Today Mowat Lodge was like the Arts and Letters Club on a bad day. By that I mean there were too many people around talking about things they pretended to know about. Word had gotten out that I would be having an art show after dinner on Thursday and about 25 people are expected to show up for dinner. Several Americans were going to be coming from the Hotel Algonquin. The anticipation for the show was growing. Many of the guests had seen my sketches drying in the dining room, but none had seen the series presented as a whole. In my estimation, I have about fifty or sixty sketches. Many are in the the store house, several are in my room and the balance are in the dining room.
That’s where Dr. MacCallum was today – in the dining room. He was carefully looking over my sketches. Every once in awhile, he would pull me over and ask me question about a sketch and I would just shrug and be short about my answer. Truth be told, I was never fond of talking about my own pictures. I figured that people could judge them for themselves. Sometime it was amusing to listen to Dr. MacCallum. He knew less about art than he admitted. What he did know was the Northern country, Georgian Bay, in particular, and what a painting could express of the area. He was less familiar with this area of the Park, but I could tell he was quickly translating his experiences into the new context.
I didn’t want to disappoint his theorizing about art, but I’m not sure he appreciated the amount of perfection and effort that went into what most perceived as a slap-dash technique. The times I spent with Alex, Arthur and Jim, in the Studio and in the Park, I picked up the technique from them and they helped me along. What I discovered, and I believe it comes from my childhood days, was my knack for observation and finding a good picture. Then I would apply the best technique and if it didn’t work, I’d scrape and start over. The secret I’ve learned since becoming an artist full time is to be bit cagey about your feelings and motives. If you play it right, people think you have a special gift or are a genius. Nothing is further from the truth.
After a while, I got fed up with the small talk and decided to go for a walk. I needed to have some time to myself so I walked up to Potter Creek just past Canoe Lake Station. I walked a pathway into the woods and came across a palette knife stuck in the ground and a few broken sketches. I had forgotten about these. These were from over a month ago when I became frustrated and broke several of my boards. In my haste, I left my palette knife behind. It seems like no one has been here since, because the knife most assuredly would have disappeared. The bugs were fierce. I won’t be sketching for much longer. Things are becoming greener and the scenes more uninteresting. Tomorrow might be my last day sketching.
I walked back along the shore, past the sawmill, chipyard and visited Winnie at the Manse. Her parents had arrived earlier in the day. They seemed out of sorts but they invited me for tea and pie in the kitchen. Afterwards, I sat with Winnie on the front porch and we looked out onto the lake. Near the shore we could see numerous logs floating underneath the surface. Like stripped corpses, dead bodies, spirits of trees haunting the lake.
I told Winnie about the dinner on Thursday and asked her to come. She accepted. I could tell there were other things she wanted to talk about, but I didn’t want to. I knew what she wanted to talk about. But not today.
We woke up wet. Soaking wet. It rained all night and despite my best efforts to set up the tents so there were no leaks, the rain came in. In my other travels, I’ve been in this situation a few times. It can be miserable, but eventually the rain breaks and the sun comes out and you can dry things out. The key to getting through this type of situation is faith that the weather will eventually change, and everything that is wet and stinking will eventually dry up and smell sweet once again.
Unfortunately, city folk don’t understand this Northern version of faith, and when things get wet, they get all panicky and irritable. That was the situation with Dr. MacCallum and Arthur today. I could see that they were trying to be as stoic as possible but they wanted to dry out by an indoor fireplace. I would have entertained another night of camping but I was a bit concerned about Charlie. The consumption was getting to him. He tried not to show it but I could see it. A good guide carefully reads his group before providing honourable options when a trip needs to end. I suggested that we canoe back along the Oxtongue into Smoke Lake and stop by for some tea at Nominigan Lodge. This would provide a brief respite from the misery. After that we would make our way back to Mowat Lodge by late afternoon or early evening where Annie would be sure to have some dinner for us. No one protested so I assumed full agreement. Like the captain of a ship, I had full authority. I figured the slight detour to Smoke Lake would not look like a desperate beeline back to Mowat so it wouldn’t seem like a defeat. Dr. MacCallum hadn’t yet seen Nominigan so this would be his opportunity to see what a real tourist outpost looked like. Luxury and all.
When we canoed to Smoke Lake another thunderstorm came in. It lasted about 45 minutes with the rain and when it stopped, I decided that the Dr. needed another en-plein-air experience. The sky had shades of purple and offset against the deepening green of spring made for a nice picture. I pulled the canoe to the side, hopped on a large rock by the shore, pulled out my sketch box, and was sketching full tilt before Dr. MacCallum could even get himself out of the canoe. Charlie and Arthur waited a few feet offshore. It’s really too bad that no one brought their Brownie, because it would have made a fine picture of the Dr. and me. After about a half-hour, I was done the sketch. I packed up and we set off for Nominigan. There we had tea and biscuits by the fireplace. It was fully-stoked, flames roaring, driving out the dampness from our rain-drenched spirit.. The week’s newspapers were lying about so we smoked our pipes and read the latest news that had come into the Park. The headlines were about Borden being back in Canada drumming up support for the Conscription bill. I didn’t need to be reminded that I would be called up if the bill came to be.
When everyone had dried out, we started again toward Canoe Lake. It wouldn’t be a long trip back, but I decided to take a slightly different route that involved a short portage. A canoeing experience for a city-dweller is not complete without a portage. For some strange reason it gives city folks a sense of invincibility – that they can conquer land and sea. I’ve learned on my trips to ensure at least one portage, even if I had to carry everything – canoe and all.
We got back to the Mowat Lodge around 6 p.m. in the evening. I could see from where we landed the Blechers and the Trainors were there. The lanterns were on and smoke was coming from the chimneys. It looked like Winnie was hard at work getting the Manse clean for summer. It always takes a few good cleanings to get the dust and mildew out of the corners. Windows are a labour intensive task, but from where I could see, the windows were looking clean. The front porch also looked to be scrubbed from stem to stern.
