March 31, 1917 Birches

March 31, 1917

1917 Birches

I could feel spring in the air. The temperature was warmer – it really felt like spring, but I had a chill that wouldn’t leave my body. Winter wouldn’t leave me today. But the sun was strong – brilliant actually – and its ever strengthening force was making the snow go away fast. The snow was mostly gone from the south-facing hills. As for the north-facing hills, the snow will stay into May. That’s what I predict.

I had walked a lot yesterday and I was tired. That’s why I felt chilled. The snowshoes weren’t suited for some parts of my trip, so I ended up post-holing my way through parts of the bush. I didn’t notice but my socks and boots were soaked until I got back. I set them out by the fire to dry. I didn’t think much of it, but yesterday’s wet-footed venture must have put the chill in me today.

Earlier in the morning I went out to the storage shed. It’s the second and southerly part of Mowat Lodge. It’s a separate but joined structure. It was a separate lease, but Shannon took it over in 1914 when he expanded his operation. There are more rooms there, but there is there is a large storage area and an outbuilding that Shannon uses as a stable for the horses and the cow. He doesn’t keep the animals in the barn up the road. It’s too far away for tending the animals, but he stores the hay there, the beaver grass, that’s cut and brought in early July. Shannon spends a lot of time in the back grooming and taking care of the horses. He takes pride in his horses. He also drinks back there. Ever since the Prohibition, Annie’s not comfortable having liquor in the ‘proper part of the house’ as she calls it, so Shannon is forced to drink out of doors or with the horses.

Shannon wasn’t there this morning. I don’t know where he was. The horses were there though. I guess he decided not to take the horses out for a sap run because the temperature didn’t go down enough and there wouldn’t be anything to bring in. I cut some more boards from the stack that Shannon set aside for me. The orange crates are good because they are light and flimsy. They’re meant to make the trip only once from California and they’re made with few nails and some wire. The panels I can make are about 5″  x 7″ wide. Depending on the condition of the wood, I can get about four to eight panels from each box. Although they are the size of a glorified post card, I can’t complain. If I use these boards as quick studies or sketches, I can save my better panels when I find a really good scene.

After lunch (Shannon didn’t appear for lunch) I was still feeling a bit under the weather, so I didn’t go far. I walked a short distance down Gilmour Road to Whisky Jack Bay. It’s a small inlet due south of Mowat Lodge. The dump for Mowat Lodge is around there too.  I saw the gray jays and they saw me too. Whisky Jack bay got its name from the gray jays that live around there. The Indian name for gray jay sounds like Whisky Jack so the name stuck. The gray jays stay all winter and do their nesting before the other birds come. They hide their food in the trees and you can see them flying about in the fall, hiding it in the trees, in crevasses, under flakes of bark and in holes left behind by woodpeckers. They’re smart birds, they remember everything they hide. They’re very territorial too, they keep an eye on you. If you’re in their territory, they know who you are, and dive-bomb if they don’t like you. I didn’t get dive-bombed today. I learned from my Uncle Brodie that most of the gray jays die when they’re young. It’s a cruel family life. They’re forced to fight each other to see who gets to stay in the territory. The “leavers” move on and try to take another territory, and the “stayer” (if the parents choose to let a younger one stay) sticks around for another year to help raise the next generation of young of its parents. But then, when the time comes, it  starts all over, another fight to the death over territory. When you observe what the gray jays have to do to survive, it makes you think that maybe the fight to the death in Europe could be the natural course of things. Love, honour and morality is only a figment of our imagination. Survival at all cost is the only thing that matters. Embrace the gray jay way.

I saw another stand of birches down in a low lying area at the edge of the bay. Together, they gave a nice composition being in the foreground, so I got up close and painted them. When I was finished, I went back and I still wasn’t feeling good. I had the chills and read the papers. It looks like the U.S. is going to declare war any day now.

I was quiet at dinner. Shannon had reappeared and I could tell he had been drinking all day. Probably at George or Lowrie’s place. Everyone knew well enough to leave me alone.

March 30, 1917 An Ice-Covered Lake

March 30, 1917

1917 An Ice-Covered Lake

Canoe Lake is still frozen solid, but the edges are melting away. The small streams feeding into the lake and Potter Creek are open and running. Shannon needed to finish his his ice-block operation today because it would become too dangerous as the weather warms up each day. This morning I helped him get the last blocks in. Neither George or Lowrie showed up to help. I’m sure they had a bit too much to drink last night. Today was the last day Shannon’s horses went on the lake. That’s a relief for me, because I’ve become attached to his horses and if we lost them it would be like losing a member of the family.

After I finished my duties with Shannon, I cut some boards from the crates he kept for me. Although I brought a fair number of boards with me, I needed to stretch out my supply. The ones cut from the crates are only 6 inches by 8 inches, smaller than the regular 10 1/2 by 8 1/2 boards. I like to bring a couple of these smaller ones, in case I need to do a sketch quickly.

