March 31, 1917 Whisky Jacks

March 31, 1917

1917 Birches

I can feel spring in the air. The temperature was warmer — it really felt like spring, but I had a chill that wouldn’t leave my body. Winter wouldn’t leave me today. But the sun was strong — brilliant actually — and its ever strengthening force was making the snow go away fast. The snow was mostly gone from the south-facing hills. As for the north-facing hills, the snow will stay into May. That’s what I predict.

I had walked a lot yesterday and I was tired. That’s why I felt chilled. The snowshoes weren’t suited for some parts of my trip, so I ended up post-holing my way through parts of the bush. I didn’t notice until I got back but my socks and boots were soaked. I set them out by the fire to dry. I didn’t think much about it, but yesterday’s wet-footed venture must have put the chill in me today.

Earlier in the morning I went out to the storage shed. It’s the second and southerly part of Mowat Lodge. It’s a separate but joined structure. It was a separate lease, but Shannon took it over in 1914 when he expanded his operation. There are more rooms there, but there is a large storage area and an outbuilding that Shannon uses as a stable for the horses and the cow. He doesn’t keep the animals in the barn up the road. It’s too far away for tending the animals, but he stores the hay there, the beaver grass, that’s cut and brought in in early July. Shannon spends a lot of time in the back grooming and taking care of the horses. He takes pride in his horses. He also drinks back there. Ever since the Prohibition, Annie’s not comfortable having liquor in the ‘proper part of the house’ as she calls it, so Shannon is forced to drink out of doors or with the horses.

Shannon wasn’t there this morning. I don’t know where he was. The horses were there though. I guess he decided not to take the horses out for a sap run because the temperature didn’t go down enough and there wouldn’t be anything to bring in. I cut some more boards from the stack that Shannon set aside for me. The orange crates are good because they are light and flimsy. They’re meant to make the trip only once from California and they’re held together with a few nails and some wire. The panels I can make are about 5″  x 7″. Depending on the condition of the wood, I can get four to eight panels from each box. Although they are the size of a glorified post card, I can’t complain. If I use these boards as quick studies or sketches, I can save my better panels for when I find a really good scene.

After lunch (Shannon didn’t appear for lunch) I was still feeling a bit under the weather, so I didn’t go far. I walked a short distance down Gilmour Road to Whisky Jack Bay. It’s a small inlet due south of Mowat Lodge. The dump for Mowat Lodge is around there too.  I saw the gray jays and they saw me too. Whisky Jack bay got its name from the gray jays that live around there. The Indian name for gray jay sounds like Whisky Jack so the name stuck. The gray jays stay all winter and do their nesting before the other birds come. They hide their food in the trees and you can see them flying about in the fall, hiding it in the trees, in crevasses, under flakes of bark and in holes left behind by woodpeckers. They’re smart birds, they remember everything they hide. They’re very territorial too, they keep an eye on you. If you’re in their territory, they know who you are, and dive-bomb if they don’t like you. I didn’t get dive-bombed today. I learned from my Uncle Brodie that most of the gray jays die when they’re young. It’s a cruel family life. They’re forced to fight each other to see who gets to stay in the territory. The “leavers” move on and try to take another territory, and the “stayer” (if the parents choose to let a younger one stay) sticks around for another year to help raise the next generation of young. But then, when the time comes, it  starts all over, another fight to the death over territory. When you observe what the gray jays have to do to survive, it makes you think that maybe the fight to the death in Europe could be the natural course of things. Love, honour and morality only figments of our imagination. Survival at all costs is the only thing that matters. Embrace the gray jay way.

I saw another stand of birches down in a low lying area at the edge of the bay. Together, they gave a nice composition, being in the foreground, so I got up close and painted them. When I was finished, I went back and I still wasn’t feeling good. I had the chills and read the papers in the kitchen by the cookstove. It looks like the U.S. is going to declare war any day now.

I was quiet at dinner. Shannon had reappeared and I could tell he had been drinking all day. Probably at George or Lowrie’s place. Everyone knew well enough to leave me alone.


March 30, 1917 Ice-Blocks

March 30, 1917

1917 An Ice-Covered Lake

Canoe Lake is still frozen solid, but the edges are melting away. The small streams feeding into the lake and Potter Creek are open and running. Shannon needed to finish his his ice-block operation today because it is becoming too dangerous as the weather warms up. This morning I helped him get the last blocks in. Neither George nor Lowrie showed up to help. I’m sure they had a bit too much to drink last night. Today was the last day Shannon’s horses went on the lake. That’s a relief for me, because I’ve become attached to his horses and if we lost them it would be like losing members of the family.

