Lake Winnipeg -
The sketcher discovers sooner or later that virgin country or the forest primeval, considered merely as landscape, does not stimulate the imagination so certainly as that in which the hand of man is apparent. The wilderness is unfriendly, in pictorial art as well as in fact. A wisp os smoke above the trees, a foot-print in the sand, is no more welcome when a man is lost therein and lonely, than in art, when he comes to buy paintings. There is a small canvas in the Toronto gallery by J. E. H. MacDonald, in which gray peaks are wrapped in swirls of mist. Water fills the foreground, and upon it rests a boat, moored to a stake. It is an inspiring work, with a wider appeal than the same artist's Solemn Land. The boat is the significant feature.
I once spent a week on the steamboat Wolverine, which plies to and fro on Lake Winnipeg. We reached the northern extremity of the lake, and stayed for a few minutes at Norway House. The journey revealed a sketching ground of some value. The scenery is neither bold nor exceptional; some indeed would say that there is none. It is man's activities that provide real interest on that lake - all that pertains to the fishing industry, wharves, boats, and fish-houses. On the Red River, where the voyage begins, are many crazy craft, that in colour and line, have greater pictorial value than the scenic background, although the marshes at the mouth are interesting. On the lake itself only the sky is a delight, and the gulls that pose all day. The occasional island, or shore line that comes into view is a change, mildly engaging, but not pictorial, but the places of call are actually exciting. Whenever we roped to the homemade wharf I spent my time making quick drawings in pencil of buildings, of figures and boats. On the water I sketched the gulls and terms that followed the steamboat so hopefully.
The approach to Berenis River is by devious ways, amongst a number of shoals and bare rocks just awash, eventually by bigger rocks and wooded islands. There are fish-houses, shacks, and tents on some of the, and you hear the inevitable clamour of huskies.
The whitewashed fish-houses with their black roofs seem at this distance most memorable - wonderful congeries of logs, planks, and shingles, piled up, added to, and propped and buttressed ingeniously. There are fishing boats moored near them, and modest-swellings on the adjacent beaches. The wharf, when the Wolverine comes in, is littered with Indians and their women, all brightly apparelled.
This northern route was taken by picturesque brigades of York boats - big open boats propelled by sweeps when the wind was insufficient to fill the square blanket sail. There are none left now. The last lay rotting on the banks of the Nelson, the sturdy frame that withstood the shocks of a passage of the rapids a thousand times, now yielding to the action of the weather.
Although this trip was more restful than interesting,
it was always annoying to be spirited away from a paintable subject
after fifteen or thirty minutes. There never was time for anything
but pencil notes, bor as soon as the legitimate duties of a boat
were performed, after supplies had been dumped, and boxes of whitefish
for the New York market loaded, we were away.
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