Some stuff from a North Sydenham farmboy and his sister

Authors note: This story was written in the fall of 1996, just before my parents sold the farm. The artwork is by my sister. North Sydenham was the name of the township where I grew up.

This is my last day on the farm. I can’t believe it. So many things have changed in my life, but one thing was always constant – the farm. The foundation of my upbringing, the refuge from the big bad world, the weekend retreat – no longer. My parents, who are now too old to keep up with the work, sold the farm. Now, with less than two weeks to go, they will depart as well. After thirty-five years of sun, sweat, toil, mud, cows and snow, it’s over. None of us six kids wanted to take over the farm. No choice but to sell. They’re moving into town.I returned for the final time on the Labour Day weekend. No longer part of the agrarian population, I now make my home amongst the high-tech industries in Ottawa. The previous week, I had been jetting to a different U.S. city each day, espousing the wonders of our product to Corporate America. Upon my return, I had managed to squeeze a side trip (the last) to my parent’s farm. One day I’m stepping out in Manhattan, – the next I’m stepping into a freshly formed cowpie in the barnyard. What a contrast – from the scions of Wall Street to the cows of the barnyard.The farm is no ordinary farm. Situated just north of the village of Leith and close to the shore of Georgian Bay, it has all of the elements of paradise. The farm, one-hundred and fifty acres in total, is bordered on three sides by dense bush. The fourth side, which faces to the south affords an unobstructed view all the way to Owen Sound. In the distance, amongst the shimmering tin barn rooftops, I can see the farmhouse where Tom Thomson grew up. The beauty of the landscape, which he began to appreciate here, and finally expressed in a form that became our national treasure, is the very same beauty I grew up with. I know exactly what he felt and what he wanted to express. I’ve seen his early works, paintings of the area, and he has captured the very same mood that I feel now. To the west, above the trees of the near shore and below the far shore, I can see a blue sliver of Owen Sound Bay. Further to the north, the sliver opens into greater Georgian Bay and, with distant clouds, fuses with the sky. Here, it’s the top of the world. I can see the entire world, or what really matters to me. The world needs to be no larger than what I can see.What is the best way to say goodbye? I’ve often heard that lingering goodbyes are the worst. I’ve also heard the best goodbyes are the quick ones that have a real sense of closure. When I was a kid. I remember the goodbyes to visiting relatives from Holland. Often during the summer, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, from the old country would come and stay with us on the farm. During the brief weeks, they would become part of my world – the farm, and I would grow to love them dearly. Then, in the front yard where I am standing now, the visit would abruptly come to a close. The final goodbyes were exchanged. They were always brief and packed with emotion that was most often not shown. Suitcases packed in the trunk, visitors in the back seat, and my parents in the front, the car would begin its journey down the long hilly laneway. Not wanting to finish the goodbye, I would race back into the house, up the stairs to the bathroom where the window would give me a better view of the laneway. I could see the car go down the big hill, disappear from view, briefly appear at the rise of the middle hill, disappear once more, re-appear again, and as it made its final climb, disappear into the bush. I would wave but I knew they couldn’t see me. The waving and the glimpses from the better view made the good-bye less painful. It consoled me. Now, as I walk around the farm, I feel that I am doing the same. I am consoling myself, as I survey the farm, snatching final glimpses, extending my goodbye.

Not only will I have to say goodbye to the farm as a whole, but also the house and the barn. The house is an old fieldstone house, older than the country itself. It is actually several houses in one. Starting from the back, a decrepit shed complete with an out-moded outhouse, next, to an old mundane middle brick part, and finally, culminating in the front, stands proudly the beautiful solid fieldstone structure. Built by a Scottish settler who was given a grant from the Queen’s Bush, and using the glacial errata cleared from the fields, this is a true Southern Ontario fieldstone house, gathered , hewed and built from the geography and its residents . The barn too, like the house, is several barns in one. Viewed from the sky, it has the shape of a gargantuan, squared ‘C’ punctuated by a silo. From the ground, the aged gray cedar barn boards give testament to their time bared to the elements.

