Home, sweet home

"New Brunswick barn," oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas.

“New Brunswick barn,” oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas.
My first painting yesterday was of a barn. The grillwork of a Model T glowed faintly in the gloom of the open door. I was interested in the apple tree, but thought fondly ofKari Ganoung Ruiz and how well she paints old cars.
The property owner eventually came over to chat. He knew exactly where I live because he visits the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum. He invited us to lunch, little knowing that for thousands of miles, Mary and I have fantasized that someone, anyone, would offer us a home-cooked meal. And this was the one day when we  couldn’t accept, because we had an absolutely strict timetable.
And he had leftover pie. Geesh.
Farm owner and his market truck.

Farm owner and his market truck.
Mary’s license arrived in Rockport Tuesday, so she had a photo of it on her phone. Still, I insisted on driving the Calais-to-Rockport leg of the trip. Searsport, Belfast, Lincolnville, and Camden, each in turn glowing gently in a light rain. Then I made the last rise up Richards Hill and was home.
9887.9 miles.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. I’ve learned a few things, however.
The most useless things I brought were my hiking poles. I never remembered to use them.
I packed very austerely for the trip, and still brought exactly 100 lbs. of stuff. My painting supplies and canvases were calculated just right; my clothes hardly mattered. However, I wish I’d also had:
  • My painting umbrella and stool;
  • Proper camping equipment including a tent, because that SUV really was impossible to sleep in;
  • A more reliable car;
  • An atlas of Canada. There is no substitute for a paper map.
I enjoyed everything about this trip, even when Mary was so ill. However, if I were to identify the most memorable moments, they would include:
We followed autumn as it moved from Anchorage to St. John’s. That meant getting snowed on occasionally, but there were many more lovely days.
Standoff between Craftsman Perpendicular Gothic and Craftsman Romanesque Gothic in St. Mary's Point, NB. Theology to match, I suppose.

Standoff between Craftsman Perpendicular Gothic and Craftsman Romanesque in St. Mary’s Point, NB.
The parts we omitted and regret:
  • The Al-Can’s lower leg, through Destruction Bay. It was an either-or choice, but I wish it could have been both;
  • Northern Manitoba and its myriad lakes;
  • Northwest Territories and Nunavut. That would require a seaplane, however;
  • Prince Edward Island;
I never painted a mine, waterfall, lighthouse (up close) or iceberg. And in five weeks on the continent’s northernmost through road, some of it sleeping rough, I never saw the Northern Lights.
I’m taking the rest of today off, by the way.

Racing back west

"Cape Breton Highlands," by Carol L. Douglas.

“Cape Breton Highlands,” by Carol L. Douglas.
One of my friends was a co-driver in the 2010 Targa Newfoundland. This is an annual rally race covering 1400 miles over a seven-day period. They were driving a Porsche; I’m driving a 16-year-old Suzuki Grand Vitari with crates on the luggage rack. Otherwise it’s starting to feel similar, albeit with the addition of painting: paint, drive, paint, drive, sleep, repeat.
If you don’t have a cabin on the overnight ferry, you sleep in your seat. The first passage was quiet, if not terribly comfortable. The return boat was full of people whose trips had been disrupted by Hurricane Matthew. We were kept aware by small irritants: the hiss and rattle of a CPAP machine, a toddler’s cries, and the oversized screens that were never turned off. In the early morning hours, there were pleas for a doctor to report to deck seven. (“Is that person OK?” I asked someone later. She shook her head sadly.)
Another "one that got away."

Another “one that got away.”
By the time we disembarked both of us were stiff and bleary. We raced toward to the Cape Breton Highlands. This was the only part of Nova Scotia I hadn’t been to before. Out west, the thrill of discovery fueled my painting; here, in a race to finish, visiting an unknown place was a dumb choice.
I don’t know if it was because I was fussy from exhaustion, but I was unmoved. The Highlands were smaller, more ordinary, and less breathtaking than Gros Morne. Well, of course. They aren’t trying to be Newfoundland, and they weren’t put there merely for my amusement.
"Cobequid Bay farm," by Carol L. Douglas

“Cobequid Bay farm,” by Carol L. Douglas
I was worn out by nature; I wanted to paint a harbor. But this part of the Cabot Trail isn’t a working coast. It is full of restaurants, tea rooms, and gift shops, and even this late in the season, tourists.
“But you live in a tourist area,” Mary reminded me. That’s not entirely true. Undergirding mid-coast Maine’s tourism is its fisheries industry. A coast without working boats is a bland dish indeed.
Mary was surprised by a cow as she trespassed.

