December 3, 1916 Day of Rest

UrNBbm4December 3, 1916 Sunday

I wrote a letter to Winnie earlier this evening. I had promised to write her as soon as I came back but I got to it just now.

I went to the service at Rosedale Presbyterian Church. Rev. Strachan was preaching, a decent sermon. I stayed in the back pew, and studied the stained glass windows during the service. I do like the worship and music but dislike the war proselytizing.  Joan, Jim MacDonald’s wife, is trying to convince me to become a Christian Scientist. They invited me for Sunday dinner up in Thornhill, but I said next week would be better.

I spent the afternoon reading, made dinner of potatoes and stewed beef. I didn’t work on the easel today but plan to get back at it full force tomorrow. I’ve been thinking about Walden and Solitude. The shack is my solitude.

July 8th, 2017: Follow the Final Account

On July 8th, 1917, I was last seen at the dock of Mowat Lodge. No one thought much of my departure until my upturned canoe was reported to the attention of Park Ranger Mark Robinson.

Eight days later, a body was found. To most, this was a morbid conclusion, a finality after days of hope and desperation. To others, it was a mystery, a tragedy. And to a few, a secret to be held. To this day, the final account has not been told. A century of speculation and hearsay have fueled intrigued and built a mythology, but no resolution and final account

On July 8th, 2017, the final account will be revealed in real time – one hundred years to the day, to the minute, to the second as it happened in 1917.  You will be surprised. It will not be as what you expect. But you will see that it could be no other way. Mark the date – July 8, 2017.

Follow my tweets in real time @TTLastSpring

Follow the clues and have your say at #WhoKilledTomThomson


‘Tom Thomson’



The ghost of Tom Thomson is visiting Huntsville on Saturday, October 1st, 2016 at 8pm.  Listen to his story.

The ghost of Tom Thomson will be visiting downtown Huntsville this Saturday, October 1st 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 at the River Mill Band Shell, Dara Howell Way Huntsville, Ontario.

Experience Tom Thomson’s life as it was in 1917. 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 a further adventure, Tom’s ghost will be leading an expedition the next day on Sunday October 2nd at 10am to the gravesite at Canoe Lake and a site investigation to determine the authenticity of a recently discovered sketch.

Departure from the Canoe Lake Portage Store at 10am on Sunday, October 2nd.  If you are interested, please send me an email to 


Winter 1914 – Alex and I in the Studio Building

January 1914

90643669c07661502b9edd5e1f05b0b7s_4That winter, both Alex and I were short on money. I never bothered to keep count, but Alex had a system of keeping track of what we spent for the week. We’d make our own meals in the Studio and if we had any left by week’s end, we’d go out to the movies on Saturday night.

I’m afraid I must have bored Alex to tears. We’d talk about art, but the conversation always drifted to canoeing, fishing, and wild things. Alex kept remarking that he knew nothing of these things and I said I was returning the favour because I knew nothing of the art he spoke about. He told me of Europe, the art schools, the famous paintings. He admired and spoke a lot about the Impressionists. Art in Toronto, Alex told, was nothing more than second-rate, and the paintings he saw at the Canadian National Exhibition weren’t worth the canvas they were painted on.

Dr. MacCallum dropped in on us occasionally to view the progress of our work. By his demeanour, I never knew whether he was genuinely pleased or frustrated by the results of our efforts.

“You fellows must have something wrong with your eyesight,” Dr. MacCallum said during one of his visits. Alex and I looked at each other, and we burst out laughing.

Alex then retorted with a gleam in his eye, “ Well Doc, you have a year to make your diagnosis, but by that time, Tom will be long lost in the bush with his paints, and I won’t be far behind!”. Dr. MacCallum smiled – he knew that our agreement for the year was to paint whatever we wanted and he needed to temper his tendency to meddle in the small things of art that he knew nothing about.

More often than not, the visit would conclude with Dr. MaCallum rooting in our work, selecting a piece, and dropping a few bills that would guarantee our next week’s meals and a Saturday night movie.

West Wind and the Grey Sisters on the Ottawa

August 1916

1916 West Wind Sketch. This may have been painted on the Ottawa River near Pembroke using a painting kit borrowed from the Grey Sisters.

The rain in early August broke the dry spell. As fire rangers we weren’t needed, so Ed Godin and I decided to go on a fishing trip down the south branch of the Petawawa, returning by the North, through Lake Travers and back to Achray on Grand Lake.

