July 5, 1917 Swimming

July 5, 1917

“I’ll get it,” I said, with a faux humility in my voice. I could see the canoe bobbing in the distance, up and down on top of the wave crests.

I was with Charlie, so it wasn’t a big deal. My mistake. I had let the canoe float away from the rocks on where we had landed. Had this happened when I was guiding I would most certainly have lost my guide’s license. Park Superintendent Bartlett had no tolerance for those sort of things, especially if the report came to him by Tourist.

Without further word, I started to strip down. Not naked. I kept my drawers on. I didn’t like swimming naked.  I still remember, as a kid, the fish biting at my toes in the pool underneath the Keefer Creek Falls.  If I had skinny-dipped, another appendage would have been fair game for the fish. I swore that never would happen in my lifetime. I only skinny-dipped once, in north Georgian Bay, where I was absolutely sure those fish hadn’t followed me.

I looked out from the point where we had landed. Due south, the canoe was making a good distance from us. Aided by the wind from the north and the indiscernible current, it would be in Bonita Lake before afternoon was out. I could leave it be and fetch it the next day, but Charlie and I would have to hike it through the bush to the tote road and walk the rail line to Canoe Lake Station. Charlie was in rough shape (consumption) so this was a pretty bad alternative. And I didn’t want word to get out that I lost my canoe. I’d never hear the end of it from Shannon.

I dove into the waves.

Charlie watched me. He had his knees drawn to his chest and rested his back against the incline of a large rock. I knew his insides were rebelling, first the coughing fit, then the vomiting, and finally the need to heed the second call of nature. That’s why we rushed to the shore. He ran into the bush. I got out, and as my attention and worry was on him, my canoe gave me the slip.

Water all around me. It’s the first contact with water that’s the shocker. I felt my blood recoil from my extremities and the skin on my chest become taut.

I was considered an anomaly at Canoe Lake. Not because I was an artist, but that I could actually swim. Not a dog-paddle or thrash-about swim. Not the lumberman swimmer but a real swimmer. Despite being around lakes all their lives, most men of the Park had no inkling of how to swim. I could understand why. The accepted way of learning how to swim was the  ‘sink or swim’ method: the unexpected toss of a child into deep water by a father, followed by a stern holler, ‘Sink or Swim!!!’ The usual outcome was a sinking, followed by a rescue, and a traumatized child who would never try to swimming again in their life.

I made the first few strokes, a front crawl. Every few strokes I would look up and sight the canoe and correct my course. I figured it would take me ten minutes to reach the canoe – if the wind didn’t pick up first.

I was fortunate not learn to swim by trauma. Where I grew up in Leith, there was a sandy beach by the river in the village. The beach was a fine sand. In the summer when it was hot, I’d come down with my sisters, lay in the sun on the hot sand and play in the waves.  At first, I’d pretend I was swimming with my hands planted on the sandy bottom with my body floating. But it was very soon I didn’t have to pretend. I could actually swim. Gradually I’d venture out into deeper water until the feeling of the panic of not touching bottom became less and less. Then one day, I didn’t care about the bottom anymore, and I declared to myself, ‘I can really swim!’

The water is cold, but not cold enough to die in. It was a cold spring, the water was cooler than usual. I figured I could fetch the canoe and bring it back to where I left Charlie without trouble. That was the plan at least.

I remember diving for shells in the bay by Leith. Most times they were easy to find, sitting like pearls on the sandy bottom, but other times were found in the bottom muck of rotten bark that mysteriously appeared, usually after a heavy storm. It was from finding these shells that I not only learned to swim well, but to dive, deep and long.

The canoe was closer now. But the wind was picking up as it does in the late afternoon. The afternoon wind is unpredictable, making the waters unsuspectingly dangerous on an otherwise fine sunny, calm day.

Swimming. We’d race too. From the shore of the beach, we’d swim out to the end of Leith Pier, a pier long enough for the big steamers. My oldest brother George (not a swimmer), would walk out to the end, raise a white handkerchief and when he dropped his hand, the race was on. I’d race against the other village boys, the Mitchell and McKeen boys or whoever happened to be at the beach.  By the time we reached the end of the pier, it was crazy deep, over 30 feet, but you didn’t care, because you were racing. The depths back home are nothing like the depths of the lakes here. There, the water was clear, clear, and you could make out the sand and stones on the bottom. Here, the lakes are murky and nothing can be seen of the deep.

