No Reformation Day at Mowat Lodge

October 31, 1916

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making the Return Trip

October 29, 1916

I’m still up North. Possibly for another week or two. I’m not sure when I’ll make it back down to the City but it will be sometime in mid-November. 

I’m back at Mowat Lodge for a few days . I was in the eastern part of the Park, the new section, with Ned Godin. I did lots of good sketching along the Petawawa and by Achray. I also did some fire-ranging work but that took away from the sketching I really wanted to do.

Fall is finally turning into winter. Winter happens sooner and longer in the Highlands. The chill of the evening and nights is turning into a hard cold in the morning. I can still sleep in a tent outside – that’s not the issue – it’s just that much harder to get going in the day. It’s more difficult to paint too. But I like the urgency the cold makes when painting outside. It gives the paint a different texture and form, and I need to use a more forceful technique to apply and make the strokes. None of the delicacy or forethought used in the studio has any place here. You just start and finish the sketch before the scene disappears or before your inspiration expires or blood circulation stops.

I managed to get a free ride on the train from the eastern part of the Park to Canoe Lake. I had about sixty sketches and unused boards wrapped up in old canvas salvaged from an old tent. Near the end of our trip, I was wondering how I’d contain the sketches on the train when an abandoned camp site with a tent presented itself. Ned and I weren’t sure about the circumstance. An abandoned camp site meant some trouble about. We looked and found no trace of anyone and judging by the pit, no fire had been lit in the past week or maybe even two. The tent had a big tear in the side. The tear was straight so it was not from a bear but from a knife. Ned and I speculated that the camp site might have been escapees from the internment camp because e had been told to keep a lookout for such. But we never believed for a moment we’d see anyone or anything like that.

The night before I took the train I wrapped my sketches with the canvas and with twine made it into a small shipping bale. It reminded me of those bales in the canoes by the Voyagers. I had seen pictures of the Voyageurs it fascinated me that they would travel those long distances in canoe full of bales. Ned watched me and he said he was sorry to see me go. I’d be back before the snow was gone, I said. I promised him.

I got a free ride in the freight because I knew the conductor. Earlier in the summer I had given him a sketch (not expecting anything in return) and it ended up being my ticket for the season. Normally the freight cars are full, but since the war they are mostly empty going westbound. Eastbound trains are full siphoning off the country’s men and material to the war oversea. But not much would come back westbound so I had a whole freight car to myself, for me and my sketches.

I plan to stay a few days here at Mowat Lodge. I’ll help Shannon and Annie get ready for winter. The canoes still have to be brought up to the storage barn, the dock needs be taken out. The last of the potatoes and carrots have to dug out to be put in the root cellar (this should have been done a month ago).  As for root cellar, the doorway needs to be fixed to keep the rodents out and when the occasion warrants, the bears, too.

It’s the last of October,the colours are gone and the skeletons of the trees are out. It’s like the last sigh of the season before the winter sets in. The snow will falls and the scenes will become something new. I’ve seen this over and over but it’s new to me every time. Despite the solitary and peaceful feeling here, I can feel the draw back to the City. It’s not a yearning, it’s an insidious call. I’d rather be away, but the only place that I can stay with the money I have left is the shack behind the Studio. It’s fine. I’m grateful for it, but the thought of going back to endure another grim winter in the City is casting a heavy shadow on me.

On my way back, I might stop by in Huntsville and in Barrie too. The Trainors will put me up for a few days and Mark Robinson said I’m always welcome to visit him. Between them, that will put another week in before my eventual return.


1911 Near Owen Sound


Near Owen Sound
oil on board
6.75 x 10 ins ( 17.1 x 25.4 cms )

Estimated: $80,000.00 – $140,000.00

Opens November 20th at 10:00:00 AM EST
Closes November 29th at 02:00:00 PM EST
George Thomson, Owen Sound.
Dorothy Telford (daughter of George Thomson), Owen Sound.
Joyner Waddington’s, auction, Toronto, November 26, 2008, lot 70.
Private Collection, Ontario.
Joan Murray, “A Treasury of Tom Thomson”, Vancouver, 2011, page 3.
Joyner Waddington’s, “Canadian Art”, auction, Toronto, November 25, 2008, lot 70.
This painting will be included in Joan Murray’s forthcoming catalogue raisonne of Tom Thomson’s work.

Thomson art historian, Joan Murray, while discussing “Near Owen Sound”, notes that Tom Thomson’s early career as a painter found him returning regularly to Owen Sound, maintaining a strong relationship with his large family. George Thomson, Tom’s oldest brother, provided great encouragement as Tom’s abilities continued to progress, both as a painter and a commercial artist and Tom felt great admiration towards George, a gifted artist and founder of the Acme Business College in Seattle (which Tom had attended in 1901).

During the time that “Near Owen Sound” would have been completed, Thomson had recently started work at Grip Limited Engravers in Toronto, a vocation that would not only bring him in contact with fellow artists who would help to shape and encourage his artistic life, but also introduce him to regular sketching trips throughout Ontario, bringing the artist for the first time to Algonquin Park in 1912. Murray notes that: “These trips changed the direction of Thomson’s life; in the fall, the budding artist invested in his first painting kit.”

