April 4, 1917 Letter to Florence McGillivray

Mowat P.O.
April 4, 1917

Dear Florence,

Thank you for your letter. I thought I’d better send one off to you quickly, so you can finalize your plans. It turns out that the lodge is filling up quickly, so I’ve asked Shannon to hold a room for you arriving May 4 and leaving on Sunday the 6th. Shannon’s got a whole crew coming in from Ottawa so space is tight and he wants a commitment. I’ve put the room reserve on my account.

I hear you got elected as a member of the OSA. That’s fab, but don’t expect that you’ll be able to charge more for your paintings. On the contrary you’ll become all the poorer because you’ll have to attend all those social functions. Congratulations, nonetheless. Well deserved and I always look to you for inspiration.

As for the room, if I don’t receive word from you otherwise, I’ll expect you on May 4th. You should leave Toronto before noon so you get here at decent time.

Affectionately,

Tom

April 4, 1917 Winter Scene

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April 4, 1917 Winter Scene

During this time of year at Canoe Lake you never know what the day is going to be like. One day it’s like spring, the other, like winter. Today it feels like winter today and the snow’s not going anywhere.

I walked along the shore to the southern part of the lake, where Canoe Lake goes into Tea Lake. I passed by Gill Lake where there is good fishing. Toward Tea Lake, the faster running water in the narrow channel was breaking up some of the ice so it made for a nice scene. The spruces and hemlocks in front of the rest of the bush made for a nice contrast. Another good sketch today.

I had gone out early in the morning and was back by Mowat Lodge by lunch time. Shannon was there and he said he had received an important message from George Bartlett, Park Superintendent. Mark Robinson would be returning to Canoe Lake sometime this April. I was very pleased to hear this news.

Mark was a Park Ranger when I met him first in 1912 and we had become very good friends. I was shocked when he enlisted and went overseas. Especially since he had a wife and young son at home in Barrie. But he said he had the call of duty to go. I respected his decision. I told him I wasn’t about to try to enlist again. I had other things to do in life. I had tried to enlist to fight the Boers in South Africa. If they didn’t want me then, the wouldn’t want me now.

Shannon also said that he received word that Charlie Scrim would be arriving on Sunday. And to top it off, I received a letter from Florence McGillivray that she plans to visit in early May. Algonquin Hotel doesn’t open until June, and the Highland Inn is too expensive. She’ll be staying at Mowat Lodge.

So the lodge is starting to get busier. Despite the fact I liked to be alone a lot of the time, I appreciated the company when I needed it. I’ll need to coordinate the timing of the girls visits [Winnie and Florence]. I don’t want a scene.

April 3, 1917 Early Spring

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April 3, 1917 Early Spring

There’s still lots of snow on the north side of the hills. That’s where I decided to go today.

‘Heading for the hills today.’ That’s what I told Shannon. He smiled because he knew that was a loaded phrase. I was talking to him about the Rockies at breakfast this morning saying it might be a good idea to go out there. One of the guests brought a book that had a good chapter on Jasper Park. The Grand Trunk Pacific was building hotels similar to what was already in Algonquin Park. I had been to Seattle and to Winnipeg, but never to the Rockies in Alberta. Jackson had already gone to the Rockies. I should have gone with him but I decided not to. Maybe this summer.

As for the hills, I walked up by Potter Creek, crossed the rail tracks by Canoe Lake Station, continued north along Joe Lake shore until I was almost at Tepee Lake. I found a nice ridge with birch trees (again) that were casting shadows on the snow and earth. What caught my eye were the colours of the shadows. They were a shade of deep blue. Behind I could see a sliver of frozen lake, which was really the connection between the two lakes – Joe Lake and Tepee Lake.

The snow was still deep, but the earth was showing through at the base of the trunks. I’d hardly call it snow anymore. It’s more like petrified ice, if there is such a thing.

When I finished, I felt good about this sketch. I liked it. I was happy to set this one out for display in the dining room.

I wrote a letter to Winnie last night. I made sure it was posted this morning. She should get it by Thursday before Easter. Friday is Good Friday. Nothing is running.

April 2, 1917 April in Algonquin Park

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April 2, 1917 April in Algonquin Park

A complete and miserable day today. The weather prevented me from going too far from the lodge. It was overcast and the spring winds were strong. It was unpleasant being out there for longer than a few moments. I bundled up as best I could, but when I was sketching my fingers got numb in the few minutes they were exposed and I had to warm them up about a dozen times before the sketch was finished.

The scene I chose wasn’t particularly inspiring. If I don’t motivate myself to go further afield, I’ll be destined to painting birches by the shore. If this goes on, I’ll begin to despise these trees. But then again, part of my plan was to paint the same scene over and over again as the season changes.

Truth be told, I’ve been here just over a week, and the novelty of change has begun to wear off. In fact, I thought I’d see changes, but everything and everyone is about the same as they were before. Shannon with his peculiar habits is beginning to wear on me, and Annie, bless her soul, is so caught up in her chores and keeping the place running the she has little presence to talk or keep company. The other guests are all consumptives, and I am little inclined to hear the repetitive detail of their condition. I am probably part of the problem too. I’ve been rather in a sulky mood the past couple of evenings. The other guests stay clear of me, and I think Annie takes it to heart that something is amiss.