I got hold of the canoe. The wind was now strong and the water rough. No way I could get in without capsizing.. I had to tow it back, or push it from behind. With a canoe in tow, the joy and elegance of swimming was gone. The memories of my swimming childhood were pushed out by the slap slap of the waves against the hull.  The low howl of the wind began to raise in pitch.

It took me over an hour to get the canoe back. Charlie was still against the rock with his knees still drawn up to his chest.

‘Tom, thank God, you’re safe!’

I smiled. Never for a moment did I think I was in danger. I could swim.

July 4, 1917 Trouble with the Sketches

July 4, 1917

Today is Independence Day – for the Americans, that is. The Blechers decided to celebrate in full patriotic glory and in contravention with the Park and Provincial regulations – flying the American Flag above the Red Ensign. The Blechers have done this before. Regulations state that flags of other countries can’t fly above the Canadian or Ontario Red Ensign. But that was the case right now. It was most likely Martin Blecher Jr.’s doing. He liked to instigate conflict for the sake of it. Mark Robinson had warned him of an earlier infraction in the spring. Another time when Martin had done it, I obliged him by removing the flag in the middle of the night and put it in the cage of his pet groundhog. As for today, the flying of the American flag flying could be sign of patriotism or an instigation for yet another conflict. I suspected the latter. It also wouldn’t surprise me that Louisa, Martin Jr.’s mother would make a proclamation that the Blecher leasehold was U.S. territory and U.S. laws and justice would be applied. For the Blechers, the saying goes, “Like Mother, Like Son.” Martin Sr. and Bessie are pleasant, it’s the mother and son that always seem to be the problem.

Someone must have told Mark Robinson about the flag (it wasn’t me) because he wandered down in the morning. That wasn’t part of his usual routine. I saw him coming as I was sitting on the verandah. I was fixing a shirt of mine. I also had to darn a couple of holes in my socks. I preferred doing this type of work outside because the light’s better out. From my vantage point I could see Mark check the Trainor cottage and then walk over to the Blechers. There was brief yelling and screaming (Martin Jr. and/or Louisa) and once that subside, Mark reappeared into view. He walked up the path and stepped up onto the verandah.

“Can you believe those folks?” Mark shook his head. He took off his hat, wiped his brow and sat down beside me. The air was oppressive today. It wasn’t hot, but the humidity was at saturation that you couldn’t do anything without breaking into sweat. It was these days, when your clothes hung on you like a damp washcloth and your hair felt like a greased rope. There wasn’t anything you could do about it except endure it. At the camp site you have option of stripping down to your drawers, but the unwritten lodge decorum dictates being fully-clothing and long-sleeve when there are women around. Men are also supposed to wear a tie at all times. I’m glad that Shannon enforce that point of the dress code, otherwise I would have been gone long ago.

“Mark, I’ll take care of the flag tonight,” I said.

“Tom, don’t you be taking the law into your own hands!” Mark replied, “If it’s still there tomorrow, I’ll write a note to Bartlett. He’ll scare them by saying they’re violating the terms of their leasehold.”  That was the end of the flag discussion.

“What were you checking up on at the Trainor cottage?”

“Nothing much,” Mark said. “I heard the Trainors haven’t been up as much as regularly as they normally are. Just checking to see if anything’s amiss. Say, Tom, your sketches are still there.”

“Indeed, they are. I haven’t looked at them since Victoria Day. Are they still on the porch?” I asked.

“No, they’re just inside the front door. What are you going to do with them? Aren’t you worried they’ll be stolen?”

“Given the circumstances, they’re in the safest place right now. If I had them at the lodge, I probably would have thrown them in the fire or Shannon would have lifted a few to sell to his guests.”

“OK, Tom, but you’d better do something soon.” Mark had a worried look. He was worried I’d lose them.

“I might send the lot down to Toronto and Dr. MacCallum to deal with them,” I replied. Normally I’d take them back with me in the Fall, but I wasn’t going back to Toronto. Mark didn’t know this part of the plan yet. Nor did he know I was leaving within days.

I looked directly at Mark, “I need you to do a favour for me. If circumstances don’t permit, can you make sure they get sent to Toronto?”

“I’m not sure I can do that, Tom.” Mark lowered his eyes and took a draw from his pipe. “Right now they’re in the possession of the Trainors. Wouldn’t be right for me to go in and take them.”