Mary was surprised by a cow. (Photo by Mary Perot.)
I settled on a single lobster boat at anchor, never settling into a groove, painting anxiously until I was absolutely out of time.
And then I turned around. The dropping tide had left a cobbled beach curving toward me. It had everything one needs: foreground interest, color, structure, a headland in the distance.
Too late for that, I mused, as I reloaded my kit into the SUV. Stepping slightly off the road, I plunged into a ditch full of sticky muck, sinking instantly to mid-calf. It wasn’t quicksand, though, and Mary kindly pulled me out. Now I was both cranky and filthy.
Solitary farmhouse at Cobequid Bay. (Photo by Mary Perot.)

Solitary farmhouse at Cobequid Bay. (Photo by Mary Perot.)
We raced like fools toward Cobequid Bay. “I’m not going to have time to paint a second painting,” I whined. But I did, and it was a lovely sunset across a farmer’s field: gentle and sweet like Nova Scotia itself.
Meanwhile, Mary raced down to the bay to take photos before the light disappeared. Access was blocked by a sign reading “Private Lane.” She parked and walked down to the water. Where does she learn this stuff?
Last light at Cobequid Bay. (Photo by Mary Perot.)

Last light at Cobequid Bay. (Photo by Mary Perot.)
I start this morning from Moncton. It is 5.5 hours from my home in Rockport. If all goes well, I’ll be home late tonight. Spare a passing prayer for safe and easy travels. It’s been a long trip, and I want to get home.

Detour to Vinland

If you got across the bar, you still needed to beach your boat. L'Anse aux Meadows.

If you got across the bar, you still needed to beach your boat. L’Anse aux Meadows.
The last two days have helped me understand the Homeric sea (Winslow, notthat other guy). At times, the sea boils with startling ferocity against the shoreline. Winslow Homer’s art was in making us believe that the sea is always like this, and in seeing that ferocity as romantic.
When I was a child, what was referred to as Vinland in Old Norse sagas (and by medieval historians) was only imperfectly understood. Controversy still raged over whether the Norse had ever reached past Greenland into North America. Today, we assume that Vinland included Newfoundland and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence as far as New Brunswick. That’s logical but not conclusive. The only confirmed Norse site in Canada is at L’Anse aux Meadows, at the very northernmost tip of Newfoundland.
Imagine beaching a boat through those boulders. L'Anse aux Meadows.

Imagine beaching a boat through those boulders. L’Anse aux Meadows.
Prior to the Norse settlement, there were various other prehistoric people in this part of Newfoundland. However, none of them stayed. The Dorset people were driven out by global warming during the Medieval Warm Period; the Mi’kmaq left because it was too cold. Archaeologists believe the Norsemen eventually left because of the weather as well: extreme cold drove their food sources south.
The sky had cleared but the wind still blew fiercely when we reached L’Anse aux Meadows. The visitor’s center, now closed for the season, was unfortunately set square in the middle of the path. I climbed around the building on its uphill side and hopped the fence to the boardwalk. Mary was aghast and followed me reluctantly.
Reconstructed longhouse at L'Anse aux Meadows.

Reconstructed longhouse at L’Anse aux Meadows.
“I’m not the first person to do this,” I said, pointing out the faint path along the slope.
“If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?” she retorted.
I raised that kid all wrong.
The longhouses faced the cove in a gentle curve pointing at the shoreline. I don’t understand how that boulder-strewn coast was navigable by any boat. The reconstructed sod longhouse is remarkably contemporary in feel. It could be a settlement in the Dakotas; it could be a modern earth ship.
A poignant reminder that none of our work here lasts forever.

