April 20,1917 Joey Kehoe

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.

April 19, 1917 Thinking of Leaving

April 19, 1917

I spent a lot of time thinking today. What am I really doing? I don’t know but I’m sketching every day. Is what I’m doing a true urgency of mission or am I doing it because my energies need to be put into something whatever that is?

We try not to talk about the War that much. It’s supposed to be so far away, but the newspapers come in everyday with stories of Germany’s impending defeat. Every day, slightly different narratives, but the same stories, nothing changes. Like the story about the two brothers, who hadn’t seen each other for seven years. They had enlisted in different parts of the country without each other’s knowledge (I don’t think they were close to begin with). And then they unexpectedly meet each other in the trenches in France. A feel-good story for the newspapers. Until two weeks later one of them gets killed. I wonder why the newspapers don’t write the story about the poor mother in Dorset who lost her three sons over the course of eighteen hours in battle. No, that wouldn’t make it into the paper.

We talk about the war, but we’re careful. Someone said in a newspaper editorial that ‘any difference of opinion should be employed fighting the enemy. There’s no need to waste fighting here.’

So what am I doing. I’m sketching. I’m drawing. I’m painting. I find it distressing that we’re fighting the very ones I drew inspiration from. The German Expressionists, their insistence on bold strong colour and harsh depictions. The North lends itself to these techniques and it was me who introduced the rest to what was here. If I hadn’t, they’d still be painting scenes of farmhouses, bland countrysides and maidens sitting on the beach.

It’s good to have a plan, but sometimes it’s better to live day by day and catch the moment when it’s appropriate. I remember in 1914 when Lismer came up to visit me for the first time, how he was shocked by the contrast of the Park to what he had known of the countryside in England. I had the same reaction: the contrast to where I grew up but not as intensely. The countryside around Leith was pleasing and pastoral but not so inspiring with rough intensity as what I see here.

Once I finish this series of sketches I think I’ll move on. The sketching should be good until later May before the bugs get too bad. It’s been a cold spring, so that should mean a couple more weeks of bug-free weather. I’ll get some guiding work for May and June and starting thinking about moving on. Most likely out to the Rockies.

April 18, 1917 Airship Opportunity

April 18,1917

I am the artist. Shannon is the dreamer. Or maybe the schemer. We’ve been reading a lot about the Zeppelin raids in the papers. I made a sketch in the summer of 1915 when the storm clouds reminded me of Zeppelins. The big clouds always remind me of Zeppelins now.

Shannon hit on another money-making scheme today. He’d turn Mowat Lodge into the centre for airship tourism. I couldn’t believe what he was saying, but then again he says a lot of things that I don’t believe in, so there was no reason it should be different this time. I listened.

Shannon said he was thinking about it a lot. Air travel was the way of the future. The trains were about bankrupt and the government was about ready to take over the Grand Trunk. Some of the trestles were about to fall apart, and it would only take one trestle failure to paralyze the Park. Business was good with the consumptives, but it was the tourists from the States that had all the money. And that money needed to get into the Park, or more specifically, into Shannon’s hands.

With the War, aviation is advancing at a breakneck pace. Barely a week goes by without the papers having an article on some new-fangled flying machine or stories of new exploits of airmen. Night bombing raids are the latest advancement. Submarines were the thing of wonder at the beginning of the War, but now it is aeroplanes and airships, especially the Zeppelins.

The Zeppelins are a sight to behold; they are especially terrifying. I remember in the summer of 1915 reading about the German fleet of Zeppelins bombing cities. “Baby-killers” is what the Brits called them. When I saw the pictures in the papers I could only imagine them overhead, over 500 ft in length. I couldn’t grasp the size so I paced the length out on the ground. Even after that, I couldn’t comprehend how a thing of that size could ever get in the air. Now there are reports that these behemoths could fly over 50 miles per hour. Size, speed and terror.

Shannon did the math. Zeppelins travelling as the crow flies meant shorter times to the Park. The train ride from Toronto is over 9 hours (if you have good connections). A straight flight from Toronto would be just three and half hours. From Buffalo, it would only be just over four hours. The way Shannon saw it, the Zeppelins could be flying money machines coming in from the Great Lakes and the Eastern seabord. He could see the ad: “Mowat Lodge: Best fishing. 4hr Zeppelin ride from Buffalo”

Shannon started hatching his plan. He could convert the old spur line into a Zeppelin docking area. A wooden docking tower could easily be built (after all there is more than enough wood around). The area is reasonably flat so an aerodrome could be built and with it being close to shore, it could service floatplanes too. Another reason for the aerodrome was the possibility of an airmail service. Carrying post by plane, Shannon claims, is the next big thing. Carrying post by floatplane meant that whole Park could be serviced. It’s a recipe for wealth, according to Shannon.