Today, I ventured a bit further than I did yesterday. I went north from the lodge and then to the eastern shore. In the summer, there’s a beach and this was a camp site for the the Indians. This is where Canoe Lake got its name, because they made birch bark canoes here – before the railways and lumbermen made them move on.

I did my sketch on near the shore of the lake. There’s lots of birch here. They like the low land near the shore , when the pines were all cut and the high water levels from the dams drowned everything else, the birches moved right in. The beavers like that too and there’s a healthy population. They’ve dammed the stream that comes down from March Hare lake. It was once a tiny lake, but its bigger now. There’s a beaver dam about a mile away – that’s where March Hare Lake and there is another one here, just before it drains in Canoe Lake. Because all of the water is dammed upstream there’s only a pond’s worth of water behind this one. Since it’s not close to anyone, it hasn’t been dynamited. From my recollection, the beaver dam is considerably larger than last year and the pond is much larger. Only a matter of time before someone notices and dynamites it.

I had a nice view back across the lake to Mowat Lodge and I could see in the distance the hill from where I painted several days ago. Another stand of birches presented themselves well in the foreground so I decided to paint this scene. I sat myself near a stand of young maples. Second growth too. When the pines are gone and before the soil washes away into the lake, all bets are off of who’s going to be successful. I see there are willows here too. They like being right at the water’s edge.

It was a stronger eastern wind when I was painting. The wind was coming down from the hills and blowing onto lake. The wind did not have its usual bitter cold, but it didn’t have any warmth either. The wind was heavy, laden with moisture, and it felt like a harbinger of bad things to come. Winds from the east brought bad things with them. My eyes were watering, and the dampness of the cold was downright unpleasant. I decided I do a smaller sketch today. After I finished I started back across the lake.

As part of my regular kit,I carry a line and a lure. A small axe too, which I wrap up in my burlap bag. On the way back, I decided to give ice-fishing a try. The wind had died down and the sun was starting to come out. I chopped a hole starting at one of the cracks. The ice is still thick, about a foot where I cut, but it was getting rotten so it was easy to get through. If the weather stays cold, the ice will be here another month. I didn’t catch anything.

When I got to the shore I saw some wolf tracks. They’ve been venturing closer lately. Shannon told me that there’s lots of deer and it’s attracting the wolves. The deer hang out close to the Algonquin Hotel (the guests feed them during the summer) and the wolves are following. Shannon said the the Province is thinking about having deer-kill in the spring and shipping the meat to Toronto. He heard that from George Bartlett, the Park Superintendent.

When I got back I set my sketch in the dining room to dry. I had to scrub my hands with sand and then with soap, warm warm water and a bristle brush. We had a fine dinner and Annie made custard for dessert. After dinner, I suggested that we play some cards or crokinole. When I was looking for the crokinole board, I asked where the Ouija board was (we played with it last summer). Shannon said that Annie forced him to throw the Ouija board out. She didn’t want any unwelcome spirits in the lodge. They still have the chess board I brought up in 1914. That fall, I played chess most everyday with the boys. I could beat everyone, except for this kid that came down everyday just to play. He learned from the  station master at Brule Lake. To pass the time, the station masters play chess using the telegraph. The boy’s family lived close to the school house, but they moved away in 1915. After that, I was once again the reigning chess champion of Mowat Lodge.

March 29, 1917 Woods in Winter

March 29, 1917

1917 Woods in Winter

I took a walk along Potter Creek today. I first walked along the old spur line then went closer to the shore. I walked by Gilmour Mill and past the the schoolhouse (if you could call it that, it’s an old tar paper shack). I passed by what was left of Mowat village, I walked to Joe Lake Dam, then to Joe Lake itself. I passed by the Algonquin Hotel.I passed by the cabin down by the shore to. I was going to stop at the hotel. but decided not to. It’s closed for business, but there were lights on. Shannon told me that that Ed and Molly Colson, late in February, bought the hotel from Tom Merrill, who lives in Buffalo. He put the word out last fall that he wanted to sell.

I knew Ed and Molly from the Highland Inn. They married in 1907 and in 1908 they managed the Highland Inn ever since its opening. They ran a tight operation, mostly due to Molly. Year before last, the left the Highland Inn and managed the Orient Hotel in Peterborough. I saw the ads in the paper back in Toronto. Imagine my surprise when I got up here that I learned that they bought the Algonquin Hotel and arrived just a few days before me.

I also heard that Ed’s sister, Annie Colson was going to take over the outfitters store close to Joe Lake Station. She worked at the Highland Inn too. Their mother died when they were young. She stayed behind in Guelph, but when Ed got the job at the Highland Inn she came too. Even though she was older she had to start out as a scullery maid. She helped out with the canoe outfitting and she could put together the provisions together for any canoe trip. When Ed and Molly bought the Algonquin, they needed someone for the outfitter’s store and Annie jumped at the chance.

