Creek as far as I could. It was another quarter of a mile by foot, and as I got near I could see the flames and smoke. Mark Robinson was there too. The shelter house at Joe Lake was a similar distance so we arrived at the same time. Then a few other characters popped mysteriously out of the darkness armed with shovels. Together we managed to get the fire out. Brush that hadn’t been cleared from the tracks had caught fire. It was probably started by sparks when the train was negotiating the curve in the track. The longer the train, the more tendency for sparks. It must have been a long train full of grain, or army supplies on their way to Halifax.

As soon as the fire was out, the mysterious characters went back into the darkness, leaving Mark and me alone. I had a vague notion of who they were but asked Mark to confirm this notion. I was right – Bartlett was looking to set up another internment camp for the Government, and they were looking at Sims Pit. They were testing it out with a few men, about two dozen or so. It’s a suitable spot because of the rail sidings along the main track. Good for loading and unloading and Sims Pit is where the opposite trains wait to pass each other on the line. I heard the men talk, they sounded German, although they spoke English.

I didn’t get back to my campsite until 4:30am. Mark had invited me back to the shelter house but I said I would visit him tomorrow. He looked like a wreck. I could tell his war wounds were bothering him. He invited me out of politeness, but I could see he needed to get back and rest up before he reported the incident in full in the morning. I asked Mark to make sure that he mention me to Bartlett and that the artist showed up for duty.

Mark smiled, “G’night, Tom. I’ll be sure to do that.”

With that goodbye he limped with his shovel back to Joe Lake.

When I returned to my campsite the moon was overhead in its first quarter. The full moon would be in about a week’s time. Tonight, there was enough light that I could see the column of smoke drifting away from Sims Pit, blocking the fainter stars. Hints of dawn were starting to show over the hills. The lake was calm, like glass, I undressed and fell asleep. I didn’t wake up until late next morning.

Sunday Service

May 27, 1917

I went up to the Algonquin Hotel for Sunday Lay Service. Ed Colson was leading the service. He delivered a homily about the mystery of the Trinity. I didn’t listen too closely; my mind was somewhat distracted, but in the distance I kept hearing the reassuring words of redemption, forgiveness and salvation. My mind clicked back to full attention when I heard him say, “We cannot grasp how God loves us unconditionally, and that he gave his only son for our sins.”

That was it, I guess. Time to hear yet again that Jesus paid for our sins. In truth, I prefer the homily from a lay preacher because they’re pretty much in the same situation as everyone else. They have a day job and compromises and shortcomings to worry about, unlike the professional pastors who don’t worry about those sort of things.

After the service, I had coffee with the guests from the Hotel. There were only about dozen guests, the numbers were way down from the previous years. The Americans were deciding to stay home this summer, and get ready for fighting overseas. The Colsons were feeling the pinch. They were hoping to have brisk business, but tourists were down everywhere, including the Highland Inn. Molly Colson invited me to stay for lunch sandwiches, which I did. I’ll return the hospitality soon enough, by doing some work for them. I knew that they were due for a roof repair, so I would pitch in when they started.

The afternoon I spent on the lake. Not fly fishing, but trawling with a lure and copper wire. Instead of a rod I used a spool type affair where I would simply let the line out from the back of the canoe and let the lure sink into the depth. I would let the line out as the canoe drifted with the wind, and after a few minutes, I’d wind in the line and repeat they cycle. I listened to the wind on the waves and when I was close to the shore the wind through the trees. The leaves were all out know, and what was once a sparse collection of fir and pine trees on the landscape was now filled in with the green of saplings. The loons were on the lakes. One minute they were out in the distance, they would disappear and then pop up beside the canoe.

I went back to the campsite later in the afternoon, and after supper spent time reading in the evening light. I also spent time thinking about my options for the future. The circumstances were still playing themselves out and I wanted to get definite word from Winnie before I did anything.

Other than the service in the morning, I didn’t speak to another soul today.

Letter to Winnie

May 27, 1917

Mowat P.O.

Dear Winnie,

I am sorry I did not give you a proper goodbye on Friday morning. Your train had left before I was up. I know that you were angry for all of the time I was spending with Dr MacCallum. I am sorry. We had planned a canoe trip and camping but with weather being so miserable he decided to stay at Mowat Lodge instead. The Dr and his son Arthur only stayed for four days instead of the two weeks so you can see why I spent all of my time with them.

You are back in Huntsville now. I don’t know when you’ll be back at the Manse. Your father will be down here for work but I don’t reckon I’ll speak to him, or give him letters to bring back. I hope this letter gets to you through the post. I left my sketches on the porch of your cottage late Thursday night. No one was up, so I left them on the porch in a potato sack that Shannon gave me.  I don’t remember how many I gave away but there should be forty left at least. I think my exhibition went well. I’ll check if they are still there and put them inside with my other gear. Shannon wants to charge me for storing extra stuff at the Lodge. Says he doesn’t want the clutter for his guests. I’ll keep my canoe off to the one side and out of the way.