After I finished my duties with Shannon, I cut some boards from the crates he kept for me. Although I brought a fair number of boards with me, I needed to stretch out my supply. The ones cut from the crates are only 6 inches by 8 inches, smaller than the regular 10 1/2 by 8 1/2 boards. I like to bring a couple of these smaller ones, in case I need to do a sketch extra quickly.

Today, I ventured a bit further than I did yesterday. I went north from the lodge and then to the eastern shore. In the summer, there’s a beach — this was a campsite for the the Indians. This is where Canoe Lake got its name, because they made birch bark canoes here – before the railways and lumbermen made them move on.

I did my sketch near the shore of the lake. There’s lots of birch here. They like the low land near the shore. When the pines were all cut and the high water levels from the dams drowned everything else, the birches moved right in. The beavers like it too and there’s a healthy population. They’ve dammed the stream that comes down from March Hare lake. It was once a tiny lake, but it’s bigger now. There’s a beaver dam about a mile away — that’s where March Hare Lake is, and there is another one here, just before it drains into Canoe Lake. Because all of the water is dammed upstream there’s only a pond’s worth of water behind this one. Since it’s not close to anyone, it hasn’t been dynamited. From my recollection, the beaver dam is considerably larger than last year and the pond is much larger. Only a matter of time before someone notices and dynamites it.

I had a nice view back across the lake to Mowat Lodge and I could see in the distance the hill from where I painted several days ago. Another stand of birches presented themselves well in the foreground so I decided to paint this scene. I sat myself near a stand of young maples. Second growth too. When the pines are gone and before the soil washes away into the lake, all bets are off of who’s going to be successful. I see there are willows here too. They like being right at the water’s edge.

It was a stronger eastern wind when I was painting. The wind was coming down from the hills and blowing onto the lake. The wind did not have its usual bitter cold, but it didn’t have any warmth either. The wind was heavy, laden with moisture, and it felt like a harbinger of bad things to come. Winds from the east bring bad things with them. My eyes were watering, and the dampness of the cold was downright unpleasant. I decided I would do a smaller sketch today. After I finished I started back across the lake.

As part of my regular kit, I carry a line and a lure. A small axe too, which I wrap up in my burlap bag. On the way back, I decided to give ice-fishing a try. The wind had died down and the sun was starting to come out. I chopped a hole starting at one of the cracks. The ice is still thick, about a foot where I cut, but it was getting rotten so it was easy to get through. If the weather stays cold, the ice will be here another month. I didn’t catch anything.

When I got to the shore I saw some wolf tracks. They’ve been venturing closer lately. Shannon told me that there’s lots of deer and they’re attracting the wolves. The deer hang out close to the Algonquin Hotel (the guests feed them during the summer) and the wolves are following. Shannon said the the Province is thinking about having a deer-kill in the spring and shipping the meat to Toronto. He heard that from George Bartlett, the Park Superintendent.

When I got back I set my sketch in the dining room to dry. I had to scrub my hands with sand and then with soap, warm water and a bristle brush. We had a fine dinner and Annie made custard for dessert. After dinner, I suggested that we play some cards or crokinole. When I was looking for the crokinole board, I asked where the Ouija board was (we played with it last summer). Shannon said that Annie forced him to throw it out. She didn’t want any unwelcome spirits in the lodge. They still have the chessboard I brought up in 1914. That fall, I played chess most every day with the boys. I could beat everyone, except for this kid that came down every day just to play. He learned from the  station master at Brule Lake. To pass the time, the station masters play chess using the telegraph. The boy’s family lived close to the schoolhouse, but they moved away in 1915. After that, I was once again the reigning chess champion of Mowat Lodge.

March 29, 1917 Ed and Molly Colson

March 29, 1917

I took a walk along Potter Creek today. I first walked along the old spur line then went closer to the shore. I walked by Gilmour Mill and past the the schoolhouse (if you can call it that, it’s an old tar paper shack). I passed by what was left of Mowat village, I walked to Joe Lake Dam, then to Joe Lake itself. I passed by the Algonquin Hotel. I passed by the cabin down by the shore too. I was going to stop at the hotel but decided not to. It’s closed for business, but there were lights on. Shannon told me that that Ed and Molly Colson, late in February, bought the hotel from Tom Merrill, who lives in Buffalo. He put the word out last fall that he wanted to sell.

I knew Ed and Molly from the Highland Inn. They married in 1907 and since it opened in 1908 they managed the Inn. They ran a tight operation, mostly due to Molly. Year before last, they left the Highland and managed the Orient Hotel in Peterborough. I saw the ads in the paper back in Toronto. Imagine my surprise when I got up here that I learned that they had bought the Algonquin and arrived just a few days ahead of me.