Right now, Shannon is on a his maple sugaring venture. He got the idea from the Highland Inn where they have a sugar bush celebration every year. The maples aren’t too close to the lodge – they are closer to the station, so he built a place to gather the sap and boil it. It wasn’t a shack, it was a crude lean-to structure with a horizontal log about six feet of the ground to hang the boiling kettle over the fire. Since it’s closer to the station than to the lodge, Shannon’s has recruited Edwin Thomas, one of the section men to mind the fire. Edwin and his family live on the second floor of the station, so it’s easy for him to go down once in awhile to check the fire. I’m not sure what the arrangement is between Shannon and Edwin but I am sure it doesn’t involve wages or the exchange of cash. Shannon is particularly creative in making business arrangements don’t involve him paying any money in the end.

I helped with collecting the sap. Shannon had a big barrel that he put on the sled. I couldn’t help but recall tapping tapping the sugar maples back home in Leith. Once in the morning and once in the evening. Like the routine of milking cows.  Our first year, we collected the sap but didn’t have a proper boiler. So we used an old kerosene tank.  We scrubbed it and scrubbed it. We thought it was clean, but the maple syrup still tasted like kerosene in the end. I never liked maple syrup from that point on.

Today I was looking for a scene in the woods. My last few sketches were of the the lake and I needed to do something new. I decided to go in the woods. With the sun getting stronger and the snow melting, the trees cast interesting shadows in the woods. It was damp and misty in the morning, but the stronger spring sun burned that off by the afternoon and there were blue skies by early afternoon. After not much walking, I found a good scene, sat down and painted. I’ve learned to bring an old burlap potato sack with me and use it as my seat so I don’t get wet.

Each day the snow disappears more and more. The nights going below freezing and the days into the fifties makes the snow take on rough and uneven texture. This is good for getting the sap from the maple trees too. The spring light makes the snow look like a bed of crystals. I guess they are crystal, ice crystals.

I returned late in the afternoon. Annie prepared a fine dinner. She is the saving grace of this place. It was a bit warmer so we ate in the dining room with the fireplace in full fury. I prefer eating in the kitchen, but I think it is awkward for the other guests.

I don’t know what I have planned tomorrow. I know that Shannon is having some trouble with some melt and flooding on the back side of the store house. I help him dig out some channels tomorrow morning. There a leak in the room close to one of chimneys. It’s leaking through one of the rooms. The room’s not occupied yet but it’ll need to be fixed right away.


March 28, 1917 Early Spring, Canoe Lake

March 28, 1917

Early Spring, Canoe Lake

I helped Shannon again this morning. There was a heavy damp snow that started in the early morning and didn’t finish until around 10am. We finished getting the ice blocks from the lake and moved them into the cellar. The worst part of the job is being the cellarman. The cellarman is the one who has to stack the blocks in the cellar and cover them with sawdust.The sawdust brings back memory of a story I heard about the big Matheson fire that happened last July. I was a Fire Ranger in Achray at the time. We heard that the towns near Cochrane were burnt to the ground almost 200 people died and everyone lost most everything except for the woodstoves that survived the fire (no surprise).

The summer of 1916 had been the hottest and driest on record. The railwaymen were vigilant in keeps the tracks through the Park clean from brush and our job was to follow the lumber crews like hawks during the log drives. The logs, put in during spring break-up were still making their way down the river. The cutting lines were further and higher up, near Cedar and it took longer to make it to the mills. . The crews that followed cleared the jams and worked the logs through the chutes near the falls. Ned and I followed along, making sure the fires were out and nothing was started. We’d climb trees to make sightings to be sure there were no fires that could be whipped by the wind into big ones.

To save from the fire, one woman buried her Sunday clothes in the ice house, underneath the ice blocks and sawdust. When the fire came through, her clothes survived, but they were ruined by the sawdust. She survived, but she lost her Sunday clothes. It didn’t really matter because the church burned down. I don’t know why I remembered that story. Sometimes it’s the accounts of the smaller losses that give sense to the scale of what was really lost.

Dusty, dim, and backbreaking work. Moving those ice blocks can be hazardous. They weigh up to a hundred pounds apiece and one slip could mean a broken limb. Shannon likes being the sledman, driving the horses. Lawrie and I were the icemen, the ones who sawed the ice out of the lake.

As always, George volunteered to do the dirtiest and least glamorous work. George joked that nothing in the Park has killed him so far, and it certainly won’t be an ice block in a cellar. George often jokes about death in the Park. I think it’s his way of dealing with the real deaths he’s experienced. Lawrie Dickson is like a son to George because of death. Lawrie’s real father died in a lumberyard accident before he was born. His mother died of dysentery when he was four. And his stepfather drowned in Rosebary Lake when he was six. With no family left, George adopted him as his own, and Lawrie’s been with him ever since. I don’t think he’s ever been out of the Park except for a few trips to Huntsville. He’s always with George.

