November 30, 1916 Pulling Strings

November 30, 1916

It was another gray day today. The temperature got into the high forties and the snow that came last week all melted away. Nothing is left now. I went to the grocer on Yonge St. to pick up some potatoes, beans and some tinned meat. It’s the second time I’ve been there since I’ve been back. The first time shopping was no problem because the clerks thought I was someone passing through. But they never forget a face – I felt that this morning. I knew they were looking at me trying to figure out who I was and what were my circumstances. Mostly it’s women that shop there, or the servants from the estates. I didn’t fit either, so their curiosity was piqued, and I could feel the eyes on me. There’s another grocer along Bloor – I’ll go there next time.

Dr MacCallum came to visit in the afternoon. He brought a copy of Canadian Magazine, and with a self-satisfied smile, he remarked, “You have to see it to believe it, Tom. Have a look after page 176!” I opened it up, and to my surprise, the painting I had exhibited at the C.N.E was there.

“Tom, I pulled a few strings to have your painting published.” I mumbled something of gratitude. I appreciate what Dr. MacCallum has done for me, it’s difficult right now, but I didn’t like that feeling of obligation that I am sure he was expecting of me. Dr. MacCallum had recently become the President of the Arts & Letters Club and I am sure I was the first and easiest target for his newfound patronage of the arts. I had obliged myself less, by giving up my spot in the Studio and moving into the Shack. Lawren paid for material for the repairs, but I helped out making them.

“Tom, where is the sketch?” Dr MacCallum was referring to the sketch I made the canvas from. I pulled it out from one of the piles. I painted it in Park late August last summer – the leaves were showing a hint of colour, I remember. It was hot, it was the Harvest Moon, for anyone outside of the Park. I have memories of the Harvest Moon, when I was growing up in Owen Sound and when I went for work on the Harvest Excursion out West in Winnipeg. Dr. MacCallum pulled out his billfold and gave me $17. I gave him the sketch. He took it without saying thanks because he knew I disliked doing these transactions with my art. But I needed the money. I showed him what I was planning to paint. I hadn’t decided the overall scene yet, but I had a good idea of what I was going to bring in from my sketches. I had the four sketches laid out, showing the logs, the hill, the boats and the figures of men I was going to paint. I didn’t need a sketch of the skies, because the skies in the Park were forever burned into my mind’s eye.


November 29, 1916 Letter to Father

Nov 29, 1916

c/o Studio Building, 25 Severn Toronto

Dear Father,

I made it back to Toronto a couple of weeks ago. Sorry I did not write you sooner but the business of getting settled back here in the City kept me from writing any letters. A letter from George was here for me when I arrived. I haven’t had a chance to write back to him yet. He wants me to come visit him in New Haven, CT. I’m not sure if I can, if I do, it will be after Christmas.

I had a good run fire-ranging in the eastern section of the Park. Mostly around Achray. I made it to Pembroke and Bonnechere and Paugh Lake close to Barry’s Bay. I got some mason jars in Barry’s bay and while we were laid over I made blueberry preserves. The season was good this year and they were plentiful. I shipped them down to Toronto and I will bring a jar up with me.

Am sorry also I didn’t make it to Owen Sound on my way. The connections are bad from the Park and I needed to get back with my sketches. I was thinking about going to Collingwood/Meaford and taking a stage across but it was too expensive and walking not possible because I had too much with me. I’ll be up at Christmas, most likely a few days before and will stay for New Year’s. I plan to stay for a few days in town but also at Tom and Elizabeth’s in Annan. Please say hello to them. If you see the Rosses or Rutherfords, please give my regards to them too.

My plan is to paint here for the winter. I made quite a few good sketches this past summer and fall and had a quite a load coming back to Toronto. The past week I’ve been getting the place together so I can start on the canvases. Dr MacCallum is letting me stay here in the shack behind for a cheap rate. Not quite like the Chat. Laurier, but with a good fire going you’d be hard pressed to find the difference.

Please give my love to Mother and Auntie and tell them I will be up at Christmas. I’m looking forward to a fine time.

I am your affectionate son,



November 29, 1916 Unbearable Gray

November 29, 1916

I’ve been back for two weeks now. It’s been a haze for me and I’m just getting out of it now. The city is an unbearable colour of gray. The fall colours, if there were any to begin with, are now are gone. It’s gray upon gray upon soot-black.