A poignant reminder that none of our work here lasts forever.
I knew we could make better time returning on a different path. Still, I have a healthy respect for quicksand and sinkholes. Former President George H.W. Bush sank into it up to his armpits in Newfoundland. So when Mary suggested an alternative route with a boardwalk, we decided to be prudent.
That is how we managed to walk in a wide sweep for 5 km trying to get back to our car. It was bracing, but it gave us quiet time to reflect on the Norsemen who were drawn here. What in this bleak and cold landscape, with its buffeting winds and lack of topsoil, seemed attractive to them?
Cow Head boats.

Cow Head boats.
We set off south with time for one small painting. We were far enough north that we could see Labrador, and its peaks were dusted with snow, as were the strange worn mountains at Gros Morne National Park. I set up to paint there, but my easel was blown over before I even got started.
Small waterfalls cascaded down to the road after the storm cleared.

Small waterfalls cascaded down to the road after the storm cleared.
In the end, that was fine. We made it to the ferry terminal as cars were lining up to board. Today is calm and lovely, and I’m heading to the Cape Breton Highlands.

White knuckle travel

The wreck of the SS Ethie is strewn across the beach at Martin's Point.

The wreckage of the SS Ethie is strewn across the beach at Martin’s Point.
The steamer SS Ethie set sail from Cow Head, on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, on December 10, 1919. Although Captain Edward English knew that some kind of storm was building, it was the last trip of the season, and he was under pressure to get his passengers home for Christmas.
Within a few hours, the storm blew up into a blizzard. The Ethie was making no progress, burning almost all of her coal just staying off the rocky ledges and bars of the coastline. Captain English knew his ship was lost; his priority now was to get the 92 people on board to shore alive.
Number one thing I am thankful for tonight: I am not on that freighter.
Number one thing I am thankful for tonight: I am not on that freighter.
He beached the Ethie just north of Sally’s Cove, in one of the few inlets not barred by reefs or cliffs. His crew sent out a rope, which was picked up by a local Newfoundland dog. A breeches buoy was rigged up to carry the passengers and crew ashore, including a baby girl who rode to shore in a mail sack. There were no fatalities.
The dangers of the Great White North are based in the land itself, in its impossible cold and empty vastness. On the Atlantic Coast, the sea is the force that controls lives. The remains of the Ethie are still strewn along the beach and I wanted to paint it.
Stunted trees in the Gros Morne National Forest. This is the beginning of the Appalachian mountains.

Stunted trees in the Gros Morne National Forest. This is the beginning of the Appalachian mountains.
I hit the road from Botwood before dawn. The remnants of Hurricane Matthew had confounded expectations and run up the Atlantic Coast. Our ferry was canceled. We had an extra 24 hours to use as we pleased—as long as what we pleased was possible in a storm.
Studded snow tires are like an arms race. They work, but they also chew ruts into the road. The water runs into them, causing water to pool and freeze, creating more potholes and ice. The ruts have plagued me since Anchorage, as they make steering difficult.
They also fill with water in heavy rain. In the half light of a storm, they are difficult to track. After several hours, my hands were knotted around the wheel.
The shoreline ranges from ledges to cliffs.

The shoreline ranges from ledges to cliffs.
By the time we reached the Ethie, it was clear I was going to do no painting. Needles of sleet were driven by high winds. I took reference photos and debated my next move.
My friend Annette found me a haven with one of her many relatives. Mary wanted to push farther north to see the Viking encampment at L’Anse aux Meadows. What a dilemma: eat Thanksgiving pie with nice people in warmth and comfort, or push through another 350 km to see a desolate and windswept headland in a storm?
Need you even ask?
It got steadily worse as we went north. Sleet was followed by snow. We saw our first sanders of the season. The wind blew so hard that even the potholes had little waves on them. Crosswinds blew our car sideways. And I learned that hydroplaning and cruise control were a difficult combination.
Trawlers at a boatyard in Port Saunders, Newfoundland.

Trawlers at a boatyard in Port Saunders, Newfoundland.
We stopped in Port aux Choix for our Canadian Thanksgiving dinner: gas station hot dogs and coffee. The clerk, a very lovely woman, discouraged us from heading any farther north. “There’s a lovely B&B down the street,” she suggested.
We slid into St. Anthony behind a sander. Still, I had to put the SUV in 4WD to park it.

