Letter to Dr. James MacCallum

Mowat P.O.
Apr 21

Dear Dr:

I have been here for over three weeks and they have gone very quickly. For the last two or three days the weather has been fairly warm and last night we had quite a heavy thunder storm and the snow is pretty well cleared off. just patches in the bush on the north side of the hills and in the swamps so now I will have to hunt for places to sketch when I want snow. However the ice is still on the lakes but it is very thin this year on account of deep snow over it through the winter so it will not last very long.

If you come up here this spring. I would suggest that you come some time around the tenth 10th of May as the flies are not going properly until about the 24th.

It is likely the ice will be out sometime this month.

Have made quite a few sketches this spring. have scraped quite a few and think that some that I have kept should go the same way. however I keep on making them

Yours truly
Tom Thomson

An Unnecessary Inquest

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April 20, 1917

Today, I heard someone died in the Park. Joey Kehoe. He was only seventeen. I heard the news from Mark Robinson. He came down the the lodge this evening and he was visibly upset. We did some small talk first, and when all of the other guests went to bed he did some more talking.

Joey’s death happened on Thursday – two days ago. It happened by Islet Lake, near the rail bridge. Nobody was sure exactly what happened, but he was found dead beside the tracks two hours after the train went through. The train was no regular train, it was a troop train. The troop trains came this way because it was the quickest way to Ottawa. The recruits from out West would come in by steamship at Depot Harbour, and when there was a good load of them, they would go on the Grand Trunk Line to Arnprior, to Ottawa and then to Montreal and Halifax where they were shipped overseas.

Whenever a troop train came through the Park, George Bartlett would get a call from Ottawa to make sure the rail lines were safe through the Park. Several Park sections were tricky, but more importantly, the government was worried that enemy aliens would sabotage the lines. It’s bad enough to have a rail bridge or trestle blown up, but it’s infinitely worse to have a load of troops hurtle to their deaths.

Mark Robinson said that Bartlett got the call Wednesday afternoon, and he needed to muster his men to guard the rails for Thursday morning. Now I understood why all of the shelter houses had telephones. Bartlett needed the ability to mobilize the Park Rangers at short notice.

Bartlett ordered the Rangers to get section men to guard the bridges throughout the Park. In the eastern part, the Blue Lake section gang was ordered to watch the bridge at Islet Lake, and it was Joey Kehoe’s turn. He’d have to stay the night and they’d pick him up the next morning. When they came, they found him dead. When Bartlett heard the news he ordered the Rangers to come to Park Headquarters this morning. Mark Robinson went to Cache Lake were he met with other Park Rangers, seven in total to discuss Kehoe’s death. After a brief discussion Bartlett decided that it was an accident and there was no need to discuss the issue any further. Tom McCormick thought an inquest should be held but Bartlett would have nothing of it.  He ordered that Kehoe be sent back to his family on the next train possible.

I could tell by Mark Robinson’s recounting of the story that he agreed with Tom McCormick’s position and that he felt that Bartlett’s handling of the affair was too abrupt and cursory. But Mark’s a good soldier, and he said that what he saw in Europe would make your hair curl, and its best to follow orders without question. I believe that’s why Bartlett asked for Robinson to be in the Park back so soon after his service overseas – not because he was a good man (that counted) but that he would follow orders. I think the other Park Rangers, especially McCormick, got the message, that if they didn’t stay in line, then they could go to the Front instead.

So Mark and I sat by the fireplace for a good while. Shannon came over too, and we talked some more. No whisky was in sight because Mark wasn’t a drinker and Shannon knew well enough that he needed Mark’s goodwill in times of need.

As for sketching today. I did go out but not for long. The wind was biting cold this morning and it was strange weather. A thunderstorm last night, rain, and then snow pellets.

As for Joey Kehoe, I feel sorry for him and his family. Mark told me that his father died the year before and Joey was the sole support for his mother and two younger siblings. You think there would be compensation for the families in these situations, but you never hear of it. The Park is silent about these things.

Thinking and Sketching

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April 19, 1917

I spent a lot of time thinking today. What am I really doing? I don’t know but I’m sketching every day. Is what I’m doing a true urgency of mission or am I doing it because my energies need to be put into something whatever that is.

We try not to talk about the War that much. It’s supposed to be so far away, but the newspapers come in everyday with stories of Germay’s impending defeat. Every day, slightly different narratives, but the same stories, nothing changes. Like the story about the two brothers, who hadn’t seen each other for seven years. They had enlisted in different parts of the country without each other’s knowledge (I don’t think they were close to begin with). And then they unexpectedly meet each other in the trenches in France. A feel-good story for the newspapers. Until two weeks later one of them gets killed. I wonder why the newspapers don’t write the story about the poor mother in Dorset who lost her three sons over the course of eighteen hours in battle. No, that wouldn’t make it into the paper.

