April 12, 1917 Keep Moving On

April 12, 1917

I wrote a letter to Jim MacDonald. I want to get it posted this morning so it gets on its way to Toronto. The reason for my letter was to ask him to send up some paints. I’m not yet running low, but I’m using a lot of white, more than I expected. I also forgot my flyhooks  so I asked him to find them and send them up. I’m keen to go fishing in the open water soon. I can see the brookies and they will be biting soon.

This morning, I walked the path up to Canoe Lake Station. Along the way, Shannon’s sap pails are still out but it’s nearing the end of the sap season. Maybe a day or two left. It’s the tricky in-between season and the path is snow-slush or mud. It’s still impassable by any wheeled vehicle and it’s tough to get the sled through the mud. It’s hard for the horses to pull through this stuff. This time of the year is hardest for the the horses and in the lumber camps it’s time of of year that they most likely to die from an accident, or exhaustion, having made it through the hardship of winter, but unable to cope with the uncertain demands of spring.

The ice is still thick on Potter creek so I decided to cut across where I knew it was still safe and went to Joe Lake Dam.  Below the dam, I walked along Joe Creek, about 100 yards to a spot where I like to fish in the summer. This spot stays in the shadows and there’s still lots of snow. The creek is flowing clear of ice, but it is still a narrow channel. That was my scene to sketch today.

When I was done, I stopped by to see the Colsons at the Algonquin Hotel. They’re busy trying to get the outfit open by May. Ed and Molly Colson were the managers at the Highland Inn, but during this past winter they decided to strike out on their own and they bought the hotel from the Rochester owner. It’s a big risk for them, but I have full confidence they’ll succeed, mostly due to Molly. Molly’s discipline and resolve to succeed is stronger than anything or anyone in the Park. At the Highland Inn, Molly ran a tight ship and I’m sure she will do the same at the Algonquin.

Ed’s older sister, Annie Colson, came along too. She’s going to run the outfitter’s store down by Joe Lake. Annie has the reputation of getting all of the provisions just right for any canoe trip. Nothing too much, or not enough, but just right. She had a knack for sizing up a company just before they left, adding or subtracting provisions, as required.

It was Annie (not Shannon’s Annie) who greeted me at the front door. I could tell she had been working hard but was ready for a quick break. She invited me in for tea in the kitchen. It was warm, the big range was burning full-tilt, heating water for the laundry. Lizzie Dennison was in the kitchen too. She worked for the previous hotel owners. But stayed on to work for the Colsons. In the winter she was the cook at one of the nearby lumber camps and in spring she’d come to help get the hotel ready for the summer. Molly’s kept her on to work for her.

The tea break was prompt and short. I could sense that Annie wanted to get back to work. I didn’t see Molly but I had a feeling she knew I was around but decided that she had better things to do. I bid good afternoon and moved on my way.

I stopped at the Joe Lake shelter house. I wanted to see how Mark Robinson was doing. I knocked on the door and stepped in. Mark was just getting off the telephone. It was still a novelty for him, George Bartlett had a line installed along the rails connecting from Rainy Lake to Whitney. Bartlett had heard that the British ruled India by telegraph and he was determined to do the same in the Park but with the telephone. Mark said he was hoping to get the telephone line run to Scotia Junction so he could call North Bay and Toronto.  On the outside Mark was doing fine, but I could tell that he had something burning on the inside, so I made my visit a short courtesy call, and again, moved on my way back to the lodge.

The day had progressed and it became more beautiful in the afternoon. The sky had the clouds that you only see in the spring. Not the angry thunderclouds of summer, but the cotton puffy clouds that looked like sheep. Over the course of the afternoon, these sheep clouds continued to gather thickly in the eastern horizon while the western horizon was as clear a blue as it could be. I was tempted to sit down and do another sketch but my socks and larrigans were wet. If I still had my camera, I would have taken a photograph.

Back at the lodge, a letter was waiting for me. It was from my father. He wrote that mother was feeling better and the War was worrying everyone. They visited Tom and Elizabeth in Annan, the first time since the beginning of winter. Father and mother visited our former neighbours, the McKeens, but didn’t go to see the old farm. The farm was out of the family now, and it didn’t seem right to visit it any more. I felt the same way too. The farm in Leith had been a good part of my life, but I’ve moved on.

I am here now, but I feel like I need to keep moving on.

April 12, 1917 Letter to Jim MacDonald

Mowat P.O. Ontario April 12, 1917

Dear Jim,

I’ve been here at the P.O. for almost two weeks now. It’s been a pretty cold spring and there’s still lots of snow in the bush. I’ve made an arrangement with the Frasers that I’ll be able to stay here on account until July at least. I’ll be doing odd jobs to keep the expenses as low as I can.

The sketching is going well. I’ve been out every day. I don’t venture too far out, which I hope to do when the ice is out most likely in May. There’s more snow than I bargained for, so I’ve been using quite a bit of White. I’ll add a list to the end of this letter of things I’m hoping you can send up.

Mowat is getting busier each day. Shannon seems to have done a good job of convincing the consumptives to come in springtime. He’s a good publicist – ‘Enjoy the Vista View While Recuperating In Comfort’ is his latest slogan for his brochure. As for us artists, we get to enjoy the ‘Rustic Charm’, meaning the rooms with the least heat.