We slid into St. Anthony behind a sander. Still, I had to put the SUV in 4WD to park it.
We arrived in St. Anthony right behind a sander. We’re drinking bottled water because of the storm, but otherwise we’re warm and cozy. Tomorrow we will head to L’Anse aux Meadows. Mary is going to tromp around and consider the Vikings. If I’m lucky, the wind will slow down and I can paint.
But I’m absolutely certain we won’t be home by Wednesday.

The Night Ferry

"Cape Spear Road," oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas.

“Cape Spear Road,” oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas.
My Canadian-born neighbor used to tell Newfie jokes. Until Friday, that was all I’d ever heard about Canada’s easternmost province. I’ve wandered around the other Maritime Provinces, but you have to make an effort to get to Newfoundland. It is an eight-hour ferry trip from Cape Breton Island.
Our timing was dictated by the availability of ferry space on this holiday weekend. There are only two trips a day, and today is Canadian Thanksgiving. We decided to drive through from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia to catch the night ferry. We would return on Monday night and pick up our last two provinces on the way home to Maine.
That gave us three days to traverse Newfoundland in both directions. The most sensible thing was to drive straight to St. John’s and work our way back west from there. That means our last three provinces will be done in reverse.
Fog flowing down the mountains near Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland.
Fog flowing down the mountains near Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland.
Newfoundland looks very much like the Scottish Highlands and Hebrides. That’s not surprising, since they’re two sides of the same sea. Wind-stunted trees and shrubs cling to granite ridges that drop suddenly to the water. On the other hand, it’s also profoundly familiar, being an extension of the Acadian coastline that runs from Maine through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
It’s moose season here. I haven’t seen this many men in camouflage since we left British Columbia. The ferry was full of them. As we waited to disembark, a moose call reverberated across the hold. Around us, men laughed and cheered.
My supply of some paints is almost depleted.

My supply of some paints is almost depleted.
On Sunday morning, Mary dropped me off near Cape Spear to paint while she ran an errand. Cape Spear is the easternmost point in North America excepting Danish-owned Greenland. It is also the site of the venerable (1836) Cape Spear light. World War II bunkers and gun barrels face the ocean.
I was startled to hear a moose bugle, since I wasn’t more than a few miles out of St. John’s. About thirty feet down the road, an animal track threaded back into the woods. When I finished painting, I decided to follow it. There was a remarkable quantity of old bear scat, but at least it didn’t appear to include the remains of plein air painters.
I reached a boggy spot and turned around. The track ended at the shoulder of the road; where did the wee beasties go after they crossed? I noted a disturbance in the gravel and dropped down off the shoulder, only to stop short at a pile of moose entrails and sawed-off legs. They were recent enough to not yet stink.
Encountering a moose or bear is one thing; encountering a hunter when I wasn’t wearing safety orange was another thing altogether. I scurried back to the road, just in time to meet Mary.
At St. John's harbor.

At St. John’s harbor.
St. John’s is the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador. Its commercial harbor is filled with trawlers, freighters, and other working boats. Its streets are every bit as pretty as San Francisco’s, but without all those annoying poseurs who plague California. I swear I saw Queen Elizabeth’s body double leaving church in an emerald green coat and matching hat.
Street after street of colorful row houses in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Colorful row houses in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
We headed east and north. At Hare Bay, a great rock promontory rises behind a modest village. This is everything I love to paint, and I set to it with a will, trying to capture as much as I could before we lost our light.
A local woman—born in this village and now sunk well into middle age without having ever left—stopped to chat. This is actually unusual in Canada, where people seem more reticent to interrupt strangers. In the waning light, I saw a mink swim toward shore. She and Mary tried to find it, but it was too fleet for them.
Hare Bay (unfinished), by Carol L. Douglas.

Hare Bay (unfinished), by Carol L. Douglas.
There seemed to be more cars than usual. “Everyone here goes to church on Sunday evening,” she told us. As we left town we noticed that each church was indeed lighted and full of people. Living here, they have much to be thankful for.

