May 26, 1917 Waterspout

May 26, 1917

I decided to stay the night at my camp site at Hayhurst Point. The past few days I had been staying at the Lodge because the bugs had gotten real bad. But after the events at Mowat Lodge, I needed to get back some space and solitude.

My tent, now set up was as good as a Ranger’s shelter house. The balsam boughs I cut, made some nice bedding underneath my blankets. My kerosene lamp was hanging on the nail on the tree. It made for a nice reading light in the evenings. My set up was as nice as, or better than, the guest tents outside of the Highland Inn. And more private. My silk tent and a cot that I bought a couple of years ago, I’ll be using that when I travel. It’s packed up in the store house and I’ll be sending up to my friend Tom Wattie in South River for safekeeping. For now this tent will do the job, it won’t go anywher and I don’t mind leaving it behind if I need to.

Despite my solitude, I’m staying close to Mowat Lodge in case some guiding work comes up. I’ll be fishing most days from now on, but I’ll be stopping into the post office daily to check for mail. After the exhibition (and the drinking) things seem subdued at the Lodge and I feel I need to make myself scarce for awhile.

The water was rough today. Frightening, actually. I was out fishing near the south end of the lake, near Gill Lake portage when the weather changed for the worse. Not unexpected in spring, but  around 3 p.m. the sky turned a sickly yellow and the pressure dropped suddenly. I felt it in my ears. The lake all of a sudden became a sea of whitecaps. I knew it was dangerous so I canoed quickly over the portage point. There was a clearing where I could pull my canoe completely out of the water. I did that and then I saw it. The waterspout.

It came out of the clouds, descended and and touched the water. From my vantage point, it looked like a tiny wobbly thread, but where it touched down near Gilmour Island, it must have been 15-20 feet thick. The waterspout moved north from between Gilmour and Cook Island and up the east side of the lake.  As just as it came, it picked up and disappeared into the clouds. It was on the lake for less than a minute. I’m sure I was the only one who saw it (the east shore only has a few cottages). The sun came back, the whitecaps disappeared and it was as if nothing happened.

When I canoed back to my site, my tent was blown down and the blankets and boughs were strewn into the bush. I couldn’t find my lamp so it must have been Heaven-bound. My sketch box and it was bashed off the hinges. I recovered the contents (including a few notes and letters – miraculous that they didn’t fly away, like the  lamp). Like my poison oak, I could concluded that this was a bad omen and the shaking up of my camp site was a warning. Maybe Nature was telling me to leave or join up, and if I persisted in what I was doing, another act of God would be wrought on me. God made this abundantly clear with signs of destruction further downshore. Two large pines were snapped off at the middle about 200 yards away. The spout must hit land before it went back up. Other than the broken trees and my campsite everything else looked intact. So God did spare my campsite, but not without a good shakeup.

It only took a few minutes to get my site back in order. I had heard of waterspouts, but this was my first one. I looked across to the Mowat Lodge dock and saw that the canvas canoes (not the board one) were picked up by the wind and floating upturned in the water. I canoed over and fetched them back before they floated down the lake. I first thought that Shannon should count himself lucky that he didn’t lose them. My second thought that maybe this was a necessary act of redemption that I was obliged to carry through. I’ll tell Shannon tomorrow that I fetched his canoes, but I won’t bother with telling him the true reason why I did it. He’d use that aspect of truthful admission and honesty to somehow charge me more.

So despite the weather, drama and destruction, I’m camping alone tonight. Fate knows where I am, regardless. I’m sure God would have trouble ordering up a second waterspout on the same lake on the same evening. I figured I was safe for the night at least The bugs must have known a waterspout came through because there wasn’t one in sight. Unusual for this time of year, but appreciated nonetheless. I didn’t catch any fish this afternoon, either. They, too, must have sensed something so they stayed deep and didn’t bite. They must have known a couple hours ahead, because it was the worst fishing afternoon for me. I caught nothing.

I settled in the campsite. I made tea and biscuits soaked in heated bacon grease for supper. The sunset was a fine red through streaks of clouds. I’ll write a letter to Winnie tomorrow.

