October 13, 1917 Letter from JEH MacDonald to John Thomson

Studio Bldg. 25 Severn St. Toronto
Oct 13:17

Mr. John Thomson

Dear Mr Thomson: I  would have answered your letter sooner but I have been out of town and did not get the letter until I returned. It is unfortunate that my inquiry was delayed in reaching you, but under the circumstances, it could be hardly avoided. It was, however, necessary for me to put the engraving of the brass inscription plate in hand without delay in order to have it ready when those intending to put it up could be at Canoe Lake. I had therefore to go ahead with the work and as this was done before I got to definite information as to Tom’s birth place and date, etc, there is a slight error on the plate as it stands. I am sorry for this, as I would have liked dates, etc, as correct as possible, but the fault is probably not of great importance after all as Tom was removed from Claremont as soon after his birth, Claremont can hardly claim much credit for his raising.

Nevertheless, as I say, I would have like the fact correct. I hope you won’t mind the error.

I have just returned from Canoe Lake where I spent the weekend helping Mr. Beatty to put on the plate and give the cairn a few finishing touches.

The cairn is a fine piece of work and with the brass plate in position, it looks quite imposing. It stands on a prominent point in Canoe Lake right at the head of the lake, facing south and can be seen from all directions. It is situated near an old favourite camping spot of Tom’s. I took a number of photographs of the memorial and will send you prints as soon as possible. It has been a great satisfaction to me to help in this work and the result goes a long way towards beautifying the tragedy of Tom’s death. The devotion of practically everyone at Canoe Lake in offering their help has been fine. Mr J.W. Beatty planned the cairn and directed and did most of the work in connection with its erection. I myself was not able to go to Canoe Lake until the cairn was practically completed, but I had no difficulty in appreciating the efforts of those concerned. Most of the stone had to be carried up a steep cliff about 60 feet high. All this stone had to brought a mile or so by boat and carried up to the site. There was probably over a ton of material in the cairn. Some of the helpers were soft-handed city men, who had not known Tom, but were holidaying at the Lake and cheerfully offered their services. I am sure, Mr. Thomson, that you will understand that I do not mention these things to give you any sense of obligation, but merely to bring out for you the noble side of the sad event they centred around.

I will write to you your daughters and your son George as soon as possible. and send you the photos mentioned without delay. The Globe of this morning gives an account of the cairn. Some of the other papers are asking for photographs.

Yours very truly

J.E.H. MacDonald

October 4, 1916 Letter to Dr MacCallum

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

Haunting up to 2017

2017 is the 100th anniversary of my mysterious disappearance and apparent death on July 8, 1917. This anniversary is less than two years away.

On November 28th, 2011, almost three years ago, I appeared on Twitter, as I was on November 28th, 1916. I had returned from Up North to Toronto, a city that was grey and weary from losing its sons in the Great War. I remember my very first tweet, remarking on how dreary it was that day.

As any good ghost would tell you, I am bound to repeat the cycle until the mystery is resolved. Soon I will be going into my fourth cycle which I plan to repeat annually until the fateful sequence of events repeat once again, 100 years on, in 2017.

For those of you new to my story, here is an overview of my annual haunting cycle. At unpredictable points during the haunting cycle I occasionally step out of the past and appear at museums, galleries or other significant historical locations. You never know, one day, you too might be standing beside the ghost of Tom Thomson.

August 1916 –  I am fire-ranging (and trying to paint) in the eastern end of the Park. Along with Ned Godin, we are following the log runs and the lumber crews on the Petawawa.

September –  November 1916 After being fired from my fire-ranging job, I gradually make my way westward through the Park. I camp as much as I can, but as the weather turns colder I begin to gravitate toward Mowat Lodge as my base. I make a few trips to Huntsville and Georgian Bay. In mid-November, with the colder temperatures and poorer weather, I begin to feel the pull to return to the City.

November 28, 1916. My first tweet in the City. I’ve been back for almost two weeks, but it takes me those two weeks to get myself back into a frame of mind to do something.

December 1916 – March 22, 1917 My time in the City. Mostly spent in the Shack, painting keeping to myself, but I do manage to get out to see a few pictures, theatre shows and boxing matches. Over the holidays I visit my family in Owen Sound, see my old homestead in Leith, and visit my sister and brother-in-law in Annan. Upon returning to Toronto, I throw myself into painting, have some uncomfortable encounters with returned veterans and girls from the White Feather Brigade. On top of that, Toronto is dry, and the only booze available is by bootleg, prescription, or mail-order from Montreal. Several pivotal events during the period compel me to return as soon as I can up North to complete the project of my last spring.

March 23, 1917 – July 8, 1917 My last months in Algonquin Park. The Park is no longer a refuge but a microcosm on the edge of the Machine of War. While I am sketching, the War is hanging over the horizon: the whistle of troop trains, the constant talk of conscription, and the return of my good friend, Park Ranger Mark Robinson, with first-hand accounts of the useless carnage of War. The Frasers, the Trainors, Lowrie Dickson, Geo. Rowe and the Colsons, together, we become a close community despite our petty conflicts and peculiar predilections. Of course, there are the women too, Daphne, Florence, Fannie, and other women visitors I can’t recall right now. The tensions and intrigue all build up to that fateful day on July 8, 1917.

July 8 1917 That fateful day where I am last seen leaving the dock at Mowat Lodge around noon.

July 16, 1917 to July 21, 1917 The roller coaster events of a gruesome discovery, a sham autopsy, a hasty burial, and a series of well-intentioned but ill-thought-out actions that turn out be string of indignities to my name and the members of my family. Everyone is led to believe that I am laid to rest in Leith. If that were truly the case, I would not be writing this very entry.