Except for a day when I borrowed some kit from the Sisters in Pembroke, I had done no sketching during the summer. I brought my gear to Achray, but we had no room for it in the canoe.  I was excited to not worry about fire and to do some decent sketching and fishing.
We started out after Ed Godin and I were both fired from fire ranging. We were staying in Basin Depot, expecting to accompany another log run but we got word that we weren’t needed anymore. After a few days of rain, the fire hazard was down, there were no more logs to be run, and our job was done for the season.

The summer of 1916 had been the hottest and driest on record. After the big fire in Matheson where almost 200 perished, fires were the greatest fear in the Park. We followed the lumber crews during the log drives. The logs had been put in the spring, coming down from the cutting lines high up the Petawawa near Cedar Lake but now, latter in the summer, they were making their course down toward the Ottawa River. The crews that followed cleared the jams and worked the logs through the chutes near the falls. Ed and I followed along, making sure the fires were out and we’d climb trees to make sure there were no fires in the distance.

Before we started out, I had written Dr. MacCallum and suggested that he come to Achray and the two of us could paddle down the Petawawa. But I received a telegram that he couldn’t come, so Ed and I decided to make a canoe trip to round out the season.  We decided to go from Basin Depot to Round Lake, south of the Park, make our way over the Petawawa and take the south branch of the river to Achray. From there I would make my way back to Canoe Lake, by the north way, taking part of the way by train through Brent, then going through Cedar Lake, Cauchon Lake.

It had been a hard summer of fire ranging. I got hired on in May.  I had given my application in April before I went on a trip with Lawren Harris and Dr. MacCallum. When we returned to Brent, a telegram was waiting for me to report for duty in Achray.
The summer had been dry, the threat of fire was constant and the fire ranging was difficult. I had no time for sketching. I hoped to do some boards but I had to leave my sketching outfit in Achray because there was no room in the canoe with our packs and fire-ranging gear.  

The last boards I made were in April, but I did make a couple sketches in Pembroke. I had a few days off and stayed in downtown hotel. It was a busy town. There were two sawmills in full operation, the Pembroke Lumbering Company and the Colonial Lumber Company. Both sawmills were going since spring, fed by the booms brought in by the alligators.

Like the town itself, the river was busy too. I counted five steam-powered boats on the Petawawa.  A passenger side-wheeler boat called the Victoria made regular runs. It left Pembroke every morning and went to Swisha. There were the tugboats the Brunswick and the Powell. Then the Pollux and the Castor, the smaller tugboats.  The boats boomed the logs, sorted them out and shot them into the Pembroke sawmills in Pembroke. The Booth and Eddy logs would go all the way down the Ottawa to Hull and Ottawa.

Ottawa River in August

It was on a Saturday when the high winds off the Ottawa were nothing like I had ever seen. My gear was back at the camp so  I borrowed a  sketching equipment from the Grey Sisters Convent. When I returned, I asked the Sisters to set out the boards and once they were dry, to ship them to Dr. MacCallum. The Sisters did not know what to make of me, an “artist-lumberman” as they called me. I gave the Sisters five dollars and said they could do with the rest of the money whatever they pleased.

Solving the Mystery, Tweeting the Evidence: 1917-2017 #WhoKilledTomThomson

Dear Followers,

Leading up to 2017 I am continuing the investigation into the mystery. I am compiling existing and new evidence with my thoughts and observations on the mystery. You can follow along as I periodically tweet the evidence and findings using the hashtag:  #WhoKilledTomThomson .

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1911 Census of Canoe Lake listing the Fraser Family, Lowery Dickson and George Rowe.

What will become of this?  I am hard at work revising the timeline for next year’s edition of Tom Thomson: Journal of My Last Spring.  I have discovered many inconsistencies, gaps and errors in all of the accounts (including my own) of what really happened on that fateful day.  It is my goal to recreate the most accurate timeline recounting the last hours, months, days, and minutes leading up to the disappearance on July 8th, 1917 – and the macabre travesty that ensues.

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Excerpt of a letter

As time progresses, and as the evidence accumulates, please follow the hashtag #WhoKilledTomThomson .

It might be so that you have a piece of evidence that sheds new light on the mystery. Please let me know @TTLastSpring