It’s now time to work on my canvases. Painting a canvas is different than a sketch. A sketch is spontaneous – you never know what you are going to paint when you are out there, it starts from the outside, but a canvas begins in your head. When preparing a canvas I get the butterflies in my stomach, like getting ready for a stage performance.

In the morning, I helped Jim MacDonald move some of his heavier stuff from the top to the studio Jackson and I had on the ground floor. He’s in ill health, and going up the stairs makes him winded and dizzy so he decided to move down. I know he’s having a tough time of it up in Thornhill. To help with the costs, Lismer and his family moved in with them, but they’ve gone on to Halifax. Jim’s wife Joan, doesn’t like it in Thornhill and wants to move back to be closer to church.

In the afternoon, I stretched some  canvases and looked through my sketches trying to decide what to paint. I have some good ones from the log run down the Petawawa in late September. The colours were turning in the hills, making a nice balance with the logs in the water. I may try some ideas from Seurat – instead of mixing the colours on the palette, I’ll keep them separate when I paint and let the mind mix them into the right colours.

I wrote letters to my brothers George and Fraser.


November 28, 1916 New Book, New Journal

November 28, 1916

New book, first journal entry. Finished my breakfast. Sitting at my table having tea.

I picked up this book at the shop where I got my supplies. I was going to use it for sketching, but when I opened it and saw it had lined paper I got the idea of writing a journal.

The book’s not good for sketching so I bought it for writing. I’m not much for writing so I can’t promise that I’ll be making this a regular thing but I’ll try my best. I write the occasional letter, I enjoy doing that, but I never write about my feelings because I never know who’s going to read them and pass judgment on me. I know the letters I’ve received have been read by others, at Mowat Lodge. Annie Fraser, the busybody she is, I reckon she’s read all of the letters I got up north. I am going to take special care that this journal is private to record my thoughts and feelings. Sketches and paintings are good for expression, but for the world to see as they are, there are secrets and hidden feelings in those paintings that will never be revealed unless I write about them. That’s the reason for the journal.

I’m settled in the shack now. I’ve been back in Toronto for two weeks.  After Achray and Basin Depot, I spent a week at Mowat Lodge, then South River (Tom Wattie), Huntsville for a couple of days at the Trainors. I was thinking about visiting my parents in Owen Sound, but I’ve decided to stay here an paint. I’ll see them at Christmas-time.

First snowstorm. Almost a foot of heavy snow. Some of the older trees have come down with the weight of the snow. The electrical and telephone lines are out for all of Rosedale. Winter’s justice for the rich. I only have the one electrical bulb, so it didn’t make much difference to me.

I’ve made a lot of good boards. Close to three hundred I have here. I did some good sketching earlier in the fall and brought about sixty back with me. I still had a few at Mowat Lodge – that’s why I went back. I had sent a shipment down earlier in the summer but I still had a good two dozen at Canoe Lake. I brought them with me too. When I returned, I set the sketches out to dry a bit more. They might seem dry but they stick together if they’re bundled for a long time. I had to tie them together for the train and I took them apart as soon as I got here. Only two badly wrecked. I can probably fix them but I doubt I can match the colour I had when I was out painting. Another reason I didn’t go to Owen Sound – my sketches would have been bundled longer and even more would have been ruined.

I have to start working on my canvases. Dr MacCallum came by and had a look at the sketches. He suggested a couple to paint I haven’t decided which one. I’m was pleased with the ones I made near Grand Lake and on the Petawawa. Doc said he sold a few sketches on consignment over and put the money in my account. I should have enough to tide me over the winter time.

It’s gloomy here The days are grey. I’ll keep mostly to myself as I don’t like what’s going on for the War effort. There’s a few new folks in the Studio Building. Jim MacDonald and Bill Beatty are still there. So is Curtis Williamson. There’s some ladies too, Dr. MacCallum told me, although I haven’t met them yet. My mail goes to the Studio Building, I’ll be dropping by most days to get my mail, so I’m sure to see them.

I won’t promise how much and when I will write. When it’s right I can paint like a storm but writing’s another thing. I can only say that I’m taking inspiration from our boys at the Front who are writing their endless streams of letters back home to their loved ones. I’ve seen how the girls and wives hang onto these letters, slipping them into their purses and pockets for safekeeping, I’ve seen a few of these letters where there are sketches and pictures, but it’s the pencil-written words of  “I love you, Mum or Sweetheart” that have the most power. Maybe this journal will have that power too, but I’m not sure to whom. For now, it’s just for me and I will just keep it that way.