May 25, 1917 Post-Mortem

May 25, 1917

I did make it back to my room last night but I remember nothing beyond the last stop at the verandah. It was after 11 in the morning before I made it down to the back kitchen. Annie’s opened up the summer kitchen out back, and I prefer to eat there than in the dining room. I had some late breakfast and coffee while Annie was cleaning up from earlier meals and starting to make lunch sandwiches. Shannon came in the back kitchen and said he got the cow to the barn. This is the cow they bought from Renfrew to replace the one that died about a month ago. It came on the morning freight train from Renfrew. It hadn’t calved yet. In about a week or so. Then Mowat Lodge would have once again a fresh stream of milk.

When Shannon was picking up the cow, he said he saw Winnie and Martin Blecher Jr. on the platform. She was taking the earliest train she could, the Third Class on the No. 571 freight train – the same train that the cow came on. Shannon said he was surprised to see Winnie with Martin but assumed she asked Martin to take her up to the station with his putt-putt boat. He goes up most mornings on Potter Creek to see the trains, so it wasn’t a stretch for Winnie to ask him for a ride. Their cottages are almost next door to each other.

Dr. MacCallum and the Crombies left today too. They took the 3:30 train, so they had their last lunch at the lodge, packed up and Shannon took them up with the hearse leaving around 2:45.

After having breakfast I went to the rooms. Dr. MacCallum was busy packing with his son Arthur. He was taking my two Northern Lights sketches and said he would deposit money in my account back in Toronto. Another sketch, he was going to drop off at Bill Beatty’s store at Scotia Junction. He said he was glad he came. He said he could take my other sketches down, if I wanted to. I told him they were at the Trainor cottage and fetching this at this very moment might not be a good idea. Upon learning that Winnie fled in such a rush, I was sure I would not be received well by her parents. I’d better wait a few days before I approached them. I needed to sort through them to see which ones I’d send down and I didn’t want her parents glowering over me. I figured I’d wait until Winnie came back up in the next couple of weeks and we could set things right again. I’ll write her a letter in the next couple of days.

Last night was still a haze for me. I remember Shannon giving me a bag to pack the remainder of my sketches. I brought them down to the Trainor cottage and left them on the porch by the door. After our exchange, I wanted Winnie to have them because I knew they could fetch a reasonable price, if need be. I figured they’d be worth between well more than $500 dollars, if she had to sell them. She had said I could leave them at the cottage for safekeeping. So I did, with the eventual intention of giving them to her if she needed the money. Despite what went on between Winnie and me, I felt the sketches were more secure there than if I left them with Shannon. He had a tendency of making things his own to sell. If a guest left something valuable behind, he would make little effort to reconcile it with its owner. Once someone left a gold watch behind. Shannon said he would keep it locked in the post office, until the owner sent a message for it. But the watch eventually disappeared. I’m sure my sketches would have the same fate. They should be safe at the Trainor cottage until I decide what to do with them. I’ll probably send them down to Toronto later on.

My poison oak is coming back. I have the red bumps on my forearms and I can feel it on my ankles. I got it  years back and for some mysterious reason it comes back every year around this time even though I haven’t been close to any. It’s not as bad as the first time, but it’s a discomfort. The more worrying thing, is that when it comes back, it’s considered a bad omen. It means that something that’s not quite right is getting worse, not better. Annie says it’s because of bad spirits. And George Rowe, the resident medicinal expert, says the best cure for poison oak is horse liniment rubbed on the skin along with a good shot of whisky to flow through the blood. The combination of the two is the ‘magic cure’, he says. I’ll go down later today to see if he has the liniment. I’ll get the whisky from Shannon.

The black flies are biting now but I am planning to camp over at Hayhurst Point anyway. I need to be alone.

May 24, 1917 Dead Drunk

May 24, 1917

By the late evening I was drunk. Dead drunk. I didn’t make it back to my room tonight. I was sprawled out on the verandah in front of Mowat Lodge.

