June 16, 1917 Letter to Billie Bear Lodge

June 16, 1917

I left early from Huntsville. I caught the early morning train and got off at Scotia Junction. I didn’t have to wait long before the train came in from Depot Harbour. I made it back to Canoe Lake by noon.

Before I left Huntsville, I wrote and posted a letter to Billie Bear Lodge. Maybe everyone believes that Winnie is in trouble and we should be married but nobody knows our plans to leave. We’ll leave sometime soon and to somewhere far. I don’t know where quite yet but I won’t be like my grandfather, leaving for another country, leaving bastard children behind. I could start fresh somewhere else, but I didn’t want to leave behind that kind of legacy.

When I got off the train I decided not to go back to the Lodge right away. I took a walk and found myself going to Mowat Cemetery a quarter mile west of the Lodge. It’s an odd sort of cemetery – there are only two graves there. I find this surprising because of the size that Mowat Village reached in its heyday, over 500 souls. Someone told me that the adults never wanted to be buried here, the bodies would be shipped back home to their families. Another told me that there lots of graves here, but they’re unmarked graves of infants. In the early days, the ones that died, died before they were baptised. There was no point in having a Christian burial, just a spade in the bush and silence afterwards.

So it was my impression that nobody wanted to die near Mowat Village or if they did, they’d do their best not to make it their final resting place.  Maybe people got some special sign before they were about to die, that they had to leave. Or if they died, they had arranged beforehand to be shipped elsewhere for eternal rest. I knew that George Bartlett  didn’t like people being buried in the Park. Of the one or two deaths in the Park each year, usually lumber men,  Bartlett made sure the bodies were expediently shipped out. Overseas, soldiers would rest where they had fallen in No Man’s Land. But in the Park, they got the bodies out as fast as they could.

At present, there only two occupants in Mowat Cemetery. James Watson and Alexander Hayhurst. I remember hearing about Alexander’s death in 1915. He was only 8 years old, died of diptheria. It was one of Mark Robinson’s last duties as a Ranger before he went overseas, to transport the body to the cemetery. The other occupant, James Watson, worked for Gilmour Lumber Co. He died on his first day on the job. No one knew how to contact his family, so they buried him up on the hill and Mowat Cemetery came into being.  Annie told me she doesn’t believe the grounds are  consecrated. “People buried in unconsecrated grounds become ghosts,” Annie says. She’s sure she’s seen the ghosts of Alexander and James wandering down by the shore at night. “Heaven forbid, if they ever come to the Lodge.”

I thought about the gravestones in back in Leith cemetery. They’re covered in lichen. The  older stones, majestic as they are, the letters are now faded away and you can’t read them. The smaller stones are knocked over. And the engraved bricks they put in the ground for infant babies are completely covered over, unseen. It doesn’t matter whether you leave or die. You are forgotten in the end. Maybe it is best to be buried in unconsecrated ground. Like the soldiers overseas. They won’t be forgotten for a long time.

The weather had changed for the worse again. Yesterday, it was warm and brilliant sunshine, and today it’s back to a drizzle and in the fifties. I was wondering if Shannon had cut his hay later last week. It certainly wouldn’t be ready to bring in. If this rain keeps up, it will rot into the ground.

I made my way down to Mowat Lodge. The cemetery is on a hill and the walk down gave me a good view of the lakeshore and the shoreside dwellings. Last time I was here it was in early spring and the white snow made it look pristine and beautiful. Despite the green, it now looked truly ugly. I could see the vast expanse of the chip yard, once a former part of the lake, now filled with millions of board feet of wood rotting into a spongy mess. I saw  lifeless forms of dead trees, roots drowned by the risen lake level. And the logs, the ones that should have been masts for ships or beams for buildings, bobbing in the shallow water or washed up on the mud shore. It wasn’t really mud, it was the muck of rotting bark. I once saw beauty in this, but I began to wonder about the destruction of it all. Gilmour Lumber never cleaned up their mess and I doubt Huntsville Lumber will either. The tourists think this is nature and beauty. I guess most don’t have anything to compare it to except for the factories, slums and tenements in the city.

Shannon was out front. He saw me coming. By the looks of it, he was repairing the front stairs. I knew the steps were iffy, but they must have broken through. Shannon had some pine planks which he had cut to size and was laying in as replacements.

“Back from your camping trip, Tom?” He looked me over, “Helluva a shirt and a shave for a camping !” I knew  my story about camping rang as hollow as an empty store tin.

“Yeah, Shan – camping.” Shannon knew by the tone of my voice, that this was to be the established fact, although it was not the truth.

“Yessiree! The fish must been relieved. You didn’t even bring your fishing rod.” He winked at me while drawing from his pipe. “I’ll be done fixing these stairs soon. Care for a drink?”

“No.” I left it that and went in.

Then the words started to go through my mind. I wasn’t saying anything out loud, but that made little difference.  “Shannon, you have no idea what you’ve done. Both you and Annie have been first class in destroying my life. Not only my life, but Winnie’s too.” Secrets, lies, and ruined dreams. That’s what the world seems to be all about now.

I kept quiet. I went to my room. No one knew of our plans. No one. It was going to stay that way. But it is going to be a race against time. And it needs to be a race of stealth and precision. No one could know of our plans, save for a few trusted souls. And even these few souls could not know the full extent. If knowledge got out the net would be descend. I’d be sent overseas, and Winnie to one those houses away from everyone. No one, especially at Mowat Lodge, could know.

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