July 22, 1917 Letter from Peg Thomson to Minnie Thomson

528 4th Avenue East, Owen Sound
July 22, 1917

Dear Minnie,

Our terrible suspense was ended on Tuesday afternoon when we got the definite word that Tom was really gone. We had hopes right up to the last, although there seemed to be from the first telegram we received that terrible dread that perhaps something had happened to him. It has been a terrible time for us, the anxiety has been so great we haven’t been able to either eat or sleep.

George came back from the Park Saturday night and Monday we got a message saying  “Found Tom this morning”. We thought by the message he was possibly alive and nearly everyone thought so. We wired right away to enquire if he were living and the connections were so poor that we had to wait for over a day for an answer.

Messages we sent them and messages they sent us were delayed so that it made this terrible and they sent us a message that the body was awaiting burial and it was delayed a day or more. They buried his body in the Park as the undertaker said it would be impossible to ship the body. He didn’t know his business at all and made a regular mess of things. Sinnie (?) and I were called to the telephone one night at twelve o’clock. It was Miss Traynor a friend of Tom’s who was calling us. She told us the body had been buried and wanted to know if we would like anything done. We told her we wanted him home, so she did everything in her power and stayed up all night to help us. She called George at three o’clock that night again and in the meantime she was doing everything she could to help make arrangements.

George went the next afternoon to Canoe Lake and brought Tom’s body on the Friday night train to Owen Sound. The body was left at the undertakers Friday night and the funeral was Saturday morning at ten o’clock. At one time we dreaded the time when he would be brought home but when the time came, it seemed so good to have him with us. The funeral was private, just the old Leith friends were here and a few from town who had known him and it made it so nice and peaceful not to have the crowd of curious strangers, We all tired to be a brave as possible. Dr. Fraser opened the service by prayer and Mr. Pilkey then took charge of it. Sinnie , Jessie, Jean, and I, Father, Tom and George went out to Leith. Birdie McNeil came up early that morning and we cannot forget her kindnesses in a hurry. She just seemed to know what to do.

There are some beautiful flowers sent some from Mr. and Mrs. Fraser of Canoe Lake but we were glad that there was not an overabundance of them. People no doubt understood his tastes and knew he would not like a display. That was one reason we wanted the funeral private.

It is very very hard indeed to have one taken we all thought so much of but it wasn’t in our hands. The night the first telegram came I was sure that some one of the family was gone and each one came up before me and I didn’t see how we could part with one. They couldn’t tell me at first and I dreaded asking where the message was from. Mother and Father and Auntie feel terribly but they have all been pretty brave. His visits meant so much to them, as he came so regularly. He always came home so happy and he though so much of us all.

I feel disappointed when I think of his last visit as we had a few little arguments which I wish we had never had. It was just after my operation and I suppose that accounted for it. I wasn’t able to enjoy his visit as had done every time before. I had intended writing him a nice letter after coming home and I intended to send him candy and some magazines.

I often think now that he was many times lonely when all by himself and none of us did anything when he was away to cheer him up. We might have written him letters even though he didn’t answer them. These things make me feel badly now when he is gone from us, At Christmas time he went off with a big basket filled with all kinds of things. Mother put fruit in it, part of your Christmas cake and I gave him a whole lot of candy which I made. He helped stir the candy and he liked it and wanted to know how I made it. Mother says she wants to remember him as he went off with the basket at Christmas time. None of us wanted to see him even if the body had been fit to see. His face just seems to come up before me every little while and I just groan when I think he is gone. His life meant so much to us here at home. He was alone and no one else was taking his affections and he always enjoyed his visits so much. His friends in Toronto just worshipped him and they are going to erect and memorial cairn in Algonguin Park.

Sinnie  and I are thinking of going down to Toronto to see Tom’s studio. He has many wonderful pictures. I want to buy one real good sketch. I think we should each have one at least of his finest sketches. They are thinking of having a memorial exhibition and sale of his pictures in the winter. His artist friends say that if he had lived two or three years more he would have been to the very top of the ladder.

We feel very sorry for the ones who were away from home, that would be the hard part.

It would do the folkes at home good if you folkes could only come down for a while. Fraser says he is going to try to come down soon. George and Jean expect to go on Tuesday morning.

Well Minnie, I will have to stop writing. We all hope you are well.

Love to all, Peg

July 25, 1917 Letter from RH Flavelle to TJ Harkness

Kearney, Ont.

July 25, 1917

Mr. T. J. Harkness
Annan, Ont.

Dear Sir:–

In reply to yours of the 23 inst. in regard to the desired reduction would say it is an utter impossibility to alter prices.

As for the casket the buyer asked for the best I had, choosing the $75 one rather than $50 or $60. For the benefit of your competent undertaker the casket number is 619C panel.