These deaths also reveal a darker side of the Park. What few people know and really don’t want to know, a deathtrap for lumbermen and labourers. Hardly a week went by without some news of death – drowning, fire, accident. Death is not good for tourism.

George Bartlett, Park Superintendent, and chief cheerleader for Provincial tourism, likes to deal with Park deaths as expeditiously as possible. ‘Hurts tourism if we make too much fuss about what was inevitable in the first place’.

The lumber companies like to keep the deaths at a low profile too. There was too much money to be made. Eggs do get broken for omelettes we want.

After the morning’s labour exploits (and no deaths by ice blocks) I hiked up to the highest point on this side of the lake. It’s about two miles from the lodge. The condition of the snow was such that it was terrible for snowshoeing and even worse for walking. I was thinking about using skis, but learned that Shannon had inexplicably lost the skis that he had acquired the previous years. It turned out those skis came from some Highland Inn guests that got stranded at Mowat Lodge. Shannon safely returned the guests, but neglected to return the skis. The manager at the Highland Inn caught on and demanded the return of the skis last fall. Hence, according to Shannon, the inexplicable loss of the skis.

After a good hike, I got a good sketch. I was at the highest point that gives a great view. I was so high, that I could not see Mowat Lodge as it was down below, beneath and behind the trees. I could barely make out the Trainor and Blecher cottages, but I had a fine view of Canoe Lake and could see the melt and runoff by the shore. A good picture.

It was fairly warm too. Sketching wasn’t a problem and I finished it in under an hour. It started raining in the late afternoon. Snow in the morning and rain in the afternoon. That’s spring for you.

Annie had the supper ready when I came back. I had to change my clothes and put my wet ones to dry by the fireplace in the dining room. We ate in the kitchen because the dining room isn’t still quite warm enough (but warm enough to dry my clothes). After supper, I stoked up the fireplace, moved my wet clothes about, and did some reading.

When I returned to my room I noticed the things on the top of my dresser were straightened out. I didn’t leave them that way. Annie had been in my room. My journal and letters were on top of the dresser. Annie’s ulterior motive was pretty apparent – her curiosity.  It was getting the better of her and she was reading my letters and journal. I’ll try to keep my journal with me all the time. As for the letters, I’ll have to hide them in one of the drawers or keep them in my duffel.

March 27, 1917 Canoe Lake

March 27, 1917 Canoe Lake

Canoe Lake

This sketch is looking southwards on Canoe Lake. That’s Big Wapomeo Island in the middle. Gilmour and Cook Islands are right behind but in the light today the islands blend together and look as one. I finished this sketch later in the afternoon, just as the clouds started to roll in.

I walked out to the islands earlier in the afternoon. I had my snowshoes. I needed them because the snow is deep on the ice, but I like to be safe and spread my weight. This time of year, you never know when and where the ice is rotten. Last year a team of horses went through on Burnt Island Lake. No man was lost but the horses and wagon were goners. Down to the bottom of the lake.. They tried to fish the wagon out two months later in May, but gave up when someone said it should rest in peace like the Titanic.

When I was out there I looked around for a picture. Maybe the light wasn’t right, but I didn’t see anything. I tramped around Big Wapomeo Gilmour and Cook Islands. Didn’t see anything inspiring. On the way back I passed Little Wapomeo Island. I saw the fireplace chimney I helped make for Taylor Statten last year.

I was about to give up on the lake and go inshore into the bush until I looked back. There it was. The low clouds were rolling in from the southeast making their way over the lake. I was almost at the same place I was earlier, by the Trainor and Blecher cottages. I sat down and started sketching immediately because I knew the scene wasn’t going to last.

In the distance I could see a plume of smoke. Most likely from a lumber camp. The lumbering heyday is over, and the land is but a shadow of itself. Once the easy and good lumber was gone it got harder to be profitable, but the lumber companies got rights to cut pretty much everything they wanted.

In the winter, every lumber camp used to have about eighty to a hundred men and each lumber company had five or six camps.  Upwards to two thousand men living in camps along the Petawawa, but now in the hundred due to the depleted timber stands and the men going overseas.

Being in the bush in winter was the best part of life for these men. Everybody worked to do the most and the best, without harming themselves or each other. At night in the camps, everyone was jolly, singing and sharing stories. The troubles would only start outside of the camps, in the hotels of the towns, when season was over and the men became drunk with their pay. In the middle September, the gangs would go into the bush to build the camp. They’d live in tents until the middle of October and cut up until Christmas or a little after. They were happy men during the winter – they made their own fun at night and there was always a fiddler. Square-dancing, the girls being the men with tied handkerchiefs on their arms. After Christmas, the haul would start. Everybody concentrated on the log haul because they had to get out of the bush before the snow went. They were drawn out and dumped on the lake in a boom.