As I was bringing up the canoes Winnie came out to greet me. She said she saw our canoes in the distance and was sure it was us. That was earlier in the afternoon, so it wasn’t us. The only thing I could think of were poachers. Mark Robinson said to keep an eye out, but I never saw any. Who was on the lake at that time was anybody’s guess. Winnie was happy to see me. I said I would come down later once I got the boys sorted out of their canoe gear at the lodge and taken care of with Annie’s cooking. But I ended up seeing the evening out with Shannon with some whisky which he produced from his secret stash in the storehouse. We sat on the porch and talked until the early hour. Dr MacCallum, Arthur and Charlie turned shortly after having dinner, about 8:30.
I told Shannon that I was done my sketches. He’s excited about the dinner and art show; says it is a fine idea to celebrate Victoria Day (this Thursday). He suggested that we invite some folk down from the Algonquin Hotel, and some of the neighbours. If everyone accepted, we’d have a party about of 45-50. Of course, Shannon was thinking about charging non-lodge guests for the dinner to make some extra cash. I said I would leave the details to him. So it was set – Thursday would be the art show. To further the excitement and festivities I would ask Lawrie Dickson to bring up his Victrola and George Rowe to procure some fireworks. I knew George, if he couldn’t find fireworks, he could improvise with dynamite and kerosene. He could set up a bonfire that could be seen (and possibly heard) across the lake.
I just remembered I was supposed to go back and see Winnie tonight. I’ll go see her in the morning.
We started off early. Just after breakfast, around 8:00am. It’s the four of us on this canoe trip: myself, Charlie Scrim, Dr MacCallum and his son, Arthur.
We had a good breakfast at Mowat Lodge. Annie knows know how to send off a canoe party on a full stomach. The night before I brought the canoes down to the summer dock so we still needed to bring the supplies, the tents, blankets and fishing gear. I also had my sketch box. Of course, that was the main point of the trip. Dr. MacCallum wanted to see me sketch en-plein-air. We are only going away for a few days, but I’ve learned that no matter how short the trip, it makes little difference in the gear you have to take. It was threatening rain all morning, so I packed a couple of extra rubber sheets and another canvas tarp. Nothing is worse than sleeping in soggy blankets and if the temperature dips you have to be careful of hypothermia – even in the springtime.
We got off to a good start. But after 20 minutes, the sky turned purple and was threatening lightning. The wind picked up, so we stayed close to shore and waited. Sure enough, a thunderstorm rolled through and we watched as the lightning came down. It didn’t strike Canoe Lake, but I could see it was striking near Tea Lake – that’s where we were going.
My plan was to catch some brook trout for lunch and dinner. As the days are getting warmer, the trout are going deeper. They are no longer close to the shore looking for flies, they are moving to the centre of the lake. I was using copper wire for trolling and a William Wobbler. I was in the second canoe with Charlie Scrim while Dr MacCallum was ahead with his son. During the day, we didn’t have a chance to talk much. That was okay. I didn’t really want to talk much during the day. I knew the opportunity would come during the evening after we set up camp.
When we got close to Tea Lake Dam, the clouds made for a fine scene. I told the others that I wanted to make a sketch and would set the canoe by the shore. Dr. MacCallum came with me and Charlie and Arthur went fishing. I told them that we need three more trout if we aren’t going to go hungry this evening.
The Dr. watched me as I sketched. He knew from previous efforts, that I didn’t like to talk until I got the main composition settled. The higher clouds were reflecting the late afternoon sun, a glorious white, while the lower clouds had a sombre gray. It was a nice contrast, and with Tea Lake Dam off in the distance – a man-made square holding back the water – it made a nice scene.
Once I got the composition, I started talking with the Dr. We talked about art, the War and the shortages in Toronto. We have a good relationship and I respect his point of view and knowledge of the North but sometimes I wonder about his notions of what art is about. He was talking about the new Canada artistic movement. Something that wasn’t European or British but something that came from the land itself. I understood what he was talking about, but I wasn’t sure I was agreeing with his idea of Canadian nationalism through art. We had the Algonquin School as we called it, but I didn’t really see the need to turn it into a patriotic endeavour. He said I had something that the other artists didn’t have – that I had a sense of the wilderness and knew what could be expressed through art. I laughed and said that I could pick the trees out and catch fish better than any artist. But my art was from my knowledge of the country, not from being a superior artist.
Then I told him. I told him, I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay around much longer. I was thinking about going to the Rockies, like Alex had done a few years ago. But more recently, I was thinking about going to Colorado, to visit my friend John McRuer who moved there in 1916. I’ve been reading about the Southwest, the Grand Canyon. I also told him about Winnie. I wasn’t sure where the relationship was going and whether I could accept the obligation.
Needless to say, the Dr. was pretty quiet when I made the revelation. He first said a few words trying to convince me to stay. I said I hadn’t made my mind up yet and was confiding in him. I asked him to keep it in confidence. He said he would also support me by ensuring that my paintings would sell and would continue to direct the funds into my account wherever I was.
I knew I could trust him. But I knew he was disappointed and anxious to convince me to do otherwise. Charlie and Arthur came back in the other canoe. They managed to catch another three trout. We had a good meal that evening and we camped on Tea Lake. In the middle of the night, it rained like the devil. Everything got soaked.
Dr. MacCallum arrived at Mowat Lodge this morning with his son, Arthur. They came on the train around 12:30 and Shannon brought them back shortly after 1pm. Annie knew they were coming so she kept a hot lunch ready for them. We are going canoeing for a few days before Victoria Day.
Earlier in the morning, I went to Mark Robinson’s shelter hut near Joe Lake Station. The main reason I went was to ask Mark if I could hang my sketches there. I also was thinking about holding my spring show there because it was close to the Hotel Algonquin and it would be easier for their guests to come. Mark said no. He was worried about having the sketches stolen while at his place. I said I would take full responsibility but he still didn’t want to do it. That was ok. I’ll have the show at Mowat Lodge and I’ll make it an art showing event during the evening dinner time.