Then as to the Embalmer’s fees (and aslo was engaged by buyer) I am well aware that $10, is the usual charge for any ordinary case in town or near vicinity, but this was no ordinary case, requiring double quantity of fluid otherwise necessary, besides the Embalmer’s Railroad expenses (for 53 miles and return) meals and lodging from 3.45 p.m. to 8.45 p.m. the next night.

As I said before this was no ordinary case. We had to go 1½ miles through the woods after leaving train, then another mile by water, taking casket with us. We then took body to an island where we embalmed it and brought it back to Mowat Lodge Cemetery where we buried it.

However if you refuse to pay bill as rendered I will collect from buyer saving you some unnecessary trouble.

July 23, 1917 Letter from TJ Harkness to RH Flavelle Undertaker

July 23, 1917

Dear Sir,

I have been handed your account for attending to the body of Tom Thomson and for casket and etc. as I have been appointed to look after the affairs of the estate of the deceased. I may say that I think your account is exhorbitant and I will and I will not pay it in full, but will deduct $15.00 off price of casket and $10.00 off embalming fees, and if you are not satisfied, I will pay amount of account less $25.00 into court and you may proceed to collect the balance.

I am doing this after substituting your account to competent undertakers and am allowing just double for embalming that is charged in this part and I might say that the man we got to furnish metallic lined casket to bring the body home only charged $75.00 for his work and the casket and we paid his fare to Canoe Lake. The casket you furnished is still at Canoe Lake and it may still be of some use to you. I will settle your account as soon as the necessary legal steps have been taken.

Yours truly,
T. J. Harkness

July 24, 1917 Letter from JS Fraser to Dr MacCallum

July 24, 1917
Mowat P. O., Ontario

Dear Doctor

Yours of 18 well Doctor Poor tom is gone he was in fine shape when he left me on sunday 8 of July Sunday morning he says to me i will go up with you and help me lif over a boat over the Joe Lake dam so we went up and it was raining hard and he was wet throug when we got down to the dock he said i will go down to west lake and get some of those big trought and i will be back eather to night or tomorow morning he said good by and i never seen him again he must of taking a cramp or got out on shore and slip of a log or something

the Paddles was tied up in the canoe and canoe turned over when we found him he was in a bad state so we burried him he and his brother came up and took him a way with him he was dug up and put in a sealed coffen

we missed him very mutch there will never be another tom tompson we allways look for him in the spring his brother sent his pictures to you and he took the other suff home with him i have the canoes here but they haven said what they will be worth well i wouldnt charge any thing for my trouble but i had 3 men out looking for him i had

Mr. Dickson 3 days $2.50 a day 7.50
Mr Row – – 5.00
fire ranger — Mr McDonald – – 5.00
i think that is all well will never forget Mr thomson i haven seen mr bartlett ye about tablet or the chain but i think he will let us put it up iny place i think down by the dock it would be a nice place i think I will close i am pretty bisey hope you are well

Yours truly
J S Fraser

A Note and Thank You to my Followers

July 21, 2014

To my Followers,

This concludes the 2014 version of Tom Thomson: Journal of My Last Spring. I want to thank everyone who has followed, or more importantly, believed and joined in on my adventure.

If all goes to plan I return in real time on November 28th, 2014 (98 years on from 1916). During the interim I will be tweeting or adding journal entries intermittently. There exist numerous sad and angry letters exchanged during the summer and fall of 1917. I hope to post these letters. I will also tweet sketches or anything that is interest to Tom, including anything that you bring to my attention . I remind you that there  are still lost clues and sketches out there to be found. The mystery continues and I welcome the continuing conversation.

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

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



TOM THOMSON 1877-1917

Landscape Painter Drowned in Canoe Lake
July 8, 1917 Aged 39 Years 11 Months 3 days


When I disappeared on July 8, 1917 I didn’t leave a lot behind. My room was nearly empty and the few items I left at the dock were of little value. My earthly possessions dwindled even further when Shannon Fraser sold what little I had for his own personal gain. And when they did find my canoe with its few provisions stashed under a rubber sheet in the bow, it too was sold off to settle my financial accounts. Despite months of searching the shorelines of Canoe Lake my paddle never reappeared. It met its fate either as firewood kindling or abandoned at the Highland Inn on Cache Lake.

My disappearance (or death as most would believe) was a mystery to all but a very few. I was an enigma, preferring to sit in the corner by the fireplace reading alone. I would disappear for days on end. ‘Tom’s gone fishing.’ was the standard answer to my spells of disappearance. No suspicions were ever raised at my sometimes erratic comings and goings. I liked it that way. It was freedom. Or it looked like freedom to others.

Many thought I couldn’t write. It may be a surprise that I kept a journal. I was known as an artist, not as a writer. As my few letters would attest,  never had much to say to others, in words that is.

