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.

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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