October 31, 1916 No Reformation Day

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.

October 27, 1916 Making the Return Trip

October 27, 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.


October 13, 1917 Letter from JEH MacDonald to John Thomson

Studio Bldg. 25 Severn St. Toronto
Oct 13:17

Mr. John Thomson

Dear Mr Thomson: I  would have answered your letter sooner but I have been out of town and did not get the letter until I returned. It is unfortunate that my inquiry was delayed in reaching you, but under the circumstances, it could be hardly avoided. It was, however, necessary for me to put the engraving of the brass inscription plate in hand without delay in order to have it ready when those intending to put it up could be at Canoe Lake. I had therefore to go ahead with the work and as this was done before I got to definite information as to Tom’s birth place and date, etc, there is a slight error on the plate as it stands. I am sorry for this, as I would have liked dates, etc, as correct as possible, but the fault is probably not of great importance after all as Tom was removed from Claremont as soon after his birth, Claremont can hardly claim much credit for his raising.

Nevertheless, as I say, I would have like the fact correct. I hope you won’t mind the error.

I have just returned from Canoe Lake where I spent the weekend helping Mr. Beatty to put on the plate and give the cairn a few finishing touches.

The cairn is a fine piece of work and with the brass plate in position, it looks quite imposing. It stands on a prominent point in Canoe Lake right at the head of the lake, facing south and can be seen from all directions. It is situated near an old favourite camping spot of Tom’s. I took a number of photographs of the memorial and will send you prints as soon as possible. It has been a great satisfaction to me to help in this work and the result goes a long way towards beautifying the tragedy of Tom’s death. The devotion of practically everyone at Canoe Lake in offering their help has been fine. Mr J.W. Beatty planned the cairn and directed and did most of the work in connection with its erection. I myself was not able to go to Canoe Lake until the cairn was practically completed, but I had no difficulty in appreciating the efforts of those concerned. Most of the stone had to be carried up a steep cliff about 60 feet high. All this stone had to brought a mile or so by boat and carried up to the site. There was probably over a ton of material in the cairn. Some of the helpers were soft-handed city men, who had not known Tom, but were holidaying at the Lake and cheerfully offered their services. I am sure, Mr. Thomson, that you will understand that I do not mention these things to give you any sense of obligation, but merely to bring out for you the noble side of the sad event they centred around.

I will write to you your daughters and your son George as soon as possible. and send you the photos mentioned without delay. The Globe of this morning gives an account of the cairn. Some of the other papers are asking for photographs.

Yours very truly

J.E.H. MacDonald

October 4, 1916 Letter to Dr MacCallum

Basin Depot, 
Oct. 4, 1916

Dr. MacCallum, 26 Warren Road

Dear Sir,

I received both your letters at the same time and was glad to hear about things in Toronto. The Country up here is just taking the fall colour and by the end of the week will be at its best.

Could you arrange to come up this week? You could get a train to Achray at Pembroke Sat. night at 7:30 or more likely 10 o’clock and be here somewhere about 12. The train leaves from Brent Sunday morning then the next one down is Wednesday morning but I could paddle you down to Pettawa from here any day you should want to go out.

Have done very little sketching this summer as I find that the two jobs don’t fit in. It would be great for two artists or whatever you call us but the natives can’t see what we paint for. A photo would be great but the painted things are awful. When we are traveling two go together one for the canoe and the other the pack and there’s no place for a sketch outfit when you’re fire ranging.

We are not fired yet but I am hoping to be put off right away.

Thanking you for your letters.

I am Yours Truly,

Tom Thomson