Algonquin Outfitters

The Suspense and Mystery of an Algonquin Death

Tom ThomsonIt’s been 95 years since Tom Thomson took his final paddle on Canoe Lake yet the mystery and drama still surround his death today.  No one really knows how his fateful paddle ended or who ended it for him.  Many historians and fans have tried for years to piece it together yet there is always something missing.  Today many canoers are taking to Canoe Lake to honour the artist and there is an account on twitter that has been sharing with his loyal fans Thomson’s last spring.

I myself am a Tom Thomson fan.  I love his paintings, the mystery, and the intrigue that comes with trying to solve the mystery.  I myself have canoed on Canoe Lake many times.  I’ve even hiked up to the cairn and paid my respects.

Tom ThomsonTom was born in Claremount, Ontario to John and Margaret Thomson.  He grew up in Leith, which is close to Owen Sound.  He went to business school in Chatham, Ontario only to drop out and join his brother George out in Seattle, Washington for a time.  He then moved back to Toronto where he worked for Grip Ltd. which was an artistic design house.  It was in 1912 that Tom discovered Algonquin Park and for 5 years he kept returning in the early spring while ice was still on the lake and returning in the late fall when the ice would start to form again.  During these five years, especially in the last two, was when Tom painted his most memorable works like the West Wind, and the Jack Pine.

His death has never been formally solved.  The cause of death was stated as drowning yet there was no water within his lungs.  He had a hole in the side of his temple and blood was running out of his ear.  Around his ankle was copper fishing line.

There are 7 possible fates:Tom Thomson

  1. Accidental Drowning
  2. Suicide
  3. Murder by Martin Blecher
  4. Murder by Hugh Trainor
  5. Murder by Shannon Fraser
  6. Murder by a poacher
  7. Disappearance

Fate 1 and 2 are fairly hard to believe yet possible.  It’s hard to think that a good woodsmen like Thomson would stand up in a canoe and fall overboard hitting a rock on the way down.  Fate 7 is most likely false.  The most likely cause of death was murder but by who is the question.  Hugh Trainor might have had it in for Tom, especially if Winnie (his daughter) was pregnant (which was rumored).  Hugh also supposedly discovered Tom’s canoe overturned close to shore.  Shannon Fraser and Tom got into an argument the night before and it was reported that both were rather drunk at a party the night before.  Shannon reportedly saw Tom canoe by on his way fishing.  Martin Blecher had a nasty temper at times and may have had a grip with Tom.  Tom’s body was discovered 8 days after his death and was quickly given an autopsy by the coroner they called in.  The body was supposedly transported to the family plot in Leith.  Rumors abound today that the body remained within the cemetary in Mowat by the shores of Canoe Lake.

Tom ThomsonHowever he died remains a mystery but people’s love for Tom Thomson grew after his death!  Some paintings have sold for almost 2 million dollars.  There are paintings hung in the National Gallery in Ottawa, the Tom Thomson Gallery in Leith, and the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg.  Take the time to go visit these displays as well as take a paddle along the lakes that Tom frequented.  You will discover his love for Algonquin through both his work and his journey.

Those of us who have twitter have had the privilege of being able to follow Tom as he recounts his movements and life over the course of his last fateful spring up in Algonquin.  As well Winnie Trainor has taken to the twitter movement sharing with us how she feels and what she’s heard around the lake.  If you want to follow either accounts you can Tom is: @ttlastspring and Winnie is: @winnietrainor.

Rest in Peace Tom.  May you ever paddle on into the mist!Jenn Kerr's Twitter Link

~Enjoy your trip

Jenn Kerr
Guest Blogger from AlgonquinBlog


  • RandyM says:

    You can explore the mystery of Tom Thomson’s fate and the story that never was by searching the following hash tags on twitter #ttfate1 #ttfate2 #ttfate3 #ttfate4 #ttfate5 #ttfate6 #ttfate7

  • Margaret Garcia says:

    Very well written post. It will be valuable to anybody who utilizes it, as well as myself. Keep doing what you are doing – for sure i will check out more posts.

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