Eleventh Commandment

June 17, 1917

In growing up in the the Presbyterian Church there were two additional commandments that I was made aware of. These were unspoken commandments; I don’t remember hearing about them in the Auld Kirk, but they were the two commandments that ruled our daily lives.

The Eleventh Commandment went something like this: “Thou shall not show any emotions.” The Twelfth Command was a bit more vague: “Thou shalt not show that thou are upset with thine Transgressor.” The Twelfth had an important elaboration: “If thine Transgressor is not present, thou can speak of his transgressions with all Those who are present.” The Twelfth Commandment provided the general framework for dinnertime conversation.

The Eleventh commandment was  straightforward and that was the commandment currently in effect. I’m sure later in the day, the Twelfth would take over dinnertime.

I had breakfast in the back kitchen. It’s amazing when all of the pent up emotions of betrayal and anger could evaporate with a simple, “Good Morning, Tom.”. That’s how Annie greeted me. I didn’t say anything and in observance of the Eleventh, I didn’t smile either.

Shannon came in and said his plan for haying would be delayed another week or so. It rained last night (thunder and lightning too) and the way the weather looked, nothing would be dry for another week. The big clue was the direction of the wind. It was coming from the East. When you had an East wind with clouds and rain, the bad weather wouldn’t leave. Besides, it was Sunday today. Shannon would not be doing anything of industry today. I was surprised Annie let him talk about work.

I said I wasn’t going to church. Shannon offered to bring Annie up in the hearse. I noticed a change in Shannon’s attitude.  It looked like he really wanted to go with her.

“Annie, I’ll come with you. I want it to be known that Catholics can be good church-goers too.”

I was surprised by Shannon’s grand statement. Maybe this was some sort of penitence for unsaid wrongdoings. My guess that Shannon’s move was to head off some of the anti-Catholic sentiment going around. I had learned in Huntsville, that Women’s Christian Temperance Union was whipping up anti-Catholic sentiments. So Shannon’s motivations might be two-fold: first, to maintain good Protestant-Catholic relations, and second, to ensure the temperance movement doesn’t gain too much traction in these parts.

I replied, “I won’t be going. I’ll be staying back.” My adherence to Eleventh Commandment was in full effect this morning.  I showed no emotion. I sipped my tea.

Shannon spoke, “Tom, I know you won’t be doing this today, but I am short of paddles.” It was Shannon’s oblique way of requesting that I do some work for him – he needed some paddles for his boats. I was the only one who could supply them – by making them.

One thing that’s a problem at these lodges is having a good supply of paddles. Nothing is worse than to have a boat with no paddle. Either they break, or they disappear into thin air.  Unlike canoes which disappear and eventually turn up make their way home, paddles are another matter. They disappear. Mostly, they get lost or forgotten. I’ve recovered a few on the shoreline or along a portage.  Once in awhile a guest tries to take one home for a souvenir and then there’s an embarrassing scene at the train station. I can understand the temptation. I always had one back at the Studio. Just holding it in my hand reminded me what I was missing and what I was looking forward to. Paddles aren’t that expensive. I can’t understand folk, especially rich folk, that try to steal something to keep a memory alive.

Making paddles was more of a pleasure for me than a labour. So I didn’t mind working on them on Sunday, but I did it out of sight behind the store house. I don’t recall paddles ever being mentioned in the Bible, so I wasn’t worried about a specific prohibition. I wasn’t worried about being struck by lightning because that would have happened last night with the store.

When Annie and Shannon left, I walked over to the chip yard and fished out a few end pine planks (the end planks are the ones with the bark that come off either side of the sawed log.) Ordinarily, this is scrap, but it makes perfect raw material for a canoe paddle. Using my axe, and hunting knife, I could shape and carve a paddle in about a half an afternoon. It was demanding enough work that that  kept my mind off other things. I made two paddles today.

A few more words about paddles. I would never trade my ash paddle for one of these pine paddles on a long trip. But I would lash one, sometimes two of these in my canoe, for those rare cases when you do lose or break your paddle. If a home made pine paddle got lost or broke, it’s no big deal. It was easier to make another. But I never would want to lose my cherry paddle. It’s thin, sleek, elegant and strong. I never plan to lose it. Unless something really bad happens.