I went out later in the morning and I finished my sketch in about forty minutes around noon.. Despite the clouds, it did clear up for a few moments. I saw the blue sky, and then the clouds moved back in. The sky darkened and my mood darkened too. I went back to the lodge and spent the better part of afternoon in my room reading and laying out some feathers I found yesterday to make some fishing flies.

I was thinking about some other things too. That I should write some letters to Winnie, my father and my brother in law, Tom Harkness. It’s Easter next weekend. I should go visit Winnie, but that would put too much of an interruption into my painting. Her parents are always happy to see me. But despite their welcoming gestures, I can see in their eyes some awkwardness and anxiety. They like me, but I don’t think they appreciate that my affections toward Winnie because it has dampened her enthusiasm for other men to marry. They’ve never said, but I don’t think they see me as the marrying type. I’m not sure if I disagree with their assessment. We never spoke about it when I was up there last Thanksgiving, but you could have written it all over the walls and it still wouldn’t be more obvious.

I’ll work on the flies this afternoon. I’ll try to write Winnie later today or tomorrow. If I write by Wednesday and post before noon, she gets the mail of Thursday. That would be before Good Friday. It would make her happy.

April 1 , 1917 Open Water, Joe Creek

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April 1, 1917 Open Water Joe Creek

The lakes are still covered in ice but the streams and creeks are all open. In the summertime it’s the sound of the lakes that dominate but that’s not the case in early spring. It’s the creeks and streams that dominate the sounds of spring.

I chose a good place to sketch down Joe Creek. Once again, it’s the birches that dominate the scene. Most of the land near the shore was cleared long ago, and the birches dominate the shore.

I wasn’t too far away from the tracks where I was sketching. I could easily hear the trains and they were frequent. You knew which train was a troop train because you could hear the singing and cheering. For the life of me, I never knew how they could keep that up if they knew what they were getting into.

Shannon was telling me that because of the meat shortage in Toronto, they were thinking of opening the park to deer hunting. A flatcar would be sent down with the deer carcasses and firewood to help out with the coal shortage too.

March 31, 1917 An Ice-Covered Lake

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March 31, 1917 An Ice Covered Lake

Canoe Lake is still frozen solid, but the edges are melting away. The small streams feeding into the lake and Potter Creek are open and running. Shannon is done his ice-block operattion so there’s no need to go on the lake with any heavy equipment. That’s a relief for me, because I’m always worried about the horses in these types of operations. I ventured a bit further than yesterday. I did my sketch on the western shore of the lake. I took the old logging road to March Hare Lake.

March Hare Lake is a tiny lake. It stops where the beaver dam starts. My recollection is the beaver dam is considerably larger than last year and it’s managed to raise the water level of the lake by almost two feet.

I followed the stream down towards where it emptied into Canoe Lake. It was a nice view back across to Mowat Lodge and I could see in the distance the hill from where I painted several days ago. Another stand of birches presented themselves well in the foreground so I decided to paint the scene that was not so different from yesterday. I like the look of birch trees together. They’re the first trees to come back after a major pine-cut and the most mature trees around the shores of Canoe Lake because this area was first cut when Mowat Village could not yet even be called a lumber camp.

The ice is still thick on the lake. It’s my bet it will be there until May and there may be snow of the northern-facing hills until June.

March 30, 1917 Birches

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March 30, 1917 Birches

It was one of those days. I could feel it in the air. The temperature was warmer, but there was still a cold winter dampness. I had walked quite a bit yesterday. I was tired. The snowshoes weren’t suited for the snow, so I ended up post-holing my way through the bush. I didn’t notice but my socks and boots were soaked when I got back. I set them out by the fire to dry. I didn’t think much of it, but yesterday’s wet-footed venture put a chill in me today and I decided to stay close to home.

In the morning I went out to the storage shed. It’s the second part and southerly part of Mowat Lodge. It’s a separate but joined structure. There are rooms there, but there is a large storage area that doubles as a stable for the horses. Shannon spends a lot of time there, grooming and taking care of the horses. He also drinks there. Ever since the Prohibition, Annie’s not comfortable having liquor in the ‘proper part of the house’ as she calls it, so Shannon is forced to drink out of doors or with the horses.

Shannon wasn’t there this morning. I don’t know where he was. He decided not to take the horses out for a sap run because the temperature didn’t go down enough and there wouldn’t be anything to bring in. He told me he put boxes for me, and sure enough there was a whole stack of orange crates. As a last resort, orange crates are good because they are light and flimsy. They’re meant to make the trip only once from California and they’re made with few nails and some wire. Trouble is the panels are only about 5″ wide. Depending on the condition of the wood, I can get about four to eight panels from each box, but they are the size of a glorified post card. But I can’t complain. If I use these boards, I won’t be forced to scrape off my better panels.

Seeing that I was feeling a bit under the weather, I only went down to the shore close by. In the low lying area there a stand of birches gave a nice view being in the foreground, so I painted them. When done, I went back and I wasn’t feeling good. A combination of the chills and reading the papers. I was pretty quiet at dinner and everyone knew well enough to leave me alone.