Taylor Statten, Interview with Mark Robinson, Oct. 1956

Reproduced in William T. Little, The Tom Thomson Mystery, 1970.

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[...] I was detailed to watch Joe Lake Station and Canoe Lake Station. We were to take the names of such

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persons as come to the station – got off at the stations – find out their destination, their… the time they would spend in the Park and also what was going to be their work or, general, well, I might say what they were going to do at this time in regard to whatever they were – artists or doctors, or tourists or such. We’d find that out and assist them in every way we could and also if it became necessary, search their packs to find if they was any such as trappers proceeding under disguise of such persons.

One evening as I went to Canoe Lake, a couple of Rangers had joined me, and we went down to Canoe Lake and as the train come in, drew to a stop, a tall, fine-looking young man with a packsack on his back stepped off the train. “There’s your man,” someone said to me. I went over to him and tried to explain to him as nicely and politely and I saw at once that the man was not the man we were after. But, he inquired then that he would like to find a place to stay, and where he could get a good bed and good “eats,” as he called it, “good meals.”

Well, I explained to him that the Algonquin Hotel was a short distance away, about a quarter of a mile, and also that there was Mowat Lodge about a mile and a half distance – there was a man by the name of Fraser at a stopping place known as Mowat Lodge where he could get good meals and excellent beds.

“I think that’s the place for me. How far did you say?”

“Mile and a half,” and I said, “Mr. Fraser’s right here, I will introduce him to you.”

I did and Mr. Fraser said, “Well, I think we can make room for you, we’re pretty well filled but we’ll try and provide some room for you some place.”

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Fact of the matter was, Mr. Fraser had two guests, and Tom loaded up his stuff into Mr. Fraser’s wagon and he went down with him to his home.


Well, a couple of nights later I was down at the station and the foreman’s sister, a bright girl of about 16 who had never had the advantages of school – of a school education – she couldn’t read her own name or write it, but, if she was behind in her education that way, she was not in the way of household duties. She could make us nice bread, pies, cakes or anything of that kind – cook a meal that would be the envy of any woman. This young lady on this evening came out as Tom came to me and he asked me if I’d like to see some of his boards. He called them his sketcher boards – that was his way of naming them – and he said, “I’d like to show you some of them,” and I said, I’d be pleased to see them, so this

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little girl – not little girl – she stepped up looking past my shoulders and she looked at them as they went and he pulled one out.

“Oh!” she said, “just like the alders were a week ago.”

I wish you could have seen Tom Thomson’s face. It just lit up with a regular glow. He afterwards told me that that was the finest compliment he had received up to that time. “Why,” he said, “I knew that girl had probably never seen a sketch in her life and yet she had saw that very thing I wanted to produce in my picture,” he said, “in the sketch. She saw it all there. I knew I was going places,” he said, and, “it was a great encouragement to me.”


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[...] This was in 1912.

In 1913, he was back early in the spring, and sketching, the ice going out and, oh, various phases of the weather and trees coming into their bud. Oh, lot of stuff like that he was trying to get at – the ice breaking up – went on

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through the summer, he thought he’d guide a little. […]

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The spring of 1914 he was back again. He took out a guide’s licence, but he was doing more sketching that spring than usual. I understand that that winter he had done a couple of canvasses in Toronto. I rather think that Dr. MacCallum had purchased them, probably to encourage Tom in his work. However, he went on sketching, then the war broke out. Well, most of the boys with any blue blood in their veins enlisted at once. Tom endeavoured to do the same thing. He was turned down and he felt very keenly about it, went to Toronto and tried it there. Turned down again. Went to some outside point in the country; was again turned down. Then he came back to the Park. I remember him

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looking around and counting the boys that had gone, lot of them had become his friends, and he threw his heart right into painting and that fall and he – but I’m getting ahead of my story.