And the cycle concludes with an exchange of heart-wrenching letters between my members of my family and certain residents of Canoe Lake who are hiding a secret. It’s this secret, yet to be unveiled, that keeps me haunting to this day.

So follow me. Follow the journal of my last spring and learn of my mystery.

I remain yours truly,

‘Tom’

No Ordinary Case: Full Edition

Good evening followers.

This is the full edition of the story No Ordinary Case: The Reburial of Tom Thomson: A Story told in Tweets. This is the full version of the 2013 tweets, never before published as a complete short story.  So here it is. Presently, I am working on the 2014 version, with  new details,  twists and revelations. That will come soon enough. In the meantime, enjoy this one and I promise the 2015 edition will be even better.

If you are coming to the camp fire reading and the cemetery expedition on the next day, to get the full experience, this is required reading.

Affectionately,

‘Tom’

———#tt1917————-

 

No Ordinary Case: The Reburial of Tom Thomson: A Story Told in Tweets

“As I said before this was no ordinary case.” That was the reply by R.H. Flavelle, undertaker, to justify the extra costs of double the amount  embalming fluid and carrying the casket over a mile by water and another mile and a half through the woods.

My body, as most believe, was recovered from Canoe Lake on July 16, 1917. Eight days earlier, I mysteriously disappeared on July 8th, 1917. This is the story, not of my disappearance, but instead my reappearance and my reburial.

Dramatis Personae

Canoe Lake:

George Bartlett, Algonquin Park Superintendent. Likes order and to keep things quiet.

Martin Blecher, Jr., Canoe Lake cottager. An American from Buffalo. I didn’t like him.

Lowrie Dickson, guide and hired hand. A young man. Lost both parents in the Park.

Annie Fraser, wife of Shannon Fraser. A sweetheart, good cook, but a busybody

Shannon Fraser, proprietor of Mowat Lodge. Not a man of principles. Owed me money.

Dr. G.W. Howland,  Toronto doctor. Vacationing in the Park with his family.

Charles Plewman, guest at Mowat Lodge. Just arrived the previous day.

Mark Robinson, Algonquin Park Ranger. A good friend of mine. A man of principles.

George Rowe, guide and hired hand. A good man but likes his drink.

Charlie Scrim, guest at Mowat Lodge. A good friend of mine. Has the consumption.

Hugh Trainor, Canoe Lake cottager. Father of Winnie Trainer

Winnie Trainor, Canoe Lake cottager. Winnie and I were engaged, or so she thought.

Owen Sound:

George Thomson, my older brother, on vacation in Owen Sound when I disappeared.

John Thomson, my father.

