Blodwen Davies, "Chapter 15: Nineteen Seventeen", A Study of Tom Thomson, 1935


“I know what I’m going to do now,” said Thomson, folding up his rod. “I’m going down to West or Gill Lake, and get a big fellow, — there’s lots of them there, — and after dark tonight I’ll put it on his doorstep with a note. I’ll make Robinson think I got the old fellow here.”

He was very much amused over his idea, and anxious to be off to put his jest into execution. Thomson and Fraser started back around the end of the lake and arrived at Mowatt Lodge somewhere between twelve and one o’clock.

Thomson got his canoe ready for the trip and stowed away food and utensils for a meal or two. He had no bread at the cabin, so he drew up at Mowatt Lodge dock, while Fraser went up to the store for a loaf. Thomson tucked it away under the bow.

The morning had turned grey. There was a light east wind blowing, with a drizzle of rain. Thomson bid the crowd that had gathered on the dock a gay farewell and in a very engaging mood set out on his mission to carry out a practical joke on a fellow fisherman.

Mowatt Lodge stood on the side of Canoe Lake. A short distance down the lake and separated from the mainland by only a narrow channel, is Little Wapomeo Island, the property of Taylor Statten, who had a cottage on it. At the time the cottage was empty. The channel between the island and the mainland was choked with drowned timber, so Thomson paddled around to the east of Little Wap, then passed out of sight of Mowatt Lodge and the cottages round about it. He swung in across the channel between Little Wap and its sister island, Big Wapomeo, apparently with the intention of hugging the main shore until he came to the portaging place by which he would cross over into one of the little lakes where the big trout were to be found.

* *

Who met Tom Thomson on that stretch of grey lake, screened from all eyes, that July noon?

Who was it struck him a blow across the right temple – and was it done with the thin edge of a paddle blade? – that sent the blood spurting from his ear?

Who watched him crumple up and topple over the side of the canoe and sink slowly out of sight without a struggle?

* *

When Thomson did not return that night, there was no alarm on the part of any of his friends. If they discussed it at all, they must have concluded that the fish were not biting and that he was challenged to continue. He had food with him and a groundsheet.

[…] What had happened? Did Thomson’s body take eight days to rise in a shallow lake in the middle of July?

[…] The morning of Monday, July 16th., was a little brighter and Dr. Howland took his small daughter out trolling on the lake. It was about nine o’clock when the child felt something heavy on the end of her line.

“I’ve got something on my line,” the child said

“Let me see what it is,” her father replied and took the troll out of her hands.

As Dr. Howland hauled up the heavy burden on the line he saw, slowly emerging from the shadowy depths, the figure of a man.

“I think we’ll just let it go,” he said quietly, and let the line slip back over the edge of the boat.

As soon as they were informed of the discovery, George Rowe and Larry Dixon paddled to the spot and secured the body. […]

Seven witnesses testified to what they knew of the case and death was declared to be due to “accidental drowning”.

No one remarked that only a living body could be bruised or could bleed, or that Thomson’s lungs were filled with air, not with water.


Source: Blodwen Davies, ""Nineteen-Seventeen," in A Study of Tom Thomson" in A Study of Tom Thomson, (Toronto: Discus Press, 1935), 122-125

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