The autumn before he had painted the maples in their color, and when this was reproduced in Toronto it caused a good deal of discussion and the other artists in – many of them – you would remember their names if I could recall them, were, well, they had the idea that Tom had overdone the matter. Well, the fall of 1914, those artists were all up here at Mowat Lodge chiefly at the insistence of Tom Thomson that they come and see the colors as they really were. I had been dispatched down to Tea Lake Dam on some business and going down to the Dam I hadn’t noticed any of the artists around, but coming back they were all on the little island as you come up where the people would usually camp – it goes down there in the centre part of the lake. I paddled quietly; I was careful not to scrape the edge of the canoe as I slipped by. I thought no one had seen me although I’d seen Tom ever so slightly just turn his head, but I could overhear the conversation and I could hear Dr. MacCallum, I believe, if I remember right, there’s a man called Rigden, Brig – Brigen, Bridgen, Rigden, Rigden and Lismer I think was there, and I forget the others. I don’t think A. Y. Jackson was in that group that time. I guess Beatty was, I forget who they were now, but anyway, they were discussing, and they were saying, “Tom, you did not overdo it, it’s all there and a lot more.” But Tom was trying to explain to them that this is another season and the colors are more brilliant this season than they were last! He said, “It’ll account for your view of the criticism of my previous sketch.”

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[...] Well, anyway, in 1914 the colors, you see, were more brilliant than ’13 and he did continual sketching and so did his companions, and on in the autumn he stayed on a little while, not as late as the winter before. He went home, I think, about November.

But the spring of 1914, Tom was back and he…was full of dash and vim. 1915, yes he was back, it was 1915, I got it wrong; but he was back in 1915 and he came up to my place and he said, “Well, I’ve done my best to enlist and I cannot but I’m going to go with the Fire Ranging. I’ve been to see them at the Department and I can get on Fire Ranging and if I cannot fill a place in the Army, I can fill a place here at home of a man who’s gone to the Army,” and he seemed pleased that he could do that. Well, he left shortly after that. [...]

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[...] A few days after Tom had been in the house, I received a telegram one morning, “Report For Duty With The Active Service Forces.” I left in about an hour and twenty minutes after on a freight train. I did not see Tom Thomson again until the spring of 1917.


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[...] Now, as he went on and a few days – not such a few days, but several days later — … couple or three weeks

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later, he came in at the house one day and he looked around. “You know,” he says, “I have something unique in art that no other artist has ever attempted,” and I can hear him, “I have a record of the weather for 62 days, rain or shine, or snow, dark or bright, I have a record of the day in a sketch. I’d like to hang them around the walls of your cabin here.” Well, Tom and I had a little talk and I assured him that he’d be welcome to do so if he’d accept the responsibility as I couldn’t do so, as I wouldn’t be present probably all summer – never knew when I’d be called away and some of them might disappear and I wouldn’t feel that I would be responsible.

He said, “I’ll accept all responsibility and I’ll hang them around the wall here one of those days.”

I think that was about four or five days before he disappeared and as we discussed it – the hanging of those pictures fully – he mentioned some other sketches he had made, and if I remember right, he said something about the fishing that he and I were doing, and there was a big trout below Tea Lake Dam – Joe Lake Dam I mean to say — and this big trout, both of us had been trying to get it. We’d had it hooked different times and both of us had failed to catch the fish; he was making his own bugs and I was using any contrivance I could. Hook would be a certain size, and we both were trying to play the game that way, but neither of us got the fish. But this particular Sunday that Tom disappeared, I’d went up in the morning and received instructions to proceed to Source Lake up the railroad to see some wood that had been cut and piled out there, and see if the ranger that was there was looking after it right. Just why I received that instructions I don’t know, but I went and carried it out and my oldest boy had arrived from Barrie and I had taken John

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with me that morning – wrapped him in my old trench coat to keep out the rain and the strong wind. [It] was blowing down from the north east, slightly north east, and it splashed in his face – in our faces as we went up. I looked over the wood and returned with the section foreman on his car back down to Joe Lake. This was on a Sunday, and it time, John and I, we had our lunch, and while I was preparing it, I noticed Tom going up with Mrs. Coulson and Mr. Coulson up to their hotel. He had a cup of tea with them and I suppose a piece of cake and pie and so on.