Île d’Orléans autumn day

“Île d'Orléans waterfront farm,” by Carol L. Douglas.

“Île d’Orléans waterfront farm,” by Carol L. Douglas.
Gabriel-from-Quebec tipped us off that Île d’Orléans, just a few minutes downriver from Quebec City, would be a great place to paint. Electronic media puts you in contact with people you would never have met otherwise. They’re frequently excellent sources of information.
The Île was settled in the 17th century and evidence of its feudal system is still visible. Small holdings stretch in narrow strips down to the water. This put tenants close to their neighbors and maximized access to the water.
Quebec City is also a city of waterfalls. Montmorency Falls is 272' tall, making it nearly a hundred feet taller than Niagara Falls. And it has the requisite suspension bridge, too.

Quebec City is also a city of waterfalls. Montmorency Falls is 272′ tall, making it nearly a hundred feet taller than Niagara Falls. And it has the requisite suspension bridge, too.
It’s hard to imagine that a feudal system was ever successful in the New World, let alone that it persisted for centuries, but that happened in French Canada. Seigneuries were not granted to nobles as in France, nor did the land grants confer nobility. They were generally given to military officers and churchmen for services rendered. Later, these seigneuries were purchased by canny English and Scottish investors who recognized a profit when they saw it.
The tenants cleared the land, built their own homes and barns, farmed, and paid rent to the seigneur. They were suckers to the Crown, since in New France, land was plentiful and labor was dear. Still, the system was not formally abolished until 1854, long after the demise of New France. The last rents were not settled until—seriously—1970.
Île d’Orléans is too varied to ever be captured in one painting. In some places it is Quebec agriculture, with strawberry fields and apple orchards marching neatly down to the St. Lawrence River. In others, it looks surprisingly like the Maine coast, with seasonal cottages set among woodland. Houses of mellow golden stone dot the landscape.
While I painted, Mary quizzed me on French animal names. Vaches and poulet I already knew; dauphin confused me. Wasn’t that the title for the heir apparent to the French crown? Souris amused me, because I’d just painted in a Manitoba town of that name last week, and it was, indeed, just a little bit mousy. It was a beautiful, warm, autumn day. Abeilles buzzed among the the clover.
"Bas-Saint-Laurent sunset," by Carol L. Douglas.

“Bas-Saint-Laurent sunset,” by Carol L. Douglas.
I hated to leave Quebec without another painting, even if our detour to Île d’Orléans had been time-consuming. At La Pocatière, I stopped to paint the sun setting over the St. Lawrence estuary. Even this far upriver, the St. Lawrence is vast enough that there are beluga whale nurseries. At the moment, there were also two men parasail-waterskiing in the stiff wind.
The paper mills at Edmunston, New Brunswick and Madawaska, Maine call to me even in the dark.

The paper mills at Edmunston, New Brunswick and Madawaska, Maine call to me even in the dark.
The Bas-Saint-Laurent is a beautiful area and so is the St. John River Valley, where we stopped for the night. This is home country. In fact, a right turn and we could be home for lunch. In many ways, that knowledge is the hardest thing we’ve encountered so far.

Ces vaches-la sont mes vaches

"Marshes along the Ottawa River, Plaisance," by Carol L. Douglas.

“Marshes along the Ottawa River, Plaisance,” by Carol L. Douglas.
I set off on this journey with only three pre-conceived painting ideas: Kluane Lakeand the Liard River in Yukon, and Nepean Point in Ottawa. None of them have worked out exactly as planned.
I’ve avoided painting cityscapes, as this was meant to be an exploration of the Great White North itself, not its people. But the Ottawa River curving below theVictorian High Gothic Parliament is a skillful intertwining of natural and created beauty.
Growing up near the twin, starkly contrasting cities of Niagara Falls, NY and Ontario, I’ve often pondered why our Canadian neighbors are so much better at designing public spaces than we Americans. Washington, DC, is an unpleasant city. Our White House huddles behind high fences ostentatiously patrolled with lethal weaponry, and the Mall is usually a cluttered mess. Parliament Hill in Ottawa is gracious, accessible, and beautiful. And still, it’s somehow safe, as the 2014 shooting incident pointed out.
The one that got away: Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

The one that got away: Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
Alas, my painting was not to be. The Alexandra Bridge is closed for repairs, meaning the roads at the National Gallery end are rerouted. After endless circling, we gave up and headed east through Quebec. It was already early afternoon.
At Ottawa, we left the bilingual belt and entered French-speaking Canada. I can decipher small bits of French on paper because of its similarity to English, but I have a tin ear for the nuances of pronunciation. French, in particular, terrifies me. It is an unintelligible sea of strange sounds.
We raised a flock of seagulls along a side road.