I also heard that Ed’s sister, Annie Colson, was going to take over the outfitters store close to Joe Lake Station. She worked at the Highland Inn too. Their mother died when they were young. She stayed behind in Guelph, but when Ed got the job at the Highland she came too. Even though she was older she had to start out as a scullery maid. She helped out with the canoe outfitting and she could put together the provisions for any canoe trip. When Ed and Molly bought the Algonquin, they needed someone for the outfitter’s store and Annie jumped at the chance.

Right now, Shannon is busy with his maple sugaring venture. He got the idea from the Highland Inn where they have a sugar bush celebration every year. The maples aren’t too close to the lodge — they are closer to the station, so he built a place to gather the sap and boil it. It wasn’t a shack, it was a crude lean-to structure with a horizontal log about six feet off the ground to hang the boiling kettle over the fire. Since it’s closer to the station than to the lodge, Shannon has recruited Edwin Thomas, one of the section men, to mind the fire. Edwin and his family live on the second floor of the station, so it’s easy for him to go down once in awhile to check the fire. I’m not sure what the arrangement is between Shannon and Edwin but I am sure it doesn’t involve wages or the exchange of cash. Shannon is particularly creative in making business arrangements that don’t involve him paying any money.

I helped with collecting the sap. Shannon had a big barrel that he put on the sled. I couldn’t help but recall tapping the sugar maples back home in Leith. Once in the morning and once in the evening. Like the routine of milking cows.  Our first year, we collected the sap but didn’t have a proper boiler. So we used an old kerosene tank.  We scrubbed it and scrubbed it. We thought it was clean, but the maple syrup still tasted like kerosene in the end. I never liked maple syrup after that.

Today I was looking for a scene in the woods. My last few sketches were of the the lake and I needed to do something new. I decided to go into the woods. With the sun getting stronger and the snow melting, the trees cast interesting shadows in the woods. It was damp and misty in the morning, but the stronger spring sun burned that off and there were blue skies by early afternoon. After not much walking, I found a good scene, sat down and painted. I’ve learned to bring an old burlap potato sack with me and use it as my seat so I don’t get wet.

Each day the snow withdraws more and more. The nights going below freezing and the days into the fifties make the snow take on a rough and uneven texture. This is good for getting the sap from the maple trees too. The spring light makes the snow look like a bed of crystals. I guess they are crystal, ice crystals.

I returned late in the afternoon. Annie prepared a fine dinner. She is the saving grace of this place. It was a bit warmer so we ate in the dining room with the fireplace in full fury. I prefer eating in the kitchen, but I think it is awkward for the other guests.

I don’t know what I will do tomorrow. I know that Shannon is having some trouble with some melt and flooding on the back side of the store house. I’ll help him dig out some channels tomorrow morning. There is a leak close to one of chimneys. It’s leaking through one of the rooms. The room’s not occupied yet but it’ll need to be fixed right away.

March 28, 1917 Helping Shannon

March 28, 1917

1917 Wood Interior, Winter

I helped Shannon again this morning. There was a heavy damp snow that started in the early morning and didn’t finish until around 10am. We finished getting the ice blocks from the lake and moved them into the cellar. The worst part of the job is being the cellarman. The cellarman is the one who has to stack the blocks in the cellar and cover them with sawdust. The sawdust brings back memories of a story I heard about the big Matheson fire that happened last July. I was a Fire Ranger in Achray at the time. We heard that the towns near Cochrane were burnt to the ground; almost 200 people died and everyone lost most everything except for the woodstoves that survived the fire (no surprise).

The summer of 1916 had been the hottest and driest on record. The railwaymen were vigilant in keeping the tracks through the Park clean of brush and our job was to follow the lumber crews like hawks during the log drives. The logs, put in during spring break-up, were still making their way down the river. The cutting lines were further and higher up, near Cedar, and it took longer to make it to the mills. The crews that followed cleared the jams and worked the logs through the chutes near the falls. Ned and I followed along, making sure the fires were out and nothing was started. We’d climb trees to make sightings to be sure there were no little fires that could be whipped by the wind into big ones.

To save them from the fire, one woman buried her Sunday clothes in the ice house, underneath the ice blocks and sawdust. When the fire came through, her clothes survived, but they were ruined by the sawdust. She survived, but she lost her Sunday clothes. It didn’t really matter because the church burned down. I don’t know why I remember that story. Sometimes it’s the accounts of the smaller losses that give sense to the scale of what was really lost.

