It was a brisk, bright day. The class was assembled in the studio. To-day, I said, we shall try a new location. So we bundled into several cars and were soon bowling along the Minnewanka road, past the Buffalo Park, the Indian Grounds, and the Air Field. I drove with the Doctor, a former member of the class who joined us now and then for old time's sake. We left the road after three or four miles, and followed a trail leading into a small meadow at the foot of Cascade mountain. Set in the midst of it was a stockade, a fort, built of logs, in the style of the Frontier days. An anachronism rather than a relic, it was built by the movie company that filmed 'Saskatchewan.' The company did a fine job, at least with building the Fort. When it was time to pack and return to Hollywood they offered the Fort to the Parks Board instead of obliterating it as they had contracted to do. Whether the gift was accepted or not is uncertain.
The huge gates were padlocked when we arrived. The doctor soon had the lock picked, however, and we drove in. Within the walls were all the appropriate buildings: store-houses, bunk houses, kitchen and stables, all properly equipped for living, that is with furniture. There was a flagstaff. There were fire steps on the walls, cribs for the horses.
The Fort was abandoned, but acquired a fortuitous authenticity later in the day when a red-coated Mountie sauntered by to see what we were up to. The students were curious, and before they settled down to do some painting they explored the buildings. Aha!! The Fort was found not so completely abandoned as we had supposed. A man was found asleep in one of the bunk-houses. He came out presently. The doctor saw him and recognized him as a man wanted by the police. He said he had better be getting back to town, and hurried away. So did the other fellow, though we heard next day that he had been picked up.
It was very pleasant painting there. The scene was stimulating, and though the Fort was a mere movie set, the majestic mountains rose all around us and the shadows that fell upon them formed engaging patterns. Shades of the past piqued the imagination and the arrival of the redcoat was a grand climax. He was the Red Note in person, the animated yardstick, the felicitous figure which always turns up, it is said, if only the sketcher waits patiently enough.
We had lunch in the shade of a stand of small aspens. There were wild flowers blooming among the grasses, and an abundance of wild fruit a little way up the mountain. It was a pleasant spot.
The road by which we came, having skirted the mighty bastions of Cascade, proceeds only a few miles more, and comes to a stop on the shore of a lake called Minnewanka. It is a long and narrow lake, dominated by Mount Inglesmaldy, whose peak is a precipitous slab of limestone based upon sloping screes. Clouds build up frequently beyond the mountain, and roll down the lake towards us, adding to its dark splendour. When the sun shines the menace of the mountain wanes. The precipice is reflected in the glacial-green water and the colour is as sweet as the lid of a candy-box. There is the one view here but it is as changeable as the weather-vane.
One warm, still, summer day I found myself a willing prisoner within a stone fort. I sat in a chair in the broad shade of a tree and watched the golden leaves fall gently on the lawn. Gardeners raked together little heaps of leaves, but not so hurriedly as to disturb the peace. The boles and branches of the golden poplars were shadowed upon the wall in quaint patterns. Loopholes pierced the thick limestone at frequent and regular intervals, and reminded me that once this was a stronghold and a safe retreat. In reality this fortress that the masons built more than a hundred years ago always has been a haven of rest. . Neither bullets nor arrows ever broke on its defences. One of the bastions at the corners of the rectangular enclosure was indeed used as a powder magazine but the other impregnable roundhouses were utilized by the cook, the sutler, and the ware-houseman.
Within the walls are several large buildings, all of stone. On the verandah of the largest I had my lunch — not of pemmican or buffalo steak, but a well-served modern meal. Now a group of ladies is seriously occupied over a game of bridge. I hear their voices. Later in the afternoon men will come from the city, and they will play golf on the links behind.
Alexander Ross wrote in 1856, 'Lower Fort Garry is more secluded; although picturesque and full of rural beauty. Here the governor of Rupert's Land resides, when he passes any time in the colony. To those of studious and retired habits it is preferred to the Upper Fort.'
It has always been like that, I know, perfectly peaceful.
The play of sunlight is amusement enough for a lazy man, but the deep shadow, vibrant, dramatic, which extends to the bastion itself with its red roof partially screened by vivid foliage, and the rich green sward these will not be denied. I look again, unwilling to be disturbed even by beauty. No use! I have to make a sketch; the pictorial possibilities of the scene are too much for my professional eye. Afterwards I sketched furiously — fifteen drawings, no less, on that sunny afternoon. I sketched the sundial, the trees, the walls, outside and in, the doorways, the boat-landing, and the river, the turnstile — everything. Then I smoked a pipe on the riverbank which is only a few yards from the outer wall.
