March 27, 1917 Canoe Lake

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March 27, 1917 Canoe Lake

This sketch is looking southwards on Canoe Lake. That’s Big Wapomeo Island in the middle. Gilmour and Cook Islands are right behind but in the light today the islands blend together and look as one. I finished this sketch later in the afternoon, just as the clouds started to roll in.

I walked out to the islands earlier in the afternoon. I had my snowshoes. I needed them because the snow is deep on the ice, but I like to be safe and spread my weight. This time of year, you never know when and where the ice is rotten. Last year a team of horses went through on Burnt Island Lake. No man was lost but the horses and wagon were goners. Down to the bottom of the lake.. They tried to fish the wagon out two months later in May, but gave up when someone said it should rest in peace like the Titanic.

When I was out there I looked around for a picture. Maybe the light wasn’t right, but I didn’t see anything. I tramped around Big Wapomeo Gilmour and Cook Islands. Didn’t see anything inspiring. On the way back I passed Little Wapomeo Island. I saw the fireplace chimney I helped make for Taylor Statten last year.

I was about to give up on the lake and go inshore into the bush until I looked back. There it was. The low clouds were rolling in from the southeast making their way over the lake. I was almost at the same place I was earlier, by the Trainor and Blecher cottages. I sat down and started sketching immediately because I knew the scene wasn’t going to last.

Fourth day in the North and four good sketches. The birds are coming back. I saw a few chickadees and a blue jay.

March 26, 1917 Shannon and his Ice Blocks

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March 26, 1917: Here is my sketch from this morning – Wood Interior Winter.

I went deep into the bush today. Shannon said he wanted to get the ice blocks before the lake ice got too rotten. I said I’d paint in the morning and come back by noon to help out. Turned out I didn’t get back until 2pm. I didn’t pack a lunch and returned hungrier than a bear. Annie had some stew on the stove for me and after a bear’s filling, I needed to take a nap. I wasn’t out there to help Shannon much before 4pm.

But I got a good sketch in and was in pretty good spirits. Regardless, I let Shannon down, but I was hoping my good disposition would rub off on him.

Anyway, Shannon had Lawrie Dickson and George Rowe already to help him out. They needed the money, and more importantly, the booze. Despite the booze they’re good fellows and I get along with them well. They’ve made their reputation with Shannon. He hires and fires them regularly. But the extent of the Canoe Lake labour market is limited and they’re assured of regular employment by Shannon, whatever the foul-up. As for me, the occasional itinerant and mostly unreliable artist with little money. I have the dubious distinction of being both guest and labourer.

Shannon’s a few years younger than me. He’s thirty-four and Annie is thirty-two. They married young – Shannon was twenty and Annie was eighteen. They have a daughter Mildred, she’s thirteen now. She’s one of the few children here in Mowat. She’s in Grade 8, one of ten students at the school by Potter Creek. If she wants to go to high school Shannon and Annie will have to send her to Kingston. On the weekends she helps with the chores, boiling and washing the guest linens.

Shannon came here a few years ago to help wind down the lumber village of Mowat. The lumber was pretty much gone and the equipment was taken and moved elsewhere. The hospital closed down and Shannon saw the opportunity to turn it into a resort and a post office. The Grand Trunk Railway had just opened the Highland Inn, Nominigan, Minnesing, and just up by Joe Lake, Algonquin Hotel.

We artists discovered Mowat Lodge in 1912. Before Shannon could shake a stick at us to shoo us off, he had more artists staying at the lodge than he could bear. Truth be told, he enjoyed our company because we weren’t very discerning about the lodgings. We joked that whatever wasn’t good enough for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (he stayed at the Highland in 1914) was good enough for us. So long we had a place away from the bugs at night we were happy. But the real gem of Mowat Lodge had nothing to do with Shannon’s charms and the rustic experience, it was Annie’s cooking.