In the afternoon, while the Dr. and Arthur took a nap, I got everything set for the canoe trip. I got the foodstuffs: maple syrup, flour bacon. Coffee I got from the Colson store and some Klim too. As for the canoes and blankets, I am using my own canoe and Dr. MacCallum will be renting one from the Frasers. I also got several blankets and my own too. I have two tents, one is my own and the other is from the Frasers. My other tent I left set up at the Hayhurst campsite. Since the train trip was pretty tiring for the both of them I suggested they stay the night with the Frasers and we’ll get underway after breakfast tomorrow (Sunday). Charlie Scrim is coming too, so we’ll be an even party of four.
I saw Winnie only for a few moments today. I told her I was busy getting ready for a guiding trip with Dr. MacCallum. I told her I was being paid for this trip so it was my priority to get things ready instead of spending time with her. I’ll try to see her later this evening, but I will be staying the night at Mowat Lodge because we want to set out early tomorrow morning. Dr. MacCallum wants to take a close look at my sketches and talk about my plans. I was thinking about inviting Winnie up to the lodge for dinner tonight but I don’t think it will be wise have Winnie in this conversation and it might be awkward with the other guests. I’ll keep the invitation for when I have the show this Thursday (24th). We’ll be back on Wednesday night. That will give me the morning to set up. I hope to make two or three more sketches while canoeing with Dr. MacCallum. He wants to see me making sketches firsthand.
I was with Winnie last night. I set up my campsite at Hayhurst Point but later in the evening I canoed across the lake to visit Winnie. By the time I decided to go, the other cottages were dark; there were no lights at the Blechers, and Mowat Lodge, more than 200 yards away, so I wasn’t worried about my landing being detected. Once I made it to the Manse, I never made it back.
Usually Winnie is here with her parents. They arrived together, but I had heard that Hugh was called away suddenly for business and his wife went with them. It was close to Victoria Day (24th) and Winnie had already decided to take the week off so she stayed by herself. I’m not sure whether the circumstances were contrived, but they were circumstances.
Winnie had the woodstove on when I knocked on the door. The temperatures, while warm during the day, dip down to the low thirties during the night. There was going to be frost. I didn’t mind the temperature drop myself. My blankets were thick and with my woolen pullover, my toque and my other pair of dry woolen socks I could easily survive, even be comfortable. But the temptation was too much, like a Siren calling across the lake. My intention was to visit Winnie for a late night tea only, but when I got into warmth of the Manse, I didn’t have a particular urge to canoe back to a cold set of blankets inside a damp, musty and frosty tent. So I decided for the warmer option. Winnie did not protest that I stayed for the night.
Winnie is a dear. We have a grand time together. Unlike other girls, she likes to be out in the bush and she loves fishing. I enjoy her company when she’s here. I know she wants more from our relationship, but I’m not sure where I will be or what I will be doing in the near future. She knows about my uncertainty, and doesn’t really want to push the point yet. I don’t want her to the push the point yet either. I don’t know what I want either way. She scolded me for the money I lent to Shannon for the canoes. Had she known, she could have gotten them for $50 cheaper in Huntsville and I’d be that much more in the clear.
I got back early in the morning. Undetected. Later, Charlie Scrim and George Rowe rowed over to give me my mail. Peculiar, because they knew I’d still be coming over daily, but I think they were worried I might disappear unannounced. They gave me a letter from Dr. MacCallum. He’s finalized his plans. He wrote that the three-week canoe trip was too ambitious and would come up the 19th with his son Arthur and start out from Canoe Lake for a four day trip. They’d be coming to Mowat Lodge instead of the Highland Inn. He said he needed to go up to Georgian Bay afterwards to check on his cottage and he wanted to make the trip before my show that I was planning to do on Victoria Day (24th). I haven’t done much planning. I was just going to set them around the dining room so people could look at them before and after dinner.
I’m pretty much done the sketching for the spring. It’s getting too green for paint and Shannon wants the sketches out of the dining room as soon as possible. Winnie said it was okay to keep the sketches at her parents’ place (the Manse).
I caught a 3 lb brook trout which I had for an early lunch. I caught it with a flyhook at the mouth of Sims Creek. It’s an inlet by an old Indian camp where they used to make birch bark canoes (Mark Robinson told me this). There’s a sand beach there, good for landing canoes, but the fishing is also good in the inlet. That’s probably why they made camp there.
The sun was high up in the sky. I could see the cottages and the lodge across the water. The reflection on the windows looked like distant diamonds, except for the broken ones on Shannon’s storehouse. They looked like the gaps left behind by broken teeth.
Since I know for sure that Dr. MacCallum was coming up for a four day trip, I have to get the provisions organized. If we’re to be back in time for the 24th then we’ll have to leave late tomorrow or very early the next day.
Even though there was a frost last night, I decided it was warm enough to set up my camp on Hayhurst Point. I’ll still take my meals at Mowat Lodge and check for my mail but I’ll be staying here most nights from now on.
I can’t be too far away, as I might be taking on some guiding work. Hayhurst Point is a favourite spot of mine – across the lake – I can see the cottages and higher up on the hill behind, Mowat Lodge. I can see smoke rising from Hotel Algonquin. My campsite is far enough away that I’m not bothering Thomas and Mary Hayhurst (after whom the point is named). They’re friends of the Piries and Bertrams who have cottages on Gilmour Island. They came to Canoe Lake about the same time as the Frasers, but at the suggestion of Dr. Bertram. Thomas has weak lungs and the advice of Dr. Bertram was to spend time among the evergreens. Two years ago, their son Alexander died of black throat diphtheria. I remember Mark Robinson bringing the casket across the lake by canoe. Shannon transported it with his hearse to the cemetery. It was a sad day for all around Canoe Lake.
I looked for where I had my tent last year. It was between two jack pines. The ground was still level from what I had cleared out last year. There were some depressions where I chopped out some projecting roots and I had to fill the holes with sand to make it smooth. I brought my canvas tent which I had stored at Mowat Lodge (my silk tent is in South River). The previous years I used a rope between the trees but this year I decided to make a more permanent fixture. I chopped three small trees, one to use as ridge pole, lashed to one of the jack pines, and the other two to form the front support of the tent, a lean-to of a sort. This configuration gave me some flexibility where I could face the front of the tent. I made it face due south, so I could see the full glory of Canoe Lake, I could see Little Wap, Big Wap, Gilmour and beyond, Cook Island. It was a grand view, and I felt like I was looking into my future and my fate.