Depictions of the Owen Sound area appear regularly in Thomson’s work leading to 1911 and Murray points to this painting as one of his best sketches from the period. As was quite common practice by the painter, “Near Owen Sound” would have been a gift from Thomson to his older brother. The sketch was kept in a drawer in George’s home and later was passed by descent to Dorothy Telford, George’s daughter. Painted at the beginning of one of Canadian art’s most revered and historical artistic progressions and careers, Joan Murray offers that “Near Owen Sound” marks “the emergence of Tom Thomson as a serious painter.”

We extend our gratitude to Thomson historian, Joan Murray, for her assistance in the researching and cataloguing of this artwork.
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1914 Thoreau MacDonald


Daydreaming (Portrait of Thoreau MacDonald)
oil on panel
a pencil sketch of a boy on the reverse, inscribed on the reverse “Drawing and oil by Tom Thomson, looks about 1913-14, Thoreau MacDonald”; circa 1914
7.5 x 11.5 ins ( 19.1 x 29.2 cms )

Estimated: $200,000.00 – $250,000.00

Opens November 20th at 10:00:00 AM EST
Closes November 29th at 02:00:00 PM EST
Thoreau MacDonald.
Private Collection, Toronto.
Private Collection, Vancouver.
Nancy Poole’s Studio, Toronto, November 10-22, 1990.
Joan Murray, “A Treasury of Tom Thomson”, Vancouver, 2011, pages 2-26.
David Silcox and Harold Town, “Tom Thomson: The Silence and the Storm”, Toronto. 1977, pages 53-56, 101-107 and 206.
According to Thomson historian, Joan Murray, Thoreau MacDonald identified himself as the subject of this artwork, providing the information to the original Toronto owners of “Daydreaming”. This painting will be included in Joan Murray’s forthcoming catalogue raisonne of Tom Thomson’s work.

“Daydreaming” is a unique and special work by Tom Thomson, providing a glimpse not only into the abilities of the artist amidst a period of soaring confidence and expression, but also into the life and important personal relationships for the storied painter.

Tom Thomson’s connection to J.E.H. MacDonald was a vital one for the artist. MacDonald was the senior artist at Toronto’s Grip Limited where Thomson would begin employment in 1909 and it was through this employment that Thomson would take part in his earliest sketching trips, including his first visit to Algonquin Park. Although only four years older than Thomson, MacDonald’s role as a senior and internationally trained artist provided invaluable guidance and encouragement to Thomson, who had received less structured artistic instruction and relied upon his colleagues for exposure to the movements and philosophies gaining steam outside of Toronto.

One of the only instances of clear portraiture since his days as a student, one can appreciate and theorize the possible details surrounding Thomson’s choice to portray Thoreau MacDonald, the son of J.E.H., in such a fashion. It is likely that Thomson not only had a relationship with the boy, but also witnessed strong parallels between their upbringings. Both raised on farms within loving environments of encouraged artistic expression, Thomson and MacDonald were exposed to the beauty of their surroundings and demonstrated their abilities in its portrayal early in life (beginning in the 1920s, Thoreau MacDonald’s own career and history in Canadian art would begin). Thomson’s care and time in creating the portrait is evident, not only in the perceived complexity of the composition, but also evidenced by the artist’s initial pencil sketch on the reverse of the board. The boy sitting in much more of an upright state, the sketch provides clear detail of Thoreau’s face, a revealing aspect of the care given to the depiction, a definite contrast to the frequent “facelessness” encountered when individuals are included in Thomson’s landscapes from this period towards the end of his life.

Reminiscent of the period for the painter, “Daydreaming” showcases Thomson’s “thick, full stabs” of brushwork, as well as his “acute sense of colour”. As the boy reclines in the cool shadows of the foreground, within thick grass of endless varying hues of green and black, the sun casts its warm gaze upon the textured landscape of rowed fields toward the horizon and the glimpse of the soft blue sky. Thoreau himself rests comfortably in the centre of the work, his earthen-toned attire giving way to the stark red shirt visible around the boy’s neck and cuffs, highlighting his healthy and colourful face, protected from the strong sun by his wide-brimmed hat. The portrait is the depiction of comfort and contentment, the painter and sitter both sharing admiration not only for their environment, but also in each other’s ability to communicate that connection.

Following the untimely death of Thomson, J.E.H. and Thoreau MacDonald’s special relationship with the artist showed perhaps its greatest depths as J.E.H. and Lawren Harris began acting as “trustees of Thomson’s legacy”. Harris and MacDonald organized the remaining artwork by Thomson still housed at Toronto’s Studio Building, categorizing the works and stamping those pieces which Thomson had never signed (using a stamp which J.E.H. designed and created). Thoreau also took part in the stamping of the works with his father and the undertaking of the project by the artists led to Thomson’s work being purchased by Canadian institutions, prominent Canadian collectors and held in the collections of colleagues and friends of Thomson, the process creating a definite foundation towards Tom Thomson’s recognition as one of Canada’s most renowned artists.

We extend our gratitude to Thomson historian, Joan Murray, for her assistance in the researching and cataloguing of this artwork.
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