Tomorrow’s not a day for painting. It’s a day for canvas stretching and real perspiration.

November 10, 1916 Last Supper at Mowat Lodge

November 10, 1916

It’s my last evening at Mowat Lodge. Tomorrow, I plan to take the early morning train. I’ll stop in Huntsville, if the Trainors will have me, I’ll stay, or make my way back to Toronto.

Today I worked hard for Shannon. I helped him get things in order for winter. George Rowe and Lowrie Dickson helped out too. Sawing and stacking wood for the winter mostly. We moved the canoes into the storage shed and pulled one of the docks out of the water. We left the other dock – it was too far gone – the winter freeze-up will put it out of its misery.  We had to clear out the creosote from the chimneys. It builds up during the summer and you need to clear it out before the winter. It’s a dirty job but George was up to it.

Since it was my last night at the lodge, Annie made a nice supper for us all. Since I’m the only guest left at the lodge, I feel more like family. Shannon, Annie, their daughter Mildred, Shannon’s mother, Old Mrs. Fraser, and me. Shannon was feeling gracious, so he invited George Rowe and Lowrie Dickson, so it was the seven of us together in the kitchen. With three kerosene lights at full blaze and with the heat of the cook stove, it was cosy and bright – it was the cosiest and brightest place to be on Canoe Lake that evening and for a moment I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. But it would end tomorrow as I made my way toward the cold electric lights of the city and the grey film of smoke that smothered everything outside.

As is his usual manner, George kept us up to date with all of the rumours running along the rails. With so many grain cars going through the Park, grain was being siphoned off to feed the moonshine stills. Grain cars left on sidings overnight would mysteriously lose their cargo. The chief part of the mystery was how much grain could be spirited off into the bush without a trace.

The train derailments were happening with an alarming regularity. The rumours were that the saboteurs (along with the moonshiners, I reckoned) were hard at work disrupting a vital lifeline to the War. Early in the spring, 15 cars accordioned themselves into Joe Lake, almost taking with them a Pullman passenger full of troops. It took two days to pull the cars out and since the Hotel Algonquin was not yet open for the season, Shannon got the business of lodging for two nights. And Annie did what she does best – feed an army. George said the derailments were the insidious work of the Ottawa Road Master, of German descent. The railway sacked him after the Joe Lake incident. In my own mind, the saboteurs had easy work – they just had to sit back and watch the line fall into disrepair on its own. Later in the summer, there was another terrible accident. A double-header derailed and the engines fell on top of each other in a mud pond. Five people were killed – an engineer, a brakeman, and three firemen. There was a runaway train, eastbound from Rainy Lake. The engineer and brakemen gave chase with a handcar, and the stationmaster signalled ahead for the westbound trains to stop and pull off onto sidings. The runaway train eventually ran out of steam before it reached Canoe Lake.

The train comes through tomorrow at 8:15 in the morning. Shannon promised to bring me up to the station in the wagon. We stored the hearse earlier in the week and got out the sled runners for the wagon. When there’s decent snow on the ground, Shannon will get George or Lowrie to help him switch the wheels with the runners.

It’s getting late. I’m sitting by the fireplace in the dining room. My gear is packed and by the door. My sketches are tied up and bundled in burlap. Over a hundred I counted. I didn’t paint much when I was fire-ranging in the summer, but after I got fired, I painted two or three sketches each day for a month in the eastern end of the Park on the Petawawa with Ed Godin.

Time to call it a night. I plan to stop in Huntsville for a day or two and then make my way back to Toronto.



Blodwen Davies: Application for the exhumation of the body

UrNBbm4July 27, 1931

Dear Col. Price,

I am enclosing the statement concerning the death and burial of Tom Thomson, which you would good enough to discuss with me last week. It is somewhat lengthy, but I have tried in include as much as I have been able to learn concerning the episode.

I shall appreciate it very much indeed if you can do anything concerning the case. I felt that I had too much material in hand to ignore the obvious inferences. However, the important thing to Thomson’s friends is to know whether or not he still lies in Canoe Lake, and to clear his name of the charge of suicide.

If there is anything more that I can do to help in any way, I shall be very glad indeed to do it. I expect to be in Canoe Lake early in September.

Sincerely yours,
Blodwen Davies

July 8, 1917

Tom Thomson, Canadian artist, who spent the greater part of each year in Algonquin park, was drowned in Canoe Lake on July 8th, 1917.