I swung the canvas over the ridge pole. It has a musty but pleasant smell. The smell of past winter. The smell will be gone after a day in the wind and the sun. I fashioned tent pegs by splitting slabs off an old pine stump nearby. The stump was nearly three feet across, a reminder of the majestic pines that once dominated the landscape here. No more. I pegged the sides down and the tent began to take shape as a shelter and a home. It felt good. To make a soft bedding I cut the branches of several balsam firs and spread them on the ground inside the tent. I brought three blankets with me. I spread them out on the firs. My oldest (and most threadbare) blanket was on the bottom on the branches.I would sleep underneath the other two. My Mackinaw coat, rolled up, would be my pillow. With the blunt end of my axe, I hammered a three-inch nail into the jack pine, about four feet off the ground. That’s where my lantern will hang.
I brought a cheesecloth to hang across the front, to keep out the mosquitoes. They still manage to get through, but the cheesecloth reduces the numbers enough that there’s a fighting chance for comfort.
Outside, I drove a nail in the other Jack pine to hang up my provisions. Mostly to keep it away from the chipmunks. They are the greatest threat for stealing food. If you don’t pay attention, a chipmunk will gnaw through your canvas pack in no time flat. People ask me if I am worried about bears in the Park. I say no, chipmunks are the biggest threat.
I set up the fire pit. The rocks were still around from last year’s camp but scattered about. I placed the rocks into a circle and started a fire with some kindling I made from the stump. For supper I brought a can of beans which I heated up in the frying pan on the wire grill I set up. My reflector oven, I left aside. I’d be using it tomorrow but not tonight. I burnt my tongue when I started in on the beans – I didn’t let them cool down enough. I had that funny feeling on my tongue for the rest of the night. I didn’t make tea because it would hurt too much. A swig of water soothed the burn, a swig of whisky made it burn more.
I smoke my pipe while I watch the sun go down in the west. Across the lake I can see the lights at Mowat Lodge. I can also see the lights at the Trainor and Blecher cottages. I thought I could see a silhouette in a window but I’m sure it was either my imagination or the cooling air playing tricks with the lights. The frogs are peeping but subdued. The water is lapping quietly on the shore. A loon cries only once; a long cry. I roll up my coat for a pillow and begin to make my bed. The fresh cut evergreens make a fine smell over the smell of my socks which I hang to dry at the front of the tent. I can feel the temperature going down, but I can easily stay warm. The cool temperature is a blessing because it keeps the mosquitoes down. Before I fell asleep, I remember that I hung my pack on the nail outside. My canoe is pulled up onshore. All is good for the night.
The Trainors arrived this Saturday morning. It’s their first time up at the cottage this year. Hugh, Margaret and of course, Winnie.
Shannon took the hearse up to Canoe Lake Station to meet them. I went along. We waited for the train to come in and it arrived about 10:30. It’s pretty quick to come from Huntsville. Down to Scotia Junction, a 20 minute layover and then on to Canoe Lake. Overall it takes just about 3 hours to come in from Huntsville. It’s easy to come in the for a weekend That’s why Hugh Trainor bought the cottage at Canoe Lake.
Hugh, Margaret and Winnie stepped off the train. Winnie gave me a big hug. She was happy to see me. She hasn’t seen me since last year.
It was still too early to use the luggage chute down towards the water. The Trainors were only staying for one night so they didn’t have much with them. So Shannon loaded Hugh and Margaret in the passenger compartment and I suggested to Winnie that we walk to the cottage. She was happy to oblige. It gave us some private time to talk, a scarcity, even in the wilderness that is the Park.
Shannon took off with the hearse. We began the walk. The road had dried up and Winnie only had to mind her dress dragging in the mud a few times. I suggested that she wear pants, just like I had seen Annie Colson do at the outfitter’s store, but Winnie said she would have none of that. Much as she would like to wear pants, she knew her mother would have a conniption, and the conversation would turn, yet again, to what the proper unmarried women needs to do, if she wants to get married. And it wouldn’t be wearing pants. I laughed. Together, the two of us were the worst unmarried specimens this side of Huntsville.
I told Winnie that I got my guide license and that I would be close to Canoe Lake when the work came up. She knew in my tone of voice that the big unspoken anxiety was the War. It was everybody’s unspoken anxiety. Huntsville’s 122nd Battalion shipped out in April, and would be sailing overseas in June. The boys were writing back from Halifax, having a good time. The mothers were anxious for safe passage overseas. The big story in the letters home was the SS Olympic, the sister ship of the Titanic. They said it was painted in dazzle, to confuse the U-boats. I smiled when I heard this, because Lismer told me the same thing in his letter to me. Ships painted in dazzle. That would be a site. I should paint a canoe in dazzle.
Winnie could tell that I was anxious about being called up. Borden was back, and it was only a matter of time. She squeezed my hand tight while we walked. But we didn’t talk about it. She knew when not to talk about things, and that’s one thing I appreciate about her.
We got to the Trainor cottage around noon. They asked me to stay for lunch and I obliged. Margaret was pleased at the condition of the cottage and I said that Shannon and I checked it out earlier in the week so there would be no surprises. They came just for an overnight stay, but planned to be up again for Victoria Day and spend a few days beyond the weekend. Hugh said he would be up during the week once in awhile as he needed oversee some of the pine cuts. Margaret was always worried about the appearance of missing church back in Huntsville. She had heard that Ed and Molly Colson had begun doing lay services at their hotel. She wrote a letter several weeks back and requested the lay services be moved to the school for the summer. A tar-paper shack, the school was, but it was more sanctified than any hotel, she said. So tomorrow at 11am, the lay service will be at the school.