“Mark, if something does happen, can I count on you?”

“Tom, I don’t know what you’re getting at. Sounds like you’re trying to wind up your affairs here.”

I realized I might have gone too far with the request, “No worries, Mark. Things will sort themselves out. I’m going away for a few days fishing trip. Just keep an eye on Shannon.”

“That I can do Tom,” Mark smiled. He knew what Shannon could do in the dishonourable department. “I’ll keep your back. How’s the Big Trout up at Joe Lake Dam? Is he still smarter than you?”

I smiled, “Well let’s find out.” I had my gear on the verandah and was planning to go up there shortly. So I grabbed it and Mark and I walked up together and I fished for a couple of hours but with no luck. So the Big Trout is still smarter than me – for today, that is.

While I was fishing, I was watching the clouds – big clouds. The humidity of the day was being drawn up by the heat, forming huge clouds. They were big enough to hid a flotilla of Zeppelins. Judging the the colours of the clouds, it was a sure thing that it would rain like the Dickens tonight. I’ll stay at the lodge again tonight because Shannon has pretty much made me paid for my stay. I was also thinking of what to do with the sketches. I’m glad I asked Mark to take care of them on my behalf, if need be. I couldn’t trust Shannon and I certainly couldn’t expect the Trainors to honour any of my wishes, especially if I was gone with Winnie. Everyone respected Mark, and he was a Park authority. If things ever turned sour, I knew I could rely on Mark to settle things for me the fairest way possible.

The clouds cleared later in the evening and the full moon shone through. It reminded me of a sketch I did in 1915. But I was in no mood to make a new sketch. I’m trying to get rid of my old ones.

July 3, 1917 A Year’s Savings Gone

July 3, 1917

I’m planning to leave this Sunday. At Winnie’s urging I needed to settle my accounts with Shannon this week. We had agreed on rates back in April and by mid-July I would be getting about $100 on my loan. Since I was going to leave a week earlier than I had planned I thought it fair just to ask for $100 and not worry about the week. I had $13 in cash and $37 in the bank. So the total sum I had was $150, about a year’s worth of savings,after living expenses, for a worker. If I was frugal, I could easily live on this amount for a year, even supporting a wife and child. I recall Lismer saying that when he came to Canada, he only had enough for his fare and $5 left over. He quickly found a job, bought a suit on credit and he was on his way to being established in the New World. I was feeling good about the whole situation until I talked to Shannon.

“Tom, things have changed since we talked last April. I’m afraid the rate’s has gone up to $2 per day.” I was dumbfounded. A quick calculation revealed that by Shannon’s new terms, instead of receiving $100, I’d be owing Shannon $12.

“Shannon, that wasn’t the deal we made back in April,” I tried not to show my exasperation.

“Sorry Tom, those are the new terms. You can’t exactly leave it, so you’ll have to take it.” Shannon shrugged. I’m pretty sure he knew exactly the situation I was in, and I wasn’t in a position to bargain.

“Shannon, I need the loan settled. I’m planning to leave for out west mid-July.” I lied, I was going to leave a week earlier. I wanted to be out of the country before the bloodhounds got onto our track.

“Okay, Tom. I’ll cut you a deal. I’ll settle for $25 and get the money to you next week.”

I hated dealing with money, “Shannon, can you get it for me on Sunday?”

“I’l try, Tom. Cash is short around here.”

I felt betrayed. I don’t care that much about the money. It was the going back on the deal we had made in the spring. But I hate conflicts too. I was never that good at dealing with my own financial affairs – not that I was incompetent. I just didn’t care that much. My older brother George managed my affairs when I was out West, and back in Toronto, Lawren Harris and Dr. MacCallum did it for me. I know the man of the household is supposed to take care of these things, but I fully expect Winnie to manage our accounts. She’s trained in such things and I believe that is the success of our relationship. She worries about the numbers and I worry about the art. And we meet in the middle with fishing. I can’t think of a better arrangement with a woman than what I’ll have with Winnie.

After that episode with Shannon, all I could think about was fishing at Joe Lake Dam. I got my gear and went out back through the summer kitchen. Annie was in the kitchen making strawberry pies. The strawberries are ready, and Mildred had gone out in the morning and picked a few pints.

“Tom, you going out fishing?” Annie asked.