My flight back to Ottawa leaves soon. I must say my final goodbye. Like the goodbyes to my relatives from Holland, it is brief, emotional and silent. Suitcase in the trunk, me in the back seat, and my parents in the front, we begin the journey down the laneway. I look out the back window to catch the last glimpse. I can see the barn and the entire farm rising up behind. The house and bathroom window disappear and re-appear as we dip between the hills. Maybe the farm is waving goodbye and I cannot see. Maybe it too feels the pain that I do. We’re near the end of the laneway. We make the final ascent and enter into the bush. The farm disappears from view. The last glimpse is seared in my brain. There are tears in my eyes. Goodbye Farm.

Back Cover

Tom Thomson, as the famous Canadian landscape artist, gave Canada its most enduring icons, The Jack Pine and The West Wind. But Tom Thomson, as a private man, remains an enigma. Little is known about the man and even less is known about his personal thoughts, feelings and struggles with his art and with life against the darkening backdrop of history. A century has gone by since Tom Thomson disappeared in Algonquin Park on July 8, 1917. Eight days later, a body was found, rising up from the waters of Canoe Lake. What really happened, to this day, remains a mystery.  Did he die of natural causes? Was it an accident? Was he murdered? Follow the final months and days of Tom Thomson in the revealing and intriguing pages of his journal.

Journal of My Last Spring – Table of Contents Preview

Hello everyone,

I am diligently working on the final manuscript for publication. For those of you interested, below is the table of contents –  127 journal entries in 251 pages.


