May 7, 1917 Planning for Dr. MacCallum

May 7, 1917

I received a letter from Dr MacCallum today. He is planning to come the Friday or Saturday before Victoria Day (around the 19th) and go for a two or three week canoe trip. That will take quite a bit of planning and I haven’t yet told him of my plan to have an art show on Victoria Day. A three week canoe trip at this time of year is a bit ambitious for him. I’m sure I can convince him that three or four days will be good enough. But I will plan for full length of the trip just in case.

The canoes are fine. I have my own and the Doctor will rent one from the Frasers. He is coming with his son. To even the company out, I’ll ask Charlie Scrim to come along. We’ll be two to each canoe. Charlie is not a hundred percent fit (TB) , but his canoeing is quite good so we’ll be able to switch parties between the four of us with no combination having a big disadvantage.

Planning for a three week canoeing affair is not trivial. The trout fishing should be reasonably good, so we don’t need to take too much bacon or ham. Annie’s got lots of bacon on hand, so I’m not worried about that. I’ll need bread, tea, sugar, plus canned stuff. Chocolate is hard to get. So is coffee and the evaporated milk (canned is rare, but I may be able to get the powder). He is not sure about staying at Mowat Lodge, but the Highland Inn instead. I mentioned that to Shannon, and he said it’s easier to start the Canoe trip here instead of hauling everything to Cache Lake. I’ll write in my letter to convince him to stay at Mowat Lodge.

The later the spring is, the harder it is to sketch. When it’s cold and wintry, it’s yourself, the isolation and the resolve to paint. Later in the spring, everyone and everything is curious on what you’re doing. I was sketching when three deer came up looking for something to eat. The Colsons have made it a habit to feed the deer by the Hotel and they’re becoming tamer by the day. First they come to the Hotel and then they wander down to the Lodge looking for more. I feel sorry for these deer because when the deer-kill starts, they’ll be the first to go. The gnats and ants have also taken an interest in my sketching. It’s either the smell or the crumbs left in my pockets that they’re attracted to.

Shannon got a letter from the Trainors that they will be coming on the 18th. Hugh asked Shannon to check the cottage out and make any minor repairs so they won’t have any surprises when they come. Usually cottage neighbours do this for each other, but the Blechers have made a point of being so unfriendly, there is not a bone of reciprocity left between them and everyone else near Mowat Lodge. I’m not sure what it is, but I think the rich American tourist attitude has rubbed off on them. They’re quite willing to pay for services rendered, but it’s beneath their pride to think of Park employees or residents as equals to help each other out in times of need.

I’ll help Shannon out with getting the Trainor cottage ready. There shouldn’t be any issues. The biggest problem with cottages around these parts are wildlife (squirrels and chipmunks) getting in and making a mess, or poachers breaking in and stealing any useful stuff that’s not nailed down to the wall. Every once in awhile, a closed up cottage burns up during winter. The only possibility is a poacher that is careless or wants to cover his tracks once he’s stolen everything he needs. I’ll also help clear up the shore in front of the cottage. After the spring flooding it’s a mess of logs branches, rotten bark, left high on the shore. It makes the shore look like hell, but after a solid couple hours of work, I’ll have consolidated enough for a spectacular bone fire. After a couple of more days of drying, it’ll be ready for burning. For me, it’s the lighting of shore bonfire that marks the beginning of a new season. Once the bonfire is lit, it will no longer be spring.

I should also add that all of the snow is gone now. I looked hard earlier today in the bush and in the northern facing hills All that remains of winter are the snowmelt lakes (glorified ponds) that will turn into marshy spots. The peepers love these little lakes and they try to do their thing and procreate before it dries up and they have to move on. There’s no other creature (besides a spring-sketching artist) that is governed by the sensitive timing of spring. Things too early or things to late can be a disaster either way. But so far, everything is timing quite well.

The floor in the bush is still brown from the leaves of the previous fall. The trilliums and wildflowers are pushing out everywhere and there are the occasional shoots of grass. The flowers have to quickly take advantage of the light before the leaves come and there’s no longer light left. As I wrote earlier in springtime, everything is sensitive to timing and rhythm. That applies to trees, peepers and wildflowers. I explained the importance of timing and rhythm to Daphne. And that’s why I’m glad of the timing that Florence is off to Ottawa, and it’s another week before the Trainors and Winnie arriving.