Annie weighed in on the discussion. She forbade Shannon to run a newspaper ad with any notion of airmail or Zeppelin travel. She was not pleased when Shannon ran an ad claiming that they had an open fireplace at Mowat Lodge (they didn’t). They had to scramble to get one built before the guests came. That certainly wasn’t going to happen with Zeppelins.

I enjoyed listening to the conversation. Shannon always had these flamboyant schemes and he liked to entertain the guests with his plans. The consumptives were a captive audience, but the other guests simply disappeared when these topics came up. Charlie Scrim and I would stick around, and only after Shannon left would we bust our guts laughing.

As for my painting today, I went out in the bush behind. I painted a small 5 x 7 panel but I didn’t really like it. I scraped it out of frustration and turned it over and did some sketching with a pencil. Thinking too much about Zeppelins.

April 17, 1917 Ugly Shores

April 17, 1917

The shores of Canoe Lake can look pretty ugly. Especially in front of Mowat Lodge. It’s part to blame with the rise in the lake levels. The Gilmour Lumber Company needed to raise the water levels to connect the lakes to the Oxtongue river so he built a dam at Tea Lake and another at Joe Lake Creek . The junk trees left behind and close to shore died a pretty quick death so now you have these corpses of trees ringing around Canoe Lake.

Canoe Lake used to be the Park Headquarters but that moved to Cache Lake. They said it was to be closer to the railway and the centre of the Park but I think the real reason it was so goddamn desolate, the Park authorities wanted to get out of here. Even the Presbyterian missionaries left. Despite the size of the Mowat Village in its heyday, they never managed to establish a church. On occasion they held services and the Lord’s Supper at the Manse – the Ranger’s residence, but a church never stuck. The scores of shantymen working at the mill were never in the mood for salvation. As for the school, the only other institution of worth in Mowat, it never graduated beyond a tar paper shack. I had heard there were several dozen students there at one time, but now it’s down to eight or nine.

Yes, it’s apparent. My mood is not the best today. I didn’t venture out too far. I just went down to the shore just north of the cottages down below. The clouds were pretty thick today, and the ice on the lake is turning a sickly blue. It’s getting thinner but it’s still a foot thick. It’s probably ok to walk on it, but this is the time of year when foolish men disappear.

So I sketched on the shore. You can see the carcasses of the trees, but there is some second-growth too. The birch trees are the first to come. The second growth attracts a lot of deer. Indeed there are quite a few deer in the Park and a kill is planned to ship the meat to the City. There’s lots of wolves too. But even more deer. The deer are plentiful because the food is plentiful. Mark Robinson told me that he thinks they’re inbred. They’re usually bigger, about 250 lbs for a buck, but they’re coming in well under 200 lbs. Around 150 lbs. Inbreeding. So a good cull is in order.

The weather is getting better, but it’s that time when the spring muck grabs your boots and won’t let go of you without a fight. So I’m staying around the lodge these few days and helping with the chores. There’s always lots of things to do for Shannon and company.

I’m also considering getting my Guide’s license. I’m going to stick around the Lodge and spend time with Charlie. Judging by his coughing, he’s not long for this world so I’m going to stay. When Shannon heard that, he said that I better make sure I was doing guiding for him, not for Algonquin or he’d double my board bill. I said I would take the jobs when and wherever they came from – Joe Lake or Mowat Lodge. I spoke to Mark about getting my guide’s license and he said that George Bartlett likes to have a heart-to-heart chat before he gives out the guide’s license. He’s had a few problems in other years. The guides that were poachers were problems, but the real problem were the ones that would drink. Alcohol is not allowed in the Park and the Temperance act meant it was now an especially grave sin.

I finished my board and now have about two dozen at the lodge. I put some in my room and I’ve set some out in the summer kitchen in the back (not in operation yet). Annie will need that space soon, so I’ll have to figure where else to put them. I’ll probably start leaving some at Mark Robinson’s place or at the Trainor’s.

April 16, 1917 As The Crow Flies

April 16, 1917

I wrote a letter early this morning to my father. I promised Shannon that I would take the mail to the train station first thing in the morning. Shannon needed to get his order to the Renfrew Creamery so he couldn’t afford to miss the mail today.

Mildred was in the kitchen doing lessons from the Provincial Curriculum..  Mildred is Shannon and Annie’s daughter. Mildred looks like Shannon, but has the resolve of Annie. She’s pretty smart with numbers too and she’ll probably end up as a store or play clerk, like what Winnie does in Huntsville At thirteen, and this will be her last year of schoolwork (Gr. 8) unless she decides to go to Kingston for high school were Shannon has some family. She might go but my feeling is that she is going to stick around working at the Lodge. Mildred is too attached to her mother and grandmother to stay away for long.