A Stop at Mowat Cemetery

June 16, 1917

I left early from Huntsville. I caught the early morning train and got off at Scotia Junction. I didn’t have to wait long before the train came in from Depot Harbour. I made it back to Canoe Lake by noon.

Before I left Huntsville, I wrote and posted a letter to Billie Bear Lodge. Maybe it’s common knowledge that Winnie and I were going to have a child, but nobody knows our plans to leave. We’ll leave sometime soon and to somewhere far. I don’t know where quite yet but I won’t be like my grandfather, leaving for another country, leaving bastard children behind. I could start fresh somewhere else, but I didn’t want to leave behind that type of legacy.

When I got off the train I decided not to go back to the Lodge right away. I took a walk and found myself going to Mowat Cemetery a quarter mile west of the Lodge. It’s an odd sort of cemetery – there are only two graves there. I find this surprising because of the size that Mowat Village, in its heyday, was over 500 souls. Back in Leith, the village where I grew up was about the same size as Mowat Village, yet there were upwards of 100 occupants in the village cemetery.  Mowat Cemetery had two. It was my impression that nobody wanted to die near Mowat Village or make it their final resting place.  Maybe people got some special sign that before they were about to die, they had to leave. Or if they died, they were shipped elsewhere for eternal rest. I knew that George Bartlett  didn’t like people being buried in the Park. Of the one or two deaths in the Park each year, usually lumber men  Bartlett made sure the bodies were expediently shipped out. Overseas, soldiers would rest where they had fallen. Nobody brought the bodies back.

At present, there only two occupants in Mowat Cemetery. James Watson and Alexander Hayhurst. I remember hearing about Alexander’s death in 1915. He was only 8 years old, died of diptheria. It was one of Mark Robinson’s last duties as a Ranger before he went overseas, to transport the body to the cemetery. The other occupant, James Watson, worked for Gilmour Lumber Co. He died on his first day on the job. No one knew how to contact his family, so they buried him up on the hill and Mowat Cemetery came into being.  Annie told me she doesn’t believe the grounds are  consecrated. “People buried in unconsecrated grounds become ghosts.” Annie says. She’s sure she’s seen the ghosts of Alexander and James wandering down by the shore at night. “Heaven forbid, if they ever come to the Lodge.”

I thought about those gravestones in the Leith cemetery. They’re covered in lichen. The   older stones, majestic as they were, the letters are now faded away and you can’t read them. The smaller stones are knocked over., And the engraved bricks they put in the ground for infant babies are completely covered over, unseen. It doesn’t matter whether you leave or die. You are forgotten in the end. Maybe it is best to be buried in unconsecrated grounds. Like the soldiers overseas. They won’t be forgotten for a long time.

The weather had changed for the worse again. Yesterday, it was warm and brilliant sunshine, and today it’s back to a drizzle and in the fifties. I was wondering if Shannon had cut his hay later last week. It certainly wouldn’t be ready to bring. If this rain keeps up, it will rot into the ground.

I made my way down to Mowat Lodge. The cemetery is on a hill and walk down gave me a good view of the lakeshore and the shoreside dwellings. Last time I was here it was in early spring and the white snow made it look pristine and beautiful. Despite the green, it now looked truly ugly. I could see the vast expanse of the chip yard, once a former part of the lake, now filled with millions of board feet of wood rotting into a spongy mess. I saw  lifeless forms dead trees, roots drowned by the risen lake level. And the logs, the ones that should have been masts for ships or beams for buildings, bobbing in the shallow water or washed up on the mud shore. It wasn’t really mud, it was the muck of rotting bark. I once saw beauty in this, but I began to wonder about the destruction of it all. Gilmour Lumber never cleaned up their mess and I doubt Huntsville Lumber will either The tourists think this is nature and beauty. I guess most don’t have anything to compare it to except for the factories, slums and tenements in the city.

Shannon was out front. He saw me coming. By the looks of it, he was repairing the front stairs. I knew the steps were iffy, but they must have broken through. Shannon had some pine planks which he had cut to size and was laying in as replacements.