The story begins, eight days after I was last seen on July 8, 1917.  A story told in tweets.

~~~

July 16, 1917

5:15am   Canoe Lake: Morning fine

6:29am Mark Robinson is up early baking bread. ‘What else is there to do to take my mind off the search?’

6:33 am Annie Fraser, having a brief respite from morning chores, gazes out onto Canoe Lake. She sees Rowe and Dickson in their canoe.

6:36 am Shannon Fraser at Mowat Lodge is hitching up the hearse and horses. It’s only proper to keep a hearse as tidy can be.

6:39 am Charlie Scrim’s breathing is better today. After breakfast, he’ll take a walk down by Canoe Lake shore.

6:41 am Charles Plewman likes the rustic aspect of Mowat Lodge ‘But it’s so damn gloomy here!’

6:45 am George Rowe and Lowrie Dixon decide to make it an early morning on the lake. Fishing, but still searching for me.

8:15 am Dr. G.W. Howland’s daughter awakens. After yesterday’s near catch, she wants to go fishing again today.

8:46 am Dr. G.W. Howland sights a dark figure under water. Directs George Rowe and Lowrie Dixon to investigate.

8:50 am Rowe and Dickson get closer. It’s a body of a man. Rowe shouts ‘It’s Thomson’s body!

8:55 am Charlie Scrim, wondering what the commotion is all about, learns of the terrible conclusion. He bursts into tears

9:11 am Charlie Scrim rushes to report to Mark Robinson that body was found in Canoe Lake by George Rowe about 9am

9:16 am George Rowe and Lowrie Dixon tow body to near shore. Body is kept in water. Close to the Blecher and Trainor cottages.

9:31 am Martin Blecher Jr. and Hugh Trainor, horrified at the body’s return, cover it with blanket. Too close for comfort.

9:41 am Park Supt. George Bartlett orders Mark Robinson to await arrival of coroner tomorrow. Best to keep body in water.

9:50 am Shannon Fraser sends perversely worded telegram to Thomson family, ‘Found Tom this morning.’

10:01 am TELEGRAM TO J THOMSON: FOUND TOM THIS MORNING

10:15 am After 8 days in the water, it’s a difficult, unpleasant, maybe impossible task to positively identify the body.

10:20 am George Bartlett remarks to himself, ‘Thomson had it coming to him. This has to stay quiet’

10:26 am Hugh Trainor, has seen dead men, but never one in the water that long. Dead men in the water disappear.

10:36 am Mark Robinson is alarmed at the condition of body. Telegraphs for undertaker and embalmer Flavelle of Kearney and Dixon of Sprucedale.

11:04 am Mark Robinson says of the body – ‘This is an indignity to Tom, he’s got to be buried soon.’

12:08 am The day has not turned out as everyone had hoped.

1:46 pm John Thomson in Owen Sound receives Fraser’s telegram. Aghast at its tersely worded ambiguity, sends immediate reply for confirmation

4:50 pm Undertakers Dixon and Flavelle arrive at Canoe Lake. Can’t do anything until orders received. They stay the night

7:09 pm Evening train comes and goes. No coroner. Body must stay in the water overnight. Mark Robinson winces at the thought.

7:37 pm Dead men did not return from the battlefield upon which they fell. Why then would a dead man be returned from the Park he loved?

8:00 pm A sultry, humid hot evening. Welcome weather, but it’s a curse when a body of a friend is decomposing in the water close by.

8:15 pm A sunset and a deadhead in the distant water.

8:50 pm Residents of Canoe Lake are in collective shock. The body of the man they knew as an artist is between this world and the after-world.

9:20 pm George Rowe and Lowrie Dickson prepare for an all-night vigil. Sound of body rubbing against roots is made worse by the night time silence

10:10 pm Lowrie Dickson knows that Visitors have no inkling of how unforgiving the Park is. He lost both his parents in the Park.

11:05 pm George Rowe is thankful that the black flies are done and the mosquitoes are lying low. It’s the damn midges that are eating him alive.

July 17, 1917

1:50 am Geo. Rowe and L. Dickson count the night train whistles. Troop train, lumber train, tourist train. One pensive wail after another

3:02 am Sound travels well at night. The only sound to be heard is a waterlogged body rubbing up against tree roots.

6:02 am Canoe Lake: Morning fine

6:55 am Geo. Rowe and L. Dickson are bleary-eyed after their all-night vigil over the body. It was the whisky too.

7:53 am TELEGRAM TO T J HARKNESS: TOM THOMSON DROWNED IN CANOE LAKE WIRE IMMEDIATELY WHAT TO DO.  JS FRASER

7:53 am Another hour before @WinnieTrainor arrives at Canoe Lake. Last leg of the rail journey is agonisingly slow.

07:57 am Shannon Fraser reflects: It’s one thing to receive telegrams about deaths. It’s another thing to send them.

8:25 am July 17,1917: It’s shaping up to be a day of crisis and despair at Canoe Lake.

9:00 am TELEGRAM TO GEORGE THOMSON: TOM THOMSON DROWNED IN CANOE LAKE BODY FOUND AWAITING BURIAL THERE.

9:04 am Winnie Trainor arrives on the early morning train. Asks to see the body. Mark Robinson declines

9:21 am Distraught @WinnieTrainor stands on bridge for a few moments. Makes her way to the Trainor cottage

9:32 am Mark Robinson expects coroner on morning train. No coronerarrives. He phones Park Supt. George Bartlett – “This isn’t right’

10:32 am Constable arrives at Thomson residence in Owen Sound. Reports from North Bay no indication if dead or alive

10:46 am Supt. George Bartlett orders the go ahead, ‘Take the body out of water and have him buried. Pronto!’

11:06 am Mark Robinson arranges for body to be brought to Wapomeo Island. Dr Howland inspects body.

11:21 am Body is laid out on planks so Dixon and Flavelle can do their work once Dr Howland has finished examination

11:33 am Geo. Rowe and L. Dickson dispatched to dig grave. Shannon stays back with Dixon and Flavelle who are preparing the body.

11:46 am Body has bruise over left eye. Fishing line wrapped 17 times around left ankle – carefully wrapped. Robinson cuts line free

11:49 am Despite being a doctor, Dr. G. W. Howland still has problems telling his left from his right.

11:50 am Young Jack Robinson sees the body. Shocking image stays with him for the rest of his life