After a while, I saw Shannon Fraser that run the Mowat Lodge come walking up past the station and turn and go up along the other side of the river from my cabin and Tom came down almost at the same time from the Coulson’s. He seemed to be carrying, I thought, a fishing rod or somethin’ – I wasn’t sure of it – but the tow of them came down to Joe Lake Dam. I was standing watching them. I took my glasses out to see if Tom was going to have a try for the trout, and he was pointing out something to Mr. Fraser, and I made up my mind Tom was going to try for the trout, and I guessed he’d get it that time. I ran down the shore, up the path by my side and I sat down looking down on the two fellas down below me – Tom casting. Presently, he go the trout on and it played, as least I thought he was going to land it, but it got away. He sort of smiled and said, “Well, Shannon,” he said, “I guess I’ll go down to Tea Lake Dam, or to West Lake or to Gills Lake, and I’ll catch a big trout and I’ll bring it home and I’ll put it on Mark’s doorstep; he’ll think I’ve got the fish.” And I sat right above them looking at them. Well, Tom hadn’t seen me, I sat still and as he went up onto the bank and turned,

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Tom looked back and I waved to him, “Howdy,” he says.

That’s the last time Tom Thomson spoke to me. And he went home, from the evidence that was given at the inquest he had gone to his home, to this little cottage up here that used to be known as “the Mess,” now Mr. Trainor’s. He’d come down there and got his canoe and his fishing tackle and was going away to catch fish, and Mr. Fraser was going to the house, Mowat Lodge, and bring him down a loaf of bread and an extra supply of bacon. He did so and put it in the front of the canoe, and took a rubber sheet, kinda wrapped around it, and then covered it all in with that, thataway. I may say that the food was still in his canoe when the canoe was found, and just as Mr. Fraser placed it. He left there at 1.30 by Mr. Fraser’s evidence…and several people that were stopping at Mowat Lodge assured me that that was about the time they saw Mr. Thomson leave the place.

A while later, the Bletchers, Miss Bletcher and her brother, had passed going down the lake and saw the canoe upside down, in the water. They didn’t turn the canoe up, they said; they just went on and left it there, and when they returned, the canoe had drifted in someplace. They said it was five minutes after three, that’s what they gave in their evidence at the inquest – five or six minutes – something like that it was, after three, at least we tried to give an exact time and both swore the same in giving their evidence at the inquest. And where was Tom Thomson from half past one to something after three, which would be another hour and a half, in traveling about? Well, hardly half a mile. There was something fishy.

However, it went on and the next morning Charlie

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Scrim came to my place and he, tears running down his cheeks, a little tear would trickle down once in a while, “Mark,” he says, “they found Tom Thomson’s canoe, and it’s floating upside down, just in back here, just back this direction, in there against the shore.” Now the water was not near as high as it is now and how that canoe got in there in that condition it was I’ll never know, or anybody else I guess. However, in the Algonquin Story it tells you the canoe was floating right side up. That’s absolutely false. I’m the man that took that canoe and turned it over and examined what was in the canoe; there was none of his equipment in it -…his little axe even was gone – and the paddles were tied in for carrying – his paddle that he used in paddling was not there. If he’d had it with him, we never found it afterwards. However, I reported to Mr. Bartlett and he instructed me to go into the woods and see if I could find Thomson.

I traveled every day that week in this woods here down to the south of us, and west of the lake. I covered all that country as much as I could, my oldest boy and I, and I found no trace of him. Couldn’t find where his track even led to Wilson, or to, not Wilson, but to Gill Lake. And I would return home each night and I’d report to Mr. Bartlett and he sent three or four other Rangers and they traveled the east side of the lake here and the south side, and some of the lake lower down towards Tea Lake, Tea Lake Dam; found no trace of him. Saturday night I’d returned late and he said, “Look Mark,” he says, “you must be tired traveling so much.”

I said, “I am, but,” I said, “I can still travel more. I’d like to find Thomson.” I said, “He must have broken a limb or broken a leg or fallen someplace and injured himself, but,” I said, “I’ve walked all over the bush,” I

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said, “I’ve fired shots and I’ve blown my whistle, and,” I said, “he knows my signal with the whistle as well as anyone does, and,” I said, “I cannot find a trace of him.”