“Yes, Annie,” I replied.

“Well say hi to Annie Colson while you’re up there, ” Annie said. “Please tell her I’ll be needing some baking supplies: sugar, baking powder, flour and some molasses. I’ll send Shannon to pick them up when the next train comes in.”

There was no reason for Annie to tell me this detail. The only reason I could fathom is that she sensed the tension and the only way to cut it was to talk about something mundane and trivial. That was such a Victorian way of dealing with personal crises. Much like a sergeant serving tea to a soldier shot in the stomach. Medically, it was the worst thing you could do, but the act of courtesy was really a shrouded act of denial awaiting the inevitable outcome. Annie realized I would be leaving soon. Unlike an anonymous and impersonal enemy bullet, the results of her actions (inappropriate, I might add) were driving an inevitable outcome.

I spent the afternoon at Joe Lake and caught nothing. Mark Robinson dropped by and watched me for a while. Mark’s son, Jack also came along and I showed him a few casts and how to tie a lure. I talked about the “Big Trout” I was trying to catch. I told him that “Big Trout” was starting to get the reputation that he was smarter than the local artist. We fished for a while longer and from where we were fishing we could see the berm by the Shelter House. I told Mark that if the berm prevented either of his daughters from rolling into the lake then I had truly served my purpose here in the Park.

July 2, 1917 Ash Can

July 2, 1917

Last night turned out to be quite a celebratory affair. George Rowe showed up later in the evening. He had procured some fireworks and needed a willing audience. Lowrie came too. He had returned from Huntsville (I was not expecting him) and was George’s fireworks assistant (pyrotechnician, I think is the proper term.)

George and Lowrie set up the fireworks a good 300 yards south of the Trainor and Blecher cottages. Far enough away from the cottages but more importantly, away from the chipyard should anything catch fire If anything did catch fire, it would be close to the Canoe Lake dump, which Shannon would set on fire once or twice a year to get rid of the trash.

And sure enough, during the firework performance something did catch fire and we had to rush down the old Gilmour Road to put out a stump that was the unlucky recipient of a malfunctioning firework. Despite the mishap, it was all great fun and the fireworks were a spectacle to behold. I got to practice my Fire Ranging skills once again.

After the fireworks, I didn’t go back to the campsite but stayed in my room at the lodge. I don’t have many belongings there, most of my stuff is at the camp, but I have a few books in my room. Mostly books that have been lent to me or ones that I have picked up after the guest have left. Lawren Harris, the last time we were together, gave me his copy of ‘Art” by Clive Bell. He said it was a good read on art theory and that I should read it. I started it and read a good description on the aesthetics of art. He described art as being a form of lines, colour and a sense of space that invokes emotion in the observer. Bell also said that art has nothing to do with facts or representation – an immaculately produced drawing can have absolutely no artistic merit at all. Being a trained as a commercial artist, I knew exactly what Bell was getting at and I felt vindicated in what I was doing with my spring sketches. So far this is a good book and I’m glad that Lawren encouraged me to read it.

Harris had also mentioned the Ash Can School. It was a group of artists down in Philadelphia. The group had only recently become known as creating “ash can art”. I am not sure what the name actually meant other than they were trying to represent things as they really were – not some muddy or washed out pastoral pastiche scene. What this group of artists was painting in the city sound like what I was trying to paint here in the North. Harris said, that this group would be good to fall in with, if I ever decided to go south of the border

So I started to mull over the idea of going down Philadelphia with Winnie. I’m not sure how long my funds would tide me through (once I got them from Shannon), but I am sure I could get along with the Ash Can artists. Philadelphia could be an initial stopping point before going further south and west. I think that Winnie has some relatives in Pennsylvania. I doubt we would ever consider seeing them, but just the fact of having relatives close by might be a comforting factor for Winnie. I was also considering going to New Haven Connecticut, where my brother George is. He’s the head of the art society there, but unfortunately it’s my sense that the members there are similarly cut in the cloth as the O.S.A. members in Toronto. I am also sure that once I arrived there, George would implore me to ‘do the right thing’, the ‘right thing’ being whatever he tells me to do. When I meet up with Winnie, we can then make up our plans and decide.