11:54 am The heat and humidity are oppressive. They add a heavy urgency to the situation.

12:06 am Winnie Trainor arrives at island to view body but is refused. Shouts asking why they are not waiting for the coroner from North Bay

12:20 pm OWEN SOUND SUN: TOM THOMSON LIKELY DROWNED

12:29 pm In the Park, authority and expediency take precedence over wishes of next of kin: Unwritten Code of the Lumbermen and the Province.

12:33 pm Bartlett knows the Unwritten Code is part of his understanding with Queen’s Park. That’s where his real authority comes from.

12:36 pm The Dominion and Province are governed by laws of the legislature. But the Park is governed by the Unwritten Code.

1:16 pm John Thomson receives Fraser’s telegram. Sends reply ‘REQUEST TOM BE BURIED IN LEITH. G. THOMSON TO ARRIVE TOMORROW TO RETRIEVE

1:32 pm Undertakers drain body of fluids. Takes twice the amount of embalming fluid. They wash the body clean

1:36 pm Geo. Rowe and L. Dickson dispatched to dig grave. Shannon stays back with Dixon and Flavelle who are preparing the body.

2:47 pm Body placed in casket. Transported by boat to Mowat Lodge. Transferred to Shannon Fraser’s hearse. Begins trip to cemetery.

3:03 pm Canoe Lake residents, what few there are, begin to make their way to the cemetery

3:32 pm Shannon receives telegram from John Thomson, ‘Too late to do anything about it’. Bartlett’s made the order,’ he thinks to himself.

3:50 pm Charles Plewman, Mowat Lodge guest is pressed into service as pallbearer.

3:55 pm Tom Thomson burial service to be at Mowat Cemetery 4pm today. Please notify all Canoe Lake residents.

4:00 pm Shannon shows J Thomson telegram to Annie. ‘No need for anyone to see this. Bartlett’s given the burial order.’

4:03 pm Martin Blecher Sr. (Martin’s father) reads from Mark Robinson’s Book of Common Prayer.

4:10 pm Sky is overcast and rain starts falling. A fitting element for the sombre ceremony that lay ahead.

4:15 pm Trainors: mother, father, and @WinnieTrainor , Colsons plus sister, Mr.& Mrs. E. Thomas

4:17 pm It’s not just a bad day for Mark Robinson, it’s turning into a long day too. The coroner will be arriving on the evening train.

4:26 pm 18 people attend funeral: Blechers: father, mother, sister and brother; Robinson, Dickson, Rowe, Mr. &Mrs. Fraser;

4:50 pm The casket is committed; Rowe, Dickson cover it up.

5:03 pm George Thomson at the urging of John Thomson begins another trip to Canoe Lake. This time not to search but to retrieve the body

5:18 pm Geo. Rowe and Lowrie Dickson stay behind and sit beside the filled in grave. “Last we can do for you Tom, is drink in your honour’

5:32 pm While walking back Annie Fraser tries to console Winnie Trainor. Mentions the Thomson telegram. Winnie shrieks. Annie produces it.

5:45 pm Winnie Trainor is now inconsolable. Body was to be buried in Leith. She tries to use the station telephone but is refused.

6:03 pm Shannon Fraser is mighty upset at Annie. Gives her a smack across the face. Hadn’t done that since Mildred was a baby.

7:25 pm Winnie Trainor takes the evening train. She’s been smothered, denied and paralyzed her in her grief. She must leave at once.

7:31 pm Mark Robinson waits at Joe Lake Stn. for the coroner from N. Bay. He sees Winnie Trainor  in the window of the W. bound train.

8:06 pm Dr. AE Ranney arrives at Joe Lake Stn. Mark Robinson goes with him to Algonquin Hotel to take evidence.

8:09 pm Owen Sound residents react to the news in the paper: TOM THOMSON LIKELY DROWNED

8:16 pm Molly Colson: ‘I saw Tom last Sunday. He came here for tea and was in good spirits’

8:25 pm Mark Robinson and Dr. Ranney head down to the Blecher residence. Shows the dock where Fraser last saw me.

9:20 pm Winnie Trainor stops at Scotia Junction. Makes frantic phone calls to Thomson family. They reply, ‘We want him home in Leith.”

9:26 pm Winnie Trainor makes more frantic phone calls. Calls Flavelle. He refuses. Calls her a ‘devil’s witch’

9:30 pm Winnie Trainor reaches FW Churchill, undertaker. Arranges for exhumation and sealed casket. Will arrive by tomorrow evening

9:36 pm Coroner’s investigation starts at the Blecher cottage. It’s late after a long day. Everyone’s tired.

9:41 pm Present: GW Howland; Martin, Bessie Blecher; JE Colson; JS Fraser; M. Robinson; M. Blecher Sr; C.Plewman; G.Rowe.

9:45 pm Dr Ranney calls to order. A subdued gathering. Dr Howland swears death by drowning as do the other witnesses.

9:50 pm Geo. Rowe: ‘I am sure it was Tom. I knew his brown shirt and rather long black hair’

9:55 pm Mark Robinson: “I am sure it was Tom. He had brown pants and a tan flannel shirt’

10:03 pm Dr. GW Howland: ‘I never met Tom Thomson. I arrived at Canoe Lake a few days after he disappeared.’

10:05 pm GW Howland: ‘ I examined the body, man aged about 40 yrs, advanced state of decomposition, bruise on right temple, air issuing from mouth”

10:10 pm Dr Ranney: ‘Mr Blecher, do you find it strange that this canoe was in such a position?’

10:15 pm Martin Blecher: ‘No Sir, I though it was a craft that had slipped its ties up at the Lodge.”

10:20 pm Dr. Ranney: ‘It is regrettable that so little is known about this accident, but I believe I must concur with Dr. Howland’s statement’

10:50 pm Dr. Ranney, ‘If there is nothing further to report, I will adjourn at this time”

10:55 pm The investigation is formally closed by a round of whisky served by Martin Blecher Jr. to the men. Mark Robinson politely declines.

11:30 pm Coroner AE Ranney reaches final verdict ‘Death by accidental drowning

11:54 pm Coroner’s Finding – Death by Accidental Drowning

11:56 pm WARRANT TO BURY AFTER A VIEW

 

July 18, 1917

12:55 am Shannon Fraser makes his way back to Mowat Lodge in the dark. On his way, trips over the fire grate

1:30 am Martin Blecher Jr. ferries Dr. Ranney and Mark Robinson back to the Ranger Cabin. Dr. Ranney stays the night to catch the morning train.

2:30 am Mark Robinson sets up a bed for Dr. Ranney and writes the events of the day in his journal.

5:50 am Canoe Lake: Morning overcast

