June 13, 1917 Get Out of My Way

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 rocked my canoe.

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 know exactly where he was going. He was going to see the train come into Canoe Lake Station. It was part of his daily routine. The No. 52 First Class from Depot Harbour comes in every day at 12:23pm – just around lunch time. The eastbound freights and the lower classes come earlier in the morning. The No. 52 is by far the most interesting train to watch coming into the station because you never know who or what would be coming off. Most Park visitors come in from Toronto or Buffalo.  They 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, is 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 aren’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. The father is friendly, but the rest of the family, they keep to themselves. 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 believe anything he says. He is supposed to be an electrician but he says he has started working for the Burns Detective Agency. There was a new hotshot in the Department of Justice, J. Edgar Hoover. He ordered mass roundups 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 more worthwhile. Needless to say, I don’t like Martin. I did wonder out loud once that he was of German descent, may be was a 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 Canadian in a canoe is no match against an American in a motorboat.

June 12, 1917 Hoeing in the Garden of Eden

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 light from the late evening sun shone on the big billowing masses. God must be hiding in there somewhere.

It was a quiet day for me. I spent a couple of hours working behind the Lodge in Annie’s garden. It was no Garden of Eden because the the weeds were offering fierce competition for the seedlings. Man needed to keep this place in order because God wasn’t up for the job. He was busy with the trenches in Europe. The tomato plants had a head start in the Lodge but everything else had to come from seed. The strawberry patch was doing okay, but they wouldn’t be ready for another week. The Strawberry Moon was a week ago, and the strawberries wouldn’t be ready until the New Moon had passed. Strawberries ripening after the New Moon – maybe that was a sign of something bad to come. I’ll have to ask Annie, she knows about those things.  But the rhubarb was fine and dandy, ready to be harvested. That might be a good sign – sour tart needing lots of sugar. Annie wanted to make rhubarb jams and preserves today and she asked me to cut some.

While at the hoe, I was thinking about Winnie and what I should do. I decided the best thing was to go to Huntsville to visit her and sort things out. I wasn’t sure if I should see her at her parents. Instead I could go see her at Stephenson and Anderson’s where she works. I could stay at the Dominion Hotel. I stayed there the very first time I came to Huntsville with John McRuer. The other thing I was thinking about was conscription. It was becoming a certainty. Premier Borden knew he’d have an election on his hands so he’s giving the wives of soldiers the 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. If there’s a good dry spell, he was going to cut some hay in the meadow later this week and it would be dry enough to bring in next week.

“Tom, can you help me with the haying?” Shannon looked at me, took off his hat and wiped his brow. I’m sure the sight of me working made him tired.

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

“Where are you going?” Shannon inquired.

“I got business to take care of,” I said.

My response satisfied his line of questioning for the moment, but I’m sure he’d continue the line of questioning with Annie. Shannon has the good sense to know when a white lie is being told, but it is Annie he depends on to shake out the truth behind the white lies. Let them figure it out, I thought to myself. I’m sure Annie knew the situation already.

So there I was, hoeing in the Garden of Eden, while the world seemed to be falling down all around me. I concentrated on what I could do – clear out the weeds and bring rhubarb to Annie.

June 11, 1917 Edith’s Postscript

June 11, 1917

It was another miserable day today. Mist and rain. I stayed inside. I went down for breakfast but then I returned to my room for the remainder of the morning. I did get a letter in the post today and read it in my room. It was from John McRuer in Denver. He sent a thank-you note for the sketch I sent down in May. Despite the distance between us, I feel that John is still one of my closest friends.

The letter was distressing. His wife, Edith wrote it, not John himself. He must have dictated it because of this failing health. Back in 1913 he got the consumption and decided to move to Denver for the mountain air and the new cure therapies he was hearing about. He moved but he’s been sick ever since. The main part of his letter had nothing of a distressing nature, “everything was jolly” so on and so forth, it was the postscript  by Edith that threw me.

“P.S. Dear Tom, John is not doing well. The doctors say that he won’t last through another few months. John’s brother Jim has gotten leave from overseas and will be arriving in Denver very soon. It’s by hope and faith that I will be with him through to the very end. If you want to see him, you should come as soon as you can. A visit by you, his dear friend, would lift his spirits immeasurably.

Love from both of us,

Edith”

That postscript opened up another possibility to my future. I was thinking about going West, much like Jackson did a few years ago, but going South would be entirely different. I had heard about the Grand Canyon Park, Yosemite and the Sierra Nevadas. I had read about  the Anasazi Indians and their mysterious dwellings in the cliffs. I could go to Denver then venture on further South.