I walked up to the train station to bring the mail. A  good mile or more  as the crow flies but you have to make your way around the chip yard, so by the time it’s done, it’s almost another half-mile.  Today was a problem for Shannon. He had to put an end to the milk cow (the one with mastitis) and needed the wagon.  

After dropping the mail at the station, I paid a visit to Annie Colson at the Outfitters Store. She was busy getting things ready. Said she didn’t have much time, but she made tea and we sat and chatted. She was happy to be on her own venture now. She worked for long enough at the Highland to get sick of the “Inners” as she called them. The city-slicking guests who dressed up and took for granted room-service in the wilderness. At least with outfitters store at the Algonquin Hotel, she hoped to deal with “Outers” as she calls them, people who know their way around outside.

I went to the east shore of Joe Lake and found a north-facing slope and made my sketch. It was similar to what I had painted a couple of days earlier, but more mature maples this time. There was a number a sap-pails on the trees. I don’t think these were Shannon’s or Ed Colson’s either. I had no idea whose pails these were, so I left them well enough alone.

The water is running hard at Joe Lake Dam. The streams have all broken free of ice. The winter scenes in the woods are becoming tiresome so I think I’ll try some rapids in the next few days.

I heard what I thought was thunder or dynamite. It wasn’t either. It was the lake ice cracking.

April 16, 1917 Letter to Father

April 16 Letter to Father

April 16, 1917

Mowat P.O. Canoe Lake

Dear Father:

I have been up here for two weeks making sketches. Had intended going up home for a day or two before coming here but wanted to be here before the snow was gone so could not spare the time. The lakes are still frozen over and will be for two or three weeks yet and there is still about two to three feet of snow in the bush so I expect to get a lot more winter sketches before the snow and ice are all gone.

Tom Harkness and Walter Davidson were in to see me the day before I came here also Miss Andrews and Low Julian (I don’t know if the last name is spelled properly or not) but I don’t think they enjoyed the show a great deal as they are taking lessons from Manley the worst painter in Canada.

Am stopping at the Post Office here until the ice goes out when I will start to camp again. have tried fishing thru the ice two or three times but have had no success yet have caught some ling which is a cross between an eel and a fish but they don’t use them up here.

I did not send any paintings to the O.S.A. Exhibition this year and have not sold very many sketches but think I can manage to get along for another year at least. I will stick to painting as long as I can.

I got quite a lot done last winter and so far have got some pretty good stuff, since I came here and expected to do a great deal between now and June.

Have not decided if I will stay here the whole summer or not.

Hoping you are all well. I remain your loving son.


April 15, 1917 Ling

April 15, 1917

It’s Sunday today. I thought of going to the Colsons at the Algonquin Hotel. Ed Colson is a lay preacher and they hold a service 11am but I decided to stay back for Annie’s Bible reading.

Despite its larger population in its glorious history, Mowat Village never had a decent church. Despite the village being named after the Provincial Premier, Oliver Mowat, it never gained any stature. There were missionaries that came to minister to the souls of the village – that’s how the Trainor cottage, the “Manse,” got its name, but a church was never established. The leases down by the shore were once owned by a Reverend Turk, a Methodist minister from Owen Sound. The Manse was large enough to hold services for those interested, which wasn’t very many. Back in the day, there were a lot of French Canadians in Mowat Village. They didn’t have a priest or a church either. And I’m sure that the Methodists just assumed that the French, being Catholics, were destined to Hell and not worth saving.  Thus the French never viewed the area as being home, and  were the first to clear out when the village began its decline. Shannon said there were are a few left when he first arrived in 1907, but they were gone soon after. “Gone to Hell, I think,” Shannon said.

A couple of years ago I asked my parents if they ever heard of Rev. Turk in Owen Sound. The answer was an emphatic. “No! Why would we know any Methodists? They’re worse than the Baptists!” Rev Turk, according to Shannon, was an odd missionary and that he was rather ‘loose in his beliefs.’ I thought this was a judgemental statement by Shannon, because his belief system, in my view, was on one of the lower rungs of the religion ladder.

Rev. Turk finally came to his senses in 1910 and decided to leave his calling and cash out his village investments. He had a lease on a large shore lot, and sold part to the Blechers (the southern part), another part to the Trainors (the Manse on the southern part) and, between these two, another lease to the Hayhursts. The result was three unrelated vacationing families, living in close quarters by the shore. In the evenings, there was much entertainment to be had on the verandah at Mowat Lodge. Shannon has a pair of field glasses, and the pastime of many evenings was to pass these glasses around to observe the comings-and-goings near the shore. The Blechers were especially entertaining because the younger ones would fight like roosters. Once there was something floating in the lake; it took the field glasses to discern that it was a chair that originated from inside the Blecher household. Over time, the passing of the field glasses become an illicit and secret ritual known only to the Mowat Lodge residents. Everyone was forced to swear not to reveal this secret to the cottagers down by the shore. Shannon was gracious enough to let the consumptives in on the secret;  it helped them to pass the time while on doctor’s orders.