Please give my regards to Mrs. MacDonald and Thoreau.




I need a few more paints and Lawren said I could put it on his account at the store. For shipping, ask Dr. MacCallum, as he may have some proceeds from some sales.

– White – I’ll need several tubes. I used a lot painting the snow

– Red, Orange, Vermilion, Yellow, Alazarin

– Green – emerald, veridian

– Blue, it’s expensive so just one tube

Also, I forgot to pack my flyhooks. You’ll find about a dozen in the side shed, top drawer in the cabinet. Can you send those along too?

April 11, 1917 Mark Robinson Returns

April 11, 1917

Mark Robinson returned to the Park today.  He arrived on the 11:30 train at Canoe Lake Station. Shannon and I greeted him at the station and helped him settle into the shelter house on Joe Lake.  Mark was happy to see us, but he was a bit out of sorts due to the train travel. Shannon picked up the mail and had to return to the lodge so I walked with Mark to the shelter house. I could see that Mark had a discernible limp, his war injury, and despite his face not showing it, I could tell it was bothering him. Once we arrived at the shelter house I bid him adieu and  I said I’d come back later in the afternoon.

Mark and I have been friends going on to six years now. I first met him in 1912, when I first came to Canoe Lake Station with Harry Jackson. His job was to meet every train and look for poachers. When we disembarked from from the train, our fishing gear looked straightforward enough, he didn’t know what to make of the sketch boxes and asked us to open them. When he saw the paints and boards, he was surprised and intrigued. Said he never dealt with painters in the park before and that I was most welcome. He suggested we stay at Mowat and that’s where we first met Shannon and Annie. We were determined to set out in the canoe that night, but Shannon advised us against it because he though the weather would turn. Sure enough it did. By the time we got back to the lodge, there was thunder and lightning and the wind whipped up the lake water into huge waves. Shannon said we would have surely capsized in those waters. Instead we had a comfortable night at ‘Camp Mowat’ (as it was called back then) and we set out the next day with sun and calm waters.

Mark said that  he was planning to meet with Park Superintendent George Bartlett at the Algonquin Park Headquarters first thing tomorrow. Mark is Bartlett’s most trusted man in the Park. It’s a good thing that Mark is a friend of mine, otherwise, I’d probably not be here. Mark’s never told me but I’m sure he’s come to my defence a few times. I don’t think Bartlett ever took a liking to me. According to him, there’s one thing worse than a poacher in the Park – it’s an artist. I heard in a roundabout way that he wanted me, that ‘queer artist’ out of the Park. But I proved him wrong. Last summer when I was a fire ranger with Ed Godin, we kept the lumber crews in line and there were no fires in the Park during our watch. I’m sure that Ed put in a good word for me and Bartlett will tolerate me this year.

I took a walk towards Sims Pit, about a mile east of Joe Lake Station. I was curious about the extra activity there and decided to investigate. Sims Pit, a gravel pit, had a few shacks, it looked like a tiny military outpost. And that’s what it was. There were several off-duty sentries in uniform and about a dozen railway section men. There were two more that looked like they wanted to be anywhere else in the world except there. The Province had requested the soldiers for extra surveillance due to fear of saboteurs and the other men were there as part of a maintenance crew to keep the rails in shape. With all of the trains carrying men and materiel, no one could afford a derailment sabotage or no sabotage. There was a tricky section just east of Canoe Lake Station. Last year a derailment put fifteen cars into Joe Lake.

The other thing I discovered, talking to one of the sentries, is that Sims Pit had become a catchment for ‘Convict Volunteers’ – convicted men who were sentenced to serve time in the Park as bush labourers, instead of in prison. There’s hardwood bush around here; and railing sidings were put here to load hardwood and gravel from the pit. These ‘volunteers’ were hauling hardwood from the bush, chopping and loading it up for shipment as firewood to Toronto. I had seen enough so I decided to make my way back.

I found a nice birch grove with the sun shining behind it.  I did my sketch quickly before the scene had a chance to change. A weasel came by to watch me sketch. He sat on the rocks about twenty feet away. He looked like an extra dressed for a Charlie Chaplin movie – wearing a white waistcoat and brown trousers. He stood up on his hind legs and held his paws together in front of him. I was expected a Chaplin trick, a flip or a pratfall, but he set down and undulated on his way. Of course, the army of chickadees found me again, but I didn’t have any seed or oatmeal for them this time.

I got back to Mark’s shelter house as the sun was going down in the sky. He was still setting out his things when I arrived. He was using a cane and his limp pronounced from the shrapnel wound in his hip. He was hit late last year and went back to England to recuperate.  and returned in late February. He told me me that he had the honour of meeting Prime Minister Borden in England. Borden visited the hospital to pay tribute to those who made the sacrifice for the Dominion. Borden made them a promise that conscription would become law upon his return.

I stayed with Mark until later in the evening. Upon my return I noticed a dim green glow on the horizon. Northern Lights. Nothing to paint this night, but perhaps in a few days. The Northern Lights, when they do come, stay around for a few nights.

Mowat Lodge is dark and cold. I had expected the fireplace to still be burning when I came back, but it wasn’t. I found a candle on the mantle, lit it with a match and used it to guide me to my room. It is quiet, but I can hear snoring, wheezing and coughing coming from the rooms. It doesn’t bother me – they are the usual sounds you hear in a sanatorium.