“Take a rest tomorrow,” he said. Well, I did rest on Sunday, preparing to go out determined to find him on Monday.

Early Monday morning, Charlie Scrim come walking to the door, tears running down his cheeks. “Mark,” he said, “they’ve found Tom’s body.”

I turned to him and I said, “What?”

“They’ve found Tom’s body.”


He said, “Dr. Howland.”

“Dr. Howland,” I says, “is stopping in this very building.”

He said Dr. Howland had been sitting out the front door and saw down here to the right, something rise in the water, and Lowrie Dickson and George Rowe, the two old guides, were paddling down the lake and he called to them to come over this way and see what this was that came up. Old George said it’s so and so kind of a loon, and well, the Doctor – I wish you would look at – oh well, paddled over and George shouts back, “It’s Thomson’s body.”

Now it was found in a line from here back of Guilder’s Point, down in there was, was where his body was found. And they asked what he’d do with it. Well he said, “Have you a rope?” They said they had. “Well, just take his body over to the shore and tie it to a tree there out in the water, and,” he said, “then report it to the authorities.”

Well, they did that, and Mr. Trainor and George Rowe it was, took down a blanket and put it over his body in the water and then, of course, Charlie Scrim come up

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and reported to me, and I reported to Mr. Bartlett at once, and he placed me in charge of the case altogether then. He says, “You’ll have to handle it for the government.”

Well, I didn’t have the chance to handle it myself; if I had there’d been more done about it.

However, I came down, saw where the body was tied and Mr. Bartlett told me, he says, “I’ll phone the coroner at once and have him come at once. Don’t touch that body until the coroner comes.” Dr. Ranney was the coroner at North Bay.

All that day Tom’s body lay in the water, that night, the next day and the next night. Well, he was my friend and that was getting under the skin pretty badly, and I called the Superintendent in the morning and I said, “Look Mr. Bartlett, Thomson was my friend and I hate to think of him lying there.” I said, “It’s not right.”

He said “I agree with you.”

I said, “There’s two undertakers here, Mr. Flavelle from Kearney and Roy Dixon from Sprucedale. They have a coffin and a case for a coffin and we can take his body out and do the best we can with it anyway.”

“He says, “You go right down, take that body out of the water and have the undertakers fix it up as well as they can.” And he said, “Have it buried over in the little cemetery.”

Well, that’s over here at the back of the old mill property. I was also instructed to go to the little house up here and look see what was around there and Mr. Trainor and I found – I forget – it was 40 I guess, or somewheres, maybe less of the 62 pictures, or sketches that were laying around there and there was several letters, most of them was from Miss Trainor. They were just ordinary boy and

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girl letters, there was nothing extraordinary about them, and there was nothing in any way to think there was anything wrong with them, so I read them; there was one still to be opened, I opened it and I handed them back to Mr. Trainor. I said, “Your daughter’s letters to Tom,” I said, “keep them, give them to her,” and I expect he did so. We never asked for them afterwards for there was nothing in them in any way to cause any feelings of any kind, one way or another.

We came over, took the body, we brought it over here across from Guilder’s Point, around on to the point of Big Wapomeo there. I’d got a couple of planks and we laid them on some rocks just near there – Council Ring – and we took the body out there. It was badly swollen, and around the left ankle there was a fishing line wrapped 16 or 17 times. Now that wasn’t tangled up all over – there’s a report that his legs were tangled up in a fishing line; that’s not so. This was wrapped on as carefully, right around and around and around and Roy Dixon asked me if I had a sharp knife, and I said I had, and he said, “Will you just remove those strings?” And I did; and I counted them. That’s why I know that there was 16 or 17. I have it down in my diary and notebook just exactly how many there were. But I let them drop down and Doctor Howland and the undertakers were – at the time they were probing to find if there was water in the lungs. There was no water in the lungs when we washed his body up and they made a nice clean job of it, and reduced the swelling so that we could put him into the coffin quite natural, but across the left temple here there was a mark, it looked as it he had been struck – struck with the edge of a paddle, just up across the left temple like that. […]