It was easy to imagine the fast canoes or the brigades of York boats coming round the bend. They say you could hear the crews singing before the boats came in sight, I could imagine that too, and the eagerness and interest of the nice folk at the fort as they waited. I saw the broad path up from the Landing; it is not obliterated yet. Along here the sturdy boatmen came, laden with bales of merchandise, laughing, shouting, eager to get to the shop to be paid off and be free to attend to their friends or their families. Or in winter, when the snow drifted to the height of the walls, there were the comings and goings of the dog-trains — their drivers resplendent in blanket coats and gay sashes, huskies bedecked with ribbons and bells. It is cold; but within doors huge fires of oak create an atmosphere of cheer and warmth, and the long evenings are spent sociably in conversation, or, when the fiddler sets his chair on the table, in the rollicking activity of the Red River jig.
The fort is not only a relic of the past, nor is it only a house of memory. Rather it is the expression in stone of the continuity of life, its easy flow, its imperceptible transitions. The mason who laid these courses lived until 1898 — not so long ago, it seems to some of us.
Later on I converted all my sketches into wood-engravings, and by introducing appropriate figures, by refloating the old boats, and reenacting the few historical incidents connected with the fort, suggested the manner of life lived there. This set of engravings was published by Stovel's of Winnipeg.
To us the West road is the highroad to adventure. It has its dull moments, but it leads to the heart of the Rockies and promises much. With my class I cannot venture far, but we do visit the more accessible if distant spots occasionally and we rarely miss spending some time at Johnson Canyon on account of its waterfalls. It is a half-hour drive from Banff.
I do not mind confessing that I like waterfalls. Every time I stand before a presentable specimen I echo the words Richard Wilson addressed to the Fal1s of Terni: 'Well done water, by Gad.'
'Unstable as water,' they used to say, forgetting that water has the greater power compared with rock and that, partly because of its instability, it can move mountains. Good landscape painters ignore this base insinuation. They wallow in waterfalls. They realize that instability is not necessarily a sin, but 'the supreme quality of transience which puts the keenest edge on beauty' as Mrs. Miniver observed when the fireworks went off.
My own interest in the matter began far away and long ago — on the moors of Yorkshire to be precise, when I was a child. We lived in Howarth, at the foot of the hill. Now and then we were let loose in the heather to pick bilberries, and on rare occasions we were taken on a picnic. To our elders the logical place for the latter diversion was Charlotte Bronte's waterfall, and there we always went. I have seen photographs of it since, and it does not seem very attractive—a trickle of peaty water on the barren moor. I suppose it held some interest for us at that time. At least it was the best part of a wholly objectionable business. I recall the perennial mint pasty — how I hated it! and the interminable walk.
The imprisoned waters of a lake are passive and reflect only the moods of the weather. Overflowing, the stream seeks lower levels and only the lie of the land has much influence upon it. Falls, we are told, are typical of regions where streams are young or immature, not having had time to grade their courses. Here is water in all its forms — the clear stream , foam, spray and still smaller drops suspended in the air — a translucent veil in which a rainbow is often woven. And the textures! What is sleeker than the lip of the fall, rougher, yet more transient and inconstant than the broken water of the spill, or more diaphanous than the rising mist. Smooth water above — the current distorting but not breaking the reflections of trees and rocks and sky upon its shining face; broken water below — a medley of white water and foam, pieces of sky, fragments of foliage that surprisingly fall into a rhythmic pattern.
Water is the most expressive element in nature. It responds to every mood from tranquillity to turbulence. The bubbling spring engenders and supports life; the raging torrent and the remorseless flood may be the instruments of its destruction.
The surface of still water is our standard of horizontality, which is the well-spring of peace and repose. Even falling water induces little emotional disturbance for vertical lines are also static. Thus a waterfall may induce pleasurable thoughts and even its roar may be soothing.
Once I saw a sketch of Tom Thomson's of a water-fall in the woods. It was not a voluminous or a spectacular falls, but a mere runnel with perhaps a ten-foot drop. It was viewed between the slender boles of birch or poplar, against a background of dense foliage, and it composed so beautifully that it has stayed in my memory for years. The pattern that impressed me was no doubt the creation of the artist, but the material that inspired it he found in that spot in the forest, and I doubt that he falsified it at all.