Like the logs during spring break-up,  the men too would come down the river in gangs of twenty to fifty men. They swept the river, bringing the logs into booms, pulling the smaller booms into the larger booms and pushing the booms toward the dams and the slides. Many times, the different gangs of the companies would help each other out, especially when there was a lost man on the river. First a frantic search, then when hope of rescue lost, a sombre lookout as everybody returned to their duties. When the body eventually appeared (many times it did not), it was brought to the next campsite and a burial was made. Rarely was a body brought back for burial. Instead, the wooden crosses made to mark the graves, barely lasted through season. But there were enough in view from the shore to remind us of the dangers of the river and the untold stories of grief. The lumberman made songs about these stories, like the one about a French-Canadian shantyman who never returned to his sweetheart.

During the time I was on the Petawawa, I had little time to think. The days were long and hard, filled endlessly with little jobs and duties. Climbing trees, scouting up hills, checking camps, to see if there was any sign of fire. Near to the end, there was some heavy rain and we were caught in our tents.

Then my thoughts began to run away from me and the sadness started. Last spring was the last I saw of Lawren. He reported to Camp Borden after we finished our trip in the Park. Later in the summer, I got word in July that Alex Jackson had been wounded at Maple Copse and was recuperating in England. I was angry but relieved he was still alive. Arthur Lismer had moved to Halifax. I was feeling abandoned, not by my chums, but by the world that was forcing us all apart.

I snapped out out if. I finished my sketch. Fourth day in the North and four good sketches.  I saw a few chickadees and the gray jays are tending to their broods.

March 26, 1917 Shannon and his Ice-Blocks

March 26, 1917:

Wood Interior Winter

I went deep into the bush today. Shannon said he wanted to get the ice blocks before the lake ice got too rotten. I said I’d paint in the morning and come back by noon to help out. Turned out I didn’t get back until 2pm. I didn’t pack a lunch and returned hungrier than a bear. Annie had some stew on the stove for me and after a bear’s filling, I needed to take a nap. I wasn’t out there to help Shannon much before 4pm.

But I got a good sketch in and was in pretty good spirits. Regardless, I let Shannon down, but I was hoping my good disposition would rub off on him.

Anyway, Shannon had Lawrie Dickson and George Rowe already to help him out. They needed the money, and more importantly, the booze. Despite the booze they’re good fellows and I get along with them well. They’ve made their reputation with Shannon. He hires and fires them regularly. But the extent of the Canoe Lake labour market is limited and they’re assured of regular employment by Shannon, whatever the foul-up. As for me, the occasional itinerant and mostly unreliable artist with little money. I have the dubious distinction of being both guest and labourer.

Shannon’s a few years younger than me. He’s thirty-four and Annie is thirty-two. They married young – Shannon was twenty and Annie was eighteen. They have a daughter Mildred, she’s thirteen now. She’s one of the few children here in Mowat. She’s in Grade 8, one of ten students at the school by Potter Creek. If she wants to go to high school Shannon and Annie will have to send her to Kingston. On the weekends she helps with the chores, boiling and washing the guest linens.

Shannon came here a few years ago to help wind down the lumber village of Mowat. The lumber was pretty much gone and the equipment was taken and moved elsewhere. The hospital closed down and Shannon saw the opportunity to turn it into a resort and a post office. The Grand Trunk Railway had just opened the Highland Inn, Nominigan, Minnesing, and just up by Joe Lake, Algonquin Hotel.

We artists discovered Mowat Lodge in 1912. Before Shannon could shake a stick at us to shoo us off, he had more artists staying at the lodge than he could bear. Truth be told, he enjoyed our company because we weren’t very discerning about the lodgings. We joked that whatever wasn’t good enough for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (he stayed at the Highland in 1914) was good enough for us. So long we had a place away from the bugs at night we were happy. But the real gem of Mowat Lodge had nothing to do with Shannon’s charms and the rustic experience, it was Annie’s cooking.

Then the War hit, and things took a turn for the worse. Tourism dried up. Grand Trunk Railway got into financial trouble. Camp Minnesing after only two seasons was shut down. It was empty once again last summer. The way the War is I doubt it will open this summer. And to top it off, Prohibition was passed. Prohibition hasn’t yet stopped Shannon, George, or Lawrie from imbibing without prescription. Mail order liquor shipments from Montreal are still the way to go.

I’ll have to make a point of visiting Lowrie and George. They live in the shacks on the mill property. Lawrie managed to get himself a Victrola so it’s worth the visit. He said it was a gift, but I was suspicious that there was an alternate means of acquisition. I’ll never question. One should never look a gift Victrola in the mouth.