6:31 am Dr. Ranney takes morn. train. Relieved that ordeal concluded as Park Supt Bartlett had wanted. ‘Keep the paperwork to a minimum.”

6:54 am Yesterday it was a hastily arranged funeral. Today it is an unexpected exhumation at Canoe Lake.

8:20 am Mark Robinson is following orders as he should. But feels like he is betraying me, my friends and my family.

9:25 am Shannon writes a letter to John Thomson justifying the burial at Canoe Lake.

9:31 am Shannon Fraser receives telegram from G. Thomson: ‘UNDERTAKER CHURCHILL WILL ARRIVE THIS EVE WITH STEEL CASKET TO EXHUME TOM’

9:46 am Word spreads to Canoe Lake residents that an exhumation is forthcoming. Alarm and dismay.

10:53 am No direct route from OS to Canoe Lake: Inglewood, Allandale , Scotia Junction. An all day train journey for George Thomson.

11:37 am TORONTO GLOBE: TORONTO ARTIST DROWNS IN NORTH

11:46 am George Thomson manages to get a Globe from a connecting Toronto passenger. His heart stops when reaches page 5

2:32 pm A strange silence descends upon Canoe Lake. Everyone is dreadfully anticipating the macabre drama to come this evening.

3:45 pm Mark Robinson journal: “There is Considerable Adverse Comment regarding the taking of Evidence among the Residents”

4:16 pm George Thomson arrives at Canoe Lake. Makes arrangements to stay at Mowat Lodge as well for the undertaker when he arrives.

5:32 pm George Thomson takes supper at Mowat Lodge. The conversations are polite but the table manners convey the sense of a pariah.

6:02 pm George. Thomson is pondering how to resolve the issue of the sketches at Trainor cottage. May require business-like but unpleasant actions.

6:35 pm FW Churchill arrives at Canoe Lake with steel casket. George Thomson greets him at the train station.

6:45 pm Undertaker Churchill is dressed in the finest of exhumation-wear: a long dark, white shirt, black tie and bowler hat.

7:06 pm Mark Robinson is at the train station George Thomson tells him that he wants the sketches from the Trainors. They are part of Thomson estate.

7:21 pm Churchill to G. Thomson: ‘I understand your need to satisfy yourself about the identity, the condition of the body is highly distressing’.

7:41 pm George Thomson returns to Mowat Lodge. He is a businessman – not a grave digger, especially one that exhumes

7:46 pm Churchill instructs Shannon Fraser to return by 11:30. Shannon is skeptical he can finish the job by himself in 3 hrs.

7:55 pm Shannon Fraser transports Churchill and casket to cemetery. Asks if he needs help ‘No. I am paid well, and this job is for professionals.’

8:31 pm Geo. Rowe suddenly appears at the gravesite. ‘I’ll make you a deal. If you don’t agree, you’ll be returning in that steel casket’

8:35 pm Visitors are paying their respects and condolences at Thomson residence at 528 4th Ave. E in Owen Sound. The whole city is saddened.

8:41 pm George Thomson is having a difficult time accounting for my belongings at Mowat Lodge. Annie has tidied them up.

8:46 pm After his resolve is diluted with whiskey, Churchill makes a deal with Rowe. Rowe: ‘And don’t forget to use extra solder on the casket’

9:08 pm Former neighbour, John McKeen, makes a special trip in from Leith to pay his respects to the Thomson family. They are happy to see him.

9:12 pm Stones and gravel make good weight of a body . ‘Tom stays here. No one needs knowing. Better that way’

9:20 pm Geo. Rowe: ‘Tom deserves to stay here. That other Thomson fellow is like those visitors who always think they know better’

9:30 pm A long day, but George Thomson is determined to stay up to see this whole ordeal through. Annie serves him tea in the dining room.

9:33 pm The last of the visitors leave the Thomson residence in Owen Sound. John Thomson hopes George is faring well in Canoe Lake.

9:43 pm George Thomson reads the newspaper article once again. It’s not just grief he feels, it’s forsakeness too.

9:55 pm Geo. Rowe helps Churchill finish the deed of their agreement. He disappears as he had appeared. He goes back to his cabin.

10:03 pm George Thomson reflects. This is the second son the Thomson family has lost. James in 1883, buried in Leith. Tom must be there too.

10:20 pm George Rowe is back at his cabin. He prays for the second time in his life. But it’s not to God, it’s to me.

10:45 pm Shannon Fraser begins the trip to the cemetery with his hearse – whisky in hand.

11:00 pm Shannon arrives at the cemetery. Helps Churchill load the casket. The edges are still hot from the soldering. Burns his hand.

11:05 pm Shannon says to Churchill, “It’s the secrets that have the real power in the Park, not Bartlett or the Province. Remember that.”

11:20 pm Shannon and Churchill make the trip down the hill and to Canoe Lake Station. They unload the casket. It has cooled, but is still warm.

11:30 pm The steel casket rests for the night at Canoe Lake Station. Dull gray metal box of death under starlight. Soldered shut.

11:35 pm Shannon’s hearse is the only thing making noise this late at Canoe Lake. With the exception of a loon

11:40 pm Churchill says to George Thomson, “I have removed the body, soldered the casket, and delivered it to Canoe Lake Station.”

11:45 pm Churchill to George Thomson: ‘Please accept my condolences. But do not open the casket unless you have a mop, bucket and a surgeon’s apron

11:55 pm After settling details, the gentlemen bid goodnight to each other at Mowat Lodge. Annie tidies up and closes the lanterns.

July 19, 1917

12:01 am Under pallid moonlight beaming, Under stars of midnight gleaming Ride we, ride we, ever home, Haunted children of the foam. W. Campbell

3:05 am The night animals are curious. A strange odour from the station. But due to its strangeness, they are afraid to investigate.

6:03 am Canoe Lake: Morning cool.

7:08 am George Thomson has found the newspaper clipping he sent me

7:32 am George Thomson gathers what he can of my belongings and settles his bill with Shannon Fraser

7:35 am A sombre day of settling accounts at Canoe Lake

8:02 am George Thomson goes to Joe Lake Ranger Cabin to discuss the issue of missing sketches with Mark Robinson but discovers he is gone.

