November 10, 1916 Last Supper at Mowat Lodge

November 10, 1916

It’s my last evening at Mowat Lodge. Tomorrow, I plan to take the early morning train. I’ll stop in Huntsville, if the Trainors will have me, I’ll stay, or make my way back to Toronto.

Today I worked hard for Shannon. I helped him get things in order for winter. George Rowe and Lowrie Dickson helped out too. Sawing and stacking wood for the winter mostly. We moved the canoes into the storage shed and pulled one of the docks out of the water. We left the other dock – it was too far gone – the winter freeze-up will put it out of its misery.  We had to clear out the creosote from the chimneys. It builds up during the summer and you need to clear it out before the winter. It’s a dirty job but George was up to it.

Since it was my last night at the lodge, Annie made a nice supper for us all. Since I’m the only guest left at the lodge, I feel more like family. Shannon, Annie, their daughter Mildred, Shannon’s mother, Old Mrs. Fraser, and me. Shannon was feeling gracious, so he invited George Rowe and Lowrie Dickson, so it was the seven of us together in the kitchen. With three kerosene lights at full blaze and with the heat of the cook stove, it was cosy and bright – it was the cosiest and brightest place to be on Canoe Lake that evening and for a moment I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. But it would end tomorrow as I made my way toward the cold electric lights of the city and the grey film of smoke that smothered everything outside.

As is his usual manner, George kept us up to date with all of the rumours running along the rails. With so many grain cars going through the Park, grain was being siphoned off to feed the moonshine stills. Grain cars left on sidings overnight would mysteriously lose their cargo. The chief part of the mystery was how much grain could be spirited off into the bush without a trace.

The train derailments were happening with an alarming regularity. The rumours were that the saboteurs (along with the moonshiners, I reckoned) were hard at work disrupting a vital lifeline to the War. Early in the spring, 15 cars accordioned themselves into Joe Lake, almost taking with them a Pullman passenger full of troops. It took two days to pull the cars out and since the Hotel Algonquin was not yet open for the season, Shannon got the business of lodging for two nights. And Annie did what she does best – feed an army. George said the derailments were the insidious work of the Ottawa Road Master, of German descent. The railway sacked him after the Joe Lake incident. In my own mind, the saboteurs had easy work – they just had to sit back and watch the line fall into disrepair on its own. Later in the summer, there was another terrible accident. A double-header derailed and the engines fell on top of each other in a mud pond. Five people were killed – an engineer, a brakeman, and three firemen. There was a runaway train, eastbound from Rainy Lake. The engineer and brakemen gave chase with a handcar, and the stationmaster signalled ahead for the westbound trains to stop and pull off onto sidings. The runaway train eventually ran out of steam before it reached Canoe Lake.

The train comes through tomorrow at 8:15 in the morning. Shannon promised to bring me up to the station in the wagon. We stored the hearse earlier in the week and got out the sled runners for the wagon. When there’s decent snow on the ground, Shannon will get George or Lowrie to help him switch the wheels with the runners.

It’s getting late. I’m sitting by the fireplace in the dining room. My gear is packed and by the door. My sketches are tied up and bundled in burlap. Over a hundred I counted. I didn’t paint much when I was fire-ranging in the summer, but after I got fired, I painted two or three sketches each day for a month in the eastern end of the Park on the Petawawa with Ed Godin.

Time to call it a night. I plan to stop in Huntsville for a day or two and then make my way back to Toronto.



Blodwen Davies: Application for the exhumation of the body

July 27, 1931

Dear Col. Price,

I am enclosing the statement concerning the death and burial of Tom Thomson, which you would good enough to discuss with me last week. It is somewhat lengthy, but I have tried in include as much as I have been able to learn concerning the episode.

I shall appreciate it very much indeed if you can do anything concerning the case. I felt that I had too much material in hand to ignore the obvious inferences. However, the important thing to Thomson’s friends is to know whether or not he still lies in Canoe Lake, and to clear his name of the charge of suicide.

If there is anything more that I can do to help in any way, I shall be very glad indeed to do it. I expect to be in Canoe Lake early in September.

Sincerely yours,
Blodwen Davies

July 8, 1917

Tom Thomson, Canadian artist, who spent the greater part of each year in Algonquin park, was drowned in Canoe Lake on July 8th, 1917.