Early in the afternoon I ventured out unseen. I had heard that Mark Robinson was going back tomorrow to his family in Barrie. So I decided to visit him. He was going to be away for the better part of three weeks – away from the black flies. The reason was vacation and to spend time with his boys and twin girls and get the family ready to return with him to the Park for the summer months. Bartlett realized that the married Rangers needed to be with their families so he let them stay with them in the ranger shelter houses. The shelter house at Joe Lake had two rooms and a kitchen, more than enough for summer living.

I walked down to the shore. I wanted to see if Hugh Trainor was still there. The cottage looked empty. He must have left this morning. I’m sure he went along the Gilmour tote road to walk the lines. Depending upon which direction he went he could pick up the late afternoon train and be back in Huntsville by night.

I walked up Potter Creek, crossed the bridge and then spent some time above Joe Lake Dam. I sat on the shore and skipped stones into the water. There was no wind and the water was like glass with mist settling on it. I’m not sure why, but the sounds in this type of weather travel far and long. You can hear everything on the lake. As I skipped the stones, I could swear I heard the echoes in the distance. It was probably my mind playing tricks on me, but that was okay.

I walked to Mark Robinson’s house and I saw him struggling outside with some pine logs.

“Howdy, Mark,” I said.

“G’day, Tom. Just in the nick of time, can you help me move this log over?”

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“The yard’s not even. I need some more yard room for the kids. The ground falls right into the lake. I’m making a berm to level things out. That’s the next part of the project, ” He pointed to a pile a gravel, “I had meant to get that in before I leave tomorrow. No luck. Bartlett has me doing other things.”

I knew the real reason. His hip wound from overseas severely curtailed his ability to lift anything heavy, like pine logs and gravel. With heavy work, Mark could only work at the half the pace of a healthy man. I knew it bothered him, but I guess he should be thankful. He came home more or less in one piece to a steady job. Others came home with no legs and arms to hungry families and no job.

“I’ll fill it in when you’re gone,” I said.

“No need to do that, Tom. I got Jack to help me out when we’re back.”

Jack is Mark’s eleven year-old son. Jack wouldn’t have to do it, because I would do it while he was away.  I dropped the subject because any more talk on the matter would have raised it to a matter of honour. I know when to shut up about these things.

“Mark, I need to know if I can store some stuff at your place. I need to find a place for my sketches.” Hugh’s sudden change in tone yesterday spooked me so I thought I’d better get my sketches out of the Manse.

“Tom, you can store them here while I’m gone. But I can’t be responsible for them. Plus, I have to lock the place up good while I’m gone. There’s the telephone and gun. Bartlett won’t let me give the key to anyone.”

I dropped this subject too. I helped him with the logs. When we finished, Mark made some tea and we sat on the verandah. We watched the mist turn into a steady rain. There was no need to talk. We knew each other well and we didn’t need to say much to each other to keep company. Besides, the rain on the leaves made such a pleasant sound, nothing more needed to be said.

June 10, 1917 Freights Run on Sundays

June 10, 1917

Lord’s Day today.

This morning I heard three eastbound freights going through the Park. I also heard an engine doubling back. Judging by its high pitch, it was racing to get to a siding before the next freight came. For the ascents with heavy grain cars, they need a double-header, one big engine and a small engine. This must have been a small engine, alone, after having done its duty.

Sundays on the rails used to be silent. The Lord’s Day Alliance made sure no freights ran on Sunday. But come 12:01 am on a Monday in Depot Harbour, the freights would be let loose like horses, and they’d roar through the Park before sunrise. But that all changed with the War. Freights run on Sundays. Sunday is no longer a day of rest and worship.

I went with Annie and Mildred up to Hotel Algonquin to attend the lay service. Shannon didn’t go. Said he had better things to do. Old Mrs. Fraser was in no condition to present herself publicly so she stayed behind. Said she would read the Bible and do the Rosary.

We walked. Annie, Mildred and me. It was cool and pleasant. No bugs, but the road was a bit mucky. It was just after 10 in the morning and the dew hadn’t yet cleared up. Annie got the hems of her skirt wet and she had to hitch her dress up stepping over puddles. As we approached the bridge, the road looked like it was covered with snowflakes. But they weren’t snowflakes. I looked closer to discover it was clumps of fallen dandelion seeds with their fluff. They must have been afloat in the night air,   caught the night-time dew and fell to earth. I had never seen such a thing. It was like a battalion of angels fallen in the muck.

“Mildred, I think those came from angels’ wings.” I pointed to the dandelion fluffs, “I can see the headline now: Archangel Michael has Wing Trouble: Forced to stay at Mowat Lodge. Enjoys Heavenly Cooking.” Mildred smiled. She  enjoyed my wry sense of humour, especially when it bordered on irreverence.

