“Tom Thomson family will bar exhumation of body”, Owen Sound Sun-Times, Feb. 8, 1969
A CBC TV producer’s demands that the grave at Leith, where most accept lie the remains of the world famed Canadian artist, Tom Thomson, pioneer of the Group of Seven school of Canadian art, have aroused considerable revulsion in Owen Sound.
Not only do people, many of them long time friends of members of the Thomson family, feel that opening the grave 50 years after the painter’s death would be in very bad taste and would cause surviving members of his direct family great anguish, but they can see no point, even should the unlikely suggestion he was murdered be indicated to be true.
The television film on Tom Thomson, shown Thursday night over CBC, caused great disappointment among local art circles and other interested in the Thomson family. It was quite apparently aimed solely at furthering the suggestion that Mr. Thomson was murdered and increasing the pressure to have the grave opened.
WON’T PERMIT IT
The final decision must rest with the surviving members of the family, two sisters and a nephew. The latter, Geo. Thomson, of the Brantford Art Gallery, stated that his aunts, himself, and other members of the family will not give permission to open the grave neither now nor at any time.
There has never been question in the minds of any members of the family but that Thomson died accidently, as stated officially following the inquest which found death by drowning.
His father, the late Geo Thomson, dean of artists here for many years and widely known for his landscapes, went to the scene immediately on learning that Tom had disappeared and was believed drowned, the son recalls. He spent six days searching for the body. Collecting the artist’s sketches, he returned home and shortly after the family was informed the body had been found.
Geo. Thomson sr. said he had been informed that Tom had suffered a sprained ankle just before his disappearance. He was of the opinion Tom had stepped out of the canoe onto his injured foot, had slipped, hit his head on a rock and rolled unconscious into the water to drown.
Geo. Thomson, asked by a Sun-Times staff members 10 or 12 years ago about the rumor, which had recurred at that time, definitely stated Tom’s body was in the coffin buried at Leith, and that his death was accidental.
A number of Owen Sound residents, some of whom knew the family for many years, were asked for their opinion of the proposal. These opinions follow:
Mrs. S. H. Pearce: – “I feel the proposal is in very bad taste and cannot see where any good purpose could be served. We have a very fine memorial to Tom Thomson, the artist, in our Tom Thomson Art Gallery. I have a great admiration for his works and the part he has played in Canadian art and view the movement as most unfortunate.”
Mrs. Pearce, former women’s editor of the Sun-Times, was active in establishing the memorial art gallery. She feels strongly about the Thursday night showing of the CBC film on Tom Thomson. “Instead of watching what we thought would be a tribute to the wonderful art of Tom Thomson, we watched a group of ghouls at work.”
Ald. Clifford Waugh, city council representative on the civic gallery committee: – “The legend of Tom Thomson is something the people of this area have cherished for years and the CBC, in their stupidity, have deliberately tried to destroy the image of this revered artist which is causing anguish for the Thomson family.”
Mrs. John Harrison, president, women’s gallery committee: – “I thought the suspense in the film was well maintained but was disappointed more time was not devoted to his life and his paintings shown. It is my feeling it would be a good thing to get the mystery of his death cleared up.”
William Parrott, head of the art department at the O S C V I: – “The dead should be left in peace and no good purpose could come of opening the grave at Leith.”
Mr. Parrott said, “Christians do not feel they need to know beyond doubt where Christ is buried before they can honor him, so why should we feel we need to know the location of Tom Thomson’s grave in order to honor him.”
W. M. Prudham, former principal of the O S C V I: – “It would clarify the situation if the grave at Leith was opened. If it is not done the doubt will always keep coming to the surface from time to time.”
Mrs. John Rowe, member of art gallery committee: – “The McMichael Conservation Gallery officials a Kleinburg are anxious to collect the remains of the famous Group of Seven artists for burial in one plot. I think the idea of digging up graves is horrible. Lives remembered are more positive than bones.”
Mrs. K. C. Quirk, member of the gallery committee: – “Exhumation would be pointless. Let the poor man rest in peace. The wishes of the surviving members of the family should be considered.”
Stan Latham,CFOS radio: – “The resting place for Tom Thomson’s bones is a matter for the curious only. To me, it really does not matter. The real Tom Thomson still lives. It is expressed through his paintings. Let those who would honor and remember him do so in the manner of their choice. I would say we do him dishonor to wrangle over his bones. Let the mystery remain with him and the good earth he loved so well and held as sacred.”