He was a retiring man, modest and exceptionally well liked by all who knew him. His headquarters were at Mowatt Lodge, Canoe Lake, kept by Mr. and Mrs. Shannon Fraser, who now run the hotel at Kearney. Thomson usually camped in a tent on Heyhurst Point opposite Mowatt Lodge, in the good weather.

He had been painting a record of the weather, one sketch a day, from the middle of April to the middle of June and had, as usual, ceased sketching during the mid-summer months. He was a great fisherman. An expert paddler, swimmer and woodsman.

For ten days or thereabouts prior to his death he had been competing with Mark Robinson, the park ranger in charge of the Canoe Lake district, in fishing for a big trout at the foot of Joe Lake Portage. He eluded them both. On the morning of Thomson’s death he rose rather late and breakfasted with Mrs. Fraser at Mowatt Lodge. He was in good spirits and came in “freshly shaved, hair brushed and shining.” He sat long at table, eating and talking in a leisurely way. Then lit a cigarette and wandered out. He joined Shannon Fraser and together they went across to Joe Lake Portage to have another try at the trout. Again they failed. It was nearly noon.

“I know what I’ll do,” said Thomson, “I’ll go down to Gill lake and get a big trout and lay it on Mark’s doorstep so that he find it when he comes out first thing tomorrow morning. He’ll think I’ve got this fellow.”

They returned to Mowatt Lodge. Thomson got out his canoe. He had no bread. Fraser went up to the Lodge got him a loaf and Thomson stowed it away, with a can of corn syrup, under the bow of the canoe. He took no provisions in addition as he did not intend to stay any longer than it took to get the fish. Some stories say that he was on his way for a camping trip. The bread and can of syrup were found in the canoe the next day.

Thomson left Mowat Lodge dock about twenty-five minutes to one o’clock on Sunday. He paddled down the lake and outside Little Wapomeo Island. There was an unoccupied cottage on the Island. He then passed out of sight into the stretch of water between Little Wapomeo and Big Wapomeo Islands. There his canoe was found and there, nine days later, his body was found. His watch had stopped shortly after one o’clock. It was not ten minutes paddle from Mowatt Lodge dock to the place where his body was found.

On Monday morning Martin Blecher, son of Martin Blecher, Sr. (German-Americans who have summer at Canoe lake for a great many years) reported that he had seen a canoe floating between the Islands on Sunday afternoon at three o’clock. He did not report it, he said, as he thought it was a canoe belonging to Colson at the Algonquin Hotel, Joe Lake, which had drifted away from Joe Lake Portage where Colson kept some of his canoes. However, it was Thomson’s canoe, which was familiar to all at Canoe Lake. It was painted a peculiar shade of green. Friends of Thomson’s immediately recognized the canoe as his. A search was instituted, but none of Thomson’s friends believed Thomson to be drowned. He was a powerful swimmer from boyhood. He had been traveling in a light east wind in a light rain. Mark Robinson tramped the woods for seven days whistling and calling, thinking Thomson had landed on shore and had fallend and injured himself. The Blecher family alone of all Thomson’s acquaintaces searched the lake from Mowatt Lodge to Tea Lake Dam, although Thomson’s canoe had been found between the Islands near home.

Dr. Golden Howland, of Toronto, arrived a day or two after Thomson’s death to occupy the Taylor Statten cottage on Little Wapomeo Island. On Monday morning, July 16, he discovered Thomson’s body when it became entangled with his fishing line. He informed the authorities. The body was towed to Big Wapomeo Island and anchored there.

Dr. Ranney, coroner, at North Bay was notified. The train leaving North Bay at 2.10 P.M. reached Canoe Lake at 9.12 P.M. that day. Dr. Ranney did not leave North Bay Monday.

Tuesday morning Mark Robinson decided to remove Thomson’s body from the water. Dr. Howland made an examination. The following is his statement as provided by T. E. McKee, Crown Attorney, North Bat [Bay], on June 5, 1931

An undertaker from Kearney had arrived. The body was embalmed and transferred to the mainland on Tuesday mornin and there buried in a sandy spot on the edge of a small hill.

Tuesday night on the 9.12 train Dr. Ranney arrived. He said he had wired his intention to arrive Tuesday. Those in charge of the case at Canoe Lake were unable to find any trace of such a message being filed. The telegraph files for that year have since been destroyed.

