Northern Lights


April 22, 1917 Northern Lights.

I was at Mark Robinson’s shelter house all night so I decided to make my journal entry before I make my back to Mowat Lodge. I know I’ll end up sleeping all day.

It was around 10pm last night. I was about to go to bed when I looked out my window. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Northern Lights. I grabbed my paints and decided to go to Mark Robinson’s. I didn’t want to disturb the guests here and I knew Mark would enjoy my company even though it was in the middle of the night.

I walked rather quickly, jogged in fact. It took me about 25 minutes to get to the shelter house. By that time the Lights were in full glory. Mark was up when I got there and he kept the stove going during the night.

This is what I painted. I used one of my larger boards that I scraped of earlier. I stayed up until 3am. When I finished I had a few winks at the shelter house. Woke up around 6 this morning. I’ll make my way back to Mowat Lodge but I’ll probably sleep all day.

An update from the afternoon:

I slept until about three in the afternoon. When I got back in the morning I was too tired for breakfast and slept through dinner. I woke and was very hungry so I went to the back kitchen and Old Mrs. Fraser (Shannon’s mother) prepared me some leftovers. She’s particular about saying Grace, so even though it wasn’t a proper mealtime I made the motions of saying a silent prayer (I didn’t pray about anything). It made her happy and I spent a good time telling her about my painting adventure over at the shelter house. I could tell she was mystified by the whole endeavour, but she was also amused. Never in her life, did she dream of staying with her son in an abandoned lumber camp with artists. Things turn out in odd ways, she said, but never odd enough to be not grateful.

Spring Flood


April 21, 1917 Spring Flood

The ice is still on the lakes but it’s flooding everywhere else. Especially by Potter Creek. Below Canoe Lake Station the creek turns into a narrow channel that drains into the lake and it’s this channel where the ice breaks first. Both Potter Creek and Joe Lake drain into Canoe Lake. Joe Lake Dam keeps the water lower but with Tea Lake Dam holding it back and the flow from Potter, the water level rises considerably. The island in the lake, Big Wap, Little Wap, Gilmour and Cook used to be peninsulas.

The sun is strong today and it’s warmer than its been for awhile. There’s a bit of snow left but that’ll be gone today or tomorrow. There’s only snow left in the hills now.

I walked up to Joe Lake Dam. The water is a sight to behold there. There’s ice out in the lake but it’s all broken up by the dam and the water’s pouring through with a thunder. The dam is holding its own but another year or two, it’ll need repair or it’ll be swept away.

I saw a beaver dam. It looked pretty active with fresh cut wood. A wolf was in the distance no doubt scared away when I came. It’s looking for a meal of beavers. The birds are coming back in full force. The Gray Jays are pretty much quiet now because they are nesting. Some geese and ducks are back and they are looking for open water. Potter Creek and Joe Lake dam are the only two open spots so they are congregating there. No wonder the wolves are hanging out.

The wildflowers are starting to come. I see green shooits but nothing in bloom yet. If I see something I’ll bring them back to Daphne. She’ll be happy about that.

I could see some activity at Algonquin Hotel. They’re washing the blankets and they’re hanging outside to dry. Mostly red blankets, but a few grey ones too. Makes for a nice set of colours against the hotel. They should be ready to be open by May 1. Annie will be washing the blankets soon and I need to get my camping blankets washed. It’s a two day affair to do the blankets so I’ll probably help her out.

Mark Robinson told me that more men and materiel will be coming through the Park. Mostly grain from out West but also some munitions and parts shipped in from the Lakes. My guess parts will be coming in from the Kennedy Foundry in Owen Sound too. Mark said the Battalions are coming in from all parts of the Dominion to be shipped out overseas in June. Bartlett’s going to have his hands full making sure the trains get through. No more deaths in the Park I hope.

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


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


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


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.