As for Mowat Lodge, Margaret considers it the den of iniquity. She tolerates Shannon, but only when he isn’t around. This amounts to that she doesn’t tolerate him at all. As for Annie, she is polite to her but cool. So despite being only 200 yards from Mowat Lodge, they have little to do with each other, and when the guests come down to the Mowat summer dock, not 50 yards away, they mind their own business. I am the go-between, the diplomat of sorts, between iniquity and sanctification.
I asked the Trainors if I could store some of my sketches at the cottage. Shannon is getting annoyed at their cluttered presence in the dining room and asked me to find another spot for them. The storehouse was out of the question because it gets dusty and the birds fly in. Hugh said it was okay, the kitchen at the back had lots of room.
I took Winnie out fishing in the afternoon. We caught six brook trout. Enough for a fine meal at the Trainors. In the evening, after dinner, I made a sketch of the sky in the failing light. The dark clouds from a cold front were moving in, smothering the sunlight from the early evening. There is a sense of inevitability in the scene I painted. Inevitability about what, I don’t know. After I finished I lit my pipe, and enjoyed the company of the Trainors. We talked about the small things in Huntsville. Margaret couldn’t stop talking about her good work with the Women’s Temperance Union. I could see that Winnie was amused at how serious and earnest I seemed to be on that subject. She knew I was acting. And a good actor I was for Winnie’s parents. I didn’t make it back to Mowat Lodge until late in the evening. Annie left out a burning lantern for me.
Have done very little sketching this summer as I find that the two jobs don’t fit in
Summer of 1916
We were given two weeks off. We were to report back at the station to see if we were needed for the fall. We were both hoping to get fired so I could start making my way back to Canoe Lake and Ned back to his regular Park Ranger duties. There were lots to do. The Park boundaries had been expanded 1915. Eight new townships on the south and the east side had been added and the regulation forbade anyone to settle, or occupy any of the new territories unless approved by Park Superintendent George Bartlett. Bartlett was intent on keeping the Park as a top-notch operation and wanted to make sure the poachers, moonshiners, and Indians were driven out. That included the hermit that Bartlett intended on hunting down and locking up in an asylum. He had been sighted by the G.T.R. constables who had orders to arrest him if they could catch him.
The summer of 1916 had been the hottest and driest on record. After the big fire in Matheson where over 200 perished, fires were the greatest fear in the Park. The railroaders were vigilant in keeps the tracks through the Park clean from brush and our job was to follow the lumber crews during the log drives. The logs, put in during spring break-up were still making their way down the river. The cutting lines were further and higher up, near Cedar and it took longer to make it to the mills. The crews that followed cleared the jams and worked the logs through the chutes near the falls. Ned and I followed along, making sure the fires were out and nothing was started. We’d climb trees to make sightings to be sure there were no fires that could be whipped by the wind into big ones.
I got hired on for fire-ranging in May and was to report for duty on the first day of June. I had given my application in April before I went on a trip with Lawren Harris and Dr. MacCallum. When we returned to Brent, a telegram was waiting for me to report for duty in Achray.
The summer had been dry, the threat of fire was constant and the fire ranging was difficult. I had no time for sketching. I hoped to do some boards but I had to leave my sketching outfit in Achray because there was no room in the canoe with our packs and fire-ranging gear.
The last boards I made were in April, but I did make a couple sketches in Pembroke. I had a few days off and stayed in a downtown hotel. It was a busy town. There were two sawmills in full operation, the Pembroke Lumbering Company, and the Colonial Lumber Company. Both sawmills were going since spring, fed by the booms brought in by the alligators.
Like the town itself, the river was busy too. I counted five steam-powered boats on the Petawawa. A passenger side-wheeler boat called the Victoria made regular runs. It left Pembroke every morning and went to Swisha. There were the tugboats the Brunswick and the Powell. Then the Pollux and the Castor, the smaller tugboats. The boats boomed the logs, sorted them out and shot them into the Pembroke sawmills in Pembroke. The Booth and Eddy logs would go all the way down the Ottawa to Hull and Ottawa.
It was on a Saturday when the high winds off the Ottawa were nothing like I had ever seen. My gear was back at the camp so I borrowed a sketching equipment from the Grey Sisters Convent. When I returned, I asked the Sisters to set out the boards and once they were dry, to ship them to Dr. MacCallum. The Sisters did not know what to make of me, an “artist-lumberman” as they called me. I gave the Sisters five dollars and said they could do with the rest of the money whatever they pleased.
As with any small lumbering town, any excuse for a concert was good enough. The “Broom Drill” was playing at the Town Hall, and with my curiosity set, and nothing better to do that evening, I went. I was horrified by what I saw. Twelve young women, immaculately dressed in maid’s costumes were performing rifle drill marches with their straw brooms. I had always thought these drills were pointless with the men and their rifle, but when I saw these girls whipping up patriotic fervour with their brooms, I couldn’t take it any further and left during the intermission. Another reason, why I left early – I was the only single man attending that was not in uniform. Camp Petawawa was not far away and many of the soldiers came into town to go to a concert or to a house dance. I did not want to have any uncomfortable conversations.
On Sunday, the town was still awash with soldiers in full military dress going to church. I decided to leave in the morning before all of the soldiers. I knew that they’d be all invited for dinner after church and I wanted to be well on my way.
The internment camp at Camp Petawawa was closed down in the spring and the prisoners sent up to North Bay. Many of these men worked in lumber camps during the winter. They had little choice and there were no means of escape. But in the springtime, it was more difficult to contain them and there was always one or two on the loose. Someone made the decision that enough was enough sending the prisons to an even more remote location further north.
It was a hazardous undertaking driving the logs down the tributary rivers, in the Petawawa and eventually down into the Ottawa. You always need to be aware of the dangers of the river. With break-up in May, the swollen streams would make their rampage down into the rivers. The lumbermen, journeying at the rate the rivers would allow, would camp wherever they found themselves at dark. When the dams were opened, the logs would swirl and make horrific spins. On the lakes, the logs were slow business and had to be gathered into booms pulled by the alligator. A primitive-looking contraption, an alligator had a cable on the front of it, a drum and a steam engine. It had an anchor, weighing five hundred pounds and when dropped in the water,it could hold a hold a big spur.
