West Wind and the Grey Sisters on the Ottawa

August 1916

1916 West Wind Sketch. This may have been painted on the Ottawa River near Pembroke using a painting kit borrowed from the Grey Sisters.


The rain in early August broke the dry spell. As fire rangers we weren’t needed, so Ed Godin and I decided to go on a fishing trip down the south branch of the Petawawa, returning by the North, through Lake Travers and back to Achray on Grand Lake.

Except for a day when I borrowed some kit from the Sisters in Pembroke, I had done no sketching during the summer. I brought my gear to Achray, but we had no room for it in the canoe.  I was excited to not worry about fire and to do some decent sketching and fishing.
We started out after Ed Godin and I were both fired from fire ranging. We were staying in Basin Depot, expecting to accompany another log run but we got word that we weren’t needed anymore. After a few days of rain, the fire hazard was down, there were no more logs to be run, and our job was done for the season.

The summer of 1916 had been the hottest and driest on record. After the big fire in Matheson where almost 200 perished, fires were the greatest fear in the Park. We followed the lumber crews during the log drives. The logs had been put in the spring, coming down from the cutting lines high up the Petawawa near Cedar Lake but now, latter in the summer, they were making their course down toward the Ottawa River. The crews that followed cleared the jams and worked the logs through the chutes near the falls. Ed and I followed along, making sure the fires were out and we’d climb trees to make sure there were no fires in the distance.

Before we started out, I had written Dr. MacCallum and suggested that he come to Achray and the two of us could paddle down the Petawawa. But I received a telegram that he couldn’t come, so Ed and I decided to make a canoe trip to round out the season.  We decided to go from Basin Depot to Round Lake, south of the Park, make our way over the Petawawa and take the south branch of the river to Achray. From there I would make my way back to Canoe Lake, by the north way, taking part of the way by train through Brent, then going through Cedar Lake, Cauchon Lake.

It had been a hard summer of fire ranging. I got hired on in May.  I had given my application in April before I went on a trip with Lawren Harris and Dr. MacCallum. When we returned to Brent, a telegram was waiting for me to report for duty in Achray.
The summer had been dry, the threat of fire was constant and the fire ranging was difficult. I had no time for sketching. I hoped to do some boards but I had to leave my sketching outfit in Achray because there was no room in the canoe with our packs and fire-ranging gear.  

The last boards I made were in April, but I did make a couple sketches in Pembroke. I had a few days off and stayed in downtown hotel. It was a busy town. There were two sawmills in full operation, the Pembroke Lumbering Company and the Colonial Lumber Company. Both sawmills were going since spring, fed by the booms brought in by the alligators.

Like the town itself, the river was busy too. I counted five steam-powered boats on the Petawawa.  A passenger side-wheeler boat called the Victoria made regular runs. It left Pembroke every morning and went to Swisha. There were the tugboats the Brunswick and the Powell. Then the Pollux and the Castor, the smaller tugboats.  The boats boomed the logs, sorted them out and shot them into the Pembroke sawmills in Pembroke. The Booth and Eddy logs would go all the way down the Ottawa to Hull and Ottawa.

Ottawa River in August

It was on a Saturday when the high winds off the Ottawa were nothing like I had ever seen. My gear was back at the camp so  I borrowed a  sketching equipment from the Grey Sisters Convent. When I returned, I asked the Sisters to set out the boards and once they were dry, to ship them to Dr. MacCallum. The Sisters did not know what to make of me, an “artist-lumberman” as they called me. I gave the Sisters five dollars and said they could do with the rest of the money whatever they pleased.

2 thoughts on “West Wind and the Grey Sisters on the Ottawa”

  1. Were they a part of the Grey Nuns of Montreal? This is a fascinating to me because the Grey Nuns of Montreal play a role in my streetcar book, for which I am awaiting the page proofs.

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