Tom Thomson: 100 Years Since

Photo from: TOM Gallery Wesbite, 2017

Did you know that Canoe Lake is home to one of Canada’s greatest mysteries? Canadian painter, Tom Thomson, was last seen alive on July 8th 1917 at Mowat Lodge on Canoe Lake. This July will mark the 100th anniversary of Thomson’s death and an anniversary that is being honoured throughout the country.

Tom Thomson was born August 5th 1877 growing up in the Georgian Bay and Owen Sound areas. As an adult, the honing of his incredible artistic skills started when he moved to Seattle, Washington in 1901. It was here that he started working as a commercial artist and became a master of lettering and design. He was as a senior artist at a photo-engraving firm in Toronto called the Legg Brothers but it was when he began working for Grip Ltd. that really jump started his artistic career. J.E.H MacDonald, the head designer, saw his potential and assisted greatly in the development of Thomson’s artistic skills. The other artists working at this firm, who would later form the famous Group of Seven, included Arthur Lismer, Fred Varley, Franklin Carmichael and Franz Johnson. The Group of Seven also included Lawren Harris and A.Y Jackson.

Thomson had a unique and stunning painting style, that truly captured the essence of the Algonquin Park we know and love. As stated by David Huff (Tom Thomson Gallery Website, 2017), “When out painting on location, Thomson would use a small wooden sketch box, not much bigger than a piece of letter-sized paper, to carry his oil paints, palette, and brushes; his small painting boards were safely tucked away from each other in slots fitted in the top. Sitting down in the canoe, on a log or rock, with the sketch box in front of him, he would quickly capture the landscape around him.”

Thomson visited Algonquin Park in the Spring and Fall on a regular basis staying at Mowat Lodge, located at the North end of our beautiful Canoe Lake. Due to health reasons, Thomson was unable to enlist when the war broke out in Europe in 1914 and so, “From 1914 to 1917 Thomson spent the spring and fall sketching, and acted as a guide and fire ranger during the summer in Algonquin Park.  He became an expert canoeist and woodsman.  He spent the winter in “Thomson’s Shack,” a construction shed outside the Studio Building in Toronto.  It was here where he painted his now famous canvases, The Jack Pine, The West Wind, and Northern River, among others.” (Huff, 2017).

The untimely death of Tom Thomson is upsetting and surrounded by mystery. His body was found on Canoe Lake on July 16th 2017 and cause of death stated as accidental drowning. This is where the mystery lies, as Thomson was an extremely knowledgeable and experienced outdoorsman. There are many theories on to how he actually passed, but none have been confirmed.

As the TSC community is well aware, a memorial stone cairn sits atop Hayhurst Point. Did you know this was build by artists and close friends of Thomson, J.E.H MacDonald, Dr. James MacCallum and J.W. Beatty?

“The cairn is a memorial to Tom Thomson, marking the date and the place where he had died.  Thomson’s death was a tragedy for his fellow artists – they lost an inspiring colleague, a great friend and their guide to the north woods.  This untimely loss prompted a clarification of his artist friends’ vision for Canadian art; it strengthened their resolve and gave rise to the formation of The Group of Seven.”
(Huff, 2017)

As the 100th anniversary draws nearer, the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound, Ontario is gearing up. TSC was approached by Artists Joel Richardson and Germinio Pio Politi to be a part of an incredible upcoming exhibit. As stated on the Gallery website, “The Betwixt & Between: An Untold Tom Thomson Story is a multi-faceted, fully immersive, interactive exhibition designed to tie the story of Canadian artist Tom Thomson (1877-1917) with the often overlooked history of the First Nations peoples of the Bruce Peninsula.”

Last weekend, Racquel met Richardson at Camp Ahmek to find the perfect spot to shoot a video of a quiet, sunny and beautiful day on Canoe Lake. The perfect spot was found! The video is shot from the Mountaineer fire pit and really captures the true beauty of Canoe Lake that kept Tom Thomson coming back year after year. Starting May 28th 2017 thru September 10th 2017, one of the installations in the Betwixt & Between exhibit will be this video, framed to look like a Tom Thomson painting. It was the perfect weather, blue skies, sun shining and a light wind! We are so honoured to be a part of this project and cannot wait for all the gallery patrons to experience what we get to experience every day of the summer and what inspired Thomson’s artwork.

We highly recommend checking this out :). Major thanks to the TOM gallery, Joel Richardson, Germinio Pio Politi, and Patricia Campbell for involving us in such an incredible project!

NOTE: Tom Thomson facts credited to David Huff, Curator of Collections at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound. To read the full biography by Huff, please click here.