Cold Spring


April 17, 1917 Cold Spring

The shores of Canoe Lake can look pretty ugly sometime. Especially in front of Mowat Lodge. It’s part to blame with the rise in the lake levels. Gilmour 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 (close to here). 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. Part of the reason 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 Rangers 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, 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 students – that’s when they all decide to come.

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 begin to 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 some the chores. There’s always lots of things to do for Shannon and company.

I’m also considering getting my Ranger’s license. When Shannon heard that, he said that I better make sure he was doing guiding for him, not for Annie at Joe Lake Outfitters. I said I would take the jobs when and where they came from – Joe Lake or Mowat Lodge. I spoke to Mark about getting my guide’s license and he said that George likes to have a good chat with the fellows before he gives them out. He’s had a few problems in previous years. The guides that were poachers were problems, but the real problem were the ones that would drink during their tours. Alcohol is not allowed in the Park and the Temperance act meant it was now an especially grave sin.

I finished my sketch and now have about two dozen at the lodge. I put a few 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.

Winter Thaw in the Woods


April 16, 1917 Winter Thaw in the Woods.

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.

Shannon asked me to walk with Mildred on her way to school this morning. Mildred is the daughter of Shannon and Annie. She’s thirteen, and this will be her last year of school (Gr. 8) unless she decides to go to high school. That would be in Kingston where she has some family. My feeling she is going to stick around working at the Lodge, or at most get a job at the Highland Inn. She’s too attached to her mother and grandmother to stay away for long.
Mildred looks like Shannon, but she 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.

The walk up to school is a good mile or more. That’s if the crow flies. But you have to make your way around the chip yard, so by the time it’s done, it’s almost a two mile walk. There’s some other kids that live on the farm just further south of Gilmour Road. Shannon takes turn with the family to give rides, taking them to school and bringing them back in the afternoon. When the weather gets better they walk together. Today was a problem for Shannon. He had to put an end to the milk cow (the one with mastitis) and needed the wagon. The other family had an emergency – the mother had an attack of some sort. Molly Colson went to see her last night and the kids were in no condition to go to school today. It’s almost safe to walk, but the wolves are still hanging around. They are fewer in number due to the poisonings, but lately they’ve been hanging around the settlements and scaring the kids. Wolves normally don’t like to hang around people, but there’s a suspicion there’s been some cross-breeding, or being fed by the poachers makes them no longer scared of people. So that’s why Shannon asked me to walk Mildred up to the school this morning, just to be safe. Shannon said he’d be done with the cow and would be able to get her in the afternoon. Despite his faults, Shannon is a good father to Mildred, and she’ll turn out to be a good girl.

After dropping Mildred off, I decided to pay 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 coffee and we sat and chatted for awhile. 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, she hoped to deal with people who’ve been taken down a notch.

I dropped the mail off at Joe Lake Station instead. It didn’t really matter whether it was Canoe or Joe Lake Station it ended up in the same mailbag. I just had to make sure it was the Arnprior-bound bag.

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 it was mostly 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 pretty hard at Joe Lake Dam. The streams have all much broken free of ice now. The winter scenes in the woods are becoming a bit tiresome now so I think I’ll try some rapids in the next few day.

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

Letter to father, April 16, 1917

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.

Spring Thaw


April 15, 1917 Spring Thaw.

It’s Sunday today. I thought of going to the Colsons. They have a lay service at 11am but I decided to stay back for Annie’s Bible reading.

Charlie Scrim is here too and I promised to take him ice-fishing before it’s too dangerous so we decided to go in the afternoon after the Sunday 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 the family business in Ottawa to here in the Park. The Scrim’s have a florist business in Ottawa and many of their customers order flowers for funerals and memorials. Since consumption was a major driver of the flower business, I suspect that Charlie’s family did not want him repeatedly reminding them that he might be the next occasion for flowers. More probably, 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. Consumptives, like out-of-wedlock pregnant women, had a habit of disappearing without notice. And many of the consumptives showed up here at Mowat Lodge. Not sure where the pregnant women went, but it wasn’t anywhere in the Park.

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 allegedly coming up from New York. The raids were never substantiated, but after Borden ordered a blackout in 1915, anything was credible. The Black Tom explosion in New York and the incident on the Vermont border put everyone on a vigilant edge. 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 he speculation was an incendiary fluid was poured by a saboteur on the papers to spontaneously combust shortly thereafter.

I told Charlie that Park Superintendent George Bartlett was getting jittery too. Mark Robinson has come 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. I think it’s because Mark helps him out on his hare-brained live beaver trap scheme. Bartlett is trying to send beavers to city zoos in the US to promote the Park. So far, not one beaver has survived the trip. Charlie and I have a lot to catch up on. More seriously, a couple of years ago, at significant risk to himself, Mark singlehandedly apprehended a killer and his gun in the Park. But Bartlett decided it was an accident and let the man go.

After our chat, I went out to sketch in time to be back for the 11:00 bible reading. I like this time of day in the spring time 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 scene well before noon. I hiked up not too far away from Canoe Lake Dump. The path to the dump is pretty much cleared off. Shannon had mentioned he was going to make a trip when it was dry enough so I thought 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 being close to the dump, I had a good and pretty view of the lake. So I sketched sitting on old chair I found that had no back. I’m not sure why the chair was in the dump. It could be fixed. At Mowat Lodge much of the furniture has gone through a generation of repairs so this certainly wasn’t from there. I’m sure if Shannon sees the chair he’ll bring it back.

