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 .

Screenshot 2016-08-05 at 21.15.40

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.

Screenshot 2016-08-05 at 21.00.14

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




A Note and Thank You to My Followers

July 21, 2016

wpid-wp-5322.jpgTo my Followers,

This concludes the 2016 real-time version of Tom Thomson: Journal of My Last Spring. This has been my fifth annual edition.

I want to thank everyone who has followed, or more importantly, believed in me on this adventure. There is no greater motivation for me than followers who have made this story their own story too, and this has truly given me energy to carry on each year.

I also want to thank those who have pointed out errors, asked me questions, or provided me with new information to add to the story. My goal, if all goes well, by 2017, is to have the most accurate and detailed timeline of Tom’s last months on this earth. This includes the detailed time after his sad and tragic passing.

I remind you that there are still lost clues and sketches out there to be found. The mystery continues and I am gathering clues to what might another solution to the mystery.

I hope that this story, after 2017, 100 years after Tom’s death, will tweet in perpetuity on an annual cycle for everyone to learn and appreciate a defining moment in our Canadian history.

In the meantime I will return once again in real-time on November 28th, 2016 (100 years on from 1916) with the fifth edition of Tom Thomson: Journal of My Last Spring. Leading up to this date I will be intermittently tweeting, adding journal entries, or doing the occasional haunting and solving the mystery.

If you’ve enjoyed Tom Thomson’s Last Spring, I’d love to know. Tweet to me, re-tweet me, favourite me or mention me or send me an email at ttlastspring@gmail.com .

I can’t predict what will happen next year. Something, to be sure.




July 20, 1917 Owen Sound Sun: Tom Thomson’s Body Missing for more than a Week.

The Owen Sound Sun, July 20, 1917

Still a Mystery as to How the Drowning took Place – Canoe Was Found in the Lake a Few Hours After the Artist Was Last Seen

A telegram was received on Tuesday evening stating that the body of Mr. Tom Thomson, the celebrated artist, had been recovered in Canoe Lake the evening before. It will be remembered that on Sunday, July 8th, his canoe was found several hours after he had been last seen and a telegram to that effect was sent to his parents here. The fact that two paddles were found strapped into the canoe gave the impression that it might have drifted from shore and that possibly Mr. Thomson was marooned on one of the islands. Another alternative was that he might have gone into the woods sketching, but the finding of the body clears up all the uncertainties.

The artist was drowned in Algonquin Park, the scene of so much inspiration to the painter and where he has spent many summers in depicting the beauties of nature. He possessed a rare charm and promised to become famous amongst art lovers of the Continent for the excellence of his work. He not only painted nature, but lived and felt and understood the great beauty of the wilds. His work possessed a truth and fidelity that could only come from direct and sympathetic touch with his subject and that he had died on the threshold of fame makes his demise the more to be regretted. He was one of the fine type of young manhood that the country has every reason to be proud of.


Referring to the work of the late Mr. Thomson, Eric Brown, in a recent article in the London “Studio” says: “Critics look to him to carry forward the Canadian landscape painting far beyond anything at present realized. Wandering alone the best part of the year in Algonquin Park, inured to hardship and reputed the best guide, fisherman and canoeman in the district, he lives with these wonderful seasons and they live through him. Here, again is the decorative sense ly developed and visible in every composition. There is no loss of chararcter; the northland lies before you, whether it is a winding river fringed with spring flowers seen through a screen of gaunt black pines, or whether the green blocks of melting ice float on blue liberated waters of the lake.”

The sympathy of everyone will go out to the bereaved relatives in their sad loss.

July 20, 1917 Owen Sound Times: Tom Thomson Drowns

Owen Sound Times, July 20, 1917


Tom Thomson, who was drowned in Canoe lake, Algonquin park, July 8th, 1917, was the son of Mr. and Mrs. John Thomson, 428 Fourth avenue east, Owen Sound. He was born in the village of Claremont, Ontario county, and spent twenty years of the early part of his life at Leith. He afterwards attended college and then lived for five years in Seattle, Washington. After returning from Seattle, he lived the remainder of his time in Toronto, and for some years worked at artistic designing for some of the engraving companies of Toronto.

While engaged in this line of work, he endeavored to develop his artistic tastes along a high line and commenced the study of landscape painting. His love for nature, which was developed through his early associations with nature, caused him to choose this line of art. After a time he devoted his whole time to the pursuit of this wonderful and uplifting study.

Every year he went to Algonquin park for six months. Here he went far into the wilds, traveling at times by way of canoe and at other times on foot, and often entirely alone, so that he could study nature in its different aspects. He was with nature so much that he became a part of it, and this enabled him to paint just what he felt.

In the winter months he enlarged his sketches and he had a wonderful collection in his studio in Rosedale, Toronto. His work was steadily growing in esteem and he had a very bright future before him. His pictures were steadily sought for, for the collections of the Ontario and Dominion governments. He had a bright and cheerful disposition and was filled with kindness for all. He was loved by all who knew him.

The body, accompanied by Mr. George Thomson, is expected in Owen Sound at noon on Friday, and in this case, the funeral, which is to be private, will leave his father’s residence Friday afternoon. The remains will be interred in Leith cemetery.