Discovering Canadian Artist Tom Thomson (or, I'm No Match for a Moose)

We set off in search of his (supposed) grave, but alas were thwarted by the tracks of what looked like a momma moose and her calf. D., intoxicated by the thrill of the hunt for Tom Thomson's resting place, was keen on pushing on, but this chicky was in no mood to meet a moose on foot and unarmed.

So our adventure came to an end - at least for now.


This past weekend we drove a few hours north for a lakeside getaway and some hiking in Ontario's Algonquin Park. The park, known among other things for its wildlife, wilderness and fall colours, was a source of inspiration for a group of painters who struggled "to free themselves from the artistic traditions of England" and "carve out a distinctly Canadian identity."* They were the Group of Seven.

D. and I quickly became interested in their counterpart and predecessor, Canadian artist Tom Thomson.

* The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson - An Introduction, by Anne Newlands

Spring Ice by Tom Thomson

Spring Ice by Tom Thomson

We didn't set out with the intention of immersing ourselves into the park's history and the life of its infamous painter, but once I mentioned that it would be neat to see where Thomson's mysterious death took place, D. was on the case!

Using his uncanny Googling abilities, D. found out that Thomson was buried at an old gravesite in the woods along Canoe Lake, where he spent much time sketching and fishing (though whether the grave actually contains his remains or those of someone else is apparently still debated). The next day, armed with a few online forum exchanges containing directions to the grave and shoddy cell phone reception, we set forth to find it on foot.

About three kilometers in and two kilometers away from our target - at least that's what we think, based on our calculations - we encountered moose tracks. The rest is history.

Moose track with my hand, for scale. It may not have been fresh, but I wasn't in the mood to find out!

Moose track with my hand, for scale. It may not have been fresh, but I wasn't in the mood to find out!

Of course D. was disappointed and I felt awful for bringing our adventure to an abrupt end, but all was not lost.

Although we didn't reach our final destination, the journey was fruitful:

We learned more about Thomson - D. about the mystery surrounding his death and I about his painting and relationship to the Group of Seven, i.e. that he died before they formed. I always thought he was part of the Group.

We discovered that there was a mill town called Mowat along Algonquin's Canoe Lake, once the largest town in the Park, that is now abandoned. Now we want to seek out its remains too.

We shared in adventure, discovery and learning. D. was practically giddy.

We hiked about six kilometers, which is more than we'd hiked in a long time.

Now that we have a better idea of where his grave is located, we have something to return to the next time we're up there.

So I guess it's true what they say, sometimes the journey can be just as good as the destination.

But the thrill of the hunt still beckons.

Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of Tom Thomson's mysterious death and both D. and I concur that finding that grave in the woods he loved so much would be a great way to commemorate it.

Assuming, of course, that the moose will let us get on our merry way.


Further resources: