April 5, 1917 Springtime Worries

April 5, 1917

Early April

Another cold day. When the sun did come out later in the afternoon I could feel the warmth, but the strong winds took the warmth away. I started later in the afternoon today. I first went into the woods to look for a scene to paint but the poor light didn’t give me anything to work with. But I’m glad I went into the bush because I saw lots of signs of life – spring is truly coming. Before I decided to head back, I sat down to have a snack. I brought a piece of buttered bread with sausage for myself and sunflower seeds and oatmeal flakes for the birds. I sprinkled the seeds and oats on a pine stump; they must have heard me and a flock of black-capped chickadees descended eagerly from the trees. The “chicka-dee-dee!” call was ringing out. I could tell that this wasn’t a warning call but a call that food was found. Not a minute had gone by and there were over twenty chickadees about and several hopped on my sketch box which I had laid against the stump I was sitting on. The birds were looking at my sandwich. I took one last bite, broke up the bread and scattered it on the ground. A chipmunk had also joined the party on the pine stump and from above in a nearby tree a squirrel was eyeing the scene.

It was calm in the bush but the wind was making a loud noise throughout the treetops. The spring wind through the trees is a deep-throated rushing sound, different than in the summer because there are no rustling leaves to attenuate the sound. I didn’t need my snowshoes because the snow was crystallized and compacted and I hadn’t planned to deviate too far off the tote road, which turns into the main trail for the winter sleds.

It was getting on to early evening before I found the right scene. A stand of birches, the hills behind, and the sun just below the hills. In the foreground, rocks and snow. A nice combination of elements. Despite it being close to evening, it was still windy and the wind knocked my sketch box out of my lap and sent the sketch tumbling onto the ground. It fell face down into the snow (fortunately, not into the dirt). It picked up a few pine needles that were blown on the snow by the wind. I picked out the pine needles and repaired the damage from the fall. I had to redo several of the birch tree trunks. Despite as some say, that this is slap-dash painting, if you don’t get it right, the effect and feeling that you’re looking for, disappears and what you have is a dead sketch. I’ve seen many a dead sketches in my time. If a sketch of mine is dead, I scrape, burn it, or break it up and throw it in the bush. This wasn’t going to be a dead sketch.

I was a bit distracted. That’s why my sketch fell, I was thinking of other things. Had I paid more attention to the wind it wouldn’t have fallen. I usually lose myself when painting and I only think of the scene that I want to create. But other times I can’t but help think about the things that are bothering me and some thoughts just won’t go away.

I was thinking about money. I don’t put on any airs about money. I don’t really care about the stuff, except when I know I might be coming up short. I hate debt and obligations. I pay my fair expense and never bicker about the price. If someone needs the money more than I do, fine, but just be fair about it. I am hoping that Dr. MacCallum will sell a few of my sketches in Toronto and put the money in my account. I am not sure where my account stands (I need to write a letter to the bank) but I know that a $200 credit with Shannon. That should take care of my living expense. I am trying to draw down as slowly as possible by helping out with the chores around the lodge. Yesterday, I helped Shannon fix the pump. This morning I spent an hour chopping firewood. The colder weather means that all three stoves in the lodge have to be going full tilt and Shannon didn’t have enough split firewood to last the day. It’s coming up on Easter so I chopped enough to keep the Lodge going through to Monday at least. Annie doesn’t want anyone to be chopping firewood on Easter Sunday.

I was also thinking about Winnie. I still feel bad that I didn’t see her in Huntsville. Winnie doesn’t know about Florence. I am not sure I am going to tell her. Florence and I are good friends, she has taught me a lot in painting but people don’t seem to understand that boy-girl friendships can exist outside of the clubs, churches and societies. It’s unspoken but there’s a very strict order to friendships and relationships, even here in the Park. There are the Visitors, the Rangers, the Lumbermen, Railmen, and the Locals. If you don’t fit into any one of the categories you are suspect. At least in the Park, they’re more forgiving about friendships across the different folk. In the City, if you don’t belong to the same club or society, your friendship becomes a matter for everyone else to judge.. The working and moneyed class don’t mix, nor do the British stock with the southern Europeans. Since Florence is now a member of the O.S.A (one of the few women members) it’s easier to be friends now. But I don’t think Winnie will understand. Florence is coming up. I won’t tell her not to. I am hoping that Annie and Shannon will understand the situation.


April 4, 1917 Winter Scene

April 4, 1917 Winter Scene

During this time of year at Canoe Lake you never know what the day is going to be like. One day it’s like spring, the other, like winter. Today it feels like winter today and the snow’s not going anywhere.

I walked along the shore to the southern part of the lake, where Canoe Lake goes into Tea Lake. I passed by Gill Lake where there is good fishing. Toward Tea Lake, the faster running water in the narrow channel was breaking up some of the ice so it made for a nice scene. The spruces and hemlocks in front of the rest of the bush made for a nice contrast. Another good sketch today.

In the bush, it’s still snow everywhere. As I was painting, I was surprised to have a midge land in the paint on my palette. I had a small dab of cadmium yellow to mix in with other colours, and this midge went straight for it. I fished it out with my palette knife, still in disbelief that I was seeing such a thing so early in the season. But there must have been a small pool of shallow water, warmed up by the sum. Or it could have arrived via a moose; there were a few around in the locality. Despite its heroic early spring debut, the midge was not going to be part of my sketch. I removed it.

I was back by Mowat Lodge by lunch time. Shannon was cursing because the cistern pump in the back was broken. I told him that Lowrie was pretty handy at fixing those things and I could go up to his cabin in the afternoon.

At dinner, Shannon said he had an important announcement to make. He received a message from George Bartlett [Park Superintendent] that Mark Robinson would be returning to Canoe Lake sometime this April. I was pleased to hear this news. Mark was a Park Ranger when I met him first in 1912 and we had become good friends. He’s older than me, married with twin daughters and a son. I was shocked when he enlisted. He said he had the call of duty to go. I respected his decision. I told him I wasn’t about to try to enlist again. I had other things to do in life. Bartlett told Shannon that Mark got some shrapnel in the hip, recuperated in England, and because of his age, they didn’t want him back on the front so they sent him home. Bartlett had promised his old post when he came back. So he’ll be back at the shelter house by Joe Lake Station.

Shannon said that he also received a letter from Charlie Scrim of Ottawa and he would be arriving on Easter Sunday. Charlie is a consumptive, though not as bad as the other ones. His family has a florist business in Ottawa, and they send him here during the spring and summer months. Charlie and I are good friends. Last summer we spent a lot of time canoeing and fishing together.

Shannon made his final announcement,  “We’ll be having two more guests – Lt. Robert Crombie, and his newly-wed wife, Daphne. From what I understand, she’s a pretty young thing.” Shannon looked at me and and gave that same grin when he’s losing a board game,

“Tom, we’re expecting you to be on your best behaviour.”


April 4, 1917 Letter to Winnie Trainor

Mowat P.O.
April 4, 1917

Dear Winnie,

Hopefully you received my letter from a few days ago. I am sending you this letter to let you know that it would be best to come up on May 11th or May 18th. Any earlier the weather will be too cold and I will be busy sketching. Please tell your parents I can keep an eye on cottage so they don’t need to come any earlier.

I am planning a show of my sketches on Victoria Day, May 24th so you might want to wait until then.

Please give my affections to your parents for me,


P.S. I checked the cottage. All’s fine.

April 4, 1917 Letter to Florence McGillivrary

Mowat P.O.
April 4, 1917

Dear Florence,

Thank you for your letter. I thought I’d better send one off to you quickly, so you can finalize your plans. It turns out that the lodge is filling up quickly, so I’ve asked Shannon to hold a room for you arriving May 4 and leaving on Sunday the 6th. Shannon’s got a whole crew coming in from Ottawa so space is tight and he wants a commitment. I’ve put the room reserve on my account.

You had a good show.That’s fab, but don’t expect that you’ll be able to charge more for your paintings.  You’ll become the more poor because you’ll have to attend all those social functions. Congratulations, nonetheless. Well deserved.  I look to you for inspiration.

As for the room, if I don’t receive word from you otherwise, I’ll expect you on May 4th. You should leave Toronto on the 8:10 so you get here in the afternoon.



April 3, 1917 Early Spring

April 3, 1917

1917 Early Spring

There’s still lots of snow on the north side of the hills. That’s where I decided to go today.

“Heading for the hills?” Shannon asked me as I was going out the door.

“Yes, heading for the hills.” He smiled because he knew that was a loaded phrase. It’s used a lot in those serial newspaper stories describing criminals (and more recently  shirkers) headed for the hills to escape prosecution (or now, persecution). Since we were already in the hills here in the Park, it was a pretty apt phrase.

During breakfast, we got to talking about the Rockies. One of the guests had a tourist book that had a chapter on Jasper Park. The Grand Trunk Pacific was building hotels like the Chateau Laurier and lodges like the Highland Inn. The railways had figured out these attractions were good for business. I had been thinking that it would be a good idea to go out there again. When I went out to Seattle, I passed through the Rockies and when I returned. But I never stopped to paint them. Back in 1914, Alex [Jackson] and Bill [Beatty] got a commission to paint the mountains when the railway was laying new track. Alex said he was excited first, but they wouldn’t let him paint too far from the tracks. When he returned in fall, Alex told met that mountain painting wasn’t in his line. He said he burned a good portion of them and would probably burn the rest.

So, heading for the hills, I walked along Potter Creek, I crossed the tracks at Canoe Lake Station, kept north along Joe Lake shore until I was nearly at Tepee Lake. On the north side of a hill I found a small ridge with birch trees (again) casting shadows on the snow and earth. The different colours caught my eye, the reddish rock, damp earlier in the morning, was not freshly dried in the sun. There was a patch of wet earth and the deep blue shadows of the trees cast on the snow. These shadows are a mystic deep blue. You only see these types of shadows in the spring. It’s an illusion of dispersion. From what I can tell, the blue comes from within the tiny crystals that make up the snow that has beaten up by the strong spring light. It’s similar to the blue from the sky (scattered light ) and it’s like the blue of blue jay feathers. Up close, their feathers are gray, but from far off, they’re blue because the feathers scatter the light. Colours. Illusion or reality. Is there any difference?

Behind these illusions I could see a wedge of another blue in the distance – behind the birches in the foreground. It was the open water between Joe and Teepee Lake, at a narrow point where the water was running fast, reflecting the warm blue of the sky and turning it into a fearful cold blue of the lake. If you fell into that water, you’d be pulled under the ice and dead in a minute. It’s springtime, we’d soon be hearing word of those types of death in the Park. From the lumber camps, usually. And a month after that, when the ice was all gone and the water back down, the bodies would appear, either caught above a dam, or found in the lake below.

When I finished, I felt good about this sketch. I liked it.  This was going to be a good addition the growing number of sketches I laid out in the dining room. I packed up and wiped down my brushes. This sketch was the regular size, so I slide it back into my sketch box. My box can hold 3 sketches, with the grooves that hold the space apart. I have a cigar box that I use for my smaller-sized sketches, but it can only hold one.

Upon my return, I found a letter on my dresser in my room. It was from Florence. Delivered by Dominion Mail to Canoe Lake, and then hand-delivered by Annie to my room. Thankfully, it hadn’t been opened. When I told Annie that the censors weren’t opening mail bound to Algonquin Park, the censor openings immediately stopped. But still I had to hide my letters so they weren’t subjected to a post-opening inspection. I opened and read Florence’s before I changed out of my painting clothes.

Florence, she wrote me, was planning to come up on May 4th for the weekend. She asked me to arrange a room for her. Her exhibition in Toronto went very well. She also wrote that she planned to travel afterwards to Ottawa to visit relatives.

I realized that Winnie might come up that weekend too. That would be awkward to have both of them around.  I’d have to write them both so the plans don’t clash.

After supper, I tried to play a game of chess with Shannon. It wasn’t much fun, because he doesn’t reason out any moves ahead and he leaves his pieces hanging. We weren’t even five minutes into the game and he was down a Rook and two Knights for a pawn and a Bishop. In less than time than we took to open the game,  I made short work of his material disadvantage – I captured his Queen and had checkmate in two moves. Shannon, as he is wont to do in his other endeavours, blithely kept digging himself into a deeper hole, all the while having a big grin on his face.

We reconciled the joy of victory and the grimace of defeat with two quick shots of whisky each. We then proceeded to have a long smoke with our pipes outside on the porch. We could see through our smoke, and in the failing light, the chip yard, the skeleton structure of the Gilmour saw mill. It was surrounded by dead trees, stumps, and piles of creosote rail ties from the torn up spurs. The metal rails, valuable as scrap, was of course, absent from this scene.

It can be said, that the view from the Mowat Lodge porch is at its best during darkness.




April 2, 1917 April in Algonquin Park

April 2, 1917

1917 April in Algonquin Park

A miserable day for sketching today. The rain makes it unpleasant, but it’s the wind that makes it difficult, if not impossible. When it rains or snows you can always take or fashion a shelter. But you can’t do that with wind. It blows everything around. I bring clothes pins to hold the sketch down, but sketching on a windy day, is like picnicking on a windy day – one moment of lapsed vigilance, your meal is strewn around on the ground and your picnic is ruined.

The scene I chose today wasn’t particularly inspiring. If I don’t motivate myself to go further afield, I’ll be destined to painting birches by the shore. I might begin to despise these trees. But then again, part of my plan was to paint the same scenes over as the season changes.

The seasons are changing at Canoe Lake but what is constant is Shannon and Annie. Shannon still has his peculiar habits and misplaced enthusiasm. He likes milking the cows (when he feels like it, it’s usually Annie) while wearing his tie and fedora. Annie, bless her soul, is so caught up in her chores and keeping the place running that she has little presence to talk about anything that isn’t a pressing household issue: laundry, ironing, making sure that a bear doesn’t get into the root cellar, or keeping the consumptives comfortable. I am probably a household issue too, but I’m sure Shannon and Annie don’t talk about me as an issue in my presence. That’s done behind closed doors or out of earshot. I’ve been in a poor mood the past few evenings. They must have discussed some issue, because the other guests are politely steering clear of me.

After breakfast I wrote a letter to Winnie. To ensure my letter was properly posted I went to Canoe Lake Station with Shannon in his sled. I put my letter in the mail bag as it went on the train. That was the only way I could be assured that my letter would not raise unnecessary curiosities or be intercepted by the censors at Mowat P.O. Posted today and Winnie should get the letter by Thursday. That’s before Good Friday. That would make her happy.

I brought my sketch box. I bid Shannon adieu and I walked back to find a place to sketch. I saw some gulls flying about, and ducks sitting on the ice’s edge by open water. The birds are coming back, and I can hear them singing too. I set up (in the wind) andfinished my sketch in less than an hour and got back to Mowat Lodge at noon. After lunch, I read in my room. On my night table, I laid out  to dry some feathers I found this morning. I plan to use them to make fishing flies.

I’ve been thinking about things. That I should write some other letters to my father and my brother in law, Tom Harkness. It’s Easter next weekend. I also thought I should go visit Winnie, but that would interrupt my painting. Her parents are always happy to see me. But the last time I could see in their eyes some awkwardness and anxiety. They like me, but I’m sure they don’t appreciate my affections toward Winnie if it doesn’t result in marriage. They’ve never said anything, but I don’t think they see me as the marrying type. I don’t disagree but it’s not a topic to be brought up over a Thanksgiving dinner. I could see it written it all over their faces, that they’ve concluded I’m not a marrying man. That’s probably the real reason I don’t want to visit Winnie at her parents’

I saw the headline in the paper today: President Wilson has asked US Congress to declare war on Germany.

I’ve got to start on those flies.

April 2, 1917 Letter to Winnie

April 2, 1917
Mowat P.O., Canoe Lake

Dear Winnie,

I had meant to stop in Huntsville when I came up but the train connections weren’t good so I had to go straight through.  I haven’t written any letters yet, this is my very first letter from here. I hope this makes it up for you.

