Wildflowers Aren’t Out Yet


April 10, 1917 Thaw Snow Banks

It’s getting warmer as each day passes. The changes are becoming more pronounced. There’s still a lot of snow around but I’m starting to see some green. The first real green I saw was the willow shoots. Maybe they were green all winter, but the warmth of the sun is putting life into the shoots.

Daphne was asking when the wildflowers would be out. I said not for a couple weeks, but I promised to keep my eyes out if I saw anything. Sometimes the crocuses get an early start when they are in a sheltered sunny spot. Daphne’s becoming good friends with Annie. I notice she’s in the kitchen quite often talking. Her poor husband is stuck out the porch. Once his condition improves, I’ll pay him a visit and chat. He doesn’t seem to be in any shape for that now.

The War was weighing on us all. The news starting coming in that there was a big battle in France. The biggest battle yet with almost 30,000 Canadians. The newspapers would come in on the trains both from Ottawa and Toronto. They’d be delivered to the Highland Inn first and we’d get the used ones a day later. Shannon didn’t believe in paying for a newspaper subscription so our news was always a day late.

I painted another snow scene. Snow banks thawing on the north side of hill. It was one of those drifts that blows over the hill. It wasn’t a particularly inspiring sketch, but I enjoyed being outside watching the birds starting to arrive. Of course I could hear a woodpecker but I saw a few sparrows, a warbler and a robin. The barn swallows should arriving soon to nest in the stable.

When it’s warmer, I’ll take Daphne out to find some wildflowers.

Owen Sound Sun: Pictures by Sydenham Boy Worth Seeing

“Pictures by Sydenham Boy Worth Seeing”, The Owen Sound Sun, Apr. 10, 1917

Mr. Tom Thomson’s Pictures Show Decided Talent of Promising Artist

In every report concerning pictures exhibited by Ontario’s artists in Toronto for the past few years there has been a paragraph or sentence which, without exception, was one of praise for the pictures shown by Mr. Tom Thomson. He has been spoken of by the highest art critics as a young artist who is on the threshold of an exceptionally brilliant career, and any work he shows always receives marked praise.

Mr. Thomson’s success is of interest to Owen Sounders, for his parents reside on Fourth Avenue East, and he himself is a Sydenham boy, having lived in Leith for many years. A member of The Sun staff had the pleasure, while in Toronto recently of paying a visit to Mr. Thomson’s winter studio in Rosedale, and the visit was all that was needed to convince one that Mr. Thomson is indeed an artist whose name will be much before the public in coming years.

Mr. Thomson’s paintings are almost entirely of nature. Only in a few instances does he introduce figures, and then not with great success. But his studies of landscapes, water, clouds and trees are wonderful, both for their faithful representation of the subjects and for the unusual and even marvellous color effects. Mr. Thomson has simply hundreds of sketches, not on canvas but on boards about 9 in. by 10 in. From these he makes the larger canvases, such as the ones the Dominion and Provincial Governments have bought from him for public buildings. Seen in the small studio these could not be appreciated but when hung in proper surroundings they would no doubt be admirable.

When the artist first begins to place his smaller pictures before one, one is apt to find them too full of color – for Mr. Thomson’s use of color is what makes his work notable. There are wonderful autumn scenes, the crimson and burnished golds of leaf and vine being transposed almost too faithfully, one is apt to say at first, to canvas. There are studies of wild flowers which are exquisite and ones of rocks and still and running water which are wonderfully attractive in their color and in their character. When one has seen forty or fifty of them, there is a change in the visitor’s appreciation. The color begins to grow on one. It is all true to nature, the kind of thing you look at in the field or forest and say, “See how brilliant that is. If it were transferred to canvas some would say that the artist exaggerated.” And though at first the brilliancy rather daunts one, before the end is reached the real art in the canvases becomes apparent and the duller canvases are tame.

There was one picture which the guide of the writer secured for his own. It was a study of a flat field, and two trees. One’s leaves were of a flat mahogany, beech red. The other was a flaming yellow – the yellow of a birch on a certain kind of soil. When we first saw this the yellow and red seemed to – well, scream to us. But when we looked at it for several minutes, the grace and living fires of the trees – hundreds of times had we seen them as vivid – began to dawn on us and before we went we knew the picture was a treasure.

Mr. Thomson’s studies are nearly all made in the North Country. There are a few from this vicinity, but he finds more of the abundant color he loves in the wilderness of the northern forests, and besides, the life he is able to live there – the simple life in every truth – appeals to him. Those who are interested in pictures would greatly enjoy a visit to Mr. Thomson’s studio, and there would be few who would come away without a great deal of praise for the work of the artist.

Accounts with Shannon


April 9, 1917 Birch Trees in Snow.