My friend Charlie Scrim arrived the other day. He was in rough shape when he first arrived so I let him alone. I promised to take him ice-fishing when he felt better and before it’s too dangerous to go on the lake. Today, he was feeling better, and the ice was getting more rotten, so today is the day of opportunity because tomorrow might be certain death. We decided to go after the Sunday noon dinner.

Charlie and I are very good friends. We met the previous summer when he came from Ottawa for recuperation. He was diagnosed with the consumption and immediately dispatched from working in the family business in Ottawa to recuperate here in the Park. The Scrims have a florist business in Ottawa and a big part of their business is flowers for funerals and memorials. Since consumption was a major driver of the flower business, I suspect that Charlie’s condition became an awkward reminder that his demise might be the next occasion for flowers. More likely, the family didn’t want the word get out that there was a consumptive working in the flower shop. It would be bad for business. So Charlie, as a consumptive and like many out-of-wedlock pregnant women, disappeared without notice to visit a distant relative. And that’s how many of the consumptives show up here at Mowat Lodge. I am not sure where the pregnant women go, but it certainly isn’t anywhere in the Park.

Since Charlie was in better spirits, we spent the morning catching up on the goings on in Toronto and Ottawa. I told him that it was exceedingly unpleasant for a single man to be seen alone in the city, hence my early departure up north. Charlie said much the same of Ottawa, but he said the city was still pretty jittery after the Parliament fire and reports of night-time air raids threatening attacks from over the border. The possibility of raids were never substantiated, but after Premier Borden ordered a blackout in 1915, anything was credible. Other reports of sabotage put people on edge: the Black Tom explosion in New York, the trestle incident on the Vermont border, and attempted bombing of a munitions factory down in Windsor. The official word on the Parliament fire was that it was an accident, but the perfect act of sabotage always looks like an accident. The report said flames came out of nowhere in the Parliamentary reading room, most likely from a forgotten lit pipe. But the speculation by many is that it was a incendiary fluid poured on the newspapers by a German saboteur.

I told Charlie that Park Superintendent George Bartlett was getting jittery too. I told him that Mark Robinson just came back and is staying at the shelter house by Joe Lake Station. Mark’s supposed to keep an eye on Sim’s Pit and the trestles. Bartlett trusts Robinson more than any other ranger. A few years ago, Mark single-handedly apprehended a suspected killer and disarmed him. Bartlett commended Mark on his bravery and devotion to duty, but then ruled the incident as an accident and let the man go. Within the Park, the Province gave Bartlett the powers of judge, jury, police and coroner. Everyone jokes that while God is the supreme ruler of the Dominion, he plays second-fiddle to Bartlett in the Park.

After our chat, I went out for a quick sketch and was back in time for 11:00am Bible reading. I like this time of day in the spring because of the contrast and angles of the shadows. Between 10 and 11 is the perfect time of shadows and bright sunlight and I wanted to catch a good scene before noon. I hiked up not too far away from Canoe Lake Dump. The path to the dump was pretty much cleared off. No bears to be seen. Shannon had mentioned he was going to make a trip when it was dry enough so I told him I’d have a look and let him know the condition of the path. It’ll be at least another two weeks before he can make the trip. Despite the dump in the foreground, I had a good view of the lake. I sketched, sitting on an old chair with no back. I’m not sure why the chair was still in the dump. It could be easily fixed. I’m sure if Shannon sees the chair he’ll bring it back.

In the afternoon, I went ice-fishing with Charlie. We went down to the shore of Canoe Lake just in front of the Blecher cottage. We walked down from the Lodge, about 250 yards from the cottages and the shore.  A challenging walk for any consumptive. and Charlie was tuckered out by the time we got there. We went out about a 100 yards, and chopped a small hole. We quickly caught some ling, an eel-like fish. We threw them back into the water, because Annie doesn’t want those things in the lodge.  ‘Any watery relative of the serpent is not welcome in my establishment’, Annie once exclaimed when she first saw a ling. I thought she was talking about Shannon.

We tried again and again; no trout, just ling after ling. We came back empty-handed but Charlie was in better spirits after the expedition.

The Sunday finished out as any Sunday should.  A fine dinner, and whisky by the fireplace. The field glasses were on the fireplace mantle. They would remain there unused, until it came close to ice-out later in the spring or when the the cottagers moved in for the summer.

That’s it for now. I plan to to write a letter to my father later this evening or early tomorrow.