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.

Early Spring, Joe Lake


Early Spring, April 12, 1917

I spent the early part of the morning writing a letter of Jim MacDonald. I wanted to get it posted this morning so it gets on its way to Toronto. The main reason for my letter was to ask him to send up some paints. I’m not quite running low yet, but I thought I’d better ask sooner than later. I also needed some flyhooks from the shack. I only have three, and I want to make several new flies. The Brook trout will be biting in the open water soon.

I did my sketch down by Joe Lake. I stopped by the Colsons at the Algonquin Hotel. They’re the new proprietors now, and they’re busy getting the hotel ready to open in early May. It’s quite the venture for them. Ed and Molly ran a tight ship at the Highland Inn and they decided to strike out on their own. Part of their motivation to move on was the uncertainty what would happen at the hotel. With Borden talking of nationalizing the railroad, they might make a clean sweep of the staff of the hotels.

I also learned that Ed brought his older sister, Annie Colson to run the Joe Lake Outfitter’s store. Annie lived with Ed and Molly most her life. She took care of the family when their mother died. Annie is rather severe, a result of a tough upbringing, but she’s lovable with the kids. With grown men, that’s another matter.

When I came back, I dropped by Mark Robinson’s house. He was just getting off the phone with George Bartlett. Mark said he couldn’t believe he had a phone, as there were probably only three or four in the Park. Bartlett had the Ranger stations hooked up with phones, because he said he wanted to rule the Park like the Brits rule India – by telephone.

Letter to Jim MacDonald, April 12, 1917

Mowat P.O. Ontario April 12, 1917

Dear Jim,

I’ve been here at the P.O. for almost two weeks now. It’s been a pretty cold spring and there’s still lots of snow in the bush. I’ve made an arrangement with the Frasers that I’ll be able to stay here on account until July at least. I’ll be doing odd jobs to keep the expenses as low as I can.

The sketching is going well. I’ve been out every day. I don’t venture too far out, which I hope to do when the ice is out most likely in May. There’s more snow than I bargained for, so I’ve been using quite a bit of White. I’ll add a list to the end of this letter of things I’m hoping you can send up.

Mowat is getting busier each day. Shannon seems to have done a good job of convincing the consumptives to come in springtime. He’s quite the publicist – ‘Enjoy the Vista View While Recuperating In Comfort’ was his latest ad in the newspapers. As for us, Artists, we apparently enjoy the ‘Rustic Charm’, which means the rooms with the least heat.

I plan to keep the sketches here at the lodge. I am going to have a show here on Victoria day and should have about 60 or so by then. After, I’ll have them sent down, and put in the shack.

Please give my regards to Mrs. MacDonald and Thoreau.




I need a few more paints and Lawren said I could put in on his account at the store. As for shipping, please ask Dr. MacCallum, as he may have some proceeds from some sales.

– White – I’ll need several tubes. I used a lot painting the snow
– Red, Orange, Vermilion, Yellow, Alazarin
– Green – emerald, veridian
– Blue, it’s expensive so just one tube

Also, I forgot to pack my flyhooks. You’ll find about a dozen in the side shed, top drawer in the cabinet. Can you send those along too?

Mark Robinson Returns


April 11, 1917 Birches

Mark Robinson returned to the Park today.  He arrived on the 11:30 train at Canoe Lake Station and settled into the shelter house on Joe Lake. I had heard a few days previous that he was returning and I was eager to see him.

Mark Robinson is one of the senior rangers in the Park. He’s a fixture so to speak. I first met Mark in the spring of 1912, when I first stopped off at Canoe Lake Station. His job was to meet every train and look for poachers. Back then, when I got off, he didn’t know what to make of me and asked me to show the contents of my luggage. When he saw the paints and boards, he was surprised and intrigued. Said he never dealt with a painter in the park before and that I was most welcome. He suggested I stay at Camp Mowat (as it was called then), it was cheaper and Shannon and Annie Fraser was still making the place open for business so they’d charge a cheap rate. Judging a man by a first impression usually is right and I liked Mark right away. Since that first meeting we became best of friends.

I decided he needed the day before I visited him. I took a walk towards Sims Pit, about a mile east of Joe Lake Station. I was curious of the extra activity there and decided to investigate. Sims Pit, gravel pit, had a few shacks, it looked like a tiny military outpost. And that’s what it was. There were several soldiers and about a dozen railwaymen. There was a couple more that looked like they wanted to be anywhere else except for here. The Province had requested the soldiers for extra surveillance due to fear of saboteurs and the other men were there as part of a maintenance crew to keep the rails in shape. There were almost a hundred trains going through the Park each day, and no one could afford a derailment sabotage or no sabotage. There was a tricky section just past Canoe Lake Station, and a previous derailment of boxcars still lay there. The other thing I discovered that Sims Pit was a catchment for ‘Convict Volunteers’ – men that were sentenced by the magistrate to serve time in the Park as bush labourers, instead of in prison. The ones that were caught escaping were held here and then shipped off to the Petawawa interment camp where Germans were being held. So Sims Pit was a sight to behold.

As I made my way back to Mark’s shelter house, I found a nice birch grove with the sun setting behind. It was still cold, but sunset had the warmth and hue of summer. Set behind the hills and the buds of the birch tree, it made for a nice scene. I did my sketch as the light went down and it was getting cool too.

I got to Mark’s shelter house after the sun had gone down. He was setting out his things when I arrived. He had a cane and was limping still from a shrapnel wound in his hip. He got hit late in the year and went back to England to recuperate and returned in late February. As coincidence or irony would have it, he actually met Prime Minister Borden in England. Borden visited the hospital where he was paid tribute to those who made the sacrifice for the Dominion. Borden made them a promise that conscription would become law upon his return. Well, Borden is still in England, and if his boat isn’t sunk by a German submarine, conscription it will be.

So Mark is back in the Park. He had been working for a long time for Superintendent Bartlett and was a trusted lieutenant. Bartlett made sure he got a pay raise from the Province upon his return and gave him permission to fix up the shelter house so his family could stay with him in the summer.

Mark’s one of the few good reliable men that Bartlett’s got. Despite his wound, he needs Mark more than ever. From his years of treks with Bartlett in surveying the Park, he knew it like the back of his hand. One of the duties of the Park Rangers was to catch poachers. The problem was that many of the Rangers were poachers themselves making it difficult to enforce the law. Mark never poached. He didn’t like hunting for the sport of it either. Poachers, saboteurs, or convicts, Bartlett was worried that there was going to be trouble in the Park this summer and he was going to stop it before anything happened.

I left late in the evening. It was dark and cold upon returning to Mowat Lodge. It was another three-stove night.