I needed to talk business with Shannon. I needed to figure out how long I could stay on the account of money I had given him.

Back in 1915, I came into a lot of money at one time. Because of the OSA Exhibition I sold two paintings for a total of $800. That was well more than a year’s wage. It was a good feeling. I went up to the Park in April, and of course Shannon heard the news. He needed to get some boats for a livery service, and I lent him $250. He said that he would keep the money on account and pay me back the balance with interest, once he deducted my room and board. I thought it a pretty good deal, and the way I was drawing down, I’d be able to stay at Mowat Lodge for two full seasons if I didn’t ask for the money back. We settled on a rate of $1.25 a day, and if I did chores and odd jobs, he’d charge only 75 cents. The typical wage for a railworker was about 25 cents per hour, so if I put in a couple of hours during the day that would bring the rate down considerably.

It turned out that during 1915 and 1916, I didn’t stay at the lodge much, so my balance was about $200 when I came back this spring. I needed to agree with Shannon on this balance, considering the interest. He wanted to raise the daily rate to $1.65 a day, almost 40 cents more. He said that cost of food and fuel had gone up. Besides the Highland Inn was charging $2.50 to $3.00 a day so $1.65 was a good deal. If I helped out with the chores, he’d bring it down to a $1.00 a day. I agreed. So the starting balance was $200 and if I stayed until mid-July I could get about $100 back.

A $100 is a lot of money. The Trainors bought their cottage for $100 from the Park Rangers back in 1912.

Last summer, Shannon needed some money to get a deal on canoes. Folks from the Highland Inn would often get off at Canoe Lake Station and want to hire a canoe to return by Lake to the hotel.

Easter Sunday


April 8, 1917 Snow in the Woods.

As I did on Good Friday, I set out early in the morning to sketch. Annie wanted to do an Easter Bible reading at 11:00 and I promised to be back before then.

It was a warmer day today. It was above freezing before I went out. The sun was out and it was making nice shadows once again with the birches. I took one of the walking paths behind the lodge, but found it difficult to walk any distance. It’s that time of year when the ground is mud that sucks in your boot at every step. Going up hillsides was especially tricky, because the snow, more like ice, is slippery and it’s difficult to get any foothold. I went for a good slide downhill and my sketch box popped open during the descent. Luckily, it wasn’t difficult to recover the contents and I hadn’t starting sketching yet. But I did my sketching with a wet backside.

I settled on another woods scene. This time, the birches were mixed in with a few young red maples and some poplars. You can tell this is second growth forest, because all of the trees started growing at the same time. They are all competing for the light so they’ve grown as tall and skinny as possible. There’s not a big tree for miles around. Just saplings. The big trees were cut down years ago.

I made it back in time for Annie’s Bible reading and dinner at noon. We’re hearing word that there’s going to be a big battle in France soon. All the boys’ letters are coming back from France. One of the consumptives from Ottawa has a brother there. She says they can’t say much in their letters, but they’ve been training in numbers for several months now. There’s going to be a big attack just like Somme. We won’t know anything until they’re all dead.

The afternoon, I’ll stay in by the fireplace reading. I feel sorry for the consumptives – they’ll be stuck on the porch all afternoon.

Winter Thaw


April 7, 1917 Winter Thaw

I didn’t leave the lodge today. The furthest I ventured was to the storehouse which is mostly empty and unheated. This is where Shannon keeps the orange and flour crates for me. He would also bring in his horses to groom them. The light’s  better in the storehouse than in the stable.  Shannon’s plan is to make this into more rooms when it gets busier, but I don’t think he has to worry about it this year.

The storehouse is a pretty good place to sketch from. I can get a good view from the window. If  I need a better view I can look through the door or sit on the front landing. Mowat Lodge is a fair ways back from the shore so it’s a nice view downwards. In the sketch I made, Little Wop Island is front and centre. To the right you can see the ice into the small inlet. In the back, that’s the big hill that leads you into Bonita Lake.

I got to know one of the consumptives a little bit better today. That poor chap that fell into a coughing fit yesterday is Lt. Robert Crombie. He’s bundled up on the porch on the other building.  He’s actually here with his wife, Daphne. I just assumed she was a consumptive as well, but she’s perfectly healthy. They just got married and if you can believe it, they’re here on their honeymoon. Some honeymoon.

Daphne came over while I was sketching. She knew I wasn’t the talkative sort, but she wanted to be friendly and started to ask me a few questions. I didn’t mind the conversation. It was like talking to my sisters. Ask a question. Give an answer. Ask another question. Give another answer.

She told me they’d be here until later spring. Doctors, orders. ‘Robin’ (as she called her husband) had gotten tuberculosis while overseas and was sent home. The prescription was to sit out on the porch in the cold air and to sleep with the window open.