9:16 am Morning sun begins to beat down on the steel casket. No thought was given to putting it in a spot where it would be in the shade.

9:21 am The casket is certainly air-tight. The lid bows visibly outward due to heat and gas, but there’s no leakage.

9:31 am George Thomson goes to Algonquin Hotel to spend the day to wait for the eve. train. Mowat Lodge is too rustic for his liking

10:33 am Park Supt. George Bartlett gets report from Mark Robinson. Relieved the whole spectacle is coming to a conclusion.

10:35 am Mark Robinson can’t find G. Thomson at Mowat. Mark has the sketches. He’s retrieved them from Trainor upon authority by Bartlett.

10:37 am Canoe Lake Station Master shoves steel casket into shade. Remarks that a Dutch Oven is treated with more dignity.

11:07 am Churchill bides his time at Mowat Loge. Can’t go out until evening. Has an extra drink on account of the handsome fee he’s made.

12:04 pm Mark Robinson visits exhumation site. He is surprised how little the dirt is disturbed. “A groundhog could dig more than that!”

1:02 pm Mark Robinson visits Hugh Trainor Bartlett wants sketches turned over to Thomson estate. Hugh hands them over.

1:46 pm George Thomson visits Trainor cabin. He knocks on the door. No answer. He tries again. No answer. He returns to Algonquin Hotel

5:51 pm George gets ready leave on the evening train. Still no sign of Mark Robinson. Hasn’t seen him all day.

5:57 pm Toronto Globe: TORONTO ARTIST DROWNS IN NORTH

6:03 pm The train arrives,Churchill arrives, and Robinson arrives Robinson gives G. Thomson a flour sack containing 33 sketches.

6:06 pm Churchill oversees the loading of the steel casket. The men loading the casket remark to themselves that the weight seems off-proportion.

6:11 pm Casket, brother and undertaker depart by train from Canoe Lake Station. Separate seats, separate cars, and no words spoken.

7:06 pm The evening is serene on Canoe Lake. But the serenity is over-tinged with death, guilt and betrayal.

7:55 pm Hugh Trainor is numb – from the bad whiskey, and thoughts of what to do with his wildcat daughter Winnie Trainor

8:06 pm Annie Fraser is distraught with grief. The spirit has been ripped out of Canoe Lake. Hopes to keep Tom’s belongings.

8:10 pm Mark Robinson is with son Jack in the Ranger’s cabin. He tells him maybe it’s better to question authority when things don’t feel right

8:31 pm Shannon Fraser is drunk in the horse barn. His hearse, he treated it as a joke until he had to use it as one.

9:05 pm Transfer at Scotia Junction. Churchill and Thomson part ways. Steel casket transferred by men who remark upon its lack of weight.

9:10 pm Martin Blecher is still incredulous that his father, M. Blecher Sr. presided over the funeral. He screams at his sister Bessie to shut up.

9:15 pm Park Supt. George Bartlett is pleased with himself: ‘There’ll be no complaints from the Province on this debacle’

9:20 pm Geo. Rowe sits alone his cabin. Overcome with grief, he prays for a third time in his life. But this time it’s to God.

July 20, 1917

1:15 am Stopover at Allandale Jnctn. Space is tight in cargo. A shipment of blueberries to Owen Sound is stacked on top of steel casket.

6:02 am Canoe Lake: Morning of despair.

8:01 am Owen Sound Times: Tom Thomson, Artist, Drowned

07:10 George Thomson is waiting at Inglewood Junction for the last leg of the trip home to Owen Sound.

07:25 Mark Robinson can hardly bear the emptiness he feels. He has heard that some of my broken sketches remain in the bush. He goes to look.

07:31 Today would have been a good day for me to sketch at Canoe Lake. But the colours aren’t there anymore.

07:31 OS Times, July 20, 1917: ‘The body, accompanied by Mr. George Thomson, is expected in Owen Sound at noon on Friday.’

07:45 Charles Plewman sees Mark Robinson. He joins him in the search for the broken sketches of Algonquin Park’s ‘Unknown Man’

08:02 Charlie Scrim stays in his room at Mowat Lodge. He can’t breathe. The curing effect of ‘Northern Air’ , the doctors say, is a crock

09:02 The Thomson residence is quiet. Everyone is anticipating the grim arrival by train at noon

09:16 Tom Harkness and his wife, Elizabeth, my sister, stop by the Thomson residence. Tom will go to the funeral home and then to the station

11:02 George Thomson finally arrives in Owen Sound with the casket.

11:05 My brother-in-law, Tom Harkness and local undertaker, meet George Thomson at the Owen Sound station.

11:05 The shipment of blueberries are still stacked on top of the steel casket. One box has fell off and broken. Blueberries everywhere.

11:14 Owen Sound Sun: Tom Thomson’s Body Found, Was Missing More Than A Week

11:20 The steel casket and flour sack full of sketches is loaded up and make their way to 528 4th ave East Owen Sound

12:02 The undertaker transports the steel casket into the Thomson home. Polishes the casket and arranges flowers.

12:20 John Thomson gathers the family. He picks up the flour sack and begins taking out the sketches. Everyone is stunned at their brilliance.

12:25 My sister, Elizabeth bursts into tears. The brilliance of my sketches forces her to bear her grief on the outside.

12:40 George Thomson: ’33 sketches is all I found. These may be Tom’s last sketches. Winnie Trainor  may have more. I doubt we’ll get them now’

12:45 George Thomson: ‘Tom gave many of his sketches away, and some where stolen. We’ll never know where or when they’ll turn up’

13:31 Rev Cornet from Knox United Church visits the family. He sees the family grief. Suggests to John that the service be tomorrow

14:02 33 sketches are laid out. John Thomson picks up his favourite, Northern Lights and sets it on the steel casket

14:32 Sister Elizabeth gazes at ‘After the Storm’. My very last sketch. George: ‘Tom would want you to have it. Take it.’

16:02 OS Sun Funeral Announcement: Thomas J. Thomson. Passed away Canoe Lake, Jul 8 1917, 39 yrs. 9am service, Sat at Knox United. Family only.

16:08 Owen Sound Times: Tom Thomson, Artist, Drowned

16:46 Owen Sound Sun: Tom Thomson’s Body Found, Was Missing More Than A Week

