Don Delaplante, "Long a Mystery of Art World Body May Answer Riddle of Tom Thomson’s Death", The Globe and Mail, Oct. 10, 1956

Algonquin Park, Oct. 9 – A body dug from a wilderness grave on a hill overlooking picturesque Canoe Lake may answer the riddle of the death of Canadian painter Tom Thomson 39 years ago.

The body was discovered by four men, William Little, superintendent of the Ontario reformatory at Brampton, Jack Eastaugh, principal of the Norseman public school, Etobicoke, and Leonard Gibson and Frank Braught of Guelph.

The discovery is being investigated by the Attorney-General’s Department. It is reported there was a hole in the skull of the exhumed body, which was found in a rotted coffin in a pine box.

The death of Thomson, one of Canada’s foremost painters and a contemporary of the famous Group of Seven, has been a mystery of the Canadian art world for nearly four decades.

The discovery was made 10 days ago during a sketching trip by the four men. It was done on chance, said Mr. Little from his home in Brampton.

The men were not convinced that the artist died accidentally. They favored the theory that Thomson was a victim of foul play.

“We had paddled across the lake looking for a place to sketch. The north shore looked attractive so we pulled up near the site of the old Mowat Lodge. We gravitated up to the well-known place where residents of the lake believed Thomson was buried.”

There were two marked graves on the hill about a quarter of a mile inland from the west shore. One was the grave of Alexander Hayhurst, 8, who died in 1915 of diphtheria. The little boy’s family had a cottage at the lake and because of the nature of the disease authorities forbade his body to be carried from the bush.

The other is that of James Watson, a lumberjack employed by the Gilmour Lumber Co. who died May 25, 1891.

The mystery grave was found between 12 and 15 feet north of Watson’s grave. According to an old story here Thomson had been buried a few feet north of a tall white birch tree which now towers about 150 feet in the air.

Mr. Little said they had no thought of searching for the grave when they left on the trip but once in the area they decided the opportunity was there for them to make an attempt, just to satisfy their own curiosity.

“We found it on the third try,” he said.

There were three depressions in the ground. The party dug the conventional five to six feet in the first two depressions, and found nothing.

“The other was a chance discovery. We had practically given up our digging. Then I caught hold of what I thought was a small root but it turned out to be a pine plank. This led us to believe that we had discovered something.”

They soon unearthed what seemed to be the remains of a rough pine box and a coffin and some bones. They got in touch with Dr. Harold Ebbs of Toronto, who was holidaying at the lake at the time.

“We got him to view the bones we had. I think he realized the significance of the discovery. We then closed the grave immediately. We were satisfied that we knew what we had found. Dr. Ebbs then advised the proper authorities.”

Mr. Little said the Attorney-General’s Department has stepped into the case and a pathological examination of the bones was to be made.

He said Dr. Ebbs believed the bones belonged to a white man about 40 years of age.

Dr. Noble Sharpe, medical director of the Attorney-General’s crime detection laboratory said last night he is currently examining the bones.

“However, I would be very surprised if these were Thomson’s bones. That story is only a local legend.”

He confirmed there was a hole in the skull, but from a cursory examination he did not feel it was caused by a blunt instrument or a bullet.

“It is more likely perfectly normal erosion.”

Dr. Sharpe said he received the bones, making up a complete human skeleton, during the weekend. In the next two or three weeks he will try to determine the age, size and racial origin of the person and check for [four words illegible] thought the bones had been interred for at least 50 years.


Thomson was staying at Mowat’s Lodge, about a quarter of a mile from the grave when he met his death. He is reported to have been on poor terms with a man at the lodge, which was burned to the ground about 30 years ago.

However, some residents think the body may be that of an unidentified lumberjack who worked for the Gilmour firm many years ago. Mrs. Jean Chittendon said she had been told there are several unmarked graves adjacent to those of Hayhurst and Watson.

Source: Don Delaplante, "Long a Mystery of Art World: Body May Answer Riddle of Tom Thomson’s Death," The Globe and Mail, October 10, 1956

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