Annie put a stop to the conversation, “Tom, you shouldn’t make fun of these things!” Then in earnest she said,”Those who mock the Lord will be set on the straight and narrow.” I don’t think that was a Bible verse. Where did that come from? It sounded like something an Evangelical would say. Maybe she was referring to the Canoe Lake spur lines ripped up well in advance of the Second Coming. After the surprise wore off, I took the cue and I didn’t say anything more. The rest of the walk we were quiet. The lay service was uninspiring (Ed Colson had a cold), and the walk back was solemn. Today’s Sunday would play out like most Sundays – quiet reading, some pipe-smoking and nothing much more.

It was turning out to be an ordinary Sunday until I saw the Manse – the Trainor cottage. Someone was there.

There was smoke coming out the chimney. It couldn’t be Winnie because she had to stay in Huntsville for work. Odds were it was her father. I was a bit perplexed. I didn’t expect anyone to be there until nearer to Dominion Day. I had promised to take care of their garden while they were away. Maybe it was the Archangel Michael, getting ready to look for fallen angels in the garden.

“Annie, I’m going down there. See you in a while.”  The look I gave Annie, reminded her of her the promise of a few days earlier. Mildred, I hoped, was oblivious to this arrangement.

I turned off the road and down to the shore. I went out front by the lake. On the porch was Hugh Trainor, or “Mr. Trainor” as I always call him.

“Down at the Lake?” The tone of my voice made my question double as a greeting.

“Hello, Tom. Here for work. I have to check the stacks from the cutting lines. The drive’s soon.” Hugh was referring to the winter cuts that were stacked up over the winter for the log drives in the spring.

“Came in on the 586 last night. Rode with the pigs.” Hugh meant real pigs. It was a livestock train he was on. “Care to observe the Lord’s Day with me?” He produced a bottle of whisky, “Let’s go inside this house of worship.”

I followed him inside the Manse. We sat at the large table in the kitchen. The cottage was the former headquarters for the Park. Rangers had lived here, and it was used as a Presbytery by missionaries. That’s how it got the name, the Manse. I could see the stove. It had a kettle and a pot of stew of sorts. The pokers and shovel were on a stand beside. A trail of mud led from the front door to the stove. A pile of firewood was dumped by the fire brick behind the stove. If Margaret was around and saw the mud, there’d be hell to pay. If Winnie was around, she would already be on her knees scrubbing it out.

Without further ado, Hugh poured me a glass. In many ways I was already part of the family. I visited the Trainors often in Huntsville. When they were at Canoe Lake, I would  come by for dinner and spend the evening. Hugh and Margaret knew I was the best chance for their daughter. Hugh was dubious aboutof my chosen pursuit, but I gained his respect a few years ago, when I could name every species of tree we came across. He knew his pines and spruces, but beyond maples, his grasp of hardwood species was light. I taught him the hardwoods.

Hugh began, “Truth be told, Huntsville is dry as a bone and Margaret just got elected to the Temperance Union. I have to go to the Park to drink.”

I smiled, “Remind me not to bring a bottle, the next time I visit Huntsville.”

A figure appeared through window. There was a knock and the creak of the screen door revealed Shannon.

I greeted Shannon, “Glad you could make good for the afternoon service. When hooch is involved the service is non-denominational. Today’s sermon is on pugilism. Pastor Hugh’s got the 80 proof.”

We all laughed. Pugilism was a fancy word for boxing. ‘Pugilist’ to me sounded religious, like ‘Apologist’. Once someone asked what denomination I was (the real motive of the question was whether I was a Catholic or not) and I answered, “Christian Pugilist.” When asked what that was, I said it was a form of Methodism, only with fists.

The topic turned to boxing. A popular topic in the Park. The newspaper covered the boxers in the City. Shannon was particularly proud of “Patsy” Drouillard. “Fights like a Catholic should.” Boxing was popular because the men of authority in the Park would rely on their fists to settle disputes. Hugh, in his earlier days, had to straighten out a few bush camp uprisings. Park Superintendent George Bartlett looked favourably on the fisted approach. His father in England was a professional boxer, a real pugilist. Bartlett was destined for the same fate until he decided to come to Canada. Like Hugh, more than a few times, Bartlett had to exercise his authority with his fists, and it was known throughout the Park that if George Bartlett came to deal with a matter, it meant a few knocked-out teeth or bloody noses before things got settled.

We stayed there for the good part of the afternoon. Hugh said that I should come up and visit Winnie. Said she hasn’t been well for the past few days and isn’t sure she can make it down to the Lake. Judging by his demeanour, I am pretty sure Hugh doesn’t know anything more about me and Winnie, other than our ‘boy-girl’ relationship.