“Back from your camping trip, Tom?” He looked me over, “Helluva a shirt and a shave for a camping !” I knew  my story about camping rang as hollow as an empty store tin.

“Yeah, Shan – camping.” Shannon knew by the tone of my voice, that this was to be the established fact, although it was not the truth.

“Yessiree! The fish must been relieved. You didn’t even bring your fishing rod.” He winked at me while drawing from his pipe. “I’ll be done fixing these stairs, soon. Care for a drink?”

“No.” I left it that and went in.

Then the words started to go through my mind. I wasn’t saying anything out loud, but that made little difference.  “Shannon, you have no idea what you’ve done. Both you and Annie have been first class in destroying my life. Not only my life, but Winnie’s too.” Secrets, lies, and ruined dreams. That’s what the world seems to be all about now.

I kept quiet. I went to my room. No one knew of our plans. No one. It was going to stay that way. But for it to happen it was going to be race against time. It needed to be a race of stealth and precision. No one could know of our plans, save for a few trusted souls. And even these few souls could not know the extent of our plans. If knowledge got out the net would be descend. I’d be sent overseas, and Winnie to one those houses away from everyone. No one, especially at Mowat Lodge, could know.

Letter to Billie Bear Lodge

June 16, 1917

P.O. Huntsville

Billie Bear Lodge, Bella Lake

Dear Mrs. Brooks,

I wish to make a reservation for two at your lodge on Bella Lake. Please get back to me if you’re not able to accommodate this request for the dates August 25-31.

Also please advise if the services of a Pastor (Presbyterian or Anglican) are available for that time. I will provide more detail once the reservation is confirmed.

With thanks,

Tom Thomson

Please send correspondence to:

P.O. Mowat Lodge

Last Night in Huntsville

June 15, 1917

Dominion Hotel
Dominion Hotel, Huntsville

I wasn’t expecting to be staying here. I’m at the Dominion Hotel here in Huntsville. I can’t really afford it, but here I am nonetheless. After the way the day turned out, the only place that would put me up for the night was the hotel. For a price, of course. I got one of the cheap rooms. I stayed here once back in 1912 with Alex, before I knew the Trainors.

In the novels I’ve read, a day like this is called the point of no return. Like two trains on the same track hurtling at full speed toward each other. It’s like one of those points in your life when nothing is going to go back to normal. You just hope to pick up what you can from the wreckage and carry on as best you can.

I’ll write about what happened, but first I’ll write about what I hoped to happen. I caught the morning freight train at Canoe Lake Station. The train usually has second class passengers coming in from Madawaska. Rarely does anyone ever get off this train and Shannon never bothers to bring his hearse up this early. “People in second class never tip, and if they want to stay at the Lodge, they can walk down.” Those were Shannon’s words of wisdom. These words of wisdom were really sad when a consumptive unexpectedly came on second class, and had to wait for three hours before Shannon would pick them up.

This morning, the station master wasn’t there and Mark Robinson was away in Barrie (he tries to greet each train for poachers). I had to wave the train down myself. No one saw me board, so no one knew where I was. “I’m going camping,” was my lie from the previous days.

The train is perilously slow going through the Park. If you’re lucky, the train reaches a top speed of 15 miles per hour. This train was empty, so it was going a bit faster than usual. It was probably going to pick up grain from a laker at Depot Harbour. At each trestles, the train would stop, the trestle inspected by the engineer, and then a crawl across the trestle at an old man’s walking pace. At Brule Lake we stopped to fill up for water. We didn’t reach Scotia Junction until well after noon. I was the only one to get off and I had to find the conductor to let me off train. Otherwise I would have ended in Depot Harbour. If that happened, I probably would have boarded the laker upon its return and kept on heading West.

At Scotia Junction, I didn’t have to wait long. Within a few minutes a southbound train came from North Bay and I was on my way to Huntsville. I got there around 2pm. My plan was to surprise Winnie at work but I decided kill some time and go to the barber. There’s nothing better than a professional shave from a barber. I decided to buy a new shirt from the men’s clothing shop and put it on right away. I felt clean and crisp – like a million bucks, as they say.