We raised a flock of seagulls along a side road.
I was determined to paint along the Ottawa River somewhere, having missed my opportunity in the city. East of Ottawa, the river becomes a migratory bird sanctuary, low and marshy.
Signs for Le parc national de Plaisance took us deep into farm country. We stopped and asked directions of a very handsome young public safety officer. He didn’t speak English. At that moment, a determination to learn French blossomed in Mary’s heart.
Quebec roadside rest stop.

Quebec roadside rest stop.
While I painted, she practiced with Duolingo. The first useful phrase she mastered was “Ces vaches-la sont mes vaches.” From now on, we are going to play “Those cows are my cows” in French.
It is so fine to see farms again.

It is so fine to see farms again.
And cows there were. From Ottawa east, we traveled through farm country. We have seen precious few family farms on this trip. It was lovely to be back among them again, even if the odeur de merde followed us all the way to Plessisville.

Algonquin mystery

"Algonquin Rocks," by Carol L. Douglas. I was  most interested in the flaming soft maples. Lakes? I've seen a few this trip.

“Algonquin Rocks,” by Carol L. Douglas. I was most interested in the flaming soft maples. Lakes? I’ve seen a few this trip.
One of the enduring mysteries of the art world is how Canada’s great artist, Tom Thomson, age 39 and an experienced guide and woodsman, died on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park.
A century after his death, the facts are limited. At noon on Sunday, July 8, 1917, Thomson left his cabin to fish. That afternoon, Martin Blecher and his sister Bessie saw Thomson’s canoe floating upside down as they motored on the lake. They did not stop to check it, saying they thought it was another canoe that had slipped its moorings.
On Tuesday, guide Mark Robinson was called in to search for the body. He and others checked portages and inlets for the following week.
Tom Thomson's guide license. He was an experienced woodsman.

Tom Thomson’s guide license. He was an experienced woodsman.
The news of the missing artist spread rapidly. “Mr. Thomson is very well known here and everyone will hope that he will be found safe and well. The other alternative is not pleasant to consider but should it be found that he has been drowned, Canada will have lost one of her most accomplished landscape artists, and a thorough gentleman,” wrote the Owens Sound Sun.
Thomson’s body surfaced on Monday, July 16. Robinson and Dr. Goldwin Howland, of Toronto, examined it. They found a bruise on the left temple about four inches long, “Evidently caused by falling on a Rock otherwise no marks of Violence on Body,” wrote Robinson. The decomposing body was quickly buried at Canoe Lake.
One of the countless streams that form the roadways of Algonquin Provincial Park, a place that promises you backwoods peace and solitude.

