No Ordinary Case: The Reburial of Tom Thomson

Hello everyone,

I am considering submitting as a short story my tweets covering the six days of events between July 16th, 1917 to July 21st, 1917. You already have seen the tweets in real time, but I thought the course of events during these days would make a good story that would stand on its own. I am working on this complete story, but here is a preview below.

At the start of the story I have added a brief introduction and description of the people involved during these six days.

I would be grateful for any comments or advice. You can reply to my tweet or send me a direct message. I greatly value your interaction.

The short story excerpt is below.



P.S. I’m hard at work on next year’s round. You’ll see me back at the Shack in Toronto on November 28th.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ tt 1917 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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, in a letter to my brother-in-law, Tom Harkness to justify the extra costs of embalming fluid and carrying the casket a mile-and-a-half through the woods to the cemetery. Indeed, for six days, it was anything but ordinary – it was a litany of errors and a series of ill-advised actions that made the tragedy far worse than my disappearance.

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

Canoe Lake

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

Martin Blecher, Jr., Canoe Lake cottager. An American from Buffalo

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. 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.

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.’


10:15 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.

Winnie Trainor Letter to TJ Harkness

August 11, 1917
Dear Mr. Harkness,

Yours received yesterday and contents carefully noted. This is Saturday my very busy day, so thought I better answer [illegible]. Five weeks ago to-day I wrote to Tom – but he did not receive it. He also wrote to me – & our letters crossed & to-night a sad note to his brother-in-law. It seems to me almost unbeleivable. And I’m so sorry and words are so thin.

I called to see the undertaker Mr. Churchill and he wished is name not to be used. So I know these remarks will be treated strictly confidential. I know nearly everyone for miles around and I’m not refused anything I try. So I asked him plain questions

I acted on the strength of the telegram of instructions which was found waiting at the train time 6.p-m. I had quite a hard struggle to even see it and got straight replys. He is a very consientious man. I cant write all to-night but he said the bill was steep. Flavelle is only a furniture dealer and undertaker not an embalmer so took an embalmer along from Sprucedale near Parry Sound. So that was double expense instead of acting a man and pass the order on. That is from the money side. even if had no heart. I’m sorry I did not go up the day before – I suggested things at Canoe Lake, but was refused. If I see you I can tell you all. However Mr. Churchill said to act as per your letter. They include here everything with the price of the casket. The one from Kearney was not any better. & Rough box was not painted & I don’t think it had handles on. Mr. Churchill always pays his own keep when out. He says it is not right as he would have to pay for it while home. A copper lining costs more than the casket itself. So you see he is billing a good amount. I would suggest to use your own judgement as you know the contents of the first telegram. Thought [illegible] composed – and you know the tangle now that has to be unravelled – owing to the thoughtlessness of not having a sealed casket – which anyone knows is needed in a case of that kind and also required by law. If you knew Mr. Fraser I think you would use your own judgement. This is strictly confidential as the Frasers are alright in their way. I certainly would love to visit the grave at some future date. So perhaps may see [you] then, if I should not write again.

Please excuse pencil as my time is limited this eve, so I thought I could make better time with my scribbling. After I got ans. to what was going on at Canoe Lake – I did all in my power to get things righted. I was told there it could not be done, but I thought I’d have a try and I knew that time was precious. When I got to Scotia arriving at 730p.m. the wires were down between Hville [Huntsville] and Scotia. So then I looked up the agent & sent out message after message to Hville all free of charge, & perfectly lovely about it all. I had to wait there till nearly 3. am.

We are friends with the Frasers, as we have a swell House at Canoe Lake, where each summer it has been our custom to Holiday there. But I could explain better if you knew them.

Yours truly
Winnifred Trainor

JS Fraser Letter to TJ Harkness

August 6, 1917
Mowat P. O.

Dear Sir

Your letter just came to hand Mr Flavelle sent me the bill i am sending it to you i was just going to pay it he had pretty hard work up here with tom body so I thought it would of been more we got so excited we diden know what to do so we did the best we could do. the Body was in a offel state so we had to hurry and it rained all day all the other man had to do was change boxes so sute yours self about the bill but i to him i would stan good before he came i would do any thing for tom he was like one of the family i seen the Rangers and they said the canoes was worth $10.00 dollars a peace they leak pretty bad they are Pretty old canoes and full of holes so they said that was all they are worth.

i hope Mr. & Mrs Thomson are well i give George row $5.00 and L Dickson $3.50 for looking for tom Mr rowe and Dickson found him i if that Price is all right for the canoes please let me know and i will send the money down right away

hope this letter finds you all well

Yours truly
J S Fraser

Margaret Thomson Letter to Dr James MacCallum

August 2, 1917
Owen Sound

Dear Sir,

I am sending you dear Tom’s letter. It was very kind indeed of you to send it to us and we thank you for your thoughtfulness. Tom wrote very few letters. It is one of my regrets now, that I hadn’t written to him more often. I had intended writing to him quite often this summer, and I was going to send him magarine and boxes of homemade cooking, but it seems I have been denied this pleasure. I am sure many a time he must have been lonely when out in the wilds.

Our hearts are still almost broken and I don’t know whether our sorrow will ever wear away or not. His death was the first break in our large grown up family. Tom seemed to have a place in each of our hearts, that could not be filled by any one else. He was so good and so kind and he seemed almost perfect in every way. He was so much alone that we seemed to think more about him than any of the others of the family. Poor boy, he worked so hard, denied himself so much and now to think he is gone.

We all think the Memorial Exhibition of pictures you mentioned having a very good idea. You will know better than we what to do. We wouldn’t like to see any of his work sold at a sacrifice and we trust everything will turn out rightly.

In speaking of the Memorial Cairn, we think what you suggested a very fine idea. Any tribute paid to Tom’s memory by Tom’s friends, we appreciate more than words can express.

My sister and I were very sorry to leave the shack in such condition but we would like to have it cleaned thoroughly and have the bill sent to us.

Yours sincerely,
Margaret Thomson