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.