The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson

Canada’s vast wilderness contains a great deal of beauty – and a great deal secrets. Of all it’s mysteries, one of the biggest concerns the death of painter Tom Thomson.


ABOVE: Tom Thomson, Artists Camp, Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park, oil on wood, 8.6 x 10.7 inches, Thomson Collection, Art Gallery of Ontario

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Algonquin Provincial Park and while there, visited Canoe Lake. Arguably the parks most famous lake, it was here that the body of Tom Thomson was found on July 16, 1917. To this day, his death remains a mystery.

Thomson’s body was found floating on Canoe Lake eight days after he disappeared, and his death was quickly ruled an accidental drowning. He was buried within a day of being discovered, then exhumed and reburied two days after that.

In the years after his passing, his art became more and more beloved, and owing to that, people began looking into his death, and the circumstances surrounding it. Suspicions arose.

As this all occurred nearly a hundred years ago, we’ll probably never know what really happened. Nonetheless, here are a few theories:

  • In 1956, Thomson’s original resting place was dug up and human remains were found. Medical investigators determined that the body was that of an unidentified aboriginal, but there are those who believe it to be that of the great artist (the remains have since been lost).
  • Although ‘accidental drowning’ is the official, and most widely believed cause of death, there are a few that believe Thomson took his own life. One theory suggests he did so because he had failed to garner any recognition as an artist. Another, that he had impregnated a local woman.
  • Even darker, there are those that suggest murder and believe that Thomson was killed in a fight, or struck down by poachers.

Whatever the cause, there can be no denying Tom Thomson’s role in the defining of an era. While his death may forever remain a mystery, his work will live on for generations to come.

In the Land of the Great Canadian Painters

Two weeks ago, I visited Oxtongue Lake and Algonquin Provincial Park. Being a fan of A.J. Casson and the Group of Seven, it was fun to visit their old stomping ground.


ABOVE: A.J. Casson, The Bay, Oxtongue Lake, July 1982, oil on board, 12 x 15 inches

BELOW: The location from which the above was painted (marked with a plaque at the Blue Spruce Resort)

From coast to coast, Canada is a nature lovers dream, and of all it has to offer, the areas in and around Algonquin Provincial Park are some of the finest. It was here that a few of this nation’s greatest artists traveled and worked, and it was here that I humbly visited in their footsteps.

My vacation started at the Blue Spruce Resort where one of my biggest artistic influences, A.J. Casson stayed on multiple occasions. He loved to sketch and paint around Oxtongue lake, and the cottage he rented with his wife still stands on the resort today. I can see why they visited so often; there’s plenty to do on site, and it’s perfectly situated to explore all the area has to offer.

From the Blue Spruce, it’s a short drive to Algonquin Provincial Park which covers almost 3,000 square miles, and contains over 2,400 lakes. The park is a vast wilderness virtually untouched by man, and it was a favorite of another Group of Seven painter, Tom Thomson. He traveled and painted extensively in the park, and on July 8, 1917, his short life came to an end when his body was found floating on Canoe Lake. To this day, nobody knows what happened.

For the adventurous – and those skilled with a canoe – there are a ton of things to see and do in the park. For the less adventurous, there are plenty of well marked trails along highway 60. Whatever you choose, this place is spectacularly beautiful. I didn’t paint while there, but I went bonkers with my camera.

If you’re a fan of the Group of Seven and/or a lover of nature, then Algonquin Provincial Park is the place for you. And, if you’d rather cottage then camp, so too is the Blue Spruce Resort.

A bucket list adventure, if ever there was one.