Winnie works as the bookkeeper at Stephenson & Anderson’s Grocery Store on Main Street. I came in and said hi to the girls and walked to the back of the store. Winnie works in the office in the back near where the shipments come in. I made sure I came as close to 5pm as possible because that’s when her hours ended and I didn’t want to distract from her work if I came earlier. I hoped to set things right between us. Something you can’t do with letters. And then make plans for the future.

I opened the door and I saw her. Her back was facing me. She was bent over tallying up receipts. “Hello, Winnie,” I said quietly.

She whirled around in her chair, “Tom, what on earth are you doing here?” I could see the shock and surprise on her face. My sudden presence was like a lightning bolt out of the blue sky

“I came to see you, Winnie,” I stepped into the office so the stock boys couldn’t hear us. I left the door open, so as not to arouse any speculation. “We need to talk and make plans. We can’t do this by letter.”

Winnie stood up, I could see the tiredness in her eyes. Somehow, I knew this wasn’t just from emotional strain. I had seen other women with the same look when they were  early.

“I know, Tom. We must. But I wish you had let me know you were coming.” She started to gather her things up. It was near 5 o’clock. It was the end of the workday.

“Let’s go outside first, then let’s talk.” I knew there were attentive ears in the store. One of the girls from out front came into the back. The girls never come into the back  so I knew exactly what she was after. We had to go out front door (I wanted to go out the back) but Winnie had to check out at the the employee board to show she was leaving at the appointed time. The exit routine in its entirety was wholly uncomfortable, because every set of eyes was on both us, including the eyes of the customers.

Outside, the late afternoon sun was still bright. I noticed in the sunlight that Winnie was pale. She had only been to the cottage once this spring, the weather was bad, so there was not much chance to catch a tan from the sun. But like the tiredness in her eyes, the paleness of her skin was not explained away by poor summer weather and lack of sun.

“Tom, I’m sure my mother knows now. I’ve been ill in the mornings. And I think my sister knows too. She’s training to become a nurse.”

“How about your father?”

“He doesn’t know anything. He’s been away walking the cutting lines for a week now. Did you  see him in the Park?”

“Yes, I did. Earlier this week. I thought he’d be back by now.” I didn’t bother to elaborate that Hugh went away for more than just work. He need a place to drink in peace, too. Nor did I mention to Winnie that Hugh  attempted to give me some roundabout advice on the very matter we were about to discuss.

“Father’s supposed to be back this evening. I’m supposed to be home before 6 o’clock to help Mother with dinner. If he’s not home by then, we’ll keep it warm for him. Up until a year ago, the trains ran a pretty tight schedule. You could predict the arrival of a train to the minute and make plans. But the growing fear of saboteurs on the trestles wreaked havoc on the train schedules. Once the schedules got so screwed up that two trains met head-on a single track. Thank goodness there was no crash, but it took the better part of the day to sort it out by backing one of the trains up  almost 20 miles to a station that had a long enough siding.

“Well, I’ll come home with you to dinner.” I could see Winnie blanch. There was going to be a train wreck tonight and no backing out. I immediately realized that I had put events into motion and they were no longer under my control.

“Yes, please come for dinner.” Winnie had to invite me, and I had to accept. Now I wished I had never come in the first place. I had become an unwitting participant to the events that were about to unfold.

The walk to Minerva street was only a few short minutes. The talk of our plans was moot now, because we both knew that what was about to happen needed no plan. We came to Winnie’s house. The screen door on the porch was open and we could smell dinner being prepared. Something was being fried on the stove. Probably a poor cut of beef, because beef was so expensive now. But it smelled good.

We went into the house, and there was Mrs. Trainor. She looked at me and politely smiled, “Here for one of your visits, Tom?” She saw that I had my pack with me.

“Yes, Ma’am. I had to come into town to go to the bank. I thought I’d drop by for visit.” I lied. I wasn’t here to go to the bank. I was here to see Winnie.

“Fine, then. I’ll set an extra plate out. You’ll have to wait. We’re expecting Hugh any moment now.”