March 25, 1917 Early Spring Algonquin Park

March 25, 1917

Early Spring, Algonquin Park

Sunday morning, day of rest. But I felt rejuvenated. I didn’t need to rest today. To observe Sunday, we read a few verses from the bible and sang a hymn. Annie is the religious force in the household and Shannon knows better than to let things lapse.

After breakfast I decided to snowshoe in the hills behind Mowat Lodge. I was quite pleased with my sketch yesterday. After having a good night’s sleep and full recovery from the train ride, I decided to venture out into the hills behind Mowat Lodge.

I made my way across the chipyard. It’s a spongy mess of lumber covered covered with snow. You have to carefully pick yourself the way across. It once was a marshy inlet but after years of being the recipient of castoff lumber, it has transformed into an ugly inhospitable land mass. Thirty acres of nothing here.

It was the wind up of Gilmour Lumber company when it went bankrupt. that brought Shannon here in 1907. He and Annie (along with his daughter and mother) lived in the old Gilmour hospital and his job was to tear the place down. Annie discovered that she had the knack of running a household with boarders, and the word got around the lake that this was the place to stay. When everything was finally wound up, Annie and Shannon decided to stay and try their luck at the tourist trade. The Highland Inn, built by the Grand Trunk, was attracting tourists and so too was the Algonquin Hotel. As the tourist business grew, ‘Camp Mowat” became known as the ‘solid third choice at half the price’. I first met Shannon in 1912 on my first visit to the Park. When I returned in 1913, Shannon acquired the lease to the old mill hand kitchen and boarding house and was in the process of transition his operation to the new quarters. Over the summer I helped him to get the place in shape. By the early fall of 1913, ‘Camp Mowat’ had transformed into the more regal “Mowat Lodge”. To mark the occasion I painted the ‘MOWAT LODGE’  sign which we erected with much pomp and ceremony over the front porch staircase. For years afterwards, I always got a spooky feeling when I walked under that sign to enter into the lodge. I felt like I was going through a portal to enter another time and dimension. I attribute it to the fun I had helping them set up. 1913 was an exciting time. The Park was becoming known and the tourists were coming in from everywhere. That was before 1914, of course. This year, I didn’t get the spooky feeling going under the sigh, but strangely I got a feeling of relief and escape. Deep down I know that this year is different than the other years at the lodge. This year I’m escaping everything that I felt in the city. I’m escaping the War too.

I carried my snowshoes and sketch box across the chip yard. I walked along the spur line then went westward into the bush.  The snow was well over two feet underneath the trees. The melt and freeze had put a light crust on the top. I could walk on top with no snowshoes, but if I fell through I’d go right up to my hips. Snowshoes were the order for the day

Just before noon before I found the perfect place to sketch. The angle of the sun was perfect too. The light couldn’t be better. Annie packed me a sandwich so there was no rush to get back to the lodge. Looking behind I saw the scene. I could see could see the snow and ice-covered Canoe Lake as a sliver that broke through the spruce trees. The view of the lake was obstructed by a few mangy alders. The loggers had taken all of the pines and the second growth was coming back with a vengeance.

I got in a good sketch.

March 24, 1917 Return to Mowat Lodge

March 24, 1917


Mowat Lodge

Annie kept the same room for me. Shannon makes the promises, but Annie keeps the promises.

I’ll be here for the next few months at least. I won’t do any camping until the ice is out and I won’t leave for long trips until the flies are gone. That’ll put me to June or July at least.

Right now, I’m the only guest at Mowat Lodge that’s not on ‘Doctor’s orders’. Shannon mentioned that he got  two guests from Ottawa last week. Tuberculosis patients to recuperate in the fresh air of the North. Each morning they are bundled and put out on the porch. Each evening they are brought back in.

For reading I brought a few books with me but Shannon gets the daily papers from the station. They’re a day behind. I reckon that getting the news a day behind isn’t a big deal. I’ll have a lot of time and it’s something to read while I’m down by the fireplace in the lodge.

No reception at Mowat Lodge. I didn’t expect any. I’m sure Annie was fast asleep. If Old Mrs. Fraser was awake, she wouldn’t hear anything. She’s nearly deaf and has a tendency to drift off, unannounced, into another world. Mildred, Shannon and Annie’s daughter would be fast asleep too.

Quietly, I brought the rest of my gear up to my room. I’ve had the same room for the past couple of years now. It’s on the second floor on the northeast side. My window is the 2nd last from the end. The bed is one of those old metal hospital beds from when this building was a hospital. Shannon replaced the mattresses, but no matter what, you feel like you’re sleeping on a hospital bed. I don’t mind. I often sleep on the ground with just a blanket so I’m used to the lumps and bumps. I would joke with Shannon that when at Mowat Lodge I feel like a resident of a sanatorium. Not far from the truth.