Then the War hit, and things took a turn for the worse. Tourism dried up. Grand Trunk Railway got into financial trouble. Camp Minnesing after only two seasons was shut down. It was empty once again last summer. The way the War is I doubt it will open this summer. And to top it off, Prohibition was passed. Prohibition hasn’t yet stopped Shannon, George, or Lawrie from imbibing without prescription. Mail order liquor shipments from Montreal are still the way to go.

I’ll have to make a point of visiting Lawrie and George. They live in the shacks on the mill property. Lawrie managed to get himself a Victrola so it’s worth the visit. He said it was a gift, but I was suspicious that there was an alternate means of acquisition. I’ll never question. One should never look a gift Victrola in the mouth.

March 25, 1917 Early Spring, Algonquin Park

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March 25, 1917

Today I decided to snowshoe in the hills behind Mowat Lodge. I was quite pleased with my sketch yesterday. After having a good night’s sleep and full recovery from the train ride, I decided to venture out in the pathways behind Mowat Lodge.

I had to make my way across the chip and spur lines. I carried my snowshoes and sketch box and once I was in the bush the snow was well over two feet. The melt and freeze had put a crust on the top. You could walk on top with no snowshoes, but if you fell through you’d go right up to your hips. Snowshoes were the order for the day.
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Van Gogh’s Bedroom

March 23, 1917

Annie kept the same room for me. Shannon makes the promises, but Annie keeps the promises.

I’ve had the same room for the past couple of years now. It’s on the second floor on the northeast side. My window is the 2nd last from the end. The bed is one of those old metal hospital beds from when this building was a hospital. Shannon replaced the mattresses, but no matter what, you feel like you’re sleeping on a hospital bed. I don’t mind. I often sleep on the ground with just a blanket so I’m used to the lumps and bumps. I would joke with Shannon that when at Mowat Lodge I feel like a patient of a former hospital.
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Jimmy MacDonald’s Not Too Well.

March 19th, 1917

Jimmy MacDonald’s not doing too well right now. Healthwise, that is.

Earlier in the fall, Jim was having trouble climbing the steps in the Studio Building. He had the top floor studio but he traded it with Bill Beatty and now he’s back in Studio One on the main floor. Studio One is the studio that Alex Jackson and I shared in early 1914.

I can understand why he’s ill. It’s the pressure and the commute. He moved to Thornhill in early 1913 from where he was living on Glenlake near Bloor and Keele. I like his place up in Thornhill, but I think the daily commute on the York and Radial is taking his toll. The mortgage is steep, he is living hand to mouth on the painting commissions he’s getting from Dr. MacCallum. It’s painfully close to being beholden charity rather than pursuing a profession. But we were all in that situation, and if it weren’t for Dr. MacCallum and Lawren Harris we wouldn’t be together as artists.

Jim first came to Algonquin in March of 1914. Alex and I were already there. We had been there for the better part of the month, at Mowat Lodge under the care and feeding of Annie Fraser. Bill Beatty came with Jim and I can see he was out of sorts in his sketching. I think the cold got to him and his sketches were a bit fudgy and muddy. If I had been him at the time, I would have burned them right away.

In addition to being ill, Jim is preoccupied with the OSA Exhibition. He never recovered his temperament after the 1916 exhibition and the critics’ attack on his canvas ‘The Tangled Garden’. He was especially livid at Carl Ahrens, the dentist-turned-art-critic. It was Ahrens who suggested that the artists be better off fighting the Hun. Jim showed me his letter that he sent to the Star. Fortunately, it was never printed, so Jim was spared the pain of falling below the level of honour of critic. I told Jim the reason I decided not to show anything at this year’s OSA Exhibition was due to Ahrens. I didn’t want to hear the words “hermaphrodite” or “white feather” directed at me, especially in print.

Only a few more days here. I’ll miss Jimmy. I doubt he’ll make it up North this summer either to Algonquin or Georgian Bay.

I doubt I’ll make it back to Toronto.