I took a liking to Daphne. I could tell that she wasn’t used to being married, otherwise she wouldn’t have approached me alone in the storage shed. Mind you, Robin was little more than a bundled up convalescent and she was looking for more engaging company than what Annie and Shannon could give.

We were all still pretty shocked by the declaration of War. George Bartlett sent a message to Shannon to keep any eye on any suspicious activity until Mark Robinson is back in his station. George asked Shannon to be sure the meet the trains at Canoe Lake. That meant 11:15am eastbound from Parry Sound and 4:28 pm from Ottawa each day.

Daphne and I talked for about an hour and I finished my sketch just before noon. I helped her bring Robin in and to the dinner table. He looked pretty relieved to be back in the lodge.

It’s a full moon tonight. I plan to stay up to see the moon and see if it will make an interesting sketch. We’ll all be back in the dining room tonight. Someone brought a Ouija board, but Annie has forbade its use in the lodge. If we do use the Ouija, we’ll have to do where Shannon hides his whisky – in the horse barn.

April 6, 1917 Good Friday, Bad Friday


April 6, 1917 Snow and Earth

The papers came by train this morning with the news. The United States is going to War against Germany. The headlines showed that the Senate voted 82 versus 6 in favour of War. It’s expected that President Wilson will make the declaration today.

I decided to go out to sketch early in the morning. I took one of my smallest boards cut from the orange crates. Good Friday is supposed to be a day of sacrifice and humility so my contribution to the observation is getting out early and painting on a small board. I am hoping that Shannon’s contribution will be staying away from the whisky.

Annie’s decided to have the Good Friday meal at noon. She made a meatless stew. There’s a meat shortage so she’s thinking about making every Friday a meatless Friday. They’re doing that in England and there’s talk of doing it in Toronto, because there is indeed a meat shortage. Annie’s stew was quite delicious so I’m sure there was some beef stock used so it wasn’t technically meatless. But I decided the let the fine point of doctrine slide and complimented on its savoury taste. The other guest enjoyed it too, except for one who broke into an uncontrollable coughing fit, spitting blood on the table. Shannon hauled him up to his room and opened the bedroom window to the let cold air in.

Once that episode was complete (and the tablecloth changed) we started to talk about the War. When Shannon recalled that when he talking to George Bartlett and learned that Mark Robinson was returning to the Park, there was another point George made that Shannon had forgotten to mention. Mark was returning early (sometime next week we believe) to keep an eye on suspicious activities. Bartlett was told that he needed to man the Park to make sure the railway keeps running. Someone called from Ottawa (George had his own telephone and liked to show it to everyone) that German saboteurs might take out the some of the rail lines.

Shannon was incredulous at this possibility, but he liked the excitement it garnered. I started to put two and two together, recalling the visit I had from that that fellow from the Corps of Guides, saying I might be needed in the Park. I kept that fact to myself, and decided that I would talk to Mark when appropriate.

Well, it’s early afternoon. My day’s deeds are done. My sketch was small and quick and I was quite pleased with the effects and the shadows.

Tonight’s going to be a humble meal. Annie’s going to bake some bread, which we’ll break after a bible reading. Instead of wine, we’ll dip it into re-heated stew.

Communion, Mowat Lodge style. I appreciate this type of ceremony. It’s much better than being bawled at by a pastor with soft hands and no sons to sacrifice.

April 5, 1917 Early April


April 5, 1917 Early April

Another cold but sunny day. I could feel the warmth of the sun, but the strong winds removed any notion of warmth. It was windy. Damn windy. It wasn’t pleasant at all today. The wind knocked my sketch box right out of my lap and sent the sketch tumbling onto the ground. The rule that applies to buttered toast that falls also applies to sketches. It fell face down into a patch of dirt. It picked up some but I managed to get it off or cover it with a few more strokes of paint.

Despite trying to focus on the sketch. I was thinking about money But not in a good way. I am hoping that Dr. MacCallum can sell a few of my sketches in Toronto and put the money in my account. I also have over $200 credit with Shannon which I am trying to draw down as slowly as possible by helping out with the chores. This morning I spent an hour chopping firewood. The cold weather means that all three stoves in the lodge have to be going full tilt and Shannon didn’t have enough split firewood to last the day. I chopped enough to keep the lodge going through to Monday at least. Annie doesn’t want anyone to be chopping firewood on Easter Sunday.

The cold weather and strong sun are doing interesting things to the snow. It’s disappearing but not by melting.  I think it’s called sublimation. The remaining snowbanks are like pockmarked crystal banks and it makes for some interesting shapes left on the ground. I expect the snow to disappear quickly, but if this cold weather holds up we’ll see snow in the woods until May.