17:02 Supper at the Thomson residence. Provided by the Owen Sound Women’s Auxiliary.

18:02 Another stream of visitors pay condolences. Repeated many times: “I’m very sorry for your loss. A terrible unfortunate accident.’

20:02 The final visitors leave the Thomson residence. George Thomson and Elizabeth also leave. They are staying with the Telfords.

20:05 John Thomson, his wife Margaret and her sister Henrietta remain in the house. Margaret and Henrietta go upstairs.

20:10 Leith neighbour John McKeen again visits the Thomson residence. The unpleasant business of viewing the body is yet to be done.

20:15 Undertaker opposes unsealing of casket. Lead solder. Needs a blow torch. Unpleasant results are a certainty. Must do at funeral home.

20:20 John Thomson is insistent upon opening the casket, but realizes the possible unpleasantness. John McKeen is undecided.

20:25 Undertaker insists body must be taken to funeral home for unsealing and viewing. “We’ll be breaking the law, otherwise.”

20:30 John Thomson realizes gravity of decision to view. The women are unaware of what’s to be done. Incident would be unforgivably upsetting.

20:35 John Thomson decides to rely on his eldest son, George’s words, “Father, I did what I promised. I brought Tom back.”

20:40 John Thomson, “Tom’s had the indignity of a wrongful burial an exhumation. We don’t need to inflict another indignity on my boy.”

20:45 John McKeen, John Thomson, and undertaker come to an understanding: the body has been viewed. It’s Tom.

21:02 John Thomson bids goodbye to J. McKeen and the undertaker. Steps outside briefly to breathe in the warm evening air, ‘Tom will miss this.’

21:05 It’s getting late but John Thomson can still see the evening star – ‘Hesperus,’ as Tom liked to call it.

21:11 Owen Sound Times,  July 20, 1917: Tom Thomson, Artist, Drowned

21:15 Everyone asleep. Steel casket sits alone in the parlour. Flowers, sketches and condolence cards on the table.

23:01 Like a patient etherized upon a table; Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats — TS Eliot

23:16 They that occupy themselves in deep waters, see the wonderful works of God — Izaak Walton, Compleat Angler

 

July 21, 1917

01:50 WHAT is this glory nature makes us feel, And riots so sweet within us? Can it be That there with man is kindred mystery — W. Campbell

03:50 If any question why we died Tell them, because our fathers lied. –Rudyard KiplingJ

04:50 When we lose one we love, our bitterest tears are called forth by the memory of hours when we loved not enough. — Maurice Maeterlinck

05:01 Canoe Lake: Morning. An unspeakable emptiness.

06:38 Owen Sound Sun: Tom Thomson’s Body Found, Was Missing More Than A Week

07:03 Undertaker arrives to transport the steel casket to Knox United Church. George Thomson accompanies.

07:15 Rev Cornet meets George Thomson and the undertaker. They bring the steel casket to the front of the church.

07:31 Rev. Cornet writes in the Knox United Church Register of Deaths: ‘Thomas (Artist), Accidental Drowning, Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park’

07:35 Knox United Church Register of Deaths: ‘July 8, 1917, age 39 years, Born August 4, 1877, Buried at Leith, Ontario, July 21, 1917′

07:40 Knox United Church Register of Deaths: ‘Talented and with many friends and no enemies, a mystery’

07:55 The Thomson family arrives. The Harknesses, Telfords and Henrys come too. The Reverend greets them on the steps of Knox United.

08:02 Private funeral service for Tom Thomson at Knox United Church. Family only

08:20 Reading from Psalm 23: ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.’

08:25 Hymn: Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah Pilgrim through this barren land Let the fire and cloudy pillar Lead me all my journey through

08:32 Rev Cornet delivers a small homily. It’s apparent the homily is based on hastily-gathered secondhand knowledge. But the words comfort.

08:35 Matthew 5: 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted.

08:35 George delivers the eulogy: ‘We are all suffering the loss of Tom. Let his life not be in vain, but remembered by what he saw’

08:40 Matthew 11:25 Blessed are you, Father Lord of heaven and earth; for revealing the mysteries of the kingdom to mere children.

08:58 The service concludes. The casket is carried by the pallbearers outside to the waiting hearse. The family follows behind.

09:16 Funeral procession begins.

09:50 The funeral procession goes by where I sketched ‘Near Owen Sound’ in November 1911

10:46 Passing by Rose Hill Farm where I grew up as a child. My parents sold the farm in 1905 and moved into Owen Sound.

11:05 The funeral procession arrives at Leith Church

11:06 The family gather around the freshly dug grave.It is beside my grandfather’s and younger brother’s grave

11:16 Few words are spoken during the interment ceremony. This is fitting as I was never one for many words.

11:20 2 Cor 4:18. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”

11:32 The steel casket is lowered as the family looks on. The casket lists peculiarly to one side – George Thomson’s breath stops short.

11:46 The gravediggers commence their task of filling the grave. The dirt hitting the casket makes a strange muffled music-like tone.

11:50 The family members exit the church grounds and make their way to Leith Hall.

11:55 I danced here at Leith Hall last Christmas. Sister Elizabeth was worried about my potatoes freezing back at the Shack. They did freeze.

12:03 Lunch served in Leith Hall by Women’s Institute. Special dessert: fresh blueberries from up North. Arrived on yesterday’s train

12:11 Tom Thomson 1877-1917

TO THE MEMORY OF
TOM THOMSON
ARTIST, WOODSMAN
AND GUIDE
WHO WAS DROWNED IN CANOE LAKE
JULY 8TH, 1917
HE LIVED HUMBLY BUT PASSIONATELY
WITH THE WILD IT MADE HIM BROTHER
TO ALL UNTAMED THINGS OF NATURE
IT DREW HIM APART AND REVEALED
ITSELF WONDERFULLY TO HIM
IT SENT HIM OUT FROM THE WOODS
ONLY TO SHOW THESE REVELATIONS
THROUGH HIS ART AND IT TOOK
HIM TO ITSELF AT LAST.

Cairn Inscription, Canoe Lake

 

