July 6, 1917
The word came in this morning. Conscription, after an all-night sitting by Parliament, was affirmed. Shannon heard the news from the Station Master at Canoe Lake. It hadn’t been printed in the papers yet, but once the vote was passed at 5 o’clock this morning, the news raced like wildfire through the town. The Canoe Lake Station telegraph received the message: “Jul-06, Conscription affirmed by Parl. 5am”, but the stories came in by train. Someone said that after the vote, they sang “God Save the King” and the many of the members retired to the Chateau Laurier to a hearty breakfast to celebrate the occasion. Some celebration. I also couldn’t help to think of the irony. The very room in the Victoria Memorial Museum where the vote was made is the very same room where my painting once stood when it was the National Gallery.
The bill would gain royal assent in the beginning August. That would mean compulsory service for all unmarried men between twenty-five and forty-five who would be pressed into service. That meant I had less than three weeks to decide my own fate, otherwise my fate would be decided by the Empire and Dominion.
I was down at the dock this morning with my canoe. Another day of oppressive humidity and with no breeze. All the guests at the lodge were waving their paper fans, complaining about the heat and the humidity. I couldn’t bear it any more, so I went down by lake. I took my cup of tea along and sat on the dock and tried to enjoy the breeze from the lake.
Down at the lake, Mowat Lodge dock is a rustic affair Pretty much in keeping with the rest of the Mowat Lodge concept. It’s about six feet wide and twenty feet long. I helped Shannon put it out in early May. To get better depth beside the dock we lined it up to to be parallel with a rocky outcropping. To easily access the the dock we had to put down two pine planks that connected it to the shore. It had to be accessible by women in dresses – you can’t have them clamouring over rocks. There’s a primitive shed just up on the shore. It’s where the paddles and outfitting equipment is stored along with the canoes. Back in 1915, I help Shannon to build this too. It was only after that we built it, that we discovered it was poorly placed. It obstructed the view of the dock from the verandah back at Mowat Lodge. All that you could see while sitting on the verandah was the shed, it blocked the view of the dock and only the most southerly tip was visible. As such, you couldn’t see if anyone was on the dock itself. This made for a bit of an inconvenience because it was difficult to signal back up to the Lodge to indicate if you needed something. Shannon didn’t think this was much of a problem. He had heard that wireless radios were coming soon. Maybe he could install one by the dock.
I felt lonely and forlorn today. I hadn’t heard anything from Winnie. Lowrie had told me that he had delivered the message to Winnie in Huntsville. Lowrie did not know the content of the message, not that it was difficult to surmise, but he told me that Winnie would do her best to do what I asked. That meant I should be seeing her in South River next Saturday. I was also thinking about my good friends and compatriots: Harris in Barrie, Lismer in Halifax, MacDonald in Toronto, and Jackson and Varley overseas. The war had torn our group apart, and now the machine was determined to get even more from us. The war was going to tear me apart.
I recall reading once from Thoreau that men lead lives of quiet desperation. The silence that now was on the lake was an expression of that quiet desperation. I stayed on the dock for the better part of the morning and then I took my canoe up Potter Creek. I went again to Joe Lake Dam to fish. If anything I wanted to catch the Big Trout before I never had a chance again.
What this War has wrought we’ll never know.