Dusty, dim, and backbreaking work. Moving those ice blocks can be hazardous. They weigh up to a hundred pounds apiece and one slip can mean a broken limb. Shannon likes being the sledman, driving the horses. Lowrie and I were the icemen, the ones who sawed the ice out of the lake.

As always, George volunteered to do the dirtiest and least glamorous work. George joked that nothing in the Park has killed him so far, and it certainly won’t be an ice block in a cellar. George often jokes about death in the Park. I think it’s his way of dealing with the real deaths he’s experienced. Lowrie Dickson is like a brother to George – they are always together.

These deaths also reveal a darker side of the Park; what few people know and really don’t want to know, a deathtrap for lumbermen and labourers. Hardly a week went by without some news of death — drowning, fire, accident. Death is not good for tourism.

George Bartlett, Park Superintendent, and chief booster for Provincial tourism, likes to deal with Park deaths as expeditiously as possible. ‘Hurts tourism if we make too much fuss about what was inevitable in the first place.’ Heartless bastard.

The lumber companies like to keep the deaths at a low profile too. There was too much money to be made. Eggs do get broken for the omelettes we want.

After the morning’s labour exploits (and no deaths by ice block) I hiked up to the highest point on this side of the lake. It’s about two miles from the lodge. The condition of the snow was such that it was terrible for snowshoeing and even worse for walking. I was thinking about using skis, but learned that Shannon had inexplicably lost the skis that he had acquired the previous years. It turned out those skis came from some Highland Inn guests that got stranded at Mowat Lodge. Shannon safely returned the guests, but neglected to return the skis. The manager at the Highland Inn caught on and demanded the return of the skis last fall. Hence the inexplicable, according to Shannon, loss of the skis.

The air was warm. Sketching wasn’t a problem and I finished it in under an hour. It started raining in the late afternoon. Snow in the morning and rain in the afternoon. That’s spring in the Park.

Annie had the supper ready when I came back. I had to change my clothes and put my wet ones to dry by the fireplace in the dining room. We ate in the kitchen because the dining room isn’t yet quite warm enough (but warm enough to dry my clothes). After supper, I stoked up the fireplace, moved my wet clothes about, and did some reading.

When I returned to my room I noticed the things on the top of my dresser were straightened out. I didn’t leave them that way. Annie had been in my room. My journal was neatly placed on top of the dresser. Annie’s ulterior motive was pretty apparent — her curiosity and it was getting the better of her.  Back in 1915, I caught her reading my letters, so I’m sure my journal opened itself up to her eyes.  I’ll try to keep it with me at all the time. When letters come, I’ll have to hide them in the drawers or keep them in my duffel.

March 27, 1917 Fourth Day in the North

March 27, 1917

I made a sketch looking southwards on Canoe Lake. Big Wapomeo Island is in the middle. Gilmour and Cook Islands are right behind. The light today made the islands blend together and look as one. I finished the sketch later in the afternoon, just as the clouds started to roll in.

I walked out to the islands earlier in the afternoon. I had my snowshoes. I needed them because the snow is deep on the ice, but I also like to be safe and spread my weight. This time of year, you never know when and where the ice is rotten. Last year a team of horses went through on Burnt Island Lake. No man was lost but the horses and wagon were goners. Down to the bottom of the lake. They tried to fish the wagon out two months later in May, but gave up when someone said it should rest in peace like the Titanic.

When I was out there I looked around for a picture. Maybe the light wasn’t right, but I didn’t see anything. I tramped around Big Wapomeo, Gilmour and Cook Islands. Didn’t see anything inspiring. On the way back I passed Little Wapomeo Island. I saw the fireplace chimney I helped make for Taylor Statten last year.

I was about to give up on the lake and go inshore into the bush when I looked back. There it was. The low clouds were rolling in from the southeast making their way over the lake. I was almost at the same place as earlier, by the Trainor and Blecher cottages. I sat down and started sketching immediately because I knew the scene wasn’t going to last.

In the distance I could see a plume of smoke. Most likely from a lumber camp. The heyday of lumbering is over, and the land is but a shadow of itself. Once the easy and good lumber was gone it got less profitable, but the lumber companies got rights to cut pretty much everything they wanted.

In the winter, every lumber camp used to have eighty to a hundred men and each lumber company had five or six camps.  Upwards of two thousand men living in camps along the Petawawa, but now down to hundreds due to the depleted timber stands and the men going overseas.

