April 20, 1917
Today, I heard someone died in the Park. Joey Kehoe. He was only seventeen. I heard the news from Mark Robinson. He came down to the lodge this evening visibly upset. We had some small talk first, and when all of the other guests went to bed he did some more talking.
Joey’s death happened on Thursday – two days ago. It happened by Islet Lake, near the rail bridge. Nobody was sure exactly what happened, but he was found dead beside the tracks two hours after the train went through. The train was a supply train with troops. The trains come this way because it’s the quickest way to Ottawa. The recruits come in by steamship, collect at Depot Harbour, and when there is a good load, they go on the Grand Trunk Line to Arnprior, to Ottawa and then to Montreal and Halifax where they are shipped overseas.
Whenever a train with troops comes through the Park, George Bartlett gets a telegram from Ottawa to make sure the rail lines are safe. Several Park sections are tricky, but more importantly, the government is worried that enemy aliens will sabotage the lines. It’s bad enough to have a rail bridge or trestle blown up, but it’s infinitely worse to have a trainload of recruits hurdle to their deaths.
Mark Robinson said that Bartlett got the telegram on Wednesday afternoon, and he needed to muster his men to guard the rails for Thursday morning. Now I understand why all of the shelter houses have telephones. Bartlett needs the ability to mobilize the Park Rangers at short notice.
Bartlett ordered the Rangers to get section men to guard the bridges throughout the Park. In the eastern part, the Blue Lake section gang was ordered to watch the bridge at Islet Lake, and it was Joey Kehoe’s turn. He’d have to stay the night and they’d pick him up the next morning. When they came, they found him dead. When Bartlett heard the news he ordered the Rangers to come to Park Headquarters this morning. Mark Robinson went to Cache Lake where he met with other Park Rangers, seven in total, to discuss Kehoe’s death. After a brief discussion Bartlett decided that it was an unfortunate accident and no need to discuss the issue further. Tom McCormick thought an inquest should be held but Bartlett would have none of it. He ordered that Kehoe be sent back to his family on the next train possible. But the train regulations now require a sealed casket for body transport, so before it could sent to them family an undertaker had to come, embalm the body and solder it shut in a sealed steel casket. Over a hundred dollars in expense.
I could tell by Mark Robinson’s recounting of the story that he agreed with Tom McCormick and that he felt that Bartlett’s handling of the affair was abrupt and cursory. But Mark’s a good soldier, and he said that what he saw overseas would make your hair curl, and it’s best to follow orders without question. I believe that’s why Bartlett asked for Robinson to be in the Park so soon after his service overseas – not just because he is a good man (that counts) but that he would follow orders. I think the other Park Rangers, especially McCormick, got the message; if they didn’t stay in line, then they could go to the Front instead.
For a good while, Mark and I sat by the fireplace smoking our pipes in silence, listening to the cracking and popping of the flames in the firewood. Shannon when he finished his nightly duties joined us by the fireplace and we talked some more. No whisky in sight because Mark isn’t a drinker. Shannon obliged not offering a lick of whisky in vain because he knows well enough that he needs Mark’s goodwill in times of trouble.
As for sketching today. I did go out but not for long. The wind was biting cold this morning and it was strange weather. A thunderstorm last night, rain, and then snow pellets.
For Joey Kehoe, I feel sorry his family. Mark told me that his father died the year before and Joey was the sole support for his mother and two younger siblings. Imagine having your son returned in a sealed, soldered coffin. A final view, a final goodbye, not possible, unless you’re willing to lay out the extra expense of an undertaker with a torch. You think there would be compensation for the families in cases like this, but with an unexpected hundred dollar expense for the Park, that possibility is less than slim.