Letter JS Fraser to Dr James MacCallum

Best Trout Fishing in Ontario
Several good Bass lakes
A FAMILY RESORT

Mowat P.O., Ontario July 12, 1917

Dr. James MaCallum, Toronto

Dear Sir,

Tom left here on Sunday about one o’clock for a fishing trip down the lake and at three o’clock his canoe was found floating a short distance from my place with both paddles tied tight in the canoe. Also, his provisions were found packed in the canoe. The canoe was upside down. We can find no trace of where he landed or what happened to him. Everything is being done that can be done. His brother arrived this morning.

Will let you know at once if we find him.

Yours Truly

J.S. Fraser

Journal of My Last Spring Timeline ebook

July 9, 1917

Hello everyone,

If you missed my tweets from earlier in November 1916, I’ve produced an ebook (Adobe PDF file) that has my tweets, including the links to my photos and journal entries. Please download and share. I hope you enjoy it.

Here is the link:  ttlastspring-timeline-Nov 2012-July 2013

As a small favour, I’d appreciate if you could answer the poll below. It will help me determine my next efforts.

Thank you for all of your support, it means a lot. May the story never end.

Affectionately,

‘Tom’

Epitaph of Canoe Lake

When I disappeared on July 8, 1917 I didn’t leave a lot behind. My room was nearly empty and the few items I left at the dock were of little value. My earthly possessions dwindled even further when Shannon Fraser sold what little I had for his own personal gain. And when they did find my canoe with its few provisions stashed under a rubber sheet in the bow, it too was sold off to settle my financial accounts. Despite months of searching the shorelines of Canoe Lake my paddle never reappeared. It met its fate either as firewood kindling or abandoned at the Highland Inn on Cache Lake.

My disappearance (or death as most would believe) was a mystery to all but a very few. I was an enigma, preferring to sit in the corner by the fireplace reading alone. I would disappear for days on end. ‘Tom’s gone fishing.’ was the standard answer to my spells of disappearance. No suspicions were ever raised at my sometimes erratic comings and goings. I liked it that way. It was freedom. Or it looked like freedom to others.

Many thought I couldn’t write. It may be a surprise that I kept a journal. I was known as an artist, not as a writer. As my few letters would attest,  never had much to say to others, in words that is.

My journal was unlike my letters. My journal wasn’t meant to be read by others. It was a record of sort. My mind was full of words but my outward expression was in images of sketches, canvases and drawings. No one knew I was keeping a journal. I was private, recording my thoughts, intending these thoughts to help me with my work. I never intended my journal to tell another story, until now. My sketches and paintings expressed what I felt, but my journal captured what I thought.

This is my daily journal from December 1916, the winter and spring of 1917 through to my disappearance in the summer of 1917. I never say ‘death’ because despite the overwhelming odds and evidence my ultimate fate was never truly known to anyone who knew me before July 8 1917.

In retrospect, it’s easier to look at your life once you’ve passed on. When you’re alive, time has a tendency only to march forward, much like those fresh-faced boys marching off to the Front for the first time. But when you are freed from the constraints of time, money and self-doubt about the future you can step back (or float back) to see your life in the larger picture. But when you are living your life en plein air that is not the case. Your thoughts and feelings are expressed from a very narrow view of self but the words put down and read nearly a hundred years later take on additional significance. I hope that you as a reader will see through the immediacy of the words, much like seeing through the crude strokes of my paintings as my critics would say.

A good story, they say, should have a beginning, middle and end. But the best stories, I say, are the ones that have no end. A good painting should be finished. But I knew that my better paintings were the ones left undone. I would let the wood show through. I let the canvas be exposed. When the right mood is captured, why bother to continue?

Sometimes I was compelled to completion despite my mood. But I soon discovered that the act of completion could be an act of destruction. If I tried too hard to complete something that shouldn’t have been, I destroyed it in the end and was back at the beginning. I lost count of the sketches I broke and left in the bush. And the meals I made with the fuel of my failed paintings could have fed a platoon.