Being in the bush in winter was the best part of life for these men. Everybody worked to do the most and the best, without harming themselves or each other. At night in the camps, everyone was jolly, singing and sharing stories. The troubles would only start outside of the camps, in the hotels of the towns, when the season was over and the men became drunk on their pay. In the middle of September, the gangs would go into the bush to build the camp. They’d live in tents until the middle of October and cut up until Christmas or a little after. They were happy men during the winter — they made their own fun at night and there was always a fiddler. Square-dancing, the girls being the men with handkerchiefs tied on their arms. After Christmas, the haul would start. Everybody concentrated on the log haul because they had to get out of the bush before the snow went. The logs were drawn out and dumped on the lake in a boom.

Like the logs during spring break-up,  the men too would come down the river in gangs of twenty to fifty men. They swept the river, bringing the logs into booms, pulling the smaller booms into the larger booms and pushing the booms toward the dams and the slides. Many times, the different gangs of the companies would help each other out, especially when there was a lost man on the river. First a frantic search, then when hope of rescue was lost, a sombre lookout as everybody returned to their duties. When the body eventually appeared (many times it did not), it was brought to the next campsite and a burial was made. Rarely was a body brought back to camp for burial. The wooden crosses, made to mark the graves, barely lasted through a season. But there were enough in view from the shore to remind us of the dangers of the river and the untold stories of grief. The lumberman made songs about these stories, like the one about a French-Canadian shantyman who never returned to his sweetheart.

During the time I was on the Petawawa, I had little time to think. The days were long and hard, filled endlessly with little jobs and duties. Climbing trees, scouting up hills, checking camps, to see if there was any sign of fire. Near the end, there was some heavy rain and we were caught in our tents.

Then my thoughts began to run away from me and the sadness started. Last spring was the last I saw of Lawren. He reported to Camp Borden after we finished our trip in the Park. Later in the summer, I got word in July that Alex Jackson had been wounded at Maple Copse and was recuperating in England. I was angry but relieved he was still alive. Arthur Lismer had moved to Halifax. I was feeling abandoned, not by my chums, but by the world that was forcing us all apart.

I snapped out of it. I finished my sketch. Fourth day in the North and four good sketches.  There is some warmth in the sun. I saw a few chickadees and the gray jays are tending to their broods.

March 26, 1917 Early Spring

March 26, 1917

Shannon said he wanted to get the ice blocks before the lake ice got too rotten. I said I’d paint in the morning and come back by noon to help out.

After a hike in the bush, I climbed the hill to Mowat Cemetery and I got in a good sketch. I was at a good height that gave a good view of the far hills across Canoe. Mowat Lodge was down below, but the angle from where I was sketching from, I could not see its buildings. Further east, toward the near shore, I could see the square dots of cottages, ragged spruces, and a dark line of melt and runoff making a division between the land and water, of what was, only a few days ago, a white expanse of winter snow. A good picture.

I didn’t get back to Mowat Lodge before 2pm. I didn’t pack a lunch and returned hungrier than a bear. Annie had some stew on the stove for me and after a bear’s filling, I needed to take a nap. I wasn’t out there to help Shannon much before 4pm. I was in pretty good spirits, but regardless, I let Shannon down. I was hoping my good disposition would rub off on him.

Anyway, Shannon had Lowrie Dickson and George Rowe already to help him out. They needed the money, and more importantly, the booze. Despite the booze they’re good fellows and I get along with them well. They’ve made their reputation with Shannon. He hires and fires them regularly. But the Canoe Lake labour market is limited and they’re assured of regular employment with Shannon, whatever the foul-up. As for me, the itinerant and mostly unreliable artist with little money, I have the dubious distinction of being both guest and labourer.

Shannon’s a few years younger than me. He’s thirty-four and Annie is thirty-two. They married young — Shannon was twenty and Annie was eighteen. They have a daughter Mildred, she’s thirteen now. She’s one of the few children here in Mowat. She’s in Grade 8, one of ten students at the school by Potter Creek. If she wants to go to high school Shannon and Annie will have to send her to Kingston. On the weekends she helps with the chores, boiling and washing the guest linens.

We artists discovered Mowat Lodge in 1912. Before Shannon could shake a stick at us to shoo us off, he had more artists staying at the lodge than he could bear. Truth be told, he enjoyed our company because we weren’t very discerning about the lodgings. We joked that whatever wasn’t good enough for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was good enough for us. So long as we had a place away from the bugs at night we were happy. But the real gem of Mowat Lodge had nothing to do with Shannon’s charms and the rustic experience, it was Annie’s cooking.