One of the countless streams that form the roadways of Algonquin Provincial Park, a place that promises you backwoods peace and solitude.
On Tuesday, the coroner arrived from North Bay and assembled an inquest. “There is Considerable Adverse Comment regarding the taking of the Evidence among the Residents,” Robinson wrote in his diary. Almost immediately, Thomson’s family sent a steel coffin and requested that his body be exhumed and sent home to Leith, Ontario.
That is where the facts end. Even his final resting place in dispute, with one group of people saying the undertaker balked at exhuming his remains and sent an empty casket back instead. Thomson, they say, is buried at a secret spot near Canoe Lake.
Was it accidental drowning, as the coroner decided? Was it manslaughter, as Mark Robinson came to believe? Was it suicide?
Martin Blecher was 26 when he saw the overturned canoe. He was the son of German immigrants, a quarrelsome, alcoholic recluse who told people that he was a private detective employed by the William J. Burns International Detective Agency in Buffalo. Robinson, who listed local war deaths in his diary, believed Blecher was a German spy.
“I had heard that there was some ill feeling between Tom and some man in that region [Mowat]. It was somewhat casually referred to by someone at Canoe Lake possibly one of the Rangers, but as this was while we were still looking for Tom and I was still hopeful of his safe recovery, I didn’t at the time attach any serious importance to the report,” wrote Thomson’s brother George.
Was the man Blecher or someone else? Daphne Crombie, who was in Mowat that spring, remembered, “Tom and George…they’d had a party. They were all pretty good drinkers, Tom as well. Well, they went up and had this party. They were all tight and Tom asked Shannon Fraser for the money that he owed him because he had to go and get a new suit…Anyway, they had a fight and Shannon hit Tom, you see, knocked him down by the grate fire, and he had a mark on his forehead…Annie [Fraser] told me all this and also Dr. MacCallum. Tom was completely knocked out by this fight. Of course, Fraser was terrified because he thought he’d killed him. This is my conception, and I don’t know about other people’s. My conception is that he took Tom’s body and put it into a canoe and dropped it in the lake. That’s how he died.”
Why did Thomson need a new suit? According to Annie Fraser, he’d gotten local woman Winnie Trainor pregnant and had to marry her. After Thomson’s death, Trainor traveled to Philadelphia to stay with friends, and rumors persisted that she was pregnant. She never married and was protective of his reputation for the remainder of her life.
I started painting Lake Huron in the morning but was rained out. It was a windy whippy day; I'll finish this in the studio.

I started painting Lake Huron in the morning but was rained out. It was a windy, whippy day; I’ll finish this in the studio.
Years later, Robinson elaborated on his finding of the body: “His fishing line was wound several times around his left ankle and broken off.  There was no sign of the rod, his Provisions and kit bag were in the front end of the Canoe when found. The lake was not Rough.”
““You might interview Martin and Bessie Blecher but again be careful. They possibly know more about Tom’s sad end than any other person,” he added darkly.
Even in Algonquin, solitude and peace are an illusion.

Intimations of home

"Rail line along Lake Superior," by Carol L. Douglas

“Rail line along Lake Superior,” by Carol L. Douglas
I foolishly flew past the Old Woman River. The towering cliffs of its bay shimmered in the afternoon sunlight. “There’s always something more,” I reminded myself as I went on, but in this instance there wasn’t. That perfect combination of light and air was not to be repeated. Instead, the sun bore into our eyes across the flatness of Lake Superior.
In a moment, I was distracted. “Maples!” I shouted. “Eastern hardwoods!”
“What kind of maples?” Mary asked narrowly.
“Not soft ones, but other than that I can’t tell unless I get a good look at an older tree,” I answered. That’s not easy at 60 MPH, when you’re the driver.
“And you call yourself a tree person,” she sniffed.
Here and there, the eastern mixed forest shows its lovely face.

Here and there, the eastern mixed forest shows its lovely face.
We’ve seen a lot of roadside attractions in our 5300 miles. There was the World’s Biggest Moose, and the World’s Biggest Dinosaur, and Huskie the MuskieWawa, Ontario has not just one but three giant Canada Geese. But to paraphrase Lloyd Bentson, “I know Canada Geese. Sir, you’re no Canada goose I ever saw.” For some inscrutable reason, the geese of Wawa have white plumage.
Sir, you are no Canada goose.

Sir, you are no Canada goose.
Wawa is named after the Ojibwe word for the geese. The Ojibwe were one of the combatants in the war between the Huron and the Iroquois Confederacy, supported by the French and British, respectively. (We now call this the French and Indian War.)
That puts us in the geographical area of the historic Province of Upper Canada, established to accommodate and govern the United Empire Loyalists pouring across the border after the American Revolution. Since that includes the Niagara Region, I am very close to my birthplace.
The Province of Upper Canada, confusingly, is south of the Province of Lower Canada. It’s the same principle that makes Down East the northernmost part of the American coast: place names by navigation, not geography.
The light on the lake made painting impossible.