On many occasions, I would watch an alligator as it slowly made its way across the lake. With thirty thousand logs in tow, all boomed around with boom timber being pulled together. On top, jumping like fleas off the back of a dog, were the men handling and sorting the logs with a peavey, an iron-pointed lever with a hinged hooked. When the logs were on the lake, they were sorted as best they could into the different lumber companies before they were sent down another section the river. Once completing its task, the alligator winched in the cable, to get ready for the next boom, or haul itself up onto the land to make its way to the next lake.
In the winter, every lumber camp had about eighty to a hundred men and each lumber company had five or six camps. There used to be upwards to two thousand men living in camps along the Petawawa, but now I estimated, less than a thousand due to the depleted timber stands and the men going overseas.
Being in the bush was the best part of life for these men. Everybody worked to do the most and the best, (and) without harming themselves or each other. At night in the camps, everyone was jolly, singing and sharing stories. The troubles would start outside of the camps, in the hotels of the towns, when the season was finally over and the men became drunk with their pay. The gangs would go into the bush in the middle of September to build a set of camps. They’d live in tents until the middle of October and cut up until Christmas or a little after. The men were happy in the camps during the winter. They made their own fun at night and there was always a fiddler. Square-dancing, with the men with tied handkerchiefs on their arms being the girls. After Christmas, the haul would start. Everybody concentrated on the log haul because they had to get out of the bush before the snow went. They were drawn out and dumped on the lake in a boom.
Like the logs during spring break-up, the men too would come down the river in gangs of twenty to fifty men. They swept the river, bringing the logs into booms, pulling the smaller booms into the larger booms and pushing the booms toward the dams and the slides. Many times, the different gangs of the companies would help each other out, especially when there was a lost man on the river. First a frantic search, then when the hope of rescue lost, a sombre lookout as everybody returned to their duties. When the body eventually appeared (many times it did not), it was brought to the next campsite and a burial was made. Rarely was a body brought back to Pembroke. The wooden crosses made to mark the graves rarely lasted through the season but there were enough in view from the shore to remind us of the dangers of the river and the untold stories of grief. The lumberman made songs about these stories, like the one about a French-Canadian shantyman who never returned to his sweetheart.
During these past months, I had little time to think. The days were long and hard, filled endlessly with little jobs and duties. Climbing trees, scouting up hills, checking camps, to see if there was any sign of fire. Near to the end, there was some heavy rain and we were caught in our tents. Then I had a chance to think and the sadness started. The spring was the last I saw of Lawren. After we departed, he reported to Camp Borden. I got word in July that Alex Jackson had been wounded at Maple Copse and was recuperating in England. Arthur Lismer had moved to Halifax. I was feeling abandoned, not by my chums, but by the world that was forcing us all apart.
That trip in the spring was a fine time together. Despite the war, the year was going well for me. The National Gallery in Ottawa had purchased a canvas of mine for three hundred dollars. When I went up to Mowat Lodge, I loaned Shannon Fraser two hundred and fifty dollars so he could buy some canoes. In return, I could stay at the lodge for free and he’d pay me back by the end of the summer season. Some say I should have been wiser, but getting money out of bank while up North was not worth the trouble, so I kept the cash instead. When Shannon found out I had the money, he said he could be my Bank of the North so we made a deal. He ordered three canoes and two canvas boats with sails.
It was the four of us – myself, Lawren, his cousin Chester and Dr. MacCallum. One afternoon we were on the shore of Little Cauchon Lake when a thunderstorm suddenly whipped up. There was a rushing sound from across the lake. We heard the rush from within the abandoned cabin where we had made camp. I grabbed my sketch box, ran outside, and squatted behind a big stump and began to paint. Lawren was dumbfounded that I went out into such weather to sketch, but I knew if I didn’t the moment would never be captured. The wind became stronger and stronger, the clouds in the sky became a deep purple, and the water on the lake was a frothing cauldron. I could barely keep myself together on the lee-side of the stump when the retort of a big crash struck me down. I picked myself up to discover that the very tree I was painting was struck over by the wind. I raised my hand and signaled to my chums that I was ok. I was pleased with my sketch. I was also pleased with my tenacity because my sketch captured a tree that was now no more. Had I stayed in the cabin, this sketch would have never been made.
On our first night, Ned set up camp, which my job was to find fish for dinner. Some lumbermen had set up about a half mile upriver. We could have set up camp with them, but we wanted time to ourselves away from everyone. Much as the lumbermen liked us, they acted toward us like we were policemen watching their every move. In a way, we were, even though we were now fired from the job.
I didn’t go far before I found a good place for fishing. A small waterfall, fast running water but a deep pool beneath. That’s where the fish were hiding and that’s where I started. I brought my steel rod pole with me on the trip as I didn’t expect to do any fly fishing and left my split bamboo back at Canoe Lake along with my other things. I’d be going back there upon my return to Toronto but I’d probably leave it there for the next spring. The light of the late afternoon was still strong when I started, but it was fading into the evening colours which have been spectacular these past few weeks. The big fire in Matheson had thrown enough smoke into the skies to waft across the province making for sunsets and evening skies of never before seen colours. Even Ned had told me he had never seen colours like this before, and the lumbermen, knowing that I was an artist would be moved to grunt an observation, “Some colour. You going to paint that?”
I tied to the line one of my homemade lures. An old steel teaspoon that I hammered flat and cut off the handle. I used a nail to puncture a hole. The irregular surface made for reflections that I knew would pique the curiosity of the trout. In the more regular fishing spots the trout became the wiser for these lures, making more difficult to catch, but this spot, I doubt had ever made its acquaintance with a rod and lure and fishing should be easy. I was right and in a matter of minutes, I caught three three-pounders, more than enough to serve us for dinner that night. I put them in a small sugar sack and tied it closed with a piece of twine. I kept the bag in the water to keep them fresh. I’d clean them when I got back to camp. In this heat, you don’t want to keep your catch out long so keeping it in the water was a good idea.