I first paddled up Rushing river, Lake of the Wood, more than thirty years ago. It was a long trip at that time — a run in the launch to Blindfold Lake — portaging the canoe over the falls there — a five-mile paddle to the river. Now a road crosses the river just above the falls.
I shall never forget that first visit. An hour's paddling in the hot sun brought us to the river. As we proceeded the cool shade of overhanging trees and the propinquity of the water were very refreshing. In the depths of the clear stream I saw fish darting; I watched with enjoyment the new vista that each turn of the stream revealed, and the banks as we sped by them — moss-covered rocks, white birch boles, wild rice, white lilies. The forest wove its spell about us. Once we chanced on a scene straight from the pages of Fenimore Cooper — a young Indian girl plucking a water-lily to put in her hair. A little further on was a small clearing on which were pitched a group of birch-bark tepees. Then came the murmur of falling water — faint at first, but attaining the dimensions of a roar as we progressed, and by and by, negotiating the ultimate turn, we saw the falls, a gleaming slash of white across rich verdure and gray granite.
It is not a large waterfall, but none has pleased me more. Perhaps the magic of the moments or the charm of the setting, or the cumulative interest of the approach with that dramatic crescendo of sound at the end— whatever it was, I cannot forget the sight nor the sound of that remote little waterfall.
My pupils thus find themselves confronted with a waterfall sooner or later, but few have ever submitted a reasonably good picture of it. Most of them give up, recognizing the subject as too formidable for their inexperience. Pitfalls to be avoided. The commonest faults are lack of movement and lack of pattern. Motion is a matter of line, and pattern the result of observation and imagination. One sometimes sees paintings of waterfalls as static as gobs of ice-cream.
The rock presents no great difficulty. They are dark, solid and static, but the water that spills over them takes many forms, from sleek reaches above embodying distorted reflections, to shining domes of foam shaped by pale and pleasant grays. On the lower level the foam disperses in lacy lines enclosing oval mirrors that reflect whatever lies above and behind them. They are as hard to photograph as to paint.
23. Johnson Canyon
On a sunny day I enjoy nothing better than to walk beside a mountain creek, whether over bare rock or through the forest, when the air is charged with the smell of balsam; when the sound of flowing water implies the proximity of a hidden waterfall, and now and then the sound expands, and diminishes when we pass it by: a situation that creates what the Chinese call a scene of enchantment. 'Three sounds there are,' wrote Washington Irving, 'most lovely to the ears of man: bird songs, the sound of running water and the voice of a loved woman.'
One may indulge all these joys and more by a mountain stream. Johnson creek, fifteen miles from Banff, along the West road, provides a very proper setting. It is a stream — to my mind — of perfect dimensions, of varying width, averaging three or four yards. Here and there the trail clings to the walls of the gorge through which the stream brawls, bridging it at intervals, sometimes bearing away from it through the trees, but never so far away as to be beyond earshot. The stream is broken by various cascades each with a character all its own: at last it is compressed between the canyon walls, bursting through in white fury, expended in concentric curves in the dark green pool below. Here the trail crosses again and one climbs steeply to the top, and skirts the wooded mountain-side, still rising.
The sound of other unseen falls comes now and again, and, at last an increasing roar is heard as the creek again comes into view tumbling into a deep pothole. Immediately above it, at an angle, is another very beautiful waterfall.
A further hike through the pines brings one to another noble fall square in appearance, with an open, boulder-strewn forefront — lovely indeed and most paintable.
My own first progress up this creek ended at the first falls, at the second falls on the second trip, and so forth. I stopped to sketch each one, and it was more than a year before I got to the top. But this fall kept me very busy. I painted it from all angles, and waded the stream to paint it from the other side. It was crowned with pines but its surroundings were spacious and airy.
On my next trip I came upon a waterfall spilling into an immense water-worn cavity in the rock. The spill was on the side furthest from the entrance. Once I had a class of about 75 all seated comfortably among the boulders and protected from the rain without. Within the cave the sound of the falling water was increased to a deafening roar.
Up the side of this, and along the creek for a few yards, the canyon contracts again and ends in a cul-de-sac, but the water has worn a bed and comes down vertically from a height of perhaps a hundred feet, a soft, silver ribbon that shimmers as it enters the mists at the bottom.
It may be remarked that the trail ignores this approach to the High falls, and winds up and around, and breaks through the trees at the top. The trail makers of this country may have sound reasons for this, but it seems to me that they play the same practical joke ad nauseam — most falls, especially high ones are approached from the top.