The light on the lake made painting impossible.
Sault Ste. Marie used to be one city until the War of 1812 firmly fixed the border right through the middle of it. The Soo Locks, which are the greatest inland shipping canal in the world, are located on the American side. This being a strictly-Canadian trip, we didn’t stop.
Instead, we hustled on to Iron Bridge, Ontario, putting us on the Lake Huron coastline. We hope to make Algonquin Provincial Park today. This is where painter Tom Thomson lived, worked and died.

Heart of the Continent

"Eastern Manitoba forest,"  by Carol L. Douglas

“Eastern Manitoba forest,” by Carol L. Douglas
As our tow truck brought us back into Brandon, an enormous fireball erupted to our right. “Oh, that’s just the airport,” the driver, Gerald Dedieu, said. It turns out that they do firefighting practice there in the off hours.
It was clear that we were going to kill some time in Brandon, so Gerald suggested we head down to his hometown of Souris in our loaner car. Souris has a creek, a suspension bridge, and a pretty setting, he promised us.
"Downtown,"  by Carol L. Douglas

“Downtown,” by Carol L. Douglas
The suspension bridge is Canada’s answer to the Jubilee Memorial Watering Trough. Every town apparently has one, Souris included. Instead of painting that, or Souris’ peacocks, I decided to paint a block of their downtown.
There is some debate about where the geographical center of America falls. It’s either in Rugby, ND, or just east of Winnipeg, MB. It hardly matters. Either way, virtually everyone on our continent is a southerner. Furthermore, most have not ventured north of the true Mason-Dixon Line, which is the 49th Parallel.
Minnesota owns a wee bit of land north of the 49th Parallel, due to a surveying error. The Northwest Angle, as it’s called, is cut off from the United States byLake of the Woods. To get there from the US, you need a boat, an ice bridge, or a passport, because the only roads come in from Manitoba. It’s got a population of 152 people and a land mass of about 600 square miles, of which 80% is water. This being a strictly Canadian visit, we did not detour there.
West Hawk Lake is surprisingly huge.

West Hawk Lake is surprisingly huge.
We did, however, visit West Hawk Lake. This is Manitoba’s deepest lake, at 115 meters. It was formed by a giant meteor, and its size is impressive.
West Hawk Lake is on Historic Route 1, so we ventured up that road looking for a glimpse of history. Alas, it was apparently recently bombed, so broken was the asphalt. We turned back.
"Lake of the Woods,"  by Carol L. Douglas

“Lake of the Woods,” by Carol L. Douglas
I set up to paint Lake of the Woods from the Discovery Center at Kenora. It was a great bonus, in my opinion, to have genuine running water and a soda machine at my disposal. Alas, there was a wedding being held there later in the day, so I was shooed along. I relocated a mile or so to the north.
I’ve switched mediums to Galkyd Light, since it’s all I could buy in Calgary. I’m having a hard time adjusting to it. It feels soupy. This is showing up particularly in my mark-making and in water reflections. I was struggling so much trying to find a workable scheme for the water at Lake of the Woods that I forgot to paint in the remainder of the sky.
"Thunder Bay,"  by Carol L. Douglas

“Thunder Bay,” by Carol L. Douglas
Western Ontario looks a lot like the Maine woods: granite and spruces and Jack Pines, and a whole lot of water. I was shocked, therefore, on arriving at Thunder Bay. Growing up listening to Canadian radio, I had always pictured it as a romantic place far west on the Great Lakes. Its waterfront is actually a lot like South Buffalo, which is where my people come from. The same neat workingman’s cottages march down to the same vast grain elevators.
The difference is that Thunder Bay’s grain elevators are still working. That’s because freighters take on grain here, rather than offload it. Today that grain goes right out the St. Lawrence into the world. Buffalo—the world’s first cross-docking station—is unnecessary.
Dusk falling on Lake Superior.

Dusk falling on Lake Superior.
I expected that one Great Lake shore was pretty much the same as another, but I was wrong. Here, red granite tops rough hills that drop to the lakeshore. This exposed granite is part of the vast Canadian Shield that forms the bedrock core of our continent.
As we drove east along the lakeshore, dusk dropped like rose-colored silk. A bear cub gamboled along the shoulder of the road. We were back in moose country. It was time to stop for the night.