November 10, 1916 Last Supper at Mowat Lodge

November 10, 1916

It’s my last evening at Mowat Lodge. Tomorrow, I plan to take the early morning train. I’ll stop in Huntsville, if the Trainors will have me, I’ll stay, or make my way back to Toronto.

Today I worked hard for Shannon. I helped him get things in order for winter. George Rowe and Lowrie Dickson helped out too. Sawing and stacking wood for the winter mostly. We moved the canoes into the storage shed and pulled one of the docks out of the water. We left the other dock – it was too far gone – the winter freeze-up will put it out of its misery.  We had to clear out the creosote from the chimneys. It builds up during the summer and you need to clear it out before the winter. It’s a dirty job but George was up to it.

Since it was my last night at the lodge, Annie made a nice supper for us all. Since I’m the only guest left at the lodge, I feel more like family. Shannon, Annie, their daughter Mildred, Shannon’s mother, Old Mrs. Fraser, and me. Shannon was feeling gracious, so he invited George Rowe and Lowrie Dickson, so it was the seven of us together in the kitchen. With three kerosene lights at full blaze and with the heat of the cook stove, it was cosy and bright – it was the cosiest and brightest place to be on Canoe Lake that evening and for a moment I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. But it would end tomorrow as I made my way toward the cold electric lights of the city and the grey film of smoke that smothered everything outside.

As is his usual manner, George kept us up to date with all of the rumours running along the rails. With so many grain cars going through the Park, grain was being siphoned off to feed the moonshine stills. Grain cars left on sidings overnight would mysteriously lose their cargo. The chief part of the mystery was how much grain could be spirited off into the bush without a trace.

The train derailments were happening with an alarming regularity. The rumours were that the saboteurs (along with the moonshiners, I reckoned) were hard at work disrupting a vital lifeline to the War. Early in the spring, 15 cars accordioned themselves into Joe Lake, almost taking with them a Pullman passenger full of troops. It took two days to pull the cars out and since the Hotel Algonquin was not yet open for the season, Shannon got the business of lodging for two nights. And Annie did what she does best – feed an army. George said the derailments were the insidious work of the Ottawa Road Master, of German descent. The railway sacked him after the Joe Lake incident. In my own mind, the saboteurs had easy work – they just had to sit back and watch the line fall into disrepair on its own. Later in the summer, there was another terrible accident. A double-header derailed and the engines fell on top of each other in a mud pond. Five people were killed – an engineer, a brakeman, and three firemen. There was a runaway train, eastbound from Rainy Lake. The engineer and brakemen gave chase with a handcar, and the stationmaster signalled ahead for the westbound trains to stop and pull off onto sidings. The runaway train eventually ran out of steam before it reached Canoe Lake.

The train comes through tomorrow at 8:15 in the morning. Shannon promised to bring me up to the station in the wagon. We stored the hearse earlier in the week and got out the sled runners for the wagon. When there’s decent snow on the ground, Shannon will get George or Lowrie to help him switch the wheels with the runners.

It’s getting late. I’m sitting by the fireplace in the dining room. My gear is packed and by the door. My sketches are tied up and bundled in burlap. Over a hundred I counted. I didn’t paint much when I was fire-ranging in the summer, but after I got fired, I painted two or three sketches each day for a month in the eastern end of the Park on the Petawawa with Ed Godin.

Time to call it a night. I plan to stop in Huntsville for a day or two and then make my way back to Toronto.



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