I knew that today was going to be the perfect storm, and it was. When you sketch the weather and landscape, day-by-day, you get the feelings into your bones and you know that’s something going to happen next. It’s not really prediction; you just know when something in the present will be no longer and never again.

So it was tonight.

Let me back up and describe the day. It started off well enough. The weather was good, but soon the clouds rolled in and it began to rain. The temperature dropped like a rock and it was in the low forties. To add to the disbelief, a few snowflakes were sighted early in the morning. Spring should not give away to Summer this way.

Despite the weather, I was excited about my exhibition. It was going to be the biggest event that Mowat Lodge had seen for a while. Shannon cancelled his canoe regatta/race because of the rain and wind. It would be too treacherous for the women in their dresses and he didn’t want to be responsible for fishing people out of the lake. People could still die from hypothermia in a matter of minutes. It’s happened almost every other year in the Park. This year was no exception.

I spent the afternoon preparing the dining room for the show. Before Annie went off to start cooking, she dusted and swept to the place to the level it would pass the white-glove treatment. Mowat Lodge might be considered rustic, but because of Annie, it was clean as a whistle.

Mark Robinson dropped by too. He had to have a word with the Blechers. Martin Jr., specifically He was flying the US flag on his flagpole. Regulations stipulate that the US Flag cannot be on its own but must be flown with the Dominion or Provincial flag, and the be lower flag. Martin was a repeat offender on flag-flying and Mark said in passing that he thinks that Martin is a German sympathiser or worse yet, a spy or an espionage agent.

Shannon and I hung the boards on the wall. There were over fifty and it was a sight to behold. I made sure that they were arranged in chronological order so I could should the transition of the season. Occasionally, a guest would try to wander into the dining room and we would shoo them out. The dinner and art exhibit was to begin at 6pm and I wanted to unveil the exhibit all at once. Dr. MacCallum came in despite the shooing and looked over the sketches. He said he wanted to have the two sketches of the Northern Lights and he picked out a couple that he would put on consignment.

To mark our successful efforts for the afternoon, Shannon brought out the whisky and shortly after we were both in the soup. I shouldn’t have drank so much so soon.

Around 5 pm,  I went up to my room and cleaned myself. I went down to the Trainor cottage to get Winnie. I wasn’t sure how to deal with last night, but I would try to face the situation with an air of normalcy. When I arrived, Winnie open the door and let me in. She gave a smile that betrayed the knot I knew she had in her stomach. Her parents were in the kitchen. Their greeting to me was cold. I said that Winnie and I should be getting up to the lodge as the dinner started at six. “Fine,” they said, “Have her back by 10.”

As soon as we were out the door, Winnie grabbed my hand and said we had to get married. And it had to be soon. Then it dawned on me, and the knot appeared in my stomach too. If I were to state the situation obliquely, married men with young children or an expecting wife would be excused from the draft. The realization hit me like a brick and if it weren’t for the whisky, I’m not sure how I would have reacted.

I looked back at Winnie. I didn’t say anything, but my look communicated the exact understanding of the situation. What I said next, I’ve come to regret, ‘You don’t know for sure. It takes a month.” She could barely contain herself, but she knew I was right. And she knew I wouldn’t commit unless there was a duty-bound obligation and neither of us knew that yet.

The dinner started at six and there was quite the crowd. The Ed and Molly Colson came over and so did Annie. I sat with Dr. MacCallum and his son (and with Winnie, of course) and Daphne Crombie and her husband Robin. There were other guests from Hotel Algonquin. I ended up giving a good portion of my sketches away. The remainder Shannon stuffed into a potato sack. I have it beside me. All my spring’s efforts hardly fill a potato sack. Pathetic.

I’d write more, but I’m still recovering from what happened. I haven’t the wherewithal to finish this journal entry. Maybe, tomorrow. I’ll make it up to my room. It’s cold here on the verandah. It’s cold everywhere, except where George Rowe had his big bonfire. It’s burned out now.


