April 15, 1917 Catching Ling and Field Glasses

April 15, 1917

It’s Sunday today. I thought of going to the Colsons at the Algonquin Hotel. Ed Colson is a lay preacher and they hold a service 11am but I decided to stay back for Annie’s Bible reading.

Despite its larger population in its glorious history, Mowat Village never had a decent church. Despite the village being named after the Provincial Premier, Oliver Mowat, it never gained any stature. There were missionaries that came to minister to the souls of the village – that’s how the Trainor cottage, the “Manse” got its name, but a church was never established. The leases down by the shore were once owned by a Reverend Turk, a Methodist minister from Owen Sound. The Manse (now the Trainor cottage) was large enough to hold services for those interested, which wasn’t very many. Back in the day, there were a lot of French Canadians in Mowat Village. They didn’t have a priest or a church. And I’m sure that the Methodists just assumed that the French, being Catholics, were destined to Hell and not worth saving.  Thus the French never viewed the area as being home, and  were the first to clear out when the village began its decline. Shannon said there were are a few left when he first arrived in 1907, but they were gone soon after. “Gone to Hell, I think” Shannon said.

A couple of years ago I asked my parents if they ever heard of Rev. Turk in Owen Sound. The answer was an emphatic “No! Why would we know any Methodists? They’re worse than the Baptists!”. Rev Turk, according to Shannon, was an odd missionary and that he was rather ‘loose in his beliefs.’ I thought this was a judgemental statement by Shannon, because his belief system, in my view, was on one of the lower rungs of the religion ladder.

Rev. Turk finally came to his senses in 1910 and decided to leave his calling and cash out his village investments. He had a lease on a large shore lot, and sold part to the Blechers (the southern part), another part to the Trainors (the Manse on the southern part) and, between these two, another lease to the Hayhursts. The result was three unrelated vacationing families, living in  close quarters by the shore. In the evenings, there was much entertainment to be had on the verandah on Mowat Lodge. Shannon has a pair of field glasses, and the pastime of many evenings was to pass these glasses around to observe the comings-and-goings near the shore. The Blechers were especially entertaining because the younger ones would fight like roosters. Once there was something floating in the lake; it took the field glasses to discern that it was a chair that originated from inside the Blecher household. Over time, the passing of the field glasses become an illicit and secret ritual known only to the Mowat Lodge residents. Everyone was forced to swear not to reveal this secret to the cottagers down by the shore. Shannon was gracious enough to let the consumptives in on the secret;  it helped them to pass the time while on doctor’s orders.

My friend Charlie Scrim had arrived the other day. He was in rough shape when he first arrived so I let him alone. I promised to take him ice-fishing when he felt better and before it’s too dangerous to go on the lake. Today, he was feeling better, and the ice was getting more rotten, so today was the day of opportunity because tomorrow might be certain death. We decided to go after the Sunday noon dinner.

Charlie and I are very good friends. We met the previous summer when he came from Ottawa for recuperation. He was diagnosed with the consumption and immediately dispatched from working in the family business in Ottawa to recuperate here in the Park. The Scrim’s have a florist business in Ottawa and a big part of their business is flowers for funerals and memorials. Since consumption was a major driver of the flower business, I suspect that Charlie’s condition became an awkward reminder that his demise might be the next occasion for flowers. More likely, the family didn’t want the word get out that there was a consumptive working in the flower shop. It would be bad for business. So Charlie, as a consumptive and like many out-of-wedlock pregnant women, disappeared without notice to visit a distant relative. And that’s how many of the consumptives show up here at Mowat Lodge. I am not sure where the pregnant women go, but it certainly isn’t anywhere in the Park.

Since Charlie was in better spirits, we spent the morning catching up on the goings on in Toronto and Ottawa. I told him that it was exceedingly unpleasant for a single man to be seen alone in the city, hence my early departure up north. Charlie said much the same of Ottawa, but he said the city was still pretty jittery after the Parliament fire and reports of night-time air raids threatening attacks from over the border. The possibility of raids were never substantiated, but after Premier Borden ordered a blackout in 1915, anything was credible. Other reports of sabotage put people on edge: the Black Tom explosion in New York, the trestle incident on the Vermont border, and attempted bombing of a munitions factory down in Windsor. The official word on the Parliament fire was that it was an accident, but the perfect act of sabotage always looks like an accident. The report said flames came out of nowhere in the Parliamentary reading room, most likely from a forgotten lit pipe. But the speculation by many that it was a incendiary fluid poured on the newspapers by a German saboteur.

I told Charlie that Park Superintendent George Bartlett was getting jittery too. I told him that Mark Robinson just came back and is staying at the shelter house by Joe Lake Station. Mark’s supposed to keep an eye on Sim’s Pit and the trestles. Bartlett trusts Robinson more than any other ranger. A few years ago, Mark single-handedly apprehended a suspected killer and disarmed his from his gun. Bartlett commended Mark on his bravery and duty, but then ruled the incident as an accident and let the man go. Within the Park, the Province gave Bartlett the powers of judge, jury, police and coroner. Everyone jokes that while God is the supreme ruler of the Dominion, he plays second-fiddle to Bartlett in the Park.

After our chat, I went out for a quick sketch and was back in time for 11:00am Bible reading. I like this time of day in the spring time because of the contrast and angles of the shadows. Between 10 and 11 is the perfect time of shadows and bright sunlight and I wanted to catch a good scene before noon. I hiked up not too far away from Canoe Lake Dump. The path to the dump was pretty much cleared off. No bears to be seen. Shannon had mentioned he was going to make a trip when it was dry enough so I told him I’d have a look and let him know the condition of the path. It’ll be at least another two weeks before he can make the trip. Despite the dump in the foreground, I had a good and view of the lake. I sketched, sitting on old chair with no back. I’m not sure why the chair was still in the dump. It could be easily fixed. I’m sure if Shannon sees the chair he’ll bring it back.

In the afternoon, I went ice-fishing with Charlie. We went down to the shore of Canoe Lake just in front of the Blecher cottage. We walked down from the Lodge, about 250 yards from the cottages and the shore.  A challenging walk for any consumptive. and Charlie was tuckered out by the time we got there. We went out about a 100 yards, and chopped a small hole. We quickly caught some ‘ling’, and eel-like fish. We threw them back into the water, because Annie doesn’t want those things in the lodge.  ‘Any watery relative of the serpent is not welcome in my establishment’, Annie once acclaimed when she first saw a ling. I thought she was talking about Shannon not being welcome.

We tried again an again; no trout, just ling after ling. We came back empty-handed but Charlie was in better spirits after the expedition.

The Sunday finished out as any Sunday should.  A fine dinner, and whisky by the fireplace. The field glasses were on the fireplace mantle. They would remain there unused, until it came close to ice-out later in the spring or when the the cottagers moved in for the summer.

That’s it for now. I plan to to write a letter to my father later this evening or early tomorrow.

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