I went ice-fishing with Charlie in the afternoon. We went down to the shore of Canoe Lake just in front of the Blecher cottage. Saying that Mowat Lodge is beside the lake is a misnomer. In truth, it’s about 250 yards from the shore. A good walk for any consumptive. Charlie was tuckered out by the time we got there. We chopped a small hole and managed to catch a couple of ‘ling’. 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 acclaimed when she first saw a ling. I thought she was talking about Shannon not being welcome.

Sunday finished out as any Sunday should. I’m planning to write a letter to my father later this evening or early tomorrow. I want the letter to make the train tomorrow morning.

Winter in the Woods


April 14, 1917 Winter in the Woods.

It was Saturday morning breakfast this morning. On Saturdays, Annie likes to put on a bigger selection than the other days of the week. On Sundays she likes to have a humble breakfast, while on weekdays it’s more of a simple working man’s breakfast.

Shannon had a crisis this morning. Annie went out to milk the cow and could get nothing more than a yellowish puss from it. Mastitis. The cow had mastitis, a nasty infection in the udder. Shannon took a a look at the cow, and it wasn’t just one quarter, it was all four infected. This cow wasn’t going to be long for this world, and a surfeit of old cow stewing beef would be in short order.

That meant Shannon needed milk for the week. In a pinch he could borrow some from the Colsons, but he’d have to start ordering from the Renfrew Creamery. Grocery shipments came in on the Friday train. They had a special ice-car to ship milk and butter but it only came once a week. You had to mail your order in on Monday, and it would arrive on Friday. That meant almost a week of milk rationing.

A few things about the rail services here in the Park. Mail and newspaper delivery was about as good as it gets. Ironically, being in the wilderness here, we had better connections to the outside world than most of the province. The rail stations had telegraphs, Park Headquarters and the Rangers’ cabins had telephones. You could phone to New York, Ottawa and Toronto – if you had friends on the other end with a telephone. They were still pretty new and most business was still done by mail and telegraph. Mail was especially efficient. I could send a letter by noon the one day, and it would be in Toronto or Owen Sound by noon day after next.

Food shipments were another matter. The railwaymen treated food shipments as their own traveling buffet. They would help themselves to the sausage, butter and fruit as they saw fit and to cover their tracks they would feign an unloading accident on the station platform. Once Shannon returned thoroughly enraged, when his orange crates were busted and all of his oranges had rolled down the hill into the lake. In his rage, he neglected to notice that he was missing several pounds of butter, links of sausages and milk. Annie noticed this when she reconciled the shipment with the order but by that time it was too late. As a result of the unreliable food shipments, the Frasers try to order as little as they can or food that takes some effort to steal and prepare – like bags of potatoes or flour. But they needed milk, so they had no choice to start ordering again.

I went sketching in the early afternoon. It was spring in the openings, but it was still as much as winter in the woods. I went due west into the bush and came across a grove of young maple saplings growing beside a pine stump. The stump was over 3 feet in diameter, so the fate of this tree (from many years ago) would have been a mast for a tall ship. You could see the maples were competing for the light and were growing as tall and quickly as they could. Only a few would survive into maturity. I couldn’t help but relate this to Vimy and the boys overseas. Thousand had to die, so only a few fat old men could benefit in their armchairs. Like a lumber baron or an industrialist.

When I returned, the consumptives were out on the porch. It was a miserable day for them. The cold wind was coming straight at them from across the lake ice. One of them was in tears and wanted to go back in. But Shannon wouldn’t let them. He had to follow the doctor’s orders or he wouldn’t get the extra doctor’s allowance they paid him. He needed the extra money more than ever to pay for the milk from Renfrew.

Path Behind Mowat Lodge


April 13, 1917 Path Behind Mowat Lodge

I received a letter from my father this morning. He included in the letter the article in the O.S. Sun. It felt a little funny reading the article. I don’t really like the attention from the newspapermen because they always think they have the last word on everything. Especially the art critics like Charlesworth, and that’s one of the reasons I decided not to show in the Spring Exhibition. But this article was on the positive side, so the least it did is spare my parents of the embarrassment.

My father said that my mother was disappointed that I couldn’t make it up this spring. I would have liked, but the rail connections are poor between the Owen Sound and the Park. It would mean I’d have to travel down back to Inglewood and then back up through Barrie. The extra distance and connections would have mean two days of extra travelling with the expense of staying over at Allandale or Scotia. I will write a letter to my father in the next few days.

This morning I went out behind Mowat Lodge. The sun was back out, and the ice pellets that fell yesterday were quickly melted by the sunlight. The snow is still deep in many places and along the paths that have been travelled on by sleds and still solid with the snow. It’s almost an irony that the better traveled paths in winter are the most difficult to traverse in spring time. I walked along one of the paths and came upon this nice scene later in the morning.

This path in the sketch is one several paths that run off from Gilmour Road down towards Canoe Lake. You can see the lake in the distance, still iced over but the ice is getting rotten and blue. Birch trees are on both sides of the path, and there is the occasional spruce tree. These paths were used to haul the pine logs down towards the lake and then towed up toward the sawmill.

I also helped Shannon this morning to get some balsam boughs. It’s the latest in his scheme to illustrate the health-compelling benefits of Mowat Lodge. Drafty doors and windows also provide health-compelling benefits according to Shannon. Every week he puts fresh boughs of balsam in the rooms of the consumptive guests. Apparently the balsamic emanations from the boughs are helpful for breathing. For an extra charge, Shannon also makes bed mattresses out of the boughs. He got the idea when he heard that the Nominigan Lodge uses the boughs for bedding. It doesn’t look too comfortable to me.

When I returned, I learned that my good friend, Charlie Scrim is coming from Ottawa. He’ll be staying at the lodge for recuperation. He has the consumption too.