May 23, 1917 Pre-Show Preparations

May 23, 1917

Tomorrow is Victoria Day, or ‘Empire Day’ as many still call it. I was reading some of Wilfred Campbell’s poetry, I forgot the title of the book, but it was something like ‘Ode to the Greater Empire’. Tomorrow is going to be a big celebration and Annie was busy preparing for the better part of the day today. By comparison, Shannon spent the day drinking and telling tall stories to his guests. I heard some talk about Zeppelins and the Park airship service he wants to set up. Public relations, he calls it. I call it sloughing around.

On the balance Shannon is a good man. Sometimes. What really keeps him on the straight and narrow is the wrath he gets from Annie when he goes astray. I feel for Annie, she’s the one that does the lion’s share around the lodge and that is certainly the case for the holiday.

Shannon is thinking about organizing a regatta tomorrow. Unfortunately he has little notion beyond that it involves boats in the water. We talked about it and the idea of a regatta devolved into some sort of canoe race out and back. We’ll figure out the logistics tomorrow.

I spent sometime talking to Dr. MacCallum. He’s had enough of canoeing and the outdoors (after our rain-soaked trip) so he’s been staying by the fireplace. Arthur starting having eyes for Mildred (Shannon’s daughter). He’s a bit older than her and watching their to-ing and fro-ing has put a smile on more than a few of our faces.
Dr. MacCallum is still aghast at the idea that I might go out to West. He tried to broach the topic a few times over the day, but I was short in my replies – I simply shrugged my shoulders and kept on talking about other things. He also chided me for not sending anything to the OSA Spring Exhibition this year. I could feel my guard go up. For sure I needed the money if a sale came through the exhibition, but I did not want to be subjected to the critics. I wouldn’t do that for any price. He said he’d try to put a few of my sketches on consignment. Bill Beatty’s got a shop at Scotia Junction, so when he leaves he’ll take some sketches for Bill to sell. Scotia Junction’s a good spot because of the connection. The Park-bound tourists from Toronto and from Depot Harbour are well-heeled and like to buy souvenirs of the Park from Bill’s store.

Sketching season is pretty much done. It’s too green now and the bugs will be ferocious until July. With the sketching behind me I plan to do some guiding and help plant the gardens for the Trainors and Frasers. The rule of thumb in the City is to have your garden in by Victoria Day but that’s a risky rule here and things are usually a week later. Judging by the temperature fall this evening, we may even have frost. Sometime frost can be as late as June here. Overall, the weather has been pretty cold and bad and I have only camped a few nights and I’ve been keeping my room at the lodge.

I visited Winnie later in the afternoon. I must admit that things seem a bit awkward between us. I can understand why. She started asking me about the money Shannon owed me and I told her about the arrangement we had where some of the loan would be used for my room and board at the lodge. Winnie was also worried about the conscription bill and what it meant for me. I told her I didn’t want to talk about it, I had more immediate worries and then it came out – she wanted me to marry her. What could I say? Before I even had a chance to react, she said I needed to get the money back from Shannon and that I needed to buy a new suit. The ceremony could be in Huntsville in June and that we needed to find a place.

I felt like I was standing helplessly on the middle of trestle bridge with a train barreling in from the end. There were two options – face the inevitable fate or jump off into the waters below. At that very moment, Winnie’s father Hugh, came out onto the porch, and what was an intensively private conversation turned into bland pleasantries. The contrast was too much and after a few moments, I bid good afternoon to them both. As I was leaving, I announced to Winnie that I would come down tomorrow evening to bring her back to the lodge for dinner. Hugh said he might come up later tomorrow evening to see the show. With that, I made my departure back to the lodge.

Shannon was there upon my return. Annie had gone to bed, so the whisky bottle came out. Dr. MacCallum was in bed, or in his room reading. Shannon and I shared a few shots and smoked our pipes by the fireplace. I had a feeling that tomorrow, there would be a perfect storm.

May 22, 1917 Escape to Potter Creek

May 22, 1917

Today Mowat Lodge was like the Arts and Letters Club on a bad day. By that I mean there were too many people around talking about things they pretended to know about. Word had gotten out that I would be having an art show after dinner on Thursday and about 25 people are expected to show up for dinner. Several Americans were going to be coming from the Hotel Algonquin. The anticipation for the show was growing. Many of the guests had seen my sketches drying in the dining room, but none had seen the series presented as a whole. In my estimation, I have about fifty or sixty sketches. Many are in the the store house, several are in my room and the balance are in the dining room.