Then the War hit, and things took a turn for the worse. Tourism dried up. Grand Trunk Railway got into financial trouble. Camp Minnesing after only two seasons was shut down. It was empty once again last summer. The way the War is I doubt it will open this summer. And to top it off, Prohibition was passed. Prohibition hasn’t yet stopped Shannon, George, or Lowrie from imbibing without prescription. Mail order liquor shipments from Montreal are still the way to go.

I’ll have to make a point of visiting Lowrie and George. They live in the shacks on the mill property. Lowrie managed to get himself a Victrola so it’s worth the visit. He said it was a gift, but I suspect there was an alternate means of acquisition. I’ll never question. Never look a gift Victrola in the mouth.

March 25, 1917 Mowat Lodge

March 25, 1917

Last night, I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until I came in through the front door. I dropped my gear and carried only my pack sack to my room. I lay down, I wrote the last entry, and fell asleep. I didn’t see Annie and I never heard Shannon coming in after settling the horses for the night. That’s okay. We’ll see each other tomorrow and enough of each other until summer.

When I finally awoke, it was 9:30am.  I wound my watch, still on my wrist. I forgot to take it off the night before.

I missed breakfast time but I knew that Annie would have set something aside for me. A basin and pitcher of water were on the dresser. I didn’t remember seeing it last night. Annie must have brought it in while I was asleep. My coat was on the hook, and my shirt and trousers were neatly folded and placed on the  seat of the chair.

I washed myself, put on my clothes, and went downstairs. I stepped out to the privy before I presented myself in the kitchen.

“Tom! It’s so lovely to have you back!” Annie stopped stirring her soup on the stove, came over and gave me a hug. To observe Sunday, we read a few verses from the Bible and sang a hymn. Annie is the religious force in the household and Shannon knows better than to let things lapse.

After breakfast I decided to snowshoe in the hills behind Mowat Lodge. After having a good night’s sleep and full recovery from the train ride, it was time to venture out.

I made my way across the chipyard. It’s a spongy mess of wood chips and slabs covered with snow. You have to carefully pick yourself the way across. It once was a marshy inlet but after years of being the recipient of castoff lumber scrap, it has transformed into an ugly inhospitable land mass. Thirty acres of nothing here.

It was the wind up of Gilmour Lumber company when it went bankrupt that brought Shannon here in 1907. He and Annie (along with his daughter and mother) lived in the old Gilmour hospital and his job was to tear the place down. Annie discovered that she had the knack of running a household with boarders, and the word got around the lake that this was the place to stay. When everything was finally wound up, Annie and Shannon decided to stay and try their luck at the tourist trade. The Highland Inn, built by the Grand Trunk, was attracting tourists and so too was the Algonquin Hotel. As the tourist business grew, ‘Camp Mowat” became known as the ‘solid third choice at half the price’.

I first met Shannon in 1912 on my first visit to the Park. When I returned in 1913, Shannon had acquired the lease to the old mill hand kitchen and boarding house and was in the process of transitioning his operation to the new quarters. Over the summer I helped him to get the place in shape. By the early fall of 1913, ‘Camp Mowat’ had transformed into the more regal “Mowat Lodge.” To mark the occasion I painted the ‘MOWAT LODGE’  sign which we erected with much pomp and ceremony over the front porch staircase. For years afterwards, I always got a spooky feeling when I walked under that sign to enter the lodge. I felt like I was going through a portal to enter another time and dimension. I attribute it to the fun I had helping them set up. 1913 was an exciting time. The Park was becoming known and the tourists were coming in from everywhere. That was before 1914, of course.

This year, I didn’t get the spooky feeling going under the sign, but strangely I got a feeling of relief and escape. Deep down I know that this year is different than the other years at the lodge. This year I’m escaping everything that I felt in the city. I’m escaping the War too.

I carried my snowshoes and sketch box across the chip yard. I walked along the spur line then went westward into the bush.  The snow was still well over two feet underneath the trees. The melt and freeze had put a light crust on the top. I could walk on top with no snowshoes, but if I fell through I’d go right up to my hips. Snowshoes were the order of the day.

Just before noon I found the perfect place to sketch. The angle of the sun was perfect. The light couldn’t be better. Annie had packed me a sandwich so there was no rush to get back to the lodge. Looking behind I saw the scene. I could see the snow-covered ice of Canoe Lake as a sliver that broke through the spruce trees. The view of the lake was obstructed by a few mangy alders. The loggers had taken all of the pines and the second growth was coming back with a vengeance.

I got in a good sketch.

March 24, 1917 Arrival

March 24, 1917

Mowat Lodge. I’m finally here. I’ll write some more before I go down for breakfast.