People didn’t understand my art, but more deeply, I believe they were afraid to see something new. What they thought was hideous (a dead tree), I saw beauty. You see, in 1916 the world was falling apart before our very eyes. Like a gas attack or a shell killing all the boys and brothers of an Ontario village in some godforsaken trench in France, our world was being blown to bits and art was no exception. Canada being defined as a nation was the last thing on our minds as our men were piling up in the trenches and our women were being left alone on the farms during the long cold winters.

West Wind was never finished. Nor was the Jack Pine. I left them behind in the spring of 1917 and I’m glad I did. If I stayed any longer in the shack for the sake of completion, I would be preparing meals for yet another platoon. During the summer of my death, they remained in the shack, still on the easel and stacked against the wall. It’s good that Jim MacDonald and Dr. MacCallum took care of them. Because I would have taken care of them, in my own way.

I started my journal in late November 1916. Leading up to that I was too busy sketching in the spring, working as a fire ranger in the summer and sketching again in the fall. I returned to Toronto in late October and it took a few weeks to sort myself out.

So what you have here is my story, a good story I believe. This story is like an unfinished sketch and the wood shows through in places. I may cover these pieces of wood over time and then again I might not. Don’t expect a story of mythology. There is no myth here. Just a story about an Ontario farm boy who disappeared one summer day and a girl he got in trouble with. And the story doesn’t end there.

I’ve tried to create my daily journal as best I can. But I found that on its own, it is rather dry reading, so I added some colour and texture in places where needed. Think of my journal as a sketch, and this book as the canvas. Then you’ll know what I mean.

Affectionately,

Tom

Dockside Farewell

July 8, 1917 12:45pm

A final note before I leave. I doubt I’ll have time to write much over the next few weeks so this might be my last entry for a while.

Shannon came down with the supplies I needed. He also came down with $35. That’s all he said he had to give me for now. I took it and packed it away. I didn’t tell him, but he knew that this might be the last time he’d ever see me again. I had a reputation of disappearing without notice and showing up unannounced. I left last fall without saying a decent goodbye, so this wouldn’t be anything new.

I asked Shannon about the sketches. They’re still at the Trainors. Intact for now. Once I got the canoe packed up, I would paddle over and fetch them. I’d take them with me, and where it was possible, I would ship them down to Dr. MacCallum in Toronto. I could probably ship them from Dwight or Lake of Bays. I can’t trust Shannon to do this for me.

It started to rain as I packed up. Shannon said he had to get out of the rain or he’d have to change his suit. I bid him goodbye and he started back towards the lodge. I got into my canoe. It wasn’t completely laden down, so it rode a bit higher than usual and was less stable.

Off I go.

Aftermath

July 8, 1917

It’s 4:30 in the morning. It was a rooster’s crow that woke me. I heard it across from across or down the lake. Sound travels farther at night. The sun wouldn’t be rising for another hour, but the light was already in the eastern sky. I couldn’t see the morning star – Phosphorous was nowhere to be seen.

It was quite a night last night. A party at George Rowe’s with all the men with fists. We   started the evening with George Rowe’s special concoction. Shannon Fraser showed up later with several mason jars of whisky (or something like it). The evening ended in an argument about conscription and Martin Blecher Jr. ended up on the wrong side of my fists. George and Shannon held me back. Martin yelled at me, said something like, “Don’t get in my way if you know what’s good for you!” Martin won’t have to worry about me getting in his way, I’ll be leaving tomorrow.

I need to take care of a few things tomorrow. My sketches are still at the Trainor cottage. I’ll need to retrieve them and when I get to South River, I’ll need to send them down to Dr. MacCallum. Shannon mentioned last night that Hugh Trainor might get rid of them, so I need to get them out. Shannon also said that he managed to get some money together for me. He would give it to me tomorrow.

I plan to leave quietly. I am go canoe the Oxtongue River and make it to the Lake of Bays. There are a number of lodges there, so I shouldn’t have a problem selling my canoe. After that I’ll make my way to South River by the July 14th.

It’s getting lighter and my mood is getting darker. I’ll make it back to my room and sleep the rest of the night off.