That’s where Dr. MacCallum was today – in the dining room. He was carefully looking over my sketches. Every once in awhile, he would pull me over and ask me question about a sketch and I would just shrug and be short about my answer. Truth be told, I was never fond of talking about my own pictures. I figured that people could judge them for themselves. Sometime it was amusing to listen to Dr. MacCallum. He knew less about art than he admitted. What he did know was the Northern country, Georgian Bay, in particular, and what a painting would express of the area. He was less familiar with this area of the Park, but I could tell he was quickly translating his experiences into the new context.

I didn’t want to disappoint his theorizing about art, but I’m not sure he appreciated the amount of perfection and effort that went into what most perceived as a slap-dash technique. The times I spent with Alex, Arthur and Jim, in the Studio and in the Park, I picked up the technique from them and they helped me along. What I discovered, and I believe it comes from my childhood days, was my knack for observation and finding a good picture. Then I would apply the best technique and if it didn’t work, I’d scrape and start over. The secret I’ve learned since becoming an artist full time is to be bit cagey about your feelings and motives. If you play it right, people think you have a special gift or are a genius. Nothing is further from the truth.

After a while, I got fed up with the small talk and decided to go for a walk. I needed to have some time to myself so I walked up to Potter Creek just past Canoe Lake Station. I walked a pathway into the woods and came across a palette knife stuck in the ground and a few broken sketches. I had forgotten about these. These were from over a month ago when I became frustrated and broke several of my boards. In my haste, I left my palette knife behind. It seems like no one has been here since, because the knife most assuredly would have disappeared. The bugs were fierce. I won’t be sketching for much longer. Things are becoming greener and the scenes more uninteresting. Tomorrow might be my last day sketching.

I walked back along the shore, past the sawmill, chipyard and visited Winnie at the Manse. Her parents had arrived earlier in the day. They seemed out of sorts but they invited me for tea and pie in the kitchen. Afterwards, I sat with Winnie on the front porch and we looked out onto the lake. Near the shore we could see numerous logs floating underneath the surface. Like stripped corpses, dead bodies, spirits of trees haunting the lake.

I told Winnie about the dinner on Thursday and asked her to come. She accepted. I could tell there were other things she wanted to talk about, but I didn’t want to. I knew what she wanted to talk about. But not today.

Please Join Me – Invitation to My Spring Exhibition May 24, 1917

Mowat Letterhead-640May 22 1917

You are invited to attend my Spring Exhibition to be held on the Victoria Day Holiday at Mowat Lodge on May 24, 1917 (two days from today). I will be showing my boards I have painted from March until May.

The agenda for the evening:

5pm Arrival and viewing of Sketches. Over 60 of my sketches will be on display in the Mowat Lodge Dining Room.

6pm Dinner. A menu of Annie Fraser’s finest. ( I have been told alcohol will not be provided.)

7pm A brief talk about my sketches.

I sincerely hope you can come. We are expecting about 25 to 30 people: guests from Mowat Lodge, some from Hotel Algonquin, and neighbours. Mark Robinson, Algonquin Park Ranger has accepted.

If you cannot attend in person, please follow the evening by telegram as I have made special arrangements to run messages up to Canoe Lake Station.

As it promises to be a fine evening, please join me, if you can.


Tom Thomson


May 21, 1917 After the Storm

May 21, 1917 After the Storm

After the Storm, painted on May 21, 1917

We woke up wet. Soaking wet. It rained all night and despite my best efforts to set up the tents so there were no leaks, the rain came in. In my other travels, I’ve been in this situation a few times. It can be miserable, but eventually the rain breaks and the sun comes out and you can dry things out. The key to getting through this type of situation is faith that the weather will eventually change, and everything that is wet and stinking will eventually dry up and smell sweet once again.