Last night, Shannon was waiting for me with his horses. I was the only passenger to get off the train.

I thought I’d be alone but Shannon was there to pick me up. “Tom, you made it, you son of a gun!”

I smiled. I was tired. “Yeah, Shan, I made it.”

“I got your letter, but I didn’t have a chance to write back.” Shannon left out the key nugget that it was Annie who wrote the letters, not him. Annie’s the one to write the letters. Annie’s the one who keeps the entire operation together. Shannon’s best at minding the horses, and making trips to the station in the hope that guests might arrive. But I wasn’t a guest, I was more like family, even though I paid my fair share. I felt I was coming home.

Shannon was still using the sled. Once my bags were loaded up, the horses started, with the cold, they needed no snap of the reins. They knew the business of retrieving guests from the station and they wanted to get back to the stable with no delay. Unlike the city, the night was silent. The only things interrupting the silence were the sleigh bells, the snorting of the horses, and Shannon saying, “Gid up, girls,” and, “Easy, girls.”  Columns of mist unfurled upward from their nostrils but disappeared before there was a chance to obscure a star in the night sky. Until late spring, the sleigh is the only way to go. It’ll be another month before the road to the lodge will be navigable by wagon. By starlight, the snow looks deep and the Farmer’s Almanac says the spring will be long and cold.

The road runs on top of the old spur line, torn up years ago. Ahead, I could see shadow of its path in the snow, illuminated by the stars shining brightly in the clear sky overhead. Despite it being spring (according to the Almanac), the chill of the air still said it was winter. The only warmth now was our breath, Shannon’s suffused by a strong whiff of whisky. I could tell in his eyes he was excited to have me back, though he’d never admit as much. “One more man in the household to bring it back into proper balance!” I’m not sure what he meant by that.

Our final destination: Mowat Lodge loomed in the distance ahead. A light shining through a frosted windowpane was evidence that a human dwelling was nigh. It conveyed a feeling of  being at the end of a fortune lost and the beginning of  a new fortune found. Further north on the shore, stand sawmill foundations and a scatter  of abandoned and half-lived-in tarpaper shacks. Mowat Village, if you could still call it that, was named after the Premier of Ontario, Oliver Mowat, in the hopes of gaining some stature. That failed. Mowat Village did have a short burst of growth; it grew quickly and at its apex, about 500 souls lived here. Mowat Lodge was full of mill workers, there was a hospital on the hill, and several barns back from the shore where the land was flat, had more soil, and could support a crop of hay.

But fortune was brief for Mowat Lodge. By 1900, the Gilmour Lumber company was insolvent. The company failed in its scheme to ship out logs by the Trent River system. The logs had to be raised over the watershed, and by the time they got to market two years later, even the best of them were rotten. Then the Booth Railway line came through and gave the village a second chance. Canoe Lake station was built, a spur line brought down to the mill, but despite this, the whole venture floundered and the receivers were brought in to wind things up.

Since Mark Robinson first directed me to Mowat Lodge in  1912, I had become a regular guest each year and they treated me like family. The jingling of the harness bells on the horses began to lull me into a trance but the lurching  stop of the sled in front of the lodge brought me back into the crisp evening air of Canoe Lake, spiced with the cheap tobacco odour from Shannon’s pipe.  I stepped off, pulled my gear off the back of the sled and set it on the first step verandah stairway, underneath the MOWAT LODGE sign I made back in 1914. Since  I wasn’t a regular guest, Shannon didn’t dismount to help me. I didn’t mind because he had to get the horses back into the barn and settled for the night. I appreciated that he waited for me at the station; on my own I would have had to pick my way along the trail through the deep snow.

March 23, 1917 Up North

March 23, 1917

Union Station: I’m waiting on the platform. My packing was quick; like breaking camp. I had everything together by late in the morning. I didn’t have much to bring so I could easily carry it all. My rucksack containing my sketchbox and paints, my rolled-up blankets, and my canvas dunnage bag. Jim MacDonald came by to visit one last time. He was sad to see me go so soon. I saw the exhaustion in his eyes. Nerves, money troubles and marriage obligations. Poor Jim. I bid him goodbye and promised him a letter once I got settled in.

I could have walked to Union Station, but I decided to take the Yonge streetcar. It was an awkward affair when I tried to board. I was hoping that if I waited long enough, an empty car would come along but I was wrong. Another passenger helped me bring my stuff on board.  The way he looked at me, I am sure he thought I was travelling to enlist, or to run away. He didn’t ask anything. I was glad for that. I didn’t need the attention from the other passengers thinking the same thing. I just wanted to leave.