Most of the waterfalls I have mentioned are small and obscure but I have a nodding acquaintance with some that enjoy — as is said of artists — an international reputation. Niagara, for example. On the Canadian side I did not get a good view, owing to the top-side approach. On the other side I took the elevator down to the low level, and through spray and mist viewed that monstrous mass of moving water, all the while deafened by the crash of its fall. I made a half-hearted sketch from the northern bank, but was not much impressed by the beauty of the scene, thinking only how unfortunate it would be if I fell off. Vertigo, instead of admiration! That is probably the feeling which induces so many Japanese suicides to take off at the top of Kegon
Falls. It is notable that the authorities fenced off the trail only a short time ago.
Such creeks as Johnson are common in the Rocky Mountains. Beauty Creek is a smaller edition of the same, situated 15 miles north of the Columbia Ice Fields is very pleasant and very accessible. Paradise Creek is rewarding after a hard hike. And many more.
There have been no tragedies so far as I know along Johnson Creek: a young lady from the Oral French group fell in a while back, but was quickly fished out again, and last year a young man inadvertently jumped down the High Fall with no ill effects. He thought he was jumping over the narrow ribbon of water at the lip. My memories of the steam are all happy ones.
During the winter, when the sun rises at a reasonable hour, its first rays strike the peak called Brewster, the fine peak in the crotch between Stoney Squaw and Norquay. Occasionally, and for a few minutes only, the mountain seems to have caught fire at this time, so brightly does it shine through the pre-dawn gloom. There is no doubt about the colour: it is decidedly red. Snow on the peak renders the red even brighter and more transparent. A friend who maintains a cottage at Banff told me he would never come to the mountains in the winter but for this.
The same effect occurs in summer, but the same mountains are not then in the line of fire. In July the rising sun paints the Victoria Glacier a fiery hue as seen from Lake Louise. Then the flood-lit mountain tops seem to be getting nearer— nearer — an alarming illusion to some. The hotel manager told us that one guest was watching the display from her window, and when she could stand it no longer, phoned to him, gasping, 'The mountains are coming into my room.' It is a grand spectacle nevertheless.
Moonlight creates effects in an entirely different range of hues, more subdued, less common, but equally beautiful.
Perhaps my class has seen this phenomenon, perhaps not. I hesitate to assemble them at so early an hour, but it has become a tradition that the student should climb Sulphur Mountain one night in time to see the sunrise the next morning.
25. Indian Days
For two or three days early in July the town is given over to the Indians. They establish a camp of forty or fifty tepees, gaily painted on their own grounds beyond the Buffalo Park. Every morning they parade through the town, dressed up to the nines, feathered and beaded, braves, squaws and papooses, the majority mounted. A few of the squaws' mounts are equipped with poles for travois, the cart without wheels. They pause for a half-hour on the bridges where the costumes are judged and tourists take photographs. We rubberneck too, and make the most of it. The jostling crowd on the bridge is dense, and it is next to impossible to photograph an Indian without pale-faces intruding back and front of him, though he is raised above them.
In the afternoons there is a rodeo on the grounds, and the tepees are open for inspection. Tribal dances in the open-air stadium at the Banff Springs Hotel fill the evenings. It is carnival time, and one cheerfully pays the small fees demanded. Even in a case like this — I was sketching a part of the encampment and included several tepees in my pictures one of which belonged to Mary Starlight. Mary approached with a determined air, hand outstretched, palm up. I crossed it with silver.
The school usually detains one tepee complete with brave, squaw, family, horses, and what-not, for a few days so that the art classes may have authentic aboriginal models. The man and his wife pose morning and afternoon, sometimes seated on soft skins within the tepee, and at others in the open air. They are good models; like the Mounties they are used to it.
The tepee is put up in two minutes. First three poles, tied near the top are raised in tripod fashion, and many other single poles are placed resting on the three notches of the tripod, and forming a circle at the base. When all are encompassed by canvas, and this pegged to the grounds when skins and blankets are thrown over the floors the tepee is ready for the family to move in. It is surprisingly roomy.
The outside is decorated with geometric patterns in colour based on forms in nature — hail and rain, the sung the moon and the stars, around the base and at the apex, and a formalized rainbow framing the door-slit, and birds and animals, some realistically painted, occupy the middle sections.
Here are many pictures and the class in photography makes hay while the sun shines. When it rains they go back to town to hide in their dark rooms, while we, the landscape class, enter the tepee and paint portraits. This for us is an interlude: so Back to Nature!