He was a retiring man, modest and exceptionally well liked by all who knew him. His headquarters were at Mowatt Lodge, Canoe Lake, kept by Mr. and Mrs. Shannon Fraser, who now run the hotel at Kearney. Thomson usually camped in a tent on Heyhurst Point opposite Mowatt Lodge, in the good weather.

He had been painting a record of the weather, one sketch a day, from the middle of April to the middle of June and had, as usual, ceased sketching during the mid-summer months. He was a great fisherman. An expert paddler, swimmer and woodsman.

For ten days or thereabouts prior to his death he had been competing with Mark Robinson, the park ranger in charge of the Canoe Lake district, in fishing for a big trout at the foot of Joe Lake Portage. He eluded them both. On the morning of Thomson’s death he rose rather late and breakfasted with Mrs. Fraser at Mowatt Lodge. He was in good spirits and came in “freshly shaved, hair brushed and shining.” He sat long at table, eating and talking in a leisurely way. Then lit a cigarette and wandered out. He joined Shannon Fraser and together they went across to Joe Lake Portage to have another try at the trout. Again they failed. It was nearly noon.

“I know what I’ll do,” said Thomson, “I’ll go down to Gill lake and get a big trout and lay it on Mark’s doorstep so that he find it when he comes out first thing tomorrow morning. He’ll think I’ve got this fellow.”

They returned to Mowatt Lodge. Thomson got out his canoe. He had no bread. Fraser went up to the Lodge got him a loaf and Thomson stowed it away, with a can of corn syrup, under the bow of the canoe. He took no provisions in addition as he did not intend to stay any longer than it took to get the fish. Some stories say that he was on his way for a camping trip. The bread and can of syrup were found in the canoe the next day.

Thomson left Mowat Lodge dock about twenty-five minutes to one o’clock on Sunday. He paddled down the lake and outside Little Wapomeo Island. There was an unoccupied cottage on the Island. He then passed out of sight into the stretch of water between Little Wapomeo and Big Wapomeo Islands. There his canoe was found and there, nine days later, his body was found. His watch had stopped shortly after one o’clock. It was not ten minutes paddle from Mowatt Lodge dock to the place where his body was found.

On Monday morning Martin Blecher, son of Martin Blecher, Sr. (German-Americans who have summer at Canoe lake for a great many years) reported that he had seen a canoe floating between the Islands on Sunday afternoon at three o’clock. He did not report it, he said, as he thought it was a canoe belonging to Colson at the Algonquin Hotel, Joe Lake, which had drifted away from Joe Lake Portage where Colson kept some of his canoes. However, it was Thomson’s canoe, which was familiar to all at Canoe Lake. It was painted a peculiar shade of green. Friends of Thomson’s immediately recognized the canoe as his. A search was instituted, but none of Thomson’s friends believed Thomson to be drowned. He was a powerful swimmer from boyhood. He had been traveling in a light east wind in a light rain. Mark Robinson tramped the woods for seven days whistling and calling, thinking Thomson had landed on shore and had fallend and injured himself. The Blecher family alone of all Thomson’s acquaintaces searched the lake from Mowatt Lodge to Tea Lake Dam, although Thomson’s canoe had been found between the Islands near home.

Dr. Golden Howland, of Toronto, arrived a day or two after Thomson’s death to occupy the Taylor Statten cottage on Little Wapomeo Island. On Monday morning, July 16, he discovered Thomson’s body when it became entangled with his fishing line. He informed the authorities. The body was towed to Big Wapomeo Island and anchored there.

Dr. Ranney, coroner, at North Bay was notified. The train leaving North Bay at 2.10 P.M. reached Canoe Lake at 9.12 P.M. that day. Dr. Ranney did not leave North Bay Monday.

Tuesday morning Mark Robinson decided to remove Thomson’s body from the water. Dr. Howland made an examination. The following is his statement as provided by T. E. McKee, Crown Attorney, North Bat [Bay], on June 5, 1931

An undertaker from Kearney had arrived. The body was embalmed and transferred to the mainland on Tuesday mornin and there buried in a sandy spot on the edge of a small hill.