The train is coming into the station…

I am in an older Pullman car. This car, judging by its condition, is from the last century. The faded emerald green ceiling, the painted-over oak panels and the uneven springs in the cushions signal its age.  I’m sure this car has seen all of Canada and most of the U. S. Maybe a Duke or Duchess has travelled in this car, or a famous author, like Conan Doyle. He and his wife travelled through Canada in 1914 and visited Algonquin Park.

Grand Trunk uses the older equipment early in the season. When the weather gets warmer and the tourists start coming from Buffalo and New York, they switch to the newer stuff: the first class drawing room and sleeping cars. They keep the best equipment for the Americans, they’re still holidaying in decent numbers. Earlier in the year, it’s mostly miners going up North to Porcupine for the silver.

I’m glad leaving Toronto. Before the war, it was a happy place. Upon declaration of war (I was up North at the time in August 1914), the happiness rose to a state of ecstasy. Marching bands, dances, parades, and the grand send-offs. But the spirit of exuberance and enthusiasm began to disappear by the winter of 1915 when the mothers and wives of  recruits began to receive the telegrams telling that their loved ones were to never to return. When the wounded and broken men came back, the spirit disappeared entirely. The clubs are empty, the colleges are vacant; the city has lost its soul.

The train is crawling along the lakeshore. It is veering north past the munitions factories, through the cattle stockyards and the slums to make its exit out of the city.

Up into the hills, into the uplands. I’ll try to get some sleep.

We touch the shore of Lake Simcoe.  I can see on the opposite shore, the town of Barrie, nestling in a comfortable setting of English-style villas. The lake is still frozen, another month of ice at least.

Kempenfelt Bay, Muskoka Lake.  A pale-faced passenger gets off. A consumptive as far I can tell, seeking the cool clean air.

Huntsville. I could stop for a few hours to visit Winnie but I decide to go through because I don’t want to miss the connection at Scotia Junction.

Scotia Junction: If any place along the line that shows that the Grand Trunk was having difficulties, it’s Scotia Junction. The station used to have a pretty little tower, with two-tone decorative wood-siding and ample room for travellers and separate facilities for crews and section-men. But the station burned down in 1912 and the replacement is a simple single storey structure where the crew and the travellers share the facilities. The spittoons never seem to be emptied, giving rise to an unredemptive reeking sour smoky smell.

I board the eastbound 580 2nd Class. Kearney, Ravensworth, Rainy Lake. This section of line climbing into the Park is nerve-wracking. One of the crew has to get out and pour sand on the rails for traction. The puffing, screeching and creaking make for a terrible racket as the train attacks  the highest point in the Park. I know the train crew. I hitched rides with them last summer so I’m not worried. They know this line. But I was nervous when we crossed of the Cashman Creek trestle — it’s 500 feet long and 80 feet high. The section men keep a close eye on this one so there’s little chance of German sabotage.

The final leg of my ride is empty of passengers, save for me and two others with deep frowns on their faces.  First I thought they were miners or prospectors, but they’d be going up past North Bay, not through the Park. They must be part of a work  gang going to the east end of the Park. There’s rumours that there’s still alien camps out near Petawawa.

I arrive at Canoe Lake. New moon, pitch dark, save for a single lantern on the platform. Well I’ll be. It’s Shannon. He’s here to pick me up. Train is stopping. More tomorrow.

March 22, 1917 Visitors

March 22, 1917

I had visitors from Owen Sound today. Tom Harkness, my brother-in-law, and his associate Walter Davidson are in Toronto for business.  Tom’s niece, Louise Julian, came too, with her school friend, Miss Andrews.

I asked Tom how my sister Elizabeth was doing and how things were going at the farm. Tom said the bairns are growing faster than the weeds. Elizabeth is staying in Owen Sound to help with Father. He’s been sick and bit of a handful for Mother and Aunt Henrietta. Everyone was worried that it was consumption but it turned out to be a nasty bout of pneumonia. Father’s on the mend now.

Louise was happy to see me again.  After the Christmas holidays, Louise and I came back  together on the train. She’s taking an art course at the College. I was supposed to call on her but I never did.

After their visit, we took the Yonge streetcar to King St. and had lunch at the hotel (Tom paid). We retrieved their luggage from the hotel and took a carriage to Union Station, as Tom and Walter had to catch the one o’clock train to Owen Sound. I said I wouldn’t make it up this spring but I might visit later in the summer.  Once I saw them off, I walked back up by Church. I didn’t want to pass by the soldiers making trouble at the Employment Office.