The trains were now heading full speed towards each other. It was too late for the engineers to do anything. All they could pray for was a quick resolution to whatever fate could bring them. Maybe some would walk away from the wreckage.

I heard the screen door. It was Hugh. He came in. He was dirty and unkempt. He saw me. I was clean and crisp. I must have smelled of aftershave. He smelled of whisky.

“What in hell’s name is he doing here?” Hugh didn’t greet me. He didn’t even look at me. “Winnie, go upstairs. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this. I need to deal with this situation.”

Winnie was white before. Now she was positively ghost-like. She froze. She did not go anywhere. Hugh promptly forgot she was there to witness it all.

“I heard it all from the Frasers!” Hugh growled in a low tone so that the neighbours couldn’t hear. “If you don’t leave now, I’ll send you on your way with stars in your head.” That meant he was about throw his fists. It was going to be a bad scene, unless I did what I was told. I picked up my pack, said nothing, and walked out front.

“Someone should teach you a lesson!” Hugh yelled on my way out. The neighbours heard this. It was dead quiet. He started to say something else, but I only heard the slap of the screen door and creak of hinge as it settled back into the door frame. I stepped off the verandah and went into the street.  The sun was going down and the shadows were starting to get  longer. It was going to be one the first beautiful evenings of summer. There was no reason to be inside anywhere.

I walked a few paces before the screen door burst open again. Winnie ran out. She went down the verandah stairs and with a brisk walking pace, caught up with me on the street. To the casual observer (and nosy neighbour) she tried to make it look like we were going for a regular walk and having a casual conversation. If there ever was a situation where outward appearances were completely at odds with what was actually going, this was it.

“Tom, stop! What are we going to do?”

I kept going, “I’m never coming back to Huntsville. That’s one thing for sure.”

“Tom!” I could hear it all in her voice. Her life was crashing all around her. So was mine.

“I’m going back to the Park first and then I’ll think what’s best next. Winnie, there’s nothing  here any more.  People would only gossip and the shame would be unbearable here. We need to leave.”

“What?” Winnie gasped. The shock of a having child was one thing, but seeing your whole life come crashing down, that was another.

I wasn’t looking at Winnie, I was looking straight ahead, as if I knew exactly where I was going. “We need to go out West. Or South. I’m thinking Denver.” The train wreck was now complete. I was now picking myself out of the wreckage and planning amongst the remnants now strewn about.

“We’ll go to Billie Bear Lodge. I’ll write and set a date. I’ll go from the Park. You from here. I’ll get my friend, Tom Wattie, to help me out.” Tom Wattie, a Park Ranger, was a trusted friend of mine. He lived in the northwestern part of the Park.

“Tom, I can’t leave”

“Winnie, you have to. Otherwise your life is done here.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a figure exiting the Trainor household. It was Hugh, of course. “I need to go before you father makes a scene on the street.”

We walked a few more paces, then I stopped. She stopped too. I turned and faced her. She turned too. As quickly as first turned, I turned forward, and began walking quickly up the street.  Winnie didn’t come after me. She knew there were eyes on her and her father was quickly approaching. It’s one thing to have a family scene in your home, it’s another thing to have the scene on the street. The shame would be absolute. I didn’t kiss her goodbye. I didn’t even squeeze her hand. I just walked up the street and out of sight.

The evening was beautiful. It was only a week from the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. I walked around the town in a daze. The fresh evening breeze made no difference. I felt I had been spit out and there was nowhere to go but out of this town, but it was too late to leave unless I started walking by the rail going up north.

I don’t know exactly how I ended up at the Dominion Hotel but that’s where I decided to stay the night. It’s funny how things come full circle. The first night I ever stayed in Huntsville was at the Dominion. Now five years later, the last night I would ever stay in Huntsville was at the Dominion too. Like all of Huntsville, it was dry as a bone at hotel. I’m never staying another night in this town again.

An Incident between a Motorboat and a Canoe

June 13, 1917

I was minding my own business when Martin Blecher came by in his putt-putt boat.

“Get out of the way! Can’t you see where I’m going?” He yelled at me as he passed me on Potter Creek. The wake from his boat made my canoe bob up and down.