I started working as a fire ranger in May. That spring I was up in Kiosk and Brent, on Cedar Lake with Dr. MacCallum and Lawren Harris. I was already at Canoe Lake and they wanted to come to the Park for one last time before Lawren reported for duty. We decided to start out a Brent, taking the rail there. They hadn’t been in that part of the Park before. Lawren wanted to paint some snow so we decided to Brent because the snow stays around a few weeks longer than at Canoe Lake. I met them at Scotia Junction, we took the Canadian Northern across the Northern part of the Park.
I packed up my gear. Before I got back into the canoe, I did my business further out from the shoreline. I discovered a carcass of a moose. It had recently died, only one or two days as I could tell. It must be disease as it was a mangy looking thing. The moose are not as numerous as they used to be. Despite the protections of the Park, poachers still got a good number, the Indians hunted their share, and this year there seems to be a die-off. This wasn’t the first carcass we found. A moose kill by wolves leaves little or nothing behind.
Some other scene material
I recall Hugh Trainor, Winnie Trainor’s father, telling me how he started out in the lumber business. His first job, at twelve, was to help the scaler measure logs right in where the cutters were. He watched them fell the trees, cut them into logs and skidded them down the skidways and piled them up ready for the spring haul. The first thing he learned was to scale lumber as the tally boy to the head scaler. The tally boy sits on a pile of lumber , wherever they are loading lumber. The scaler is there too. He measures the boards, calls the contents, and you call it back and make a tally a wherever the length of the board is. The tally card has all of the measured boards on the boxcar. Once you got the scaler job figured out, you’d move on to grading. It’s one, two or three, judging by the face of the board. For a white pine, you go by the knots – no knots, a one; a small knot, a two. But three or four knots, that’s a three.
When Booth put in the line, the trains took over moving the supplies to the camps. Before that it was all moved by horses and sleighs put the rivers and across the lakes. Convoys of twenty five teams would cross the lake, each load with forty or fifty hundredweight of hay, oats, pork and flour.
May 1916 reports to Achray South Branch of Petawawa
August 1916 Canoe down south branch of Petawawa to Barron Canyon then Canoe up North branch to Lake Traverse.
I remember going to a banquet at Depot Harbor at Booth’s Hall across the village square from the “Red Onion”, as the railwaymen called the Island Hotel. The hotel was the home for the weekly guests and the monthly boarders. Workers for the railway, customs officials from both countries, a Presbyterian minister and his family, and the occasional Methodist minister. Practical jokers were alway in the midst. The men would rise in the morning to find their boots nailed to the floor or worse, filled with tobacco juice collected from the spittoons set out overnight. The nearby telegraph office, the nerve-centre of the town provided everyone with the latest news and the latest jokes. During the federal and provincial elections, everyone gathered in Booth’s hall, organized into cheering sections, and as the announcements came in by telegraph booed or cheered accordingly. The writing of poetry and limericks was a popular pastime. It was so popular that students and adults composed poems by the score and the best of the limericks were telegraphed up and down the lines.
I had heard about the bell at the Childerhose Church, but I had to go see it with my very own eyes. The bell, installed in 1914, was 1,200 pounds. it had the inscription, “That ye love one another as I have loved you.” The Presbyterian congregation, only twenty two souls was wrestling with the union of Methodist and Congregational churches, but it was not to be.
The track from Depot Harbor was unforgiving for the smaller engines. Over 1000 vertical feet in the 85 miles between the lake port and the Algonquin watershed between Rainy and Brule Lakes. The struggle began just east of Depot Harbor to Sprucedale. At Scotia Junction a 7 degree curve and another climb to Kearney would force the engines to the wayside stations to replenish their fuel and water.
Where I made my campsite was in clearing surrounded by dense and damp spruce and fir. It was perfectly dark, except for the fire that was beginning to burn low. I fell asleep, exhausted from the day, but awoke in the night with a start. It was an owl from deep in the forest or a loon from a distance over the lake. I got up to relieve myself and observed the fire had ceased to burn, but an elliptical ring of light, about six inches in diameter was glowing as bright as if the fire was fully ablaze. It was odd, it was bright, not reddish or scarlet like a coal or ember, but a steady white light, like a glow-worm. Phosphorescent wood. I had heard tales of it from the lumbermen but dismissed it as an exaggeration or outright lie. But now I witnessed something I never believed. A piece of dead moose-wood, which I had cut sections in a slanting direction earlier in the evening glowing in the spent fire. . I pulled it out. It was cool to the touch, and with my knife I discovered that the light emanated from the sap immediately underneath the bark. I pared off the bark and the glow was all along the log. I cut out some chips and put into the cup of my hand. They chips remained aglow, showing the lines of my hands, and they appeared to be like coals of raised to the temperature of a white hot fire. I looked around and noticed a decayed stump, a few feet from the fire, glowing from underneath its bark a brightness of equal intensity. I was unsure of the cause of the glowing. Coral-striped maple
The late summer and early fall was a glorious time. I spent a lot of time canoeing with Ed Godin, “Ned” as I often would call him. We discussed many things ranging from the War and where to find the best pipe tobacco. Even though we were alone for weeks and remote within the Park, the shadow of the War still loomed large. But despite the shadows I did some of my brightest and best boards of my career.
Like many others early in the war, it was not hard to get wrapped up in the enthusiasm to enlist. Indeed, I had attempted to enlist in the Boer War but was rejected on account of a medical condition I had in my youth. Early in the War, the Canadian Expeditionary Force was choosey. They had their pick of eager recruits. But as the War dragged on, they became less choosy in the quality of their recruits. At the beginning of the War, I had little enthusiasm. Three years later my sparse enthusiasm had turned to downright disillusionment and disdain. In the City, It seemed whenever the topic came up, the question of “one’s duty to the War” was the answer. I was bothered that everyone was looking at me whether I would join up and I soon tired of the incessant War talk. Even in the Park, each time a train passed by, mostly filled with grain, but occasionally filled with troops, it was a cue to start talking about the War and “one’s duty”. The trip with Ed was a blessed escape. We could share our thoughts without putting on the airs of doing “one’s duty”
More recently, there was talk of conscription and I decided that the best way for me serve, if it came to that, would be in some capacity as a Fire or Park Ranger. Mark Robinson had shipped overseas in 1915 and there was no telling whether he would return. Soldiers going overseas were leaving vacancies at home.