My sureness evaporated when he suddenly changed his tone, “Tom, you should start thinkin’ about what you’re doin’. Winnie won’t be waitin’ for you forever.”

The whisky talking now. I felt like I was on the front of an engine ready for a double-back. I didn’t need the whisky to talk for me any further so I bid my leave and went back to Mowat Lodge.

Shannon stayed with Hugh. Said he was going to wait for the doxology. I’m sure the whisky will compel Hugh to deliver an appropriate one.

I start to get the feeling that others have more knowledge and say in my own fate than I realized. What were once harmless jokes and banter begin to feel like craftily-set traps ready to spring on the slightest misstep. I’m beginning to feel like a poacher’s quarry to be taken from the Park.

June 9, 1917 Ways of My Grandfather

June 9, 1917

I spent the day thinking about my grandfather. “Tam” was his name. That’s what we called him. I was named after him proper, his name was Thomas John Thomson. He died two years before I was born but I feel like I knew him. I heard a lot of stories about him – good, then not so good. Despite having same name as my grandfather, no one ever called me “Tam.” I wondered about that. But as I get older, I begin to understand why the name “Tam” went to the grave with him. I often wondered why my oldest brother, George, wasn’t named after Tam. My parents waited for the third eldest son – me –  before they passed down the name “Thomas John Thomson.”

Tam was a big storyteller. Always the centre of attention and the hero of every story he told. Tam was the pillar of the community in Claremont. Penniless from Scotland, he made good for himself and ended up with a house full of servants and more than enough money to make an inheritance for everyone. But later I learned Tam wasn’t such an upstanding citizen back in Scotland. Families have secrets you know and Tam had a few of them that he left behind by escaping to Canada. I learned that he left not just one but two children behind in Scotland. And from two different women at the same time. The church was forcing him to marry one of them so he came to Canada instead. His plan was to work and to send money back but he found Elizabeth Brodie from Whitby. His third, and he started over. Tam was an example that you could start a new and noble life, leaving all of the other entanglements behind. Maybe not so noble, but it was a common option.

I am writing this because I am weighing what to do with Winnie. As they say, nothing makes the mind clearer than an execution in the morning. Certainly, this isn’t as dire as an execution, but it’s making me think about my options. People think it’s simple: you marry and that’s it. You send your boy off to war and that’s it. No choices and no questions. But the heaven and hell approach to life condemns people to a miserable existence. Many think that’s the way it should be. And you can see it in the eyes of people – misery.    It may not be misery but I’m not sure. I don’t yet know what my options are. But one thing I need to do today is write a letter to Winnie.

June 9, 1917 Letter to Winnie

June 9, 1917

Mowat P.O. Algonquin Park
Winnie Trainor, Huntsville

June 9, 1917

Dear Winnie,

I received your letter from last week but I didn’t get it until yesterday. I had some guide work that kept me away for a few days. I’ve had two fellows down from Ottawa. Good gentlemen but weak in the arms. I earned my keep on the portages. I hope to get more guiding work but the guests aren’t coming like they used to. There’s odd jobs and Taylor Statten needs some help on his cottage. He’s teaching some boys and he’s going to take a YMCA course in the US later in June. He says he has big plans for the place.

I’ll be staying close to Mowat Lodge until I next see you again. I have my gear and sketches at your cottage.  As for painting I’ve done nothing for the past while. I’m done for the summer.

I’ll inquire about Billie Bear Lodge on Bella Lake. There should be room available in later July or better in August. It’s not too far from Huntsville and we can arrange for everything there first. We can make an announcement when you get here in early July. It shouldn’t look bad to anyone.  Look how many soldiers did it just before the 122nd went overseas.

The garden is good. No sun has made things slow in starting. I’ll keep an eye on it.

I better get this off to Huntsville. The Frasers give their regards.

Yours Truly,

Tom

June 8, 1917 Promise Me

June 8, 1917

I came down in the morning to the back kitchen for breakfast. Shannon had left, but his mother was still there with Annie. They were cleaning up the breakfast dishes and were already starting on the other meals for the day. The kitchen had the smell of braised meat. It smelled of venison, not beef. There wasn’t supposed to be any deer hunting in the Park, but since the food shortages started in the City, slaughtered deer would magically appear once in awhile. The Park Rangers had the authority to take kill from Poachers and sell it. They would sell to the lodge but it seemed more and more that the line between Poacher and Ranger was being crossed in various parts of the Park and venison was becoming rather plentiful. There was talk of a big deer kill in the fall to supply meat to the cities so the regulations were not being heeded as seriously. Bartlett knew the Rangers wanted to supplement their income and he didn’t want any labour strife on his hands. The informal trade in venison was the ideal solution. Besides, the Rangers were poisoning the wolves over the winter, and the end result was an over-population of deer. It was good to get rid of them. Plus, the deer all seemed to hang out at the Hotels where the guests would feed them, pet them and give them names like “Buck”. I’m sure it was  ‘Buck’ that was being braised on the stove this very morning.

