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.