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.

Wildflowers Aren’t Out Yet


April 10, 1917 Thaw Snow Banks

It’s getting warmer as each day passes. The changes are becoming more pronounced. There’s still a lot of snow around but I’m starting to see some green. The first real green I saw was the willow shoots. Maybe they were green all winter, but the warmth of the sun is putting life into the shoots.

Daphne was asking when the wildflowers would be out. I said not for a couple weeks, but I promised to keep my eyes out if I saw anything. Sometimes the crocuses get an early start when they are in a sheltered sunny spot. Daphne’s becoming good friends with Annie. I notice she’s in the kitchen quite often talking. Her poor husband is stuck out the porch. Once his condition improves, I’ll pay him a visit and chat. He doesn’t seem to be in any shape for that now.

The War was weighing on us all. The news starting coming in that there was a big battle in France. The biggest battle yet with almost 30,000 Canadians. The newspapers would come in on the trains both from Ottawa and Toronto. They’d be delivered to the Highland Inn first and we’d get the used ones a day later. Shannon didn’t believe in paying for a newspaper subscription so our news was always a day late.

I painted another snow scene. Snow banks thawing on the north side of hill. It was one of those drifts that blows over the hill. It wasn’t a particularly inspiring sketch, but I enjoyed being outside watching the birds starting to arrive. Of course I could hear a woodpecker but I saw a few sparrows, a warbler and a robin. The barn swallows should arriving soon to nest in the stable.

When it’s warmer, I’ll take Daphne out to find some wildflowers.

Owen Sound Sun: Pictures by Sydenham Boy Worth Seeing

“Pictures by Sydenham Boy Worth Seeing”, The Owen Sound Sun, Apr. 10, 1917

Mr. Tom Thomson’s Pictures Show Decided Talent of Promising Artist

In every report concerning pictures exhibited by Ontario’s artists in Toronto for the past few years there has been a paragraph or sentence which, without exception, was one of praise for the pictures shown by Mr. Tom Thomson. He has been spoken of by the highest art critics as a young artist who is on the threshold of an exceptionally brilliant career, and any work he shows always receives marked praise.

Mr. Thomson’s success is of interest to Owen Sounders, for his parents reside on Fourth Avenue East, and he himself is a Sydenham boy, having lived in Leith for many years. A member of The Sun staff had the pleasure, while in Toronto recently of paying a visit to Mr. Thomson’s winter studio in Rosedale, and the visit was all that was needed to convince one that Mr. Thomson is indeed an artist whose name will be much before the public in coming years.

Mr. Thomson’s paintings are almost entirely of nature. Only in a few instances does he introduce figures, and then not with great success. But his studies of landscapes, water, clouds and trees are wonderful, both for their faithful representation of the subjects and for the unusual and even marvellous color effects. Mr. Thomson has simply hundreds of sketches, not on canvas but on boards about 9 in. by 10 in. From these he makes the larger canvases, such as the ones the Dominion and Provincial Governments have bought from him for public buildings. Seen in the small studio these could not be appreciated but when hung in proper surroundings they would no doubt be admirable.

When the artist first begins to place his smaller pictures before one, one is apt to find them too full of color – for Mr. Thomson’s use of color is what makes his work notable. There are wonderful autumn scenes, the crimson and burnished golds of leaf and vine being transposed almost too faithfully, one is apt to say at first, to canvas. There are studies of wild flowers which are exquisite and ones of rocks and still and running water which are wonderfully attractive in their color and in their character. When one has seen forty or fifty of them, there is a change in the visitor’s appreciation. The color begins to grow on one. It is all true to nature, the kind of thing you look at in the field or forest and say, “See how brilliant that is. If it were transferred to canvas some would say that the artist exaggerated.” And though at first the brilliancy rather daunts one, before the end is reached the real art in the canvases becomes apparent and the duller canvases are tame.

There was one picture which the guide of the writer secured for his own. It was a study of a flat field, and two trees. One’s leaves were of a flat mahogany, beech red. The other was a flaming yellow – the yellow of a birch on a certain kind of soil. When we first saw this the yellow and red seemed to – well, scream to us. But when we looked at it for several minutes, the grace and living fires of the trees – hundreds of times had we seen them as vivid – began to dawn on us and before we went we knew the picture was a treasure.

Mr. Thomson’s studies are nearly all made in the North Country. There are a few from this vicinity, but he finds more of the abundant color he loves in the wilderness of the northern forests, and besides, the life he is able to live there – the simple life in every truth – appeals to him. Those who are interested in pictures would greatly enjoy a visit to Mr. Thomson’s studio, and there would be few who would come away without a great deal of praise for the work of the artist.

Accounts with Shannon


April 9, 1917 Birch Trees in Snow.

I needed to talk business with Shannon. I needed to figure out how long I could stay on the account of money I had given him.

Back in 1915, I came into a lot of money at one time. Because of the OSA Exhibition I sold two paintings for a total of $800. That was well more than a year’s wage. It was a good feeling. I went up to the Park in April, and of course Shannon heard the news. He needed to get some boats for a livery service, and I lent him $250. He said that he would keep the money on account and pay me back the balance with interest, once he deducted my room and board. I thought it a pretty good deal, and the way I was drawing down, I’d be able to stay at Mowat Lodge for two full seasons if I didn’t ask for the money back. We settled on a rate of $1.25 a day, and if I did chores and odd jobs, he’d charge only 75 cents. The typical wage for a railworker was about 25 cents per hour, so if I put in a couple of hours during the day that would bring the rate down considerably.

It turned out that during 1915 and 1916, I didn’t stay at the lodge much, so my balance was about $200 when I came back this spring. I needed to agree with Shannon on this balance, considering the interest. He wanted to raise the daily rate to $1.65 a day, almost 40 cents more. He said that cost of food and fuel had gone up. Besides the Highland Inn was charging $2.50 to $3.00 a day so $1.65 was a good deal. If I helped out with the chores, he’d bring it down to a $1.00 a day. I agreed. So the starting balance was $200 and if I stayed until mid-July I could get about $100 back.

A $100 is a lot of money. The Trainors bought their cottage for $100 from the Park Rangers back in 1912.

Last summer, Shannon needed some money to get a deal on canoes. Folks from the Highland Inn would often get off at Canoe Lake Station and want to hire a canoe to return by Lake to the hotel.