Tuesday night on the 9.12 train Dr. Ranney arrived. He said he had wired his intention to arrive Tuesday. Those in charge of the case at Canoe Lake were unable to find any trace of such a message being filed. The telegraph files for that year have since been destroyed.

The inquest was held in the Blecher home instead of in the hotel nearby. The Blechers, who were not popular with the community, served beer and cigars to those who attended. Mark Robinson discovered that George Rowe, who had towed the body to shore, had not been summonsed to the inquest. He paddled across the lake to his cabin to get him.

Nothing came out at the trial of the quarrels between Martin Blecher, who was then about twenty-five years of age, and Thomson. The quarrels are said to have been violent. Thomson wrote Lismer, then at Halifax, one of his intimate friends, about the quarrels. The letters have not been preserved. Thomson was unhappy about the war. His friends, particularly Dr. James MacCallum, who was financing him by the sale of his pictures, put a great deal of pressure on him not to enlist. Other friends were putting pressure on him, some in order to induce him to enlist, others to prevent him from doing so. Thomson was becoming celebrated as an artist and was a sort of legendary figure in art circles.

Martin Blecher was subsequently a draft evader.

A letter from the War Department at Washington under date of July 27, 1931, describes him.

The story at Canoe Lake is that an agent of the War Department went to Canoe Lake in search of him and was persuaded to leave without taking action.

Martin Blecher was believed responsible for spreading a report of suicide. He repeated this statement as late as August of 1931 when he made a trip across the Lake to Camp Ahmek on the day of the Thomson Celebration and told Dr. Harry Ebbs that Thomson’s legs were bound together with a piece of rubber. This statement was untrue. He also stated that he body was cramped and rigid. This was also untrue. Blecher’s mother, when interviewed in the summer of 1930 refused to discuss Thomson.

The chief fact which the inquest failed to establish and which should have been obvious was this: that within ten minutes of leaving Mowatt Lodge dock, when out of sight of the cottages, Thomson was struck over the head with a weapon which inflicted a bruise four inches long on his temple and which caused bleeding from the ear. The bruise could only have been caused while Thomson lived.

The waters of Canoe Lake are mild enough for swimming by a children’s camp all July and August. Yet Thomson’s body, which should have floated in two or three days, did not come to the top until nine days later, although it was bloated to twice its natural size, — Unless it did come up and was sunk a second time. There was a fishing line tied around one ankle.

As related, Thomson was buried on the edge of a sandy hill not far from Mowatt Lodge. A few days later his family sent in an undertaker, Churchill of Huntsville, with a metal casket to exhume the body and carry it to Owen Sound. The undertaken arrived on the 9.12 p.m. train which may have been late, as the persons concerned have a recollection of him arriving “near midnight”. Mark Robinson was not informed of his arrival until some time later. Robinson rose at dawn, went to the grave, and discovered that the man’s job was done. Thomson, he said, was sealed in the metal casket. Robinson does not believe that the body was ever disturbed. The flowers that had been laid on the grave at the funeral were not moved.

George Rowe was with the undertaker on his way in to Mowatt Lodge. Rowe recalls that the man was anxious to be alone and refused offers of help. Shannon Fraser, who drove the man and the casket up to the spot, arranged with him that he was to answer the undertaker’s signal when he was through with the exhumation. He recalls that he was not long back at the hotel, before he saw the signal and at once returned to take up the casket again.

None of those concerned in the episode believe that Thomson was ever disturbed. There is no variation in opinion in any of those who have been questioned. Thomson’s casket was buried at Leith, where a stone has been erected over the grave.

The burying place at Canoe Lake is not a consecrated cemetery. There have been four or five buried there; there is only one small enclosure with a couple of grave in it. Thomson’s grave was outside the enclosure.

All of those concerned in this incident are still living. Mark Robinson is assistant Park Superintendent. His (Thomson’s) family were aware of the circumstances and debated taking action to clear up the situation. Thomson’s aged mother would have been disturbed by any such action and the matter was allowed to drop.

The Blechers, who are a quarrelsome family, are still in the same cottage at Canoe Lake.