Unfortunately, the city folk don’t understand this Northern version of faith, and when things get wet, they get all panicky and irritable. That was the situation with Dr. MacCallum and Arthur today. I could see that they were trying to be as stoic as possible but they wanted to dry out by an indoor fireplace. I would have entertained another night of camping but I was a bit concerned about Charlie. The consumption was getting to him. He tried not to show it but I could see it. A good guide carefully reads his group before providing honourable options when a trip needs to end. I suggested that we canoe back along the Oxtongue into Smoke Lake and stop by for some tea at Nominigan Lodge. This would provide a brief respite from the misery. After that we would make our way back to Mowat Lodge by late afternoon or early evening where Annie would be sure to have some dinner for us. No one protested so I assumed full agreement. Like a captain on a ship, I had full authority. I figured the slight detour to Smoke Lake would not look like a desperate beeline back to Mowat so it wouldn’t seem like a defeat. Dr. MacCallum hadn’t yet seen Nominigan so this would be his opportunity to see what a real tourist outpost looked like. Luxury and all.

When we canoed to Smoke Lake another thunderstorm came in. It lasted about 45 minutes with the rain and when it stopped, I decided that the Dr. needed another en-plein-air experience. The sky had shades of purple and offset against the deepening green of spring made for a nice picture. I pulled the canoe to the side, hopped on a large rock by the shore, pulled out my sketch box, and was sketching full tilt before Dr. MacCallum could even get himself out of the canoe. Charlie and Arthur waited a few feet offshore. It’s really too bad that no one brought their Brownie, because it would have made a fine picture of the Dr. and me. After about a half-hour, I was done the sketch. I packed up and we set off for Nominigan. There we had tea and biscuits. Some newspapers were lying around so we smoked our pipes and read the latest news. The headlines were about Borden being back in Canada drumming up support for the Conscription bill. I didn’t need to be reminded that I would be called up if the bill came to be.

When everyone dried out, we started again toward Canoe Lake. It wouldn’t be a long trip back, but I decided to take a slightly different route that involved a short portage. A canoeing experience for a city-dweller is not complete without a portage. For some strange reason it gives city folks a sense of invincibility – that they can conquer land and sea. I’ve learned on my trips to ensure at least one portage, even if I had to carry everything – canoe and all.

We got back to the Mowat Lodge around 6 p.m. in the evening. I could see from where we landed the Blechers and the Trainors were there. The lanterns were on and smoke was coming from the chimneys. It looked like Winnie was hard at work getting the Manse clean for summer. It always takes a few good cleanings to get the dust and mildew out of the corners. Windows are a labour intensive task, but from where I could see, the windows were looking clean. The front porch also looked to be scrubbed from stem to stern.

As I was bringing up the canoes Winnie came out to greet me. She said she saw our canoes in the distance and was sure it was us. That was earlier in the afternoon, so it wasn’t us. The only thing I could think of were poachers. Mark Robinson said to keep an eye out, but I never saw any. Who was on the lake at that time was anybody’s guess. Winnie was happy to see me. I said I would come down later once I got the boys sorted out of their canoe gear at the lodge and taken care of with Annie’s cooking. But I ended up seeing the evening out with Shannon with some whisky which he produced from his secret stash in the storehouse. We sat on the porch and talked until the early hour. Dr MacCallum, Arthur and Charlie turned shortly after having dinner, about 8:30.

I told Shannon that I was done my sketches. He’s excited about the dinner and art show and is a fine idea to celebrate Victoria Day (this Thursday). He suggested that we invite some folk down from the Algonquin Hotel, and some of the neighbours. If everyone accepted, we’d have a party about of 45-50. Of course, Shannon was thinking about charging non-lodge guests for the dinner to make some extra cash. I said I would leave the details to him. So it was set – Thursday would be the art show. To further the excitement and festivities I would ask Lawrie Dickson to bring up his Victrola and George Rowe to procure some fireworks. I knew George, if he couldn’t find fireworks, he could improvise with dynamite and kerosene. He could set up a bonfire that could be seen (and possibly heard) across the lake.

I realized I was supposed to go back and see Winnie tonight. I’ll go see her in the morning.