I can’t help but be reminded of the painting of Vincent’s Bedroom in Arles. The dimensions of the room in Van Gogh’s painting painting is about the same as mine. The furnishings are similar too. A modest bed, dresser and two chairs. Indeed, the window is in the same place. His window look onto a village street while my window has a grand view eastward looking onto Canoe Lake. I liked what Van Gogh did with the colours and the changes in perspective. Nothing hung straight on the wall and it seems gravity had left for another town. That’s why I liked it so much. He took something so mundane, his room and transformed it into something beautiful. Inspiring.

I plan to do a sketch every day until the late spring. That’s when the green colours take over and it is no longer as interesting to paint. If I do one every day, until the end of May, it’ll be about 60 sketches.

That’s it for tonight. Tomorrow is another day.


March 23, 1917 Up North

March 23, 1917

The trip went well. I left from Union Station around noon and got to Canoe Lake by 7:15pm.

Last night Florence came to visit and we went to see the pictures. She said that she will visit me sometime in late April or early May.

The packing in morning was easy; it was like breaking camp. I had everything together by late afternoon yesterday. I didn’t have much to bring. I could easily carry it all walking – my rucksack containing my sketch box and paints, my rolled-up blankets, and my canvas dunnage bag. Jim MacDonald came by to visit one last time. He was sad to see me go so soon. I saw the nervous exhaustion in his eyes. Money troubles and marriage obligations. I can relate to the former and am glad to be free of the latter.

I could have walked to Union Station, but I decide to take the Yonge streetcar instead. It was an awkward affair when I tried to board. I was hoping that if I waited long enough, an empty car would come along that wasn’t crowded but I was wrong. When I boarded, a passenger helped me bring my stuff on board.  The way he looked at me, I am sure he thought I was travelling to enlist, or to run away. He didn’t ask anything. I was glad for that. I didn’t need the attention from the other passengers thinking the same thing. I just wanted to leave.

I was in an older Pullman car. This car, judging by its condition, is from late last century. The faded emerald green ceiling, the painted-over oak panels and the uneven springs in the cushions signal its age.  I’m sure this car has seen all of Canada and most of the U. S. Maybe a Duke or Duchess has travelled in this car, or a famous author, like Conan Doyle. Grand Trunk uses the older equipment early in the season. When the weather gets warmer and the tourists start coming from Buffalo and New York, they switch to the newer stuff: the first class drawing room and sleeping cars. They keep the best equipment for the Americans, they’re still holidaying in decent numbers. Earlier in the year, it’s mostly miners going up North to Porcupine for silver.

I’m glad to be leaving Toronto. Before the war, it was a happy place. Upon declaration of war (I was up North at the time in August 1914) , the happiness rose to a state of ecstasy. Marching bands, dances, parades, and the grand send-offs. But the spirit of exuberance and enthusiasm began to disappear by the winter of 1915 when the mothers and wives of  recruits began to receive the telegrams telling that their loved ones were to never to return. When the wounded and broken men came back, the spirit disappeared entirely. The clubs are empty, the colleges are vacant; it feels that the city has lost its soul.

The train crawled along the lakeshore. It veered north past the munitions factories, through the cattle stockyards and the slums to make its exit out of the city. Up into the hills, into the uplands. We touched the shore of Lake Simcoe; I could see on the opposite shore, the town of Barrie, nestling in a comfortable setting of English-style villas. The lake was still frozen, another month of ice at least. Kempenfeld Bay, Muskoka Lake. A pale-faced passenger gets off – a consumptive as I could tell.

Huntsville. I was going to stop for a few hours to visit Winnie but I decided to go through because I’d miss the connection.

Scotia Junction: If any place along the line that showed that the Grand Trunk was having difficulties, it was Scotia Junction. The station used to have a pretty little tower, with two-tone decorating wood-siding and ample room for travellers and separate facilities for crews and section-men. But the station burned down in 1912 and the replacement was a simple single storey structure where the crew and the travellers shared the facilities. The spittoons never seemed to be emptied, giving rise to a reeking sour smoky smell.

Kearney, Ravensworth, Rainy Lake. Nerve-wracking on the line into the Park. One of the crew had to get out and put more sand on the rails forr traction. The puffing, screeching and creaking made for a terrible crescendo surmounting the highest point in the Park. I knew the train crew. I’ve hitched rides with them last summer so I wasn’t worried. They knew this line. I was nervous on the crossing of the Cashman Creek trestle – it’s 500 feet long and 80 feet high. The section men keep a close eye on this one so there’s little chance of a German saboteur.

The final leg of train ride wasn’t too full, but there there were a number of people. There were other consumptives going to the Highland Inn. They didn’t talk. There were others that didn’t look too happy. At first I thought they were miners or prospectors, but they’d be going up further North, not through the Park. I think these men were part of a work gang going to the east end of the Park. There’s rumours that there’s still labour camps out there.I didn’t ask questions.

Canoe Lake. With the new moon, it was dark when I arrived. But Shannon was there to pick me up. “Tom, you made it, you son of gun!”

