May 20, 1917 Confessions at 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 going on a 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, blanket 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 were only going away for a few days, but I’ve learned that the shorter the trip, little difference does it make in the gear you 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 spring time.

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 the 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 were getting warmer, the trout were going deeper. They were no longer close to the shore looking for flies, they were 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 planned 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 weren’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 this 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 in my plans and anxious to convince me 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.

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