When I went out on the front verandah this morning, I noticed that Canoe Lake had a very strange haze on it. It wasn’t fog. It was a smoke haze from a distant forest fire. I had seen this before where the haze would be blown in from hundreds of miles away. I remember the Matheson Fire from the previous year (July 1916) I was a fire ranger at the time, and  although the fire was hundred of miles away, the smoke covered the entire Park and the lakes had the same eerie haze as Canoe Lake does now. I doubt the haze came from George’s misfired fireworks, but maybe George decided to a repeat act at the Highland Inn and started a doozy of a forest fire. By my knowledge, the Highland Inn could be burned down to the ground at this very instant.

So I decided to spend the day at Mowat Lodge. There was about twenty guests. This kept Shannon and Annie busy, especially to settle in the new one. I stayed in one corner and read Bell’s Art for the better part of day while thinking about my plans. Shannon and Annie could see that I didn’t want to be bothered, so they left me alone. The other big piece of business I needed to settle with Shannon was getting the money I loaned him. I wasn’t looking forward to that discussion, but I needed to have it. I needed the money by the end of the week.

July 1, 1917 Dominion Day

July 1, 1917

Today was Dominion Day.

Since it was the 50th anniversary of Confederation, Shannon thought it would be a good idea to have a celebration on the summer dock by the lake. Normally, the big celebrations only happened on Victoria Day, but Shannon read in the papers that Ottawa was marking Dominion Day as a special occasion and there were celebrations happening in Ottawa. Not be outdone by the capital of the Dominion, Shannon decided to have his day long pageant, which was a bust on Sovereign’s Day.

The plan was simple, but the burden of effort fell on Annie. First, an outdoor dinner at noon was to be held on the summer dock, then followed by a canoe regatta. Initially, the dinner was to be held on the verandah of Mowat Lodge, but since there were no screens, and the horse stable was close by, there would be problem with the flies. So the decision was made to relocate down at the dock. This meant hauling down tables and chairs over 200 yards, so we loaded up Shannon’s wagon and brought it down to the dock. We set up the tables and seating for about twenty.

We also brought down two fireless cookers. Shannon had procured these earlier in the spring. Fireless cookers had become the fashion since the rise in cost in fuel. Earlier in the morning, Annie had first heated beans on the stove (soaked overnight) and started a large pot roast. When these were well on their way about( about 10am) she transferred the contents to the cookers and we brought them down to the dock. The principle of the fireless cooker was simple and elegant. The pots were inside an insulated box of fire stone and asbestos. The box was then filled with hot cinders from the stove, and the cooking continued. The best thing about the cookers was that we could retrieve the hot food without traversing the 200 yards back to the Lodge. In addition to the hot menu, Annie had prepared rhubarb sauce, bread and butter sandwiches and rice pudding with raisins for for dessert. It was going to be a fine dinner.

The sun was out, it was cool and the wind was brisk, but not so brisk to blow everything off the table. The wind was also strong enough for regatta. We planned to use the canvas canoes that were outfitted with sails.

To start the dinner, Shannon had asked a favour of me. Earlier in the week, the papers had published a song that was to become the new national anthem. It was titled ‘O Canada’ and was going to be used officially open the Golden Jubilee celebrations in Ottawa. It was also going to be performed at the Westminster Abbey religious service to honour Canada’s contribution to the war. So Shannon asked me to practice the song. I didn’t have my mandolin, so I borrowed a guest’s Gibson. The melody wasn’t hard to learn. I found it rather plodding, but I guessed it was an appropriate difficulty level for those who didn’t sing. Similar to Amazing Grace – not the most beautiful song on its own, but when sung together as a group, it had power.  I asked Charlie Scrim to make copies of the lyrics. He wrote out ten copies of the lyrics.

O Canada, our heritage, our love
Thy worth we praise all other lands above
From sea to see throughout their length
From Pole to borderland
At Britain’s side, whate’er betide
Unflinchingly we’ll stand
With hearts we sing, “God save the King”
Guide then one Empire, do we implore
And prosper Canada from shore to shore.

We sang the song at the start of the dinner. The effect was not only powerful it was magical. I played through the melody two times, then I sang it solo for everyone to get comfortable with the lyrics. Then we sang it together. We looked at each and realized that this was to be the song of Canada. The after silence was a golden moment. Shannon began to unload the fireless cookers and the ones with baked beans fell off the side of the dock into the water. We had the pot roast for Dominion Day and the shore minnows had baked beans for the rest of the week.