I smiled. I was tired. “Yeah, Shan, I made it.”

“I got yer letter, but I didn’t have a chance to write back.” Shannon left out the key piece of information, it was Annie who wrote the letters, not him. Annie’s the one to write the letters.  Annie’s the one who keeps the entire operation together. Shannon’s best at minding the horses, and making trips to the station in the hope that guest might arrive. But I wasn’t a guest, I was more like family, even though I paid my share. I felt like I was coming home.

Shannon was still using the sled. Once my bags were loaded up, the horses started, needing no snap of the reins. They knew the business of retrieving guests from the station and they wanted to get back to the stable with no delay. Unlike the city, the night was silent. The only things interrupting the silence were the sleigh bells, the snorting of the horses, and Shannon saying, “Giddy up, girls.” and “Easy, girls.”  Columns of mist unfurled upward from their nostrils but disappeared before there was a chance to obscure a star in the night sky. The sleigh is the way to go now. It’ll be another month and half before the road to lodge will be passable by wagon. By the starlight, the snow looks deep and the Farmer’s Almanac says the spring will be long and cold.

We took tote rode parallel to the old spur lines. The stars were shining brightly in the clear sky overhead. Despite it being spring (according to the Almanac), the coldness of air still said it was winter. The only warmth now was our breath, suffused by a strong whiff of whisky from Shannon. I could tell in his eyes he was excited to have me back, though he’d never admit as much. “One more man in the household to bring it back into proper balance!” I’m not sure what he meant by that logic.

Our final destination: Mowat Lodge. Only a place like Mowat Lodge could convey the feeling of  being at the end of a fortune lost or at the beginning of  a new fortune found. On the shores of Canoe Lake, south of the train station. about mile and a half stands Mowat Lodge. A short spur line runs down to  the sawmill and scattered on each side is a sorry array of abandon and half-lived-in tar paper shacks. Mowat Village, if you could still call it that was named after the Premier of Ontario , Oliver Mowat in the hopes of gaining some stature. That failed. Mowat Village did have a short burst of growth; it grew quickly and at its apex, about 500 souls lived here. Mowat Lodge was full of mill workers, there was a hospital on the hill, and several barns back from the shore where the land was flat, had more soil, and could support a crop of hay.

But fortune was brief for Mowat Lodge, By 1900, the Gilmour Lumber company was insolvent. The company failed its scheme to ship out logs by the Trent River system. The logs had to be raised over the watershed, and by the time they got to market two years later, even the best of the logs were rotten. Then the Booth Railway line came through and gave the village a second chance. Canoe Lake station was built, a spur line brought down to the mill, but despite this second chance, the whole venture floundered and the receivers were brought in to wind things up.

That’s what brought Shannon and Annie Fraser to Mowat Village. Shannon’s job was to oversee the dismantling of the mill. They first stayed in the old hospital and in 1913 they bought the lease for two-storey bunkhouse which they first called “Camp Mowat” the quickly renamed it to “Mowat Lodge” for a more dignified air.  As the logging fortunes were winding down, the tourist fortune began to wind up. This was mostly due to the Grand Trunk bring more visitors into the Park who discovered that the Highland Inn or Hotel Algonquin were either full or too expensive, as I did in 1912. The visitors began to trickle down the spur line and stayed with the Frasers. Before they realized it, Shannon and Annie were in the tourist business. It was my belief it was the reputation of Annie’s cooking , not the dignified air of Mowat Lodge, that attracted the tourists. The fact that  Mowat Lodge was cheap compared to the railway hotels and  Annie’s good cooking more than offset Shannon’s sustained mismanagement and poor business acumen. When Mark Robinson first directed me to Mowat Lodge in the 1912, I had become a regular guest each year and they treated me like family.

My introspective recollection of history stopped short when we pulled in front of the lodge. I pulled my gear off the sled and set it on the verandah steps. I wasn’t a regular guest, so Shannon didn’t dismount to help me. I didn’t mind because he had to get the horses back into the barn and settled for the night. I appreciated that he waited for me at the station, as I would have had to pick my way along the trail through the deep snow.

I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until I came in through the front door. I dropped my gear and carried only my pack sack to my room. I lay down, I wrote this entry, and fell asleep. I didn’t see Annie and I never heard Shannon coming in after settling the horses for the night. That’s okay. We’ll see each other tomorrow and enough of each other until summer.

March 22, 1917 So Many Fates

Screenshot 2014-03-22 at 08.54.50March 22, 1917

You don’t realize how many fates there are until you read the casualty list:

  • Killed in action
  • Died
  • Wounded
  • Dangerously ill
  • Seriously ill
  • Presumed to have died
  • Unofficially prisoner
  • Died of wounds
  • Believed killed
  • Missing
  • Shell shock
  • Prisoner of war
  • Accidentally killed

I heard that they used to execute the shell shocked casualties but some of them come home now.