May 6, 1917 Invitation

May 6, 1917

Today was fine and warm. The first real warm day of spring. Today was also the day that Florence left for Ottawa on the train. She took the morning train. I brought her up with Shannon’s wagon. The road is still a bit muddy, so Shannon didn’t want me to use his ‘luxury coach’ (a decommissioned hearse, actually). I saw Florence off on the train. She is planning to stay with relatives in Ottawa and visit the National Gallery. She plans to see Eric Brown, the director of the Gallery. After Ottawa, she’ll go back to Whitby and doubtful whether she’ll go back to Toronto for the next foreseeable while.

Because I was so busy, I didn’t write that much these past few days. I was spending all my time with Florence. It was her first time up North so she wanted to see the sights around the Lodge and the Hotel. She thought that Shannon was a rather odd character, and she felt a bit awkward with Annie, who seemed to be keeping an eye on her every moment. Nonetheless, she enjoyed the rustic feel of the place and said it had a similar feeling to some of the artist colonies that stayed with while she was in Europe. I laughed, because I was the only so-called artist at this art colony, and I probably wouldn’t be there for long.

We went out sketching several times and she was quite surprised and pleased with the plein-air techniques I had been developing. I told her that with the cold and fast changing light, that once a sketch was started, there was always a sense of urgency to complete before the scene disappeared. You needed to ignore the detail to capture the essence. She did a couple of sketches herself, which she attempted with a palette knife only (no brushes). It was quite the experiment. We didn’t keep the boards, we scraped them, and I’ll use them later on.

We talked about my paintings I left in the shack back in Toronto. We agreed that despite me saying that I was painting what I saw there was a considerable decorative aspect to the canvases. I was studying numerous Tiffany stained glass works at the time, and I admitted that I wanted to convey similar effects on the canvas by combining two dimensional foreground figure with a background composed as I had seen it. She was right. I wasn’t here to record spring as daily record. I was here to convey my feelings about spring as a daily record.

As I was waiting with her for the train, she gave me an invitation card to her next show. I put it in my sketch box. I doubt I would be able to make it, but just having the invitation close at hand would remind me of the encouragement I received from her.

Just before the train arrived, Mark Robinson came by. I introduced Florence to him. Mark was very cordial, and was genuinely interested in having a conversation with her. I couldn’t say that of the the other men around Canoe Lake. Florence was looked upon as an alien by some, but we ignored that and enjoyed our time together.

On another note, I received a letter from Dr. MacCallum. He is planning to come up with his son, Arthur to do a canoe trip. He’s asked me to organize some of the details and write him back.

May 5, 1917 No Entry

May 5, 1917

No entry today. No journal entry, that is. Just a few sentences before I turn in for the night. Busy all day with Florence. We sketched in the morning in front of the Lodge. In the afternoon we went for a walk in the paths behind the Lodge. Shannon was gone all day. No idea where he was. Annie was worried, but not enough to ask me to look. He’ll turn up.

Sketches are piling up. I have over 40 at last count. Florence said it was a good idea to have an exhibition. She’s having when she gets back to Toronto. Annie gave Florence’s dress back. It took the night to dry on the kitchen line.

May 4, 1917 Cloisonnism

May 4, 1917

Florence and I spent most of our time outside today. The sun was out and it was well into the fifties. We didn’t stray too far from the Lodge but we were far enough away to not be bothered.

Annie, on Shannon’s behalf, apologized about Florence getting her skirt muddy (we had to walk back through the mud yesterday because Shannon got the wagon stuck) She offered to launder it in the morning. As the sun would be out in the afternoon and a drying wind, it would be back to its clean state by this afternoon. I could see that Annie was quite gracious about setting right yesterday’s incident and making Florence feel comfortable as a guest. Unlike Shannon, Annie had a keen sense when things felt wrong and knew what to do make things feel right. She’s the counterbalance to Shannon and Mowat Lodge’s secret to success.

After breakfast, Florence looked through my sketches set about in the dining room. I had over a dozen in the dining room. Some were sitting in the window sills, others were propped atop the wainscoting, or, against the wall in the corner where the reading chair was.

Florence looked closely at the northern lights sketch, “Tom, did you use a palette knife on this one?”

I reached over and with my fingers traced over the lines I painted, “No, I used a filbert. It was cold, in the low teens, the paint was stiff. A palette knife might have done a better job.”

“Oh no!” I could hear the delight in her voice, ” A frozen filbert has done the job nicely. It’s a good effect.”

I admire Florence. Despite her time in Paris, she hadn’t forgotten what it’s like to be a painter here. She could have stayed there and become a European painter, like so many other artists from here, but she decided to come back.