Martin got an Evinrude motorboat last summer and now he thinks he owns the Lake. From what I could see, he had a pail of beer with him.

I knew exactly where he was going. He was going to see the train come in Canoe Lake Station. It was part of his daily routine. The No. 52 First Class from Depot Harbour came in every day at 12:23pm – just around lunch time. The eastbound freights and the lower classes came earlier in the morning. The No. 52 was by far the most interesting train to watch coming into the station because you never knew who or what would be coming off. Most Park visitors came in from Toronto or Buffalo.  They’d take the train north from Toronto, transfer at Scotia Junction, and make the final leg on the Grand Trunk to Canoe Lake Station – or more likely, Algonquin Park Station where the Highland Inn is. Joe Lake Station, only open in the summer, was 3 minutes down from Canoe Lake Station.

I was in my canoe, near the Canoe Lake Lumber Mill when Martin came charging through. He’s pretty proud and arrogant about his boat. There weren’t too many like it around. There was another one up by Cache Lake but the owner got drunk, broadsided three canoes and hit a rock or a deadhead. The boat went to the bottom of lake and he got rescued by the canoeists he hit. Martin’s saving grace, is that there are fewer canoes to hit on Canoe Lake.

I don’t have much to do with the Blechers. They keep to themselves and I don’t see them much. The Blecher cottage is just a bit south from the Trainor Cottage. Not too far away, but far enough to ignore everyone. There’s the four of them, Martin Sr. and Louisa, and their kids, Martin and Bessie. I wouldn’t call them kids, because they’re adults, but they act like kids. I hear them fighting often. Bessie is a teacher and Martin is private investigator (so he says) during the winter months when he’s back in Buffalo.

My view is that Martin is a blowhard. I never believed anything he said. He said he worked for the Burns Detective Agency. There was a new hotshot in the Department of Justice, J. Edgar Hoover. He ordered mass round ups of enemy aliens, mostly Germans but Russians too.  Burns did the dirty work of rounding them up. Martin said, the expression on an enemy alien’s face is priceless when you bang down their door at 4am. Made the job all the worthwhile. Needless to say, I didn’t like Martin. I did wonder out loud once that he was of German descent, may be was an enemy alien. Martin retorted that Hoover was German and Swiss descent, and he was the most red-blooded American there was.

So I guess Martin is a red-blooded American too. I was going to ask him why he was on vacation in Canada when his compatriots were being drafted and going off to war. I decided to not to say anything while on the water because a canoe is no match against a motorboat.

Gardening and Thoughts of Winnie

June 12, 1917

The weather turned for the better today and so did my mood. The sun was out, but there was a lot of dampness in the air. In the afternoon the clouds built up like huge palaces in the sky. You could see where the idea of Heaven came from when the ligth from the late evening sun would illuminate these big billowing masses.

It was a quiet day for me. I spent a couple of hours working in Annie’s garden. The weeds were offering fierce competition for the seedlings. The tomato plants had their head start in the lodge but everything else had to come from seed. The strawberry patch was doing okay, but the strawberries wouldn’t be ready for another couple of weeks. The rhubarb was ready, and Annie was ready too to make rhubarb jams and preserves.

I was mostly thinking about Winnie and what to do. I decided the best thing to do was go to Huntsville and visit her. I wasn’t sure if I should visit her at her parents. Instead I could go see her at Stephenson and Anderson’s where she works and if a visit wasn’t possible, I could stay at the Empire Hotel.

The other thing I was thinking about was conscription. It was becoming an absolute surety. Borden knew he’d have an election on his hands so he’s giving the wives of soldiers to vote in their absence. If there’s an election Borden is going to win, no doubt.

Shannon saw me in the garden and came over. He said he’d need my help with bringing hay in soon. If there’s a good dry spell, he was going to cut some in the meadow later this week and it would be dry enough to bring in next week.

“Sure,” I said. “I’m planning to go way for a couple of days, but I should be back.”

Shannon asked where I was going. “A camping trip, by foot, not by canoe,” I said.

By the looks of it, that satisfied his questioning. Shannon saw things in black and white and he was never one to read between the lines. He could never catch an outright lie either.