The inquest was held in the Blecher home instead of in the hotel nearby. The Blechers, who were not popular with the community, served beer and cigars to those who attended. Mark Robinson discovered that George Rowe, who had towed the body to shore, had not been summonsed to the inquest. He paddled across the lake to his cabin to get him.

Nothing came out at the trial of the quarrels between Martin Blecher, who was then about twenty-five years of age, and Thomson. The quarrels are said to have been violent. Thomson wrote Lismer, then at Halifax, one of his intimate friends, about the quarrels. The letters have not been preserved. Thomson was unhappy about the war. His friends, particularly Dr. James MacCallum, who was financing him by the sale of his pictures, put a great deal of pressure on him not to enlist. Other friends were putting pressure on him, some in order to induce him to enlist, others to prevent him from doing so. Thomson was becoming celebrated as an artist and was a sort of legendary figure in art circles.

Martin Blecher was subsequently a draft evader.

A letter from the War Department at Washington under date of July 27, 1931, describes him.

The story at Canoe Lake is that an agent of the War Department went to Canoe Lake in search of him and was persuaded to leave without taking action.

Martin Blecher was believed responsible for spreading a report of suicide. He repeated this statement as late as August of 1931 when he made a trip across the Lake to Camp Ahmek on the day of the Thomson Celebration and told Dr. Harry Ebbs that Thomson’s legs were bound together with a piece of rubber. This statement was untrue. He also stated that he body was cramped and rigid. This was also untrue. Blecher’s mother, when interviewed in the summer of 1930 refused to discuss Thomson.

The chief fact which the inquest failed to establish and which should have been obvious was this: that within ten minutes of leaving Mowatt Lodge dock, when out of sight of the cottages, Thomson was struck over the head with a weapon which inflicted a bruise four inches long on his temple and which caused bleeding from the ear. The bruise could only have been caused while Thomson lived.

The waters of Canoe Lake are mild enough for swimming by a children’s camp all July and August. Yet Thomson’s body, which should have floated in two or three days, did not come to the top until nine days later, although it was bloated to twice its natural size, — Unless it did come up and was sunk a second time. There was a fishing line tied around one ankle.

As related, Thomson was buried on the edge of a sandy hill not far from Mowatt Lodge. A few days later his family sent in an undertaker, Churchill of Huntsville, with a metal casket to exhume the body and carry it to Owen Sound. The undertaken arrived on the 9.12 p.m. train which may have been late, as the persons concerned have a recollection of him arriving “near midnight”. Mark Robinson was not informed of his arrival until some time later. Robinson rose at dawn, went to the grave, and discovered that the man’s job was done. Thomson, he said, was sealed in the metal casket. Robinson does not believe that the body was ever disturbed. The flowers that had been laid on the grave at the funeral were not moved.

George Rowe was with the undertaker on his way in to Mowatt Lodge. Rowe recalls that the man was anxious to be alone and refused offers of help. Shannon Fraser, who drove the man and the casket up to the spot, arranged with him that he was to answer the undertaker’s signal when he was through with the exhumation. He recalls that he was not long back at the hotel, before he saw the signal and at once returned to take up the casket again.

None of those concerned in the episode believe that Thomson was ever disturbed. There is no variation in opinion in any of those who have been questioned. Thomson’s casket was buried at Leith, where a stone has been erected over the grave.

The burying place at Canoe Lake is not a consecrated cemetery. There have been four or five buried there; there is only one small enclosure with a couple of grave in it. Thomson’s grave was outside the enclosure.

All of those concerned in this incident are still living. Mark Robinson is assistant Park Superintendent. His (Thomson’s) family were aware of the circumstances and debated taking action to clear up the situation. Thomson’s aged mother would have been disturbed by any such action and the matter was allowed to drop.

The Blechers, who are a quarrelsome family, are still in the same cottage at Canoe Lake.

The opening of Thomson’s original grave at Canoe Lake would lay at rest the rumors which are persistent in the north and which claim that he still lives there. His family now regret his removal to Leith and would be glad to know he had not been disturbed. Any action which would prove that Thomson died as the result of foul play would remove the stigma of suicide from his name.

Those who know Thomson could not believe that it was suicide. He was a sensitive and lonely soul, passionately devoted to the wilderness, and if he had been in a mood to take his own life, he would have gone off on a trip into the wilderness and been heard of no more. It is utterly at variance with Thomson’s character to suppose, that even in a fit of depression, he would have tried to commit suicide ten minutes from his own camp.