The opening of Thomson’s original grave at Canoe Lake would lay at rest the rumors which are persistent in the north and which claim that he still lives there. His family now regret his removal to Leith and would be glad to know he had not been disturbed. Any action which would prove that Thomson died as the result of foul play would remove the stigma of suicide from his name.

Those who know Thomson could not believe that it was suicide. He was a sensitive and lonely soul, passionately devoted to the wilderness, and if he had been in a mood to take his own life, he would have gone off on a trip into the wilderness and been heard of no more. It is utterly at variance with Thomson’s character to suppose, that even in a fit of depression, he would have tried to commit suicide ten minutes from his own camp.

October 29, 1916 Still Up North

October 29, 1916

I’m still up North. Possibly for another week or two. I’m not sure when I’ll make it back down to the City but it will be sometime in mid-November.

I’m back at Mowat Lodge for a few days . I was in the eastern part of the Park, the new section, with Ned Godin. I did lots of good sketching along the Petawawa and by Achray. I also did some fire-ranging work but that took away from the sketching I really wanted to do.

Fall is finally turning into winter. Winter happens sooner and longer in the Highlands. The chill of the evening and nights is turning into a hard cold in the morning. I can still sleep in a tent outside – that’s not the issue – it’s just that much harder to get going in the day. It’s more difficult to paint too. But I like the urgency the cold makes when painting outside. It gives the paint a different texture and form, and I need to use a more forceful technique to apply and make the strokes. None of the delicacy or forethought used in the studio has any place here. You just start and finish the sketch before the scene disappears or before your inspiration expires or blood circulation stops.

I managed to get a free ride on the train from the eastern part of the Park to Canoe Lake. I had about sixty sketches and unused boards wrapped up in old canvas salvaged from an old tent. Near the end of our trip, I was wondering how I’d contain the sketches on the train when an abandoned camp site with a tent presented itself. Ned and I weren’t sure about the circumstance. An abandoned camp site meant some trouble about. We looked and found no trace of anyone and judging by the pit, no fire had been lit in the past week or maybe even two. The tent had a big tear in the side. The tear was straight so it was not from a bear but from a knife. Ned and I speculated that the camp site might have been escapees from the internment camp because e had been told to keep a lookout for such. But we never believed for a moment we’d see anyone or anything like that.

The night before I took the train I wrapped my sketches with the canvas and with twine made it into a small shipping bale. It reminded me of those bales in the canoes by the Voyagers. I had seen pictures of the Voyageurs it fascinated me that they would travel those long distances in canoe full of bales. Ned watched me and he said he was sorry to see me go. I’d be back before the snow was gone, I said. I promised him.

I got a free ride in the freight because I knew the conductor. Earlier in the summer I had given him a sketch (not expecting anything in return) and it ended up being my ticket for the season. Normally the freight cars are full, but since the war they are mostly empty going westbound. Eastbound trains are full siphoning off the country’s men and material to the war oversea. But not much would come back westbound so I had a whole freight car to myself, for me and my sketches.

I plan to stay a few days here at Mowat Lodge. I’ll help Shannon and Annie get ready for winter. The canoes still have to be brought up to the storage barn, the dock needs be taken out. The last of the potatoes and carrots have to dug out to be put in the root cellar (this should have been done a month ago).  As for root cellar, the doorway needs to be fixed to keep the rodents out and when the occasion warrants, the bears, too.

It’s the last of October,the colours are gone and the skeletons of the trees are out. It’s like the last sigh of the season before the winter sets in. The snow will falls and the scenes will become something new. I’ve seen this over and over but it’s new to me every time. Despite the solitary and peaceful feeling here, I can feel the draw back to the City. It’s not a yearning, it’s an insidious call. I’d rather be away, but the only place that I can stay with the money I have left is the shack behind the Studio. It’s fine. I’m grateful for it, but the thought of going back to endure another grim winter in the City is casting a heavy shadow on me.

On my way back, I might stop by in Huntsville and in Barrie too. The Trainors will put me up for a few days and Mark Robinson said I’m always welcome to visit him. Between them, that will put another week in before my eventual return.


October 4, 1916 Letter to Dr. MacCallum

October 4, 1916

Basin Depot, Oct. 4, 1916
Dr. MacCallum, 26 Warren Road

Dear Sir,

I received both your letters at the same time and was glad to hear about things in Toronto. The Country up here is just taking the fall colour and by the end of the week will be at its best.

