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.