I’ve been up here for over a week now and I’m still getting settled in with Shannon and Annie. There’s four other guests at the lodge now. There was only two when I arrived but two more came in a couple of days ago. They came from Ottawa on doctor’s orders. The Highland Inn’s not taking consumptives so Shannon’s making good business by taking them in. I told Shannon that Mowat Lodge is only for the sickly and the poor artists and add that line to his letterhead.

As for my plans, I’ll be staying at Mowat until the ice goes out. I’ll be camping afterwards, if the weather holds. Judging by the ice, that won’t be until May. I’m going to apply for a Guide’s license. That means I’ll need to staying close to the lodge when there’s an occasion to guide. Shannon’s got a good fleet of boats now, and he’ll be ready to hire them out with me as a guide.

A few days ago I did a good sketch just in front of your cottage. You’ve got a good view from there. I’d say it’s a better view than what you have in the summertime. I checked around the place and it doesn’t look like any animals got in, so you shouldn’t have any  surprises when you open it up.

I am hoping you’ll be able to make it up to cottage in early May. You should try to make it as early as possible in the month to get some good time in before the bugs get really bad.

Please give my regards to your parents and to your sister. Tell them I enjoyed your family’s hospitality last Thanksgiving. I won’t be making it for Easter, but you’ll be here soon enough.  You’ll be pleased at the amount of painting I’ve done. It’s hard work each day, but when I see the sketches altogether it’s rewarding.

I’ll post this letter myself at the train station tomorrow. Mowat P.O. has a curious postmaster. Her name is Annie.

Yours truly,


April 1, 1917 Open Water Joe Creek

April 1, 1917

1917 Open Water Joe Creek

It got up into the mid-forties today. I decided to go to Joe Lake to sketch. Even though it’s getting warmer, both Canoe and Joe Lake will be covered in ice for a while but the streams and creeks are beginning to open. Potter Creek has opened up and so has Joe Creek. Joe Creek runs only about 300 yards before it goes into Canoe Lake. Potter Creek on the other hand runs about a mile, from where it starts from Potter Lake and drains into Canoe Lake.

The dams are holding back the spring waters. At this time of year, you can hear the roar of the water flowing over. The dams were put in by the lumbermen, to raise the water levels, to join the lakes together to make the log runs easier. From Canoe Lake, the logs would run into into Bonita Lake, Tea Lake and then into the Oxtongue River.  By the time the rail came through the park, the Gilmour brothers had already gone bankrupt and Mowat Village was fast becoming a ghost town. Fortunately, the tourist trade started to pick up and that gave the village a limited new life. But it was never anything like the glory days during the lumber era. Despite Shannon’s best efforts to turn Mowat Lodge into a tourist resort, you couldn’t shake the feeling that something was abandoned here.

In the spring, its the creeks and streams that dominate the soundscape. In the summer, it’s the lakes, the sounds of the waves lapping and the distant roar of the wind, but in the spring, it’s the creeks and stream close up.

I chose a good place to sketch on Joe Creek, just below Joe Lake Dam. Once again, it’s the birches that dominate the scene. When the water level of the lakes were raised b by the dams, it killed all the trees that were close to the shore. In many parts of these lakes, just off the shores, there’s an dead army of pines standing in the water, or toppled over. Right close to the shore (these trees were cut and taken away), the birches moved in.

I wasn’t that far away from the railway tracks where I was sketching. I could see the bridges. I could feel the rumble of the trains. The first class went by, so did a freight. Another was a troop train, I knew that because I could hear them singing and cheering. I wondered if they could keep that noise up until they reached Halifax. In a couple of days, I’ll flag a freight and pay a visit at the Park headquarters by the Highland Inn.

I’ve been here just over a week now. I’m settling into a daily routine with my sketches. I started to think about the letters I need to write. One to my father. I should write Winnie. I’m sure she’s upset that I didn’t stop in Huntsville. My sister out West, and Florence too.