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.

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