Tom Thomson: Journal of My Last Spring

Table of Contents

Foreword 9
March 1, 1917 All Alone 10
March 2, 1917 Preparing the Ground 10
March 4, 1917 Sunday Visitors 12
March 5, 1917 Florence Visits 13
March 5, 1917 Letter to Winnie 13
March 7, 1917 Asking Prices 14
March 9, 1917 Private Viewing 14
March 13, 1917 O.S.A. Annual Meeting 15
March 14, 1917 Morning with Florence 16
March 16, 1917 Letter to Shannon 16
March 17, 1917 Allan Cup 17
March 18, 1917 Last Canvas on the Easel 18
March 21, 1917 Slacker 19
March 22, 1917 Visitors from Owen Sound 20
March 23, 1917 Up North 20
March 24, 1917 Arrival 23
March 25, 1917 Mowat Lodge 25
March 26, 1917 Deep into the Bush 27
March 27, 1917 Fourth Day in the North 29
March 28, 1917 Helping Shannon 32
March 29, 1917 Ed and Molly Colson 34
March 30, 1917 Ice-Blocks 37
March 31, 1917 Whisky Jacks 39
April 1, 1917 Running Water 42
April 1, 1917 Letter to Winnie 43
April 2, 1917 Miserable Day 44
April 3, 1917 Heading for the Hills 46
April 4, 1917 Letter to Florence 49
April 4, 1917 More Guests 50
April 6, 1917 Good Friday 52
April 7, 1917 Robin and Daphne 54
April 8, 1917 Easter Dinner 57
April 9, 1917 Accounts with Shannon 58
April 10, 1917 Wildflowers will Come 59
April 11, 1917 Mark Robinson Returns 61
April 12, 1917 Return to Joe Lake Shelter House 62
April 12, 1917 Letter to Jim MacDonald 64
April 12, 1917 Keep Moving On 66
April 13, 1917 Balsam Boughs 68
April 14, 1917 Crisis in the Stable 70
April 15, 1917 Turk and Ling 72
April 16 Letter to Father 76
April 16, 1917 Inners and Outers 77
April 17, 1917 Ugly Shores 79
April 18, 1917 Zeppelins of Canoe Lake 80
April 19, 1917 Thinking of Leaving 82
April 20, 1917 Joey Kehoe 84
April 21, 1917 Letter to Dr. MacCallum 86
April 21, 1917 Washing the Blankets 87
April 22, 1917 Northern Lights 89
April 23, 1917 Letter to Tom Harkness 92
April 23, 1917 Weather Fine 93
April 24, 1917 Lead White 93
April 25, 1917 No Use Fighting 95
April 26, 1917 Temple Blue 97
April 27, 1917 Bouquet of Trilliums 99
April 28, 1917 Guide License 100
April 29, 1917 Sunday Best 103
May 1, 1917 Ice-Out 104
May 2, 1917 Brook Trout 106
May 3, 1917 Florence Arrives 107
May 4, 1917 Cloisonnism 108
May 5, 1917 A Few Sentences 110
May 6, 1917 Florence Leaves 110
May 7, 1917 Chocolate, Evaporated Milk, Bacon and Ham 112
May 8, 1917 Letter to Dr. MacCallum 114
May 8, 1917 Violets, Trilliums and Groundhogs 115
May 9, 1917 Canoeing with Charlie Scrim 117
May 12, 1917 The Trainors Arrive 118
May 17, 1917 Setting Up at Hayhurst Point 120
May 18, 1917 Winnie 123
May 19, 1917 Dr. MacCallum Arrives 125
May 20, 1917 Confessions at Tea Lake Dam 126
May 21, 1917 Soaking Wet 128
May 22, 1917 Arts and Letters Club 131
May 23, 1917 Plans on a Trestle Bridge 133
May 24, 1917 Drunk 135
May 25, 1917 Spring Exhibition 136
May 26, 1917 Waterspout 141
May 27, 1917 Letter to Winnie 143
May 27, 1917 Lay Service at the Hotel Algonquin 144
May 28, 1917 Night Fire 146
May 29, 1917 Miss Fannie Case 149
May 30, 1917 Letter to John McRuer 153
May 30, 1917 Revelat Naturam Honorem 154
June 1, 1917 Chubby’s In Charge 158
June 2,1917 Letter to Florence 161
June 2, 1917 Statten’s Boys 162
June 3, 1917 Marriage Advice 164
June 4, 1917 Some Guiding Work 166
June 5, 1917 Sigillum Militum 169
June 6, 1917 Prospect of Whisky 173
June 7, 1917 Hell of a Hangover 176
June 8, 1917 Promise Me 180
June 9, 1917 Ways of My Grandfather 183
June 9, 1917 Letter to Winnie 185
June 10, 1917 Freights Run on Sundays 186
June 11, 1917 Edith’s Postscript 190
June 12, 1917 Hoeing in the Garden of Eden 193
June 13, 1917 Get Out of My Way 195
June 15, 1917 Last Night in Huntsville 197
June 16, 1917 Letter to Billie Bear Lodge 204
June 16, 1917 Mowat Cemetery 204
June 17, 1917 Eleventh Commandment 208
June 18, 1917 F-A-T-E-7-8 210
June 20, 1917 Aliens in the Park 215
June 21, 1917 Hesperus and Phosphorous 217
June 22, 1917 Gray Days 220
June 23, 1917 Victims of Circumstance 221
June 24, 1917 Rules of the OUIJA Board 223
June 25, 1917 Difficult Trout 226
June 26, 1917 Timber Everywhere 227
June 28, 1917 A Day on the Lake with Charlie Scrim 228
June 29, 1917 Letter to Arthur Lismer 230
June 30, 1917 Letter to Winnie 231
July 1, 1917 Dominion Day 232
July 2, 1917 Ash Can 235
July 3, 1917 Leaving 237
July 4, 1917 Independence Day 239
July 5, 1917 Swimming 243
July 6, 1917 What This War Hath Wrought 246
July 7,1917 Letter to Dr. MacCallum 247
July 7, 1917 Letter to Winnie 248
July 7, 1917 Against My Better Judgment 249
July 8, 1917 Rooster’s Crow 249
July 8, 1917 Final Note 250
Afterword 251


A Note of Thank You

July 21, 2017

wpid-wp-5322.jpgTo my Followers,

This concludes the 2017 real-time version of Tom Thomson: Journal of My Last Spring. This has been my sixth 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 .

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




July 21, 1917 Knox Presbyterian 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 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.