We talk about the war, but we’re careful. Someone said in a newspaper editorial that ‘any difference of opinion should be employed fighting the enemy. There’s no need to waste fighting here’

So what am I doing. I’m sketching. I’m drawing. I’m painting. I find it distressing that we’re fighting the very ones I drew inspiration from. The German Expressionist, their insistence on bold strong colour and harsh depictions. The North lends itself to these techniques and it was me who introduced the rest to what was here. If I hadn’t, they’d still be painting scenes of farmhouse, bland countrysides and maidens sitting on the beach.

It’s good to have a plan, but sometime it’s better to live day by day and catch the moment when it’s appropriate. I just remember when Lismer came up to visit me for the first time, how he was shocked by the contrast of the Park to what he had known of the countryside in England. I knew that too, but maybe not as intensely. The landscape where I grew up in Leith was pleasing but not so inspiring with intensity with what I see here.

Once I finish this series of sketches I think I’ll move on. The sketching should be good until later May before the bugs get too bad. It’s been a cold spring, so that should mean a couple more weeks of bug-free weather. I’ll get some guiding work for May and June and starting thinking about moving on. Most likely out to the Rockies.

Zeppelins of Canoe Lake

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April 18,1917

I am the artist. Shannon is the dreamer. Or maybe the schemer. We’ve been reading a lot about the Zeppelin raids in the papers. I made a sketch in the summer of 1915 when the storm clouds reminded me of Zeppelins. The big clouds always remind me of Zeppelins now.

Shannon hit on another money-making scheme today. He’d turn Mowat Lodge into the centre for airship tourism. I couldn’t believe what he was saying, but then again he says a lot of things that I don’t believe in, so there was no reason that anything would be different this time. I listened.

Shannon said he was thinking about it a lot. Air travel was the way of the future. The trains were about bankrupt and the government was about ready to take over the Grand Trunk. Some of the trestles were about to fall apart, and it would only take one trestle failure to paralyze the Park. Business was good with the consumptives, but it was the tourists from the United States that had all the money. And that money needed to get into the Park, or more specifically, into Shannon’s hands.

With the War, aviation was advancing at a breakneck pace. Barely a week went by without the papers having an article on some new-fangled flying machine or stories of new exploits of airmen. Night bombing raids were the latest advancement. Submarines were the thing of wonder at the beginning of the War, but now it was aeroplanes and airships, especially the Zeppelins.

The Zeppelins were a sight to behold and they especially terrifying. I remember in the summer of 1915 reading about the German fleet of Zeppelins bombing cities. “Baby-killers” is what the Brits called them. When I saw the pictures in the papers I could only imagine them overhead, over 500 ft in length. I couldn’t the size so I paced the length out on the ground. After that, I couldn’t comprehend how a thing of that size could ever get in the air. Now there were reports were reports that these behemoths could fly over 50 miles per hour. Size, speed and terror.

That’s when Shannon did the math. Zeppelins travelling as the crow flies meant shorter times to the Park. The train ride from Toronto was over 9 hours (if you had good connections). A straight flight from Toronto would be just three and half hours. From Buffalo, it would only be a little over four hours. The way Shannon saw it, the Zeppelins could be flying money machines coming in from the Great Lakes and from the Eastern States. He could see the ad, “Mowat Lodge: Best fishing. 4hr Zeppelin ride from Buffalo”

Shannon started hatching his plan. He could convert the old spur line into a Zeppelin docking area. A wooden docking tower could easily be built (after all there as more than enough wood around). The area was reasonably flat that an aerodrome could be built and with it being close to shore, it could also service floatplanes. Another reason for the aerodrome was the possibility of an airmail service. Carrying post by plane, Shannon claimed, was the next big thing. Carrying post by floatplane meant that whole Park could be serviced. It was a recipe for wealth.

Annie weighed in on the discussion. She forbade Shannon to run a newspaper ad with any notion of airmail or Zeppelin travel. She was not pleased when Shannon ran an ad claiming that they had an open fireplace at Mowat Lodge (they didn’t). They had to scramble to get one built before the guests came. That certainly wasn’t going to happen with Zeppelins.

I enjoyed listening to the conversation. Shannon always had these flamboyant schemes and he liked to entertain the guests with his plans. The consumptives were a captive audience, but the other guests simply disappeared when these types of topics came up. Charlie Scrim and I would stick around, and only after Shannon would leave we would bust our guts laughing.

As for my painting today, I went out in the bush behind. I painted a small 5 x 7 panel but I didn’t really like it. I scraped it out of frustration and turned it over and did some sketching with a pencil. I was thinking too much about Zeppelins.

Cold Spring

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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

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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.