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.

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