Last weekend, we went up to a friend’s cottage on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park.
You may recognize the name – it’s well known as the lake where Group of Seven painter Tom Thomson mysteriously died at age 42 in July, 1917. He had left to go on a fishing trip, but after only a few hours his canoe was found floating in the lake. It wasn’t until a week or so later that his body was found.
Thomson, who was a recognized outdoorsman, spent six months of every year in Algonquin Park hunting, fishing and of course painting. He had worked as a guide and fire ranger in the park, so the fact that his death was declared an accidental drowning on what was a apparently a clear and normal day seems unusual. Even at the time, people couldn’t believe it and rumours swirled about suicide and murder.
The gravesite is in Mowat cemetery, about a ten-minute walk into the bush off the west side of the lake. We took my dog, Hudson. You have to go through people’s cottage properties to get there and it’s entirely unmarked. You basically go up an un-maintained grassy road to the first big birch, and take a left into the bush, whereupon a faint trail becomes clear.
After about ten minutes, you arrive at a white picket fenced-in area under an enormously gnarled birch. There are two headstones there, one In Memory of Ja’s Watson, the first white person buried at Canoe Lake the other for a child, Alexander Hayhurst.
And then there’s the question of Thomson’s body.
His family had his body exhumed in two days after its burial at Mowat cemetery and moved to Leith, Ontario. Now it is believed by some that the body was never moved.
According to our friend Jackie, whose family has been on the lake for generations (and whose uncle’s cottage was visited many times by members of the Group), this photo below is where Thompson is actually buried. There is a white cross nearby which is apparently a relic from a CBC documentary.
Although Thompson was essentially unschooled as a painter, he was arguably the most impressive of the Group of Seven.
A great resource for information on the mystery can be found at THIS website.
The Jack Pine, 1916-17 is probably Thomsons most famous painting. It’s now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.