Could you arrange to come up this week? You could get a train to Achray at Pembroke Sat. night at 7:30 or more likely 10 o’clock and be here somewhere about 12. The train leaves from Brent Sunday morning then the next one down is Wednesday morning but I could paddle you down to Pettawa from here any day you should want to go out.

Have done very little sketching this summer as I find that the two jobs don’t fit in. It would be great for two artists or whatever you call us but the natives can’t see what we paint for. A photo would be great but the painted things are awful. When we are traveling two go together one for the canoe and the other the pack and there’s no place for a sketch outfit when you’re fire ranging.

We are not fired yet but I am hoping to be put off right away.

Thanking you for your letters.

I am Yours Truly,

Tom Thomson

A Ghostly Recap of My Campfire Reading and Gravesite Visitation

September 29, 2015

There are rare moments when I step outside of the Twittersphere to tell my story directly to followers. Two such moments happened this weekend when I did a campfire reading in Huntsville and my gravesite visitation by Mowat Cemetery on the shores of Canoe Lake.

Photo courtesy of Huntsville Doppler

Thank you to all of those who attended my campfire reading in Huntsville on September 26th. The evening could not have been better – illuminated by a nearly full moon, a warm evening temperature unheard of in my time, with an even warmer reception from those who attended.

For those of you who missed the reading, I gave a brief introduction of who I was as an author (while still maintaining my anonymity) and what it was like to live as an artist and as a man during a pivotal time in Canadian history.

I read selections from the following entries:

December 12, 1916 The Ward and the Hospital

March 23, 1917 Return to Mowat Lodge (still in draft not yet published )

March 27, 1917 Canoe Lake

June 15, 1917 Last Night in Huntsville

After reading these selections, and discussing which parts of Huntsville were actually dry at the time, I described the circumstances of my disappearance and death. I speculated – to the surprise of many – what I believed is the most plausible theory of my disappearance and death, reminding everyone that no single theory adds up to a definitive conclusion. I also described what, I believe, is the larger tragedy of the story – the recovery of the body, a hasty burial, followed by an unsavoury exhumation and a reburial leaving in their wake questions that remain unresolved to this day.

An even more hearty thank you goes out to those brave souls who followed me the next day to the gravesite on Canoe Lake. We could not have asked for better weather, save for the rising afternoon wind that made for a difficult and turbulent return. We all returned safely, myself included.

During our expedition we visited the Cairn, the gravesite and the location of the former Mowat Lodge. Some photos below:

The Cairn on Hayhurst Point

The cross marking where the grave might be located

Location of the former Mowat Lodge

A fine day on Canoe Lake just before turbulent waters.

In the end, it was a worthy journey into the world I was once a part of.

If you want to know what it feels like to approach your own grave, I’ve included a video below.

Thanks for following.





Twitter: @TTLastSpring

The ghost of Tom Thomson is visiting Huntsville this weekend.  Listen to his story.

Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park, September 22, 2015 — The ghost of Tom Thomson will be visiting downtown Huntsville this Saturday, September 26th at 8pm to read selections from his journal, Tom Thomson: Journal of My Last Spring. The reading, an event organized as part of Culture Days, will take place in the Civic Square in front of Tom Thomson’s statue located at 37 Main Street East.

The ghost, an anonymous author who wishes to keep his identity secret, has recreated Tom Thomson’s life as it was in 1917, in the form of a real-time Twitter account (@TTLastSpring) and daily journal ( ). The evening reading promises to shed light on what happened in the last days leading to Tom’s mysterious disappearance on July 8, 1917. Following the reading, the author will  discuss Tom’s life, his art, and of course, the mystery.

For those who are interested in further adventure, Tom’s ghost will be leading an expedition the next day on Sunday September 27th to the gravesite at Canoe Lake departing at 10am. Details can be found at  

Media inquiries and interviews are welcome. Please use the contact information provided above.

A Matter For The Curious Only #WhoKilledTomThomson

“Tom Thomson family will bar exhumation of body”, Owen Sound Sun-Times, Feb. 8, 1969

A CBC TV producer’s demands that the grave at Leith, where most accept lie the remains of the world famed Canadian artist, Tom Thomson, pioneer of the Group of Seven school of Canadian art, have aroused considerable revulsion in Owen Sound.