“The weather’s good now. No telling when it’s going turn, Let’s get our paints and go out.” And we went out into the sunshine and wind.

Before we did any sketching, we walked to get the feel and sense of the place. We walked up to Lowrie Dickson’s place – the road was dry to there. Then we came back and set up by the old mill foundation. We were on a rocky outcropping that made for a good view. I was considering bringing Florence in the canoe but the water was still too cold and treacherous. I had only been out for one excursion and I needed to be sure of my sense in the water before I took on passengers, especially women. A heavy winter dress in cold water is a sure death sentence during this time of year. I didn’t want to take that chance.

We both made sketches using the smaller boards I cut from the orange crates. I painted a stand of birches. She painted the far shore to the east.

“Cloisonissm. A good scene for that, Tom.”

I knew exactly what Florence meant. Bold colours, compartmented, decorative. Like stained glass. Like Gaugin and his painting “The Yellow Christ.” Symbolism, bold colours, flat planes. Deliberately crude and simplified. Heresy to many, but a depiction more truthful than anything before. I learned all that from Florence.

We spent that afternoon painting and on our way back, we picked a wildflower bouquet. Dinner was better and friendlier. We played some cards and checkers in the evening. Shannon kept us entertained with his story of extracting his wagon out of the mud. George Rowe had helped him out. Shannon left out the best part of the story – that he ended up drinking at Lowrie Dickson’s shack for the better part of the afternoon drinking with the boys. That’s why he was late for dinner yesterday and why Shannon’s family decided to eat separately in the kitchen –  because he was drunk.

When the evening was done, Florence made sure that she went to her room on her own. I waited awhile before I went up. My timing, my ascent, and my footsteps on the upper floor were most certainly monitored by Annie. I went to my own room, making a loud noise of my door. Certain that Annie could ascertain my precise whereabouts – for the first part of night, at least.

May 3, 1917 Florence Arrives

May 3, 1917

Florence arrived on the train this afternoon. She’s spending a few days here at Mowat Lodge and then continuing on to Ottawa to stay with relatives.

I went with Shannon to pick her up at the station. The ground has dried enough that he can drive his wagon up to the station but the road is still muddy and we got stuck on the way back. I carried Florence’s luggage but she had to walk through the mud and her skirt was a muddy affair by the time she reached the Lodge.

Florence got a room upstairs near the middle. The Crombies are at the far end, and Charlie Scrim is in between. Her room is closer to mine than what Annie had intended but far enough in her mind to guarantee that no untoward activities would happen during the night.

Dinner was a rather awkward affair. The Frasers decided to have their dinner in the kitchen and serve the ‘guests’ in the dining room: Florence, Daphne, Robin, Charlie and me. The consumptives were served in their room.

Daphne and Robin left promptly for their room after dinner. That left me, Florence and Charlie to sit by the fireplace for the rest of the evening. Annie came out to clear away the dishes. I could tell she was agitated. She broke the vase I painted for Daphne. I believe it was intentional.

Tomorrow I will show Florence around the place, but tonight it is a matter of making her feel comfortable and welcome.

May 2, 1917 Brook Trout

May 2, 1917

Brook trout are God’s best fish. Anglers have a saying that after God practiced on other fish he made brook trout. I caught three today – two four-pounders and a fiver.

As soon as the ice breaks (that was yesterday) is when it’s the best time for brook trout. They like the cold, fast water and they’re near the shore in the spring looking for insects. With my fly rod and new flies I caught the trout by Joe Lake. I cast the fly, let it zig-zag a couple of times and let it drop on the surface. That’s when they usually strike. It’s a rarity for them to jump out and strike at your fly while in motion but that’s what one of four-pounders did. There’s no better way to catch a fish.

It should be good fishing near the shore for the next couple of weeks, then the trout will be heading to deeper water. As summer moves in, the trout move deeper and that’s when you need to use copper trolling wire and the shiny lures. That type of fishing will come soon enough, but I am enjoying the catching right now.

I received a letter from Florence and she will be arriving on Friday staying at the Lodge. Annie’s got a room set out for her, on the other side of the building. It’s about the farthest room from my room. Although Florence is nohing more than a good friend of mine, I can see that Annie plans to keep it that way. I’m sure during the night she’ll set tripwires and bells.

The frogs are now making a racket. They call them the Spring Peepers and they are loud. It makes you want to wish for colder weather again to quiet the little pests down. We’ll have to contend with the noise for the better part of the month.