My journal was unlike my letters. My journal wasn’t meant to be read by others. It was a record of sort. My mind was full of words but my outward expression was in images of sketches, canvases and drawings. No one knew I was keeping a journal. I was private, recording my thoughts, intending these thoughts to help me with my work. I never intended my journal to tell another story, until now. My sketches and paintings expressed what I felt, but my journal captured what I thought.

This is my daily journal from December 1916, the winter and spring of 1917 through to my disappearance in the summer of 1917. I never say ‘death’ because despite the overwhelming odds and evidence my ultimate fate was never truly known to anyone who knew me before July 8 1917.

In retrospect, it’s easier to look at your life once you’ve passed on. When you’re alive, time has a tendency only to march forward, much like those fresh-faced boys marching off to the Front for the first time. But when you are freed from the constraints of time, money and self-doubt about the future you can step back (or float back) to see your life in the larger picture. But when you are living your life en plein air that is not the case. Your thoughts and feelings are expressed from a very narrow view of self but the words put down and read nearly a hundred years later take on additional significance. I hope that you as a reader will see through the immediacy of the words, much like seeing through the crude strokes of my paintings as my critics would say.

A good story, they say, should have a beginning, middle and end. But the best stories, I say, are the ones that have no end. A good painting should be finished. But I knew that my better paintings were the ones left undone. I would let the wood show through. I let the canvas be exposed. When the right mood is captured, why bother to continue?

Sometimes I was compelled to completion despite my mood. But I soon discovered that the act of completion could be an act of destruction. If I tried too hard to complete something that shouldn’t have been, I destroyed it in the end and was back at the beginning. I lost count of the sketches I broke and left in the bush. And the meals I made with the fuel of my failed paintings could have fed a platoon.

People didn’t understand my art, but more deeply, I believe they were afraid to see something new. What they thought was hideous (a dead tree), I saw beauty. You see, in 1916 the world was falling apart before our very eyes. Like a gas attack or a shell killing all the boys and brothers of an Ontario village in some godforsaken trench in France, our world was being blown to bits and art was no exception. Canada being defined as a nation was the last thing on our minds as our men were piling up in the trenches and our women were being left alone on the farms during the long cold winters.

West Wind was never finished. Nor was the Jack Pine. I left them behind in the spring of 1917 and I’m glad I did. If I stayed any longer in the shack for the sake of completion, I would be preparing meals for yet another platoon. During the summer of my death, they remained in the shack, still on the easel and stacked against the wall. It’s good that Jim MacDonald and Dr. MacCallum took care of them. Because I would have taken care of them, in my own way.

I started my journal in late November 1916. Leading up to that I was too busy sketching in the spring, working as a fire ranger in the summer and sketching again in the fall. I returned to Toronto in late October and it took a few weeks to sort myself out.

So what you have here is my story, a good story I believe. This story is like an unfinished sketch and the wood shows through in places. I may cover these pieces of wood over time and then again I might not. Don’t expect a story of mythology. There is no myth here. Just a story about an Ontario farm boy who disappeared one summer day and a girl he got in trouble with. And the story doesn’t end there.

I’ve tried to create my daily journal as best I can. But I found that on its own, it is rather dry reading, so I added some colour and texture in places where needed. Think of my journal as a sketch, and this book as the canvas. Then you’ll know what I mean.

July 21, 1917 Knox Presbyterian Church Register of Deaths

As entered by Reverend P. T. Pilkey in the Knox Presbyterian Church Register of Deaths

Thomas Thomson (Artist), Accidental Drowning, Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park, July 8, 1917, age 39 years, Born August 5, 1877, Buried at Leith, Ontario, July 21, 1917, Talented and with many friends and no enemies, a mystery.

July 20, 1917 Mark Robinson Note re: Tom Thompson

July 20

Note re Tom Thompson artist

found in Boat floating in Lake by Martin and Bessie Bletcher

1 Gal Can Maple Syrup 1.5 lb tin of Jam
1 Rubber sheet
Brought up from Dock three old tin Pails
1 Pair Bucksin Moccasins
1 axe
3 trolling spoons lines etc

Statement by Charlie Scrimm

took with him small tin Pain 3 Pints
1 lb of rice
1 Can of Sugar about 1lb
Ham 2lbs 1/2 Dozen Potatoes
Small frying pan Split Bamboo fishing Rod
Reel line etc Landing net

Dress worn by Mr Tom Thompson
Lumbermans Grey Woolen Shirts Heavy
Kahake Trousers
Canvas Shoes. white no Hat or [..]
left Frasers Dock after 1230pm to go to Tea Lake
There or went later. Canoe found floating
By Miss Blecher and Bro at 305pm Sunday

July 20, 1917 Tom Thomson’s Body Found, Was Missing 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.