Not only do people, many of them long time friends of members of the Thomson family, feel that opening the grave 50 years after the painter’s death would be in very bad taste and would cause surviving members of his direct family great anguish, but they can see no point, even should the unlikely suggestion he was murdered be indicated to be true.

The television film on Tom Thomson, shown Thursday night over CBC, caused great disappointment among local art circles and other interested in the Thomson family. It was quite apparently aimed solely at furthering the suggestion that Mr. Thomson was murdered and increasing the pressure to have the grave opened.


The final decision must rest with the surviving members of the family, two sisters and a nephew. The latter, Geo. Thomson, of the Brantford Art Gallery, stated that his aunts, himself, and other members of the family will not give permission to open the grave neither now nor at any time.

There has never been question in the minds of any members of the family but that Thomson died accidently, as stated officially following the inquest which found death by drowning.

His father, the late Geo Thomson, dean of artists here for many years and widely known for his landscapes, went to the scene immediately on learning that Tom had disappeared and was believed drowned, the son recalls. He spent six days searching for the body. Collecting the artist’s sketches, he returned home and shortly after the family was informed the body had been found.

Geo. Thomson sr. said he had been informed that Tom had suffered a sprained ankle just before his disappearance. He was of the opinion Tom had stepped out of the canoe onto his injured foot, had slipped, hit his head on a rock and rolled unconscious into the water to drown.

Geo. Thomson, asked by a Sun-Times staff members 10 or 12 years ago about the rumor, which had recurred at that time, definitely stated Tom’s body was in the coffin buried at Leith, and that his death was accidental.


A number of Owen Sound residents, some of whom knew the family for many years, were asked for their opinion of the proposal. These opinions follow:

Mrs. S. H. Pearce: – “I feel the proposal is in very bad taste and cannot see where any good purpose could be served. We have a very fine memorial to Tom Thomson, the artist, in our Tom Thomson Art Gallery. I have a great admiration for his works and the part he has played in Canadian art and view the movement as most unfortunate.”

Mrs. Pearce, former women’s editor of the Sun-Times, was active in establishing the memorial art gallery. She feels strongly about the Thursday night showing of the CBC film on Tom Thomson. “Instead of watching what we thought would be a tribute to the wonderful art of Tom Thomson, we watched a group of ghouls at work.”

Ald. Clifford Waugh, city council representative on the civic gallery committee: – “The legend of Tom Thomson is something the people of this area have cherished for years and the CBC, in their stupidity, have deliberately tried to destroy the image of this revered artist which is causing anguish for the Thomson family.”

Mrs. John Harrison, president, women’s gallery committee: – “I thought the suspense in the film was well maintained but was disappointed more time was not devoted to his life and his paintings shown. It is my feeling it would be a good thing to get the mystery of his death cleared up.”

William Parrott, head of the art department at the O S C V I: – “The dead should be left in peace and no good purpose could come of opening the grave at Leith.”

Mr. Parrott said, “Christians do not feel they need to know beyond doubt where Christ is buried before they can honor him, so why should we feel we need to know the location of Tom Thomson’s grave in order to honor him.”

W. M. Prudham, former principal of the O S C V I: – “It would clarify the situation if the grave at Leith was opened. If it is not done the doubt will always keep coming to the surface from time to time.”

Mrs. John Rowe, member of art gallery committee: – “The McMichael Conservation Gallery officials a Kleinburg are anxious to collect the remains of the famous Group of Seven artists for burial in one plot. I think the idea of digging up graves is horrible. Lives remembered are more positive than bones.”

Mrs. K. C. Quirk, member of the gallery committee: – “Exhumation would be pointless. Let the poor man rest in peace. The wishes of the surviving members of the family should be considered.”

Stan Latham,CFOS radio: – “The resting place for Tom Thomson’s bones is a matter for the curious only. To me, it really does not matter. The real Tom Thomson still lives. It is expressed through his paintings. Let those who would honor and remember him do so in the manner of their choice. I would say we do him dishonor to wrangle over his bones. Let the mystery remain with him and the good earth he loved so well and held as sacred.”