My Hauntings Are Becoming More Real

September 21, 1916 (or 2014)

My hauntings are now becoming more real…

Next week I will be stepping out of the Twittersphere to do reading by the campfire. It also looks like we’ll be making a journey to the gravesite the next day, Sunday morning, September 28th at 9am, starting at the docks at Canoe Lake.

I’ve also started to do some location-based haunting through Twitter. Every once in awhile, I will show up virtually (i.e. in spirit) at a significant location (gallery, grave, statue, etc.) and retweet recent tweets made at that location. Already, I have shown up at Canoe Lake Cemetery, Leith Cemetery, the Studio Building, and downtown Huntsville. You’ll know that I am tweeting from there because you will see the location in my tweet.

My twitter feed will start in real time on November 28, 1916 (2014) but in the meantime, you can expect unexpected hauntings, ghostly appearances, and who knows what else?

So enjoy this story, because of the mystery this story never ends.

Affectionately,

‘Tom’

Letter to JEH MacDonald July 22, 1915

Mowat, P.O., Ontario, July 22, 1915

Dear Mr. MacDonald

Thanks for sending on my mail and for your letter.

Things are very quiet around the Park this summer, have so far had only 2 or 3 weeks work and prospects are not very bright as the people are not coming in as they were expected.

Of course there are a few jobs there are more guides than jobs. I have made quite a few sketches this summer but lately have not been doing much and have a notion of starting out on a long hike and will likely wind up somewhere around the French River and go up the shore to Bruce Mines and later on may take in the Harvest Excursion and work at the wheat for a month or two.

As with yourself I can’t get used to the idea of Jackson being in the machine and it is rotten that in this so called civilized age that such things can exist but since this war has started it will have to go on until our side wins out. and of course there is no doubt which side it will be, and we will see Jackson back on the job once more.

Am sending along a letter from Halifax received some time ago. Don’t know if I have anything I could send or not but if there are any of the fellows around the Bldg sending and you see any of mine that would do, tell Boughton to send it along.

Will send some sketches down in a day or so and would ask if you would unpack them and spread them around in the shack as I’m afraid they will stick together a good deal.

Remember me to Lismer and tell him that I will expect him to be up here in the fall for a month or so. If I go out west will be back about the End of Sept. and will camp from then until about November.
Regard to Mrs. MacDonald, Thoreau also to Lawren, Heming and Williamson

Yours truly,


Tom Thomson

Autumn of 1916

The late summer and early fall were a glorious time. I spent a lot of time canoeing with Ed Godin, “Ned” as I often would call him. We discussed many things ranging from the War and where to find the best pipe tobacco.  Even though we were alone for weeks and remote within the Park,  the shadow of the War still loomed large. But despite the shadows I did some of my brightest and best boards of my career.

Like many others early in the war, it was not hard to get wrapped up in the enthusiasm to enlist. Indeed, I had attempted to enlist in the Boer War but was rejected on account of a medical condition I had in my youth. Early in the War, the Canadian Expeditionary Force was choosey.  They had their pick of eager recruits. But as the War dragged on, they became less choosy in the quality of their recruits. At the beginning of the War, I had little enthusiasm. Three years later my sparse enthusiasm had turned to downright disillusionment and disdain. In the City, It seemed whenever the topic came up, the question of “one’s duty to the War” was the answer. I was bothered that everyone was looking at me whether I would join up and I soon tired of the incessant War talk. Even in the Park, each time a train passed by, mostly filled with grain, but occasionally filled with troops, it was a cue to start talking about the War and “one’s duty”. The trip with Ed was a blessed escape. We could share our thoughts without putting on the airs of doing “one’s duty”

More recently, there was talk of conscription and I decided that the best way for me serve, if it came to that, would be in some capacity as a Fire or Park Ranger. Mark Robinson had shipped overseas in 1915 and there was no telling whether he would return. Soldiers going overseas were leaving vacancies at home.

During August and September we travelled by canoe down the Petawawa River and to Lake Travers. After sketching very little during the summer, I sketched a lot during this trip. Mostly in the early morning when the light was good and before we would begin to break camp. The evenings had good light too, but often I was too tired by the end of the day.  Up North, the fall colours would start subtly but earnestly. The leaves of summer were still green but lacked the vitality of the earlier months. As the leaves began to turn, the light of the early morning or early evening offered a new menu of colours each day. The sun becoming lower in the sky brought different angles of light bringing, as I would say to Ed, two magic moments each day: one in the morning and one in the evening. I tried to work our daily routine around these ‘magic moments’. Ed would smile when I was preoccupied with getting out my sketch box to catch the magic moment and he would tell me we had the whole night to set up camp and the whole day to get going.

Aside from the trees, the rocks were marvelous. 300 feet of sheer cliff face towering above the river. It made a man feel small and vulnerable, especially if he was in a canoe. But despite our remoteness, we would see the occasional military patrol or guards by the railway trestles. We had heard from other folks in the park that a prison camp was nearby and if you encountered someone who couldn’t speak English you were to shoot them.