Ninety-five years ago this week the Great Canadian Mystery began. On July 8, 1917, Canadian painter Tom Thomson went missing in Ontario’s bush country. To this day, no one knows for sure how he died, or what exactly happened to his body after his bush country burial.
Thomson was a moody bachelor who spent much of his time in Algonquin Park, canoeing, fishing and painting. His art work always is associated with the Group of Seven, founded after his death, because all these artists shared a vision of distinct Canadian art connected to the Canadian landscape.
On the morning of July 8, Thomson went fishing on Canoe Lake in Algonquin and disappeared. His body was found floating in the lake eight days later. A quick investigation ruled his canoe had overturned, or he had fallen out of it.
There have been decades of speculation that he was murdered by a summer resident from Buffalo, New York, or died the night before in an accident during a drinking party.
It was a hot week and Thomson’s body was buried almost immediately at the lake because it was decaying rapidly. His brother George was notified and he sent an undertaker to the lake to disinter his brother’s body and return it to his parents’ home near Owen Sound for burial. There is speculation that the undertaker, who went to the Canoe Lake gravesite at night, did not dig up the body and sent an empty coffin back to George Thomson.
It is a fascinating story that has intrigued Canadians for almost a century. People continue to try to figure out how Thomson died, and whether his remains lie at Canoe Lake, or near Owen Sound.
More on the Thomson mystery can be found in my book: Tom Thomson: The Life and Mysterious Death of the Famous Canadian Painter, available at Amazon or wherever you buy books.