Shannon does still owe me money. But he will be good for it. He says he needs to account for room and board and I don’t have much choice but to stay near or at Mowat Lodge. The weather is poor and I need to stay close in case I get guiding work. A fair deal in some ways because business is bad all around for everyone. Shannon and Annie need some help putting in the garden and can be of some use being the gardener. I suppose.

I doubt I’ll be doing any more sketching in the next while. Summer doesn’t have the colours I’m looking for and there’s little mood for art when the war is going so badly. The word around is that a conscription bill might go through. Up to 45 years in age. They need more artists fighting the Germans. Jackson’s still in England. I may see him there after all.

Well I’d better get this finished. I’m camping across the lake. It’s still early and I will post this morning to catch today’s mail. I may have a guiding job today.




May 26, 1917

I decided to set up the campsite at Hayhurst Point across the lake from the cottages. I wouldn’t be spending much time there during the day, I’d be on the lake fishing, but in the evenings it would be ok because the bugs wouldn’t be out when the temperature got lower. After the events at Mowat Lodge, I needed to get some space and solitude.

I used my 7’x10′ canvas tent. It was heavy, but once it was set up it was as good as a shelter house. I cut some balsam boughs which made some nice bedding underneath the blankets and I brought along a small acetylene lamp for the evenings. My set up was nearly as nice as the guest tents just outside of the Highland Inn. It was better, because it was much more private. I have a small silk tent and a cot that I bought a couple of years ago, but I’ll be using that when I travel. It’s packed up in the store house and I’m thinking about sending it up to Tom Wattie in South River for safekeeping. For now this tent will do the job and I don’t mind leaving it behind if I need to.

Despite my solitude, I need to keep close to Mowat Lodge in case some guiding work comes up. I’ll be fishing most days from now on, but I’ll be stopping into the post office to check for mail. Things feel pretty subdued at Mowat Lodge and I feel I need to make myself scarce for awhile.

Things were pretty rough on the water today. Frightening, actually. I was out fishing near the south end of the lake, near Gill Lake portage when the weather changed suddenly. Not unexpected in spring, but  around 3pm the sky turned a sickly yellow and the pressure dropped suddenly. I felt it in my ears. The lake all of a sudden became a sea of whitecaps. I knew it was dangerous so I canoed quickly over the portage point. There was a clearing where I could pull my canoe completely out of the water. I did that and then I saw it. The waterspout.

It came out of the clouds suddenly and then came down and touched the water. From my vantage point, it looked like a tiny wobbly thread, but where it touched down near Gilmour Island, it must have been 30-40ft wide. It moved north between Gilmour and Cook Island and went up the east side of the lake. Then it picked up and disappeared. It was on the lake for less than a minute, and I’m sure that I was only one of a few that saw it (the east shore only has a few cottages). The sun came back, the whitecaps disappeared and it was as if nothing happened.

When I canoed back to my site, my tent was blown down and the blankets and boughs were strewn into the bush. I couldn’t find the acetylene lamp so it must have been Heaven-bound. My sketch box and it was bashed off the hinges. I recovered all of the contents (including a few notes and letters – miraculous that they didn’t fly away, like the acetylene lamp). I concluded that like my poison oak, this shaking up the campsite was a bad omen. It seemed like Nature was telling me to stop sketching and if I persisted, another act of God might be wrought on me. I think God made this even more clear with a few hints of destruction downshore. A couple of large pines were snapped off at the middle about 200 yards away. So the spout may hit land close by. Other than the broken trees and my campsite everything else looked intact. So God did spare my campsite, but not without a good shakeup.

It only took a few minutes to get my things back in order. I had heard of waterspouts, but this was my first one. I looked across to the Mowat Lodge dock and saw that the canvas canoes (not the board one) were picked up by the wind and floating upturned in the water. I canoed over and fetched them back before they floated away. I first thought that Shannon should count himself lucky that he didn’t lose them. My second thought that maybe this was a necessary act of redemption that I was obliged to carry through. I’ll tell Shannon tomorrow that I fetched his canoes, but I won’t bother with telling him about the necessary acts of redemption. He’d use that knowledge somehow to charge me more.

Tonight, despite the weather, drama and destruction, I’m camping alone. Fate knows where I am, regardless. I’m sure God would have trouble ordering up a second waterspout on the same lake on the same evening, so I figured I was safe for the night. The bugs must have known a waterspout came through because there wasn’t one in sight. Unusual for this time of year, but appreciated nonetheless Nor did I catch any fish this afternoon. They, too, must have sensed something so they stayed deep and didn’t bite. They must have known a couple hours ahead, because it was the worst fishing afternoon for me. I caught nothing.

I settled in the campsite. I made coffee and had some biscuits for supper. The sunset was a fine red through streaks of clouds. I’ll write a letter to Winnie tomorrow.