Annie knew exactly what I wanted to talk about. I could tell by the way she fussed around the kitchen. Old Mrs. Fraser knew I wanted to talk too, so she was determined to stay.

“Mom, could you bring the linens out back and hang them?” Annie called her “Mom” because Shannon did.

Old Mrs. Fraser, or “Mom,” left with the bag of linens. Estimating the time to hang them, we had about 10 minutes of private time to talk.

I looked at Annie, right into her eyes, “Annie, you know what I’m going to ask you?”

“Yes.”

“I can understand the temptation of the already open ones, but this one was closed. I could tell it was opened.”

I took a breath, “It’s an offence. Only the War Ministry can do that. Does Shannon know?”

She swallowed hard. She knew she had crossed a line. It’s one thing to be a poaching Ranger. It’s another thing to be Poacher.

“No.”

“Okay, let’s keep it at that. Just remember the Government takes a very dim view of profiteering and corruption. We all have to do our bit. You don’t want to lose the post office. It would be the end of the lodge.”

“I’m sorry.” Annie continued to look me in the eye. I could see the tears welling up.

Ordinarily, when men and women talked, they never looked each other in the eye directly. “Save that for the wedding vows,” I was told. But I always looked women in the eyes did because I always did it with my sisters. Because of my older sisters, I was always comfortable talking to women and striking up good friendships. The boys back at the Studio could never figure this out about me. They were always proud that they could drink and carouse and have their way with women (never looking them in the eyes), but it never occurred to them they could be friends with women too. Red-blooded artists need not always be woman-conquerors too. When Florence visited me she made sure to avoid the “louts in the Studio” as she called them. Once, a chap who happened be in the Studio couldn’t stop harassing me about Florence, so I dropped him with my fists.

I have good friendships with women. It’s the same way with Annie.  With Winnie too, but things got further with her. No fault on my part, but Annie was always a bit smitten by the way I treated her. I talked to her, I helped her, and mostly important, I listened to her. Unlike Shannon, I never felt the need to hear my voice continually. Indeed, I always prefered to let others talk. It was the same with Daphne Crombie. I enjoyed her company, but her husband took notice, and decided that they better convalesce elsewhere.

I looked back at Annie. She knew by the expression on my face and the tone of my voice, this was serious business.

“Promise me, Annie. This is between me and Winnie. Promise.”

By then, the door flew open and Old Mrs. Fraser rushed in hollering. Turns out she stepped on a newly settled hornets’ nest out back. Hornets’ nests  appear in the darnedest places. This one happened to be in a hole by the bottom of the clothesline pole. A good soaking with kerosene and a match should fix that nest in short order. I’ll leave the glory of administering hellfire to hornets to Shannon. Thankfully, “Mom” only had a couple of stings. Nothing serious. I remember once hearing about the Rangers coming across a dead camper beside a nest. He had hundreds of stings and died from them. He was dead about a week and they could no longer recognize him when they found him.

I left the commotion in the kitchen and went out front to the lobby and then to the front verandah. I could barely see the lake. A fog and mist had descended from over the hills and it was turning into a persistent rain. This spring has been cold and terrible so far. And there were no signs that anything was getting better.

I need to write a letter back to Winnie. This isn’t a letter I can dash off in a moment. I have to consider my words and what my words mean. I also have to think about the letter getting into the wrong hands. I have to write it like the boys’ letters from the front. To get through the censors, they can’t write where they are or what they are doing. So it had to be words that, if fallen into enemy hands, meant nothing. But these letters from the boys, despite having all of the concrete facts stripped out of them, still communicated everything important to their their loved ones.

I need they day to think about it. I need to write the letter in time to catch the mail train tomorrow. It has been over a week since the date of Winnie’s letter and I know she will be getting more  frantic as each day passes. There’s no telling what might happen or what she might do. If I don’t write by tomorrow, I could even expect a posse arriving from Huntsville to force me to make good on the situation.

Like the fog and mist that descended from over the hills, the afternoon has passed in a blur. So did dinner and the evening. There was talk at the table, but I can’t remember any of it. I just kept thinking about the deer formerly known as ‘Buck’ landing on my plate.