I stayed at Mowat Lodge last night. My room wasn’t taken and most rooms were empty, away. This year the Park Visitor numbers are down and Shannon has the fewest guests around this time of year since he and Annie started in 1913.
It is a similar story at the Hotel Algonquin and the Highland Inn too. The numbers are down all around. Shannon says that he thinks people might be scared to take the train. German saboteurs ready to blow up a trestle at a moment’s notice. The “eye witness” accounts regularly published in the newspapers led many to believe an attack was imminent. And the sighting of sentries posted on the major trestle bridges made the passengers nervous about getting to the other side. I had noticed when I took the train north in the spring that whenever we crossed a major bridge, the passengers in the car would go quiet. Nothing was said, but you knew everyone was nervous. The conversation only started up again when the bridge was far behind.
The other reason, Shannon says, is that folks are worried that the trains will be nationalized. Most people think if the trains are nationalized, they will stop running; the whole point of nationalization is to keep them running. Almost every day there is an editorial in the paper that the railway should be nationalized. The Grand Trunk had heavily over-extended itself with the GT Pacific and it was holding the Government hostage.
So nobody up here talks about art, literature or poetry anymore. Just conscription, sabotage and nationalization.
Up in my room, I notice a few things have been rearranged. It looks like Annie was looking through my things again, my letters in particular. The harmless letters, I let her read, but the more private ones, I keep with me in my sketch box or I burn them after I read them.
Shannon’s mother was behind the kitchen too doing laundry for the guests. She’s there most days doing laundry. Shannon likes to keep her in the back to do laundry by hand. She doesn’t like the mechanical washer, she’s afraid it will tear her arms off.
I canoed up to Joe Lake Dam. I left my canoe and walked up to Mark Robinson’s shelter house. He was there but said he would be going over to the headquarters to talk to George Bartlett about the fire incident. He was going to use the bush phone, but the line was out. A moose broke the line again. Another project – to find the break and to string the lines even higher. Bartlett thought the phones were a good idea at the time, but now he hates them. He hates talking on them.
Mark and I rode the back of the passenger train from Canoe Lake to Algonquin Headquarters. One of the section men hopped on the car too. He was looking for sun-kinks in the rails and was worried about the trestle by Lake of Two Rivers. The sun is getting stronger, heating up the rails, warping them. Certain sections of the line are bad for sun-kinks; they have the lighter 56 lb rail sections, not the 72 lb ones, and the ties are further apart. These sections of the rail, in the heat, they warp easily. It was a sun-kink that caused 15 freight cars to go in Joe Lake last year. Luckily the engine didn’t go in. It made it past, but the empty freight cars got pulled off the track and went down into the lake. It took three days and a two crews of section men to pull the cars each by each out and bring them to the siding by Sim’s Pit.
The Rangers and Section Men have free passage on the train between stations. And they can take anyone with them (including me today). The Pullman car had a bunch of school girls coming in from Buffalo. I could tell from their gear where they were from and immediately knew where they were headed – Northway Lodge, the girls camp run by Miss Fannie Case.
Fannie’s a modern woman. Back in 1908, Fannie set up an all-girls camp on Cache Lake and it’s now a solid operation. Taylor Statten is trying to do the same on Canoe Lake, an all-boys camp, but I say Fannie has Taylor beat in terms of the better-run camp. Fannie must have arrived a week or so ago to set things up and this will be her first batch of girls. She must have met the train at Scotia Junction.
The train stopped at the Highland Inn, and the screaming girls spill out of the train. Ralph Bice, a scrawny, un-likeable 18 year-old, was on the station platform. Ralph skipped school to make money clearing brush off the railway. He’s a guide too and a holier-than-thou that thinks he knows everything. I’ve seen him several times at the lay services. He doesn’t like me. That’s fine by me. I don’t like him either.
When I stepped off the train, I made an eye to Ralph and presented myself with a flourish to Fannie. I said with a mock accent, “At your service, Madam.” Fannie giggled, and the girls, as they disembarked the train, stared in awe. I knew I had their rapt attention, so for show, I lilted a few lines of the “Wreck of the Hesperus”
Blue were her eyes as the fairy-flax,
Her cheeks like the dawn of day,
And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds,
That ope in the month of May.
The girls shrieked in delight. Ralph stared at me like I had just skinned a poached beaver before his very eyes. In truth, my motivation for the impromptu performance was not for the delight of Fannie and the girls (although this was most enjoyable), I did it to antagonize Ralph. There was a smile on Mark’s face. He knew exactly what I was up to.
I decided to help Fanny bring the girls’ stuff to her camp. Afterwards, Fannie revived me with a cup of tea and sweet breads. She asked me to come back to teach the girls some sketching and fishing. I said I might be back in a week or two.
I set out to go back by canoe instead of by train. I took one of the loaner canoes from the Highland Inn. The hotels shared loaner canoes for those who made the canoe trip from one hotel to the other and then took the train back. The loaners usually balanced themselves out, because the canoe travellers would look to see if a canoe was available, and decide whether to take the train as the first part of the trip or the latter. The loaner I took had “HI” painted on it to indicate the Highland Inn. “AH” is Algonquin Hotel, and “ML” is Mowat Lodge. Mine is painted a cobalt blue. Everybody knew my canoe on the lakes. It’s not meant to be a loaner. It’s not meant to be stolen either.
I made it back by early evening. I pulled the canoe onto the dock at Mowat Lodge. I checked my laundry and it wasn’t yet dry on the line. I was too tired to walk up and fetch my canoe at Joe Lake, so I decided to stay the night in my room at the Lodge. My feet had gotten wet, the water had seeped into my moccasins. It felt good to put on a pair of dry woolen socks for the night. As I went to sleep, the final verse of the Wreck of the Hesperus came into my mind.
Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
In the midnight and snow!
Christ save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of Norman’s woe.