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Well, when his body was all ready, embalmed – they used double the amount of embalming fluid that had been used – and the undertakers assured me that his body would keep for several weeks or months, we put his body in the coffin and I went and reported to Mr. Barlett. He said, “Place him in the grave.” We took him across and placed him in a little grave – his grave over here at the little cemetery – and the grave was dug good and deep by the two old guides – about 6 foot 4 inches I think it was dug in depth, and the shell was put in. We placed the casket in it, there was a funeral service read, I had taken my little Anglican Prayer Book that was given when I was a boy – I generally carried it with me – and he, Mr. Bletcher Senior, read the service from it, and a very nice funeral was held. There was several from the Hotel in attendance and around about.

About two hours after we’d laid him at rest, I received a message that the coroner would arrive at my place. The train was stopped to let him off there and I was to have the witnesses summoned. Well, I got a hustle on – bustled around. About 10:30 that evening the train pulled up in front of the old – there at the Ranger’s house and Dr. Ranney got off. Well, we had a cup of tea – he hadn’t had anything to eat for some time – and we proceeded down here to, to the little house up where Tom stopped, Trainor’s, Mr. Trainor’s house. Mr. Bletcher came over and invited us to all go over to his place. Dr. Ranney accepted it and we went over there. Mr. Bletcher provided a first-class dinner and everything went on swimmingly as far as that part was concerned.

The inquest opened, and it says in the – now here’s

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where the Algonquin Story is all wrong – in this respect. Dr. Ranney never saw his body. He never – he didn’t arrive until after he was buried. And he…all he had to go by was the evidence given at the inquest. Dr. Howland was there and gave his evidence among others and almost before we had time, Dr. Ranney, said, “Clearly a case of accidental drowning; accidental drowning is the verdict.” One of the old guides started to remonstrate a little but, “The case is closed.” So there’s the way it went. Well, we took, I took Dr. Ranney up to my place and put him to bed and in the morning after breakfast the train was coming through. He went on it and went away and he still assured me, “It’s a case of accidental drowning,” he said. That mark on the head could have been caused – but it was no use trying to say anything, that was settled as far as that was concerned.

About three days afterwards I went down to the Canoe Lake Station in the morning to meet the trains as usual, and here was a steel coffin all soldered up around the edge. I looked at it. I said, “What’s the idea?”

The gentleman standing there said, “What’s so and so to you?” I showed him my badge. He said, “I’m sorry,” he said, “I have Thomson’s body in there. It’s being taken to Owen Sound for burial.”

I asked him, I said, “Should you not have reported to the authorities before you touched a grave?” I said, “that’s an official cemetery over there.”

“No,” he says, “it’s not necessary; when I get instructions to remove a body, I do so.”

I went in to report to the Superintendent. He said, “Now, Mark we’ve had enough trouble over that thing,” he said. “I hope that you’ll let it settle,” he said, “say nothing about it; if they want to take the body, let them take it.”

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Well they…he took what passed off for his body anyway, and after he’d gone, the Superintendent called me up and he said, “Go down to the cemetery and if they haven’t filled the grave in, fill it in. Close it up,” he said. And I went down.

Now, in one corner of the grave was a hole about, I should…wouldn’t say it would be more than about 20 inches and down about that depth. Now any ground hog would make a bigger hole than that, and I’ve often seen ground hog holes twice as large as that was. Now, perhaps he took it out, God forgive me if I’m wrong about it, but I still think Thomson’s body is over there. And I may state right here and I think Thomson was struck on the head with a paddle by some person that afternoon. I don’t think Thomson died a natural death from drowning. Thank you. […]

Source: Mark Robinson, Interview with Mark Robinson, in Taylor Statten; edited by William T. Little, ed, The Tom Thomson Mystery (Toronto: Toronto, October 31, 1956), 183-210. Notes: Published by William T. Little in "The Tom Thomson Mystery", 1970

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