During August and September we travelled by canoe down the Petawawa River and to Lake Travers. After sketching very little during the summer, I sketched a lot during this trip. Mostly in the early morning when the light was good and before we would begin to break camp. The evenings had good light too, but often I was too tired by the end of the day. Up North, the fall colours would start subtly but earnestly. The leaves of summer were still green but lacked the vitality of the earlier months. As the leaves began to turn, the light of the early morning or early evening offered a new menu of colours each day. The sun becoming lower in the sky brought different angles of light bringing, as I would say to Ed, two magic moments each day: one in the morning and one in the evening. I tried to work our daily routine around these ‘magic moments’. Ed would smile when I was preoccupied with getting out my sketch box to catch the magic moment and he would tell me we had the whole night to set up camp and the whole day to get going.
Aside from the trees, the rocks were marvelous. 300 feet of sheer cliff face towering above the river. It made a man feel small and vulnerable, especially if he was in a canoe. But despite our remoteness, we would see the occasional military patrol or guards by the railway trestles. We had heard from other folks in the park that a prison camp was nearby and if you encountered someone who couldn’t speak English you were to shoot them.
Ned and I accompanied the lumbermen by canoe. They used the bigger boats called the batteau. The batteau is a mongrel of a boat – a cross between a canoe and a rowboat. Used to navigate between and over the logs, the batteaus flat-bottomed, narrow and double-ended, so it didn’t matter which direction is forward. They’re built with oak crooks and planked with sawn pine boards. The crew that we were with had about 20 boats. Once was a fifty- foot batteaux that had the camp cook and gear. In earlier days, the cook and his gear would come down on crib of squared timber, but the trees weren’t as big anymore and were no longer squared in the bush. Earlier in the drive, three batteaux were dashed in the rapids and one man was lost. His body was never found, caught in the deep in the swirl of the river.
I spent the better part of the day canoeing with Charlie Scrim.
Charlie has remained a good friend of mine. Ever since he came to Mowat Lodge last year, we always got along well. He’s from a family of florists, but he’s a good fisherman. The consumption made him quite weak but he was a trouper when we went on trips together. Since it was still early in the season we decided to canoe around the shores of Canoe Lake and not venture any further, because in Charlie’s words, if he had the ‘bloody coughing fits’ he could get back to the lodge without troubling me too much.
Another reason for sticking close to the shores was the fishing was darn good. The brookies were a biting lot the past few days, so we’re looking for a trophy brookie. It was easy to catch them but they were all too small to eat so you ended up throwing them back in. To lure the trophy brookies, and make it more entertaining for all around, I decided to use a dry-fly that I made the other day. A few days ago, I received the package of paints and the Jim managed to find my fly hooks and send them along as well.
Spring is truly the best time for brookies, and the best place to fish are the short connecting streams between lakes. We tried for a while by Potter Creek, made our way to below Joe Lake Dam, the stream from March Hare Lake and then back to a couple small streams south of Mowat Lodge. Charlie had a good time, but he was tired by the end of the day and I had to help back from the dock to Mowat Lodge. He’ll sleep well tonight.
After bringing Charlie back, I did a sketch of the clouds and the sky. It wasn’t as warm as yesterday. The cold air was moving in. The clouds were white and billowing high to the south while to the north they were lower and dark grey. It looked like it would rain, but I knew it wouldn’t. The future is like that sometimes. Everyone is sure that something is going to turn out one way, but deep in everyone’s heart, they know it’s going to turn out another way. That’s how the War is making everyone feel.
I was sent on a mission today by Annie. To pick some violets, trilliums and leeks.
As for the trilliums, Annie read in the paper that the government was thinking about making the trillium the national emblem for Canada. Someone in Ottawa said the white trillium represented purity, the trinity and the foundations of the British Empire – England, Scotland and Ireland. The government wanted to make the trillium the official flower to mark the graves of soldiers. Judging by the number of trilliums I saw in the bush, they won’t run out anytime soon. Another reason to conscript soldiers – too many trilliums in the bush. Annie wanted to set up a bouquet in the dining room to honour the fallen soldiers.
It was only now, almost a month after Vimy Ridge, that we started to learn of the numbers of casualties. Shannon observed that while Canoe Lake did not get many telegrams, the telegraph line was awfully busy. A busy telegraph meant only one thing, lots of death notices being sent to families. I had heard the casualty list was sent to Ottawa first, and then they were divided up to be sent as individual telegrams across the country. Every rail station and post office across the country had become the first bearer of grim news to the families.
As for the violets and leeks, Annie had more interesting plans. The secret to Mowat Lodge’s success was not due to Shannon’s business acumen, but rather Annie’s cooking and culinary skills. She always knew what was the best of the season and could prepare something that was at the pinnacle of the season at hand. She wanted the violets not for its colours, but for its leaves. She was planning to make soups, salad and omelette with the leaves The same with the leeks, she was going to make her famous leek soup.
I went out and got what Annie ordered. I also picked a bouquet for Daphne. When I returned and gave her the flowers. I painted another mason jar. I used the paint I scraped off from my sketches yesterday as the ground for the jar (I added some turpentine to soften). After the ground was done, I painted a nice floral pattern and then I set flowers back in the jar. I asked Daphne to leave the flowers beside the white trillium bouquet as it made a nice contrast.
Annie was grateful for the trillium bouquet but I could see she was a bit put off by the newly-painted jar. Either it was ugly to her, or she was jealous that I didn’t paint one for her. This was my second for Daphne.
I saw Martin Blecher Jr. in the distance today. He has gotten his putt-putt boat out and is making the inaugural voyage to Canoe Lake Station (via Potter Creek). He has a pet groundhog on a leash. I can’t fathom that he brought a groundhog all the way from Buffalo. He must have gotten it here. A groundhog – it’s an appropriate mascot for an American draft dodger. I’ll mention that the next time I’m close enough to talk to him.