Tom Thomson

[ Tom Thomson ]

Tom Thomson, Unknown, Library and Archives Canada/Bibliotheque et Archives Canada, PA-121719, Box T2509

Over the course of your investigation, you will learn a lot about Tom Thomson. A few aspects of Thomson’s life might not emerge clearly from the documents reproduced here. This brief biography is intended to help you understand some references to events in Thomson’s life you might find in these documents.

Thomson was born in Claremont, Ontario (northeast of Toronto), in 1877. Soon thereafter, his family moved to Leith, Ontario, on the southwest side of Georgian Bay, a few kilometres east of the city of Owen Sound.

As a young man, he worked a variety of jobs. The furthest afield of these was located in Seattle, in the U. S. state of Washington, where several of his brothers were working. Thomson traveled there in 1902, working as a designer and illustrator. Returning to Ontario by 1905, he took up similar work in Toronto.

Co-workers in Toronto inspired Thomson to travel north in 1912, to explore the area known as ‘New Ontario’ by canoe. He immediately found the scenes there compelling, and returned often to paint. He particularly liked the Algonquin Park area, a few hours north of Toronto by train, and convinced a number of his friends to also visit there to make art.

With advice and support from an important patron, Dr. James MacCallum, and several artist friends, such as A. Y. Jackson, Thomson’s art began to show distinct promise. He sold works to the provincial and dominion governments, and began to generate more and more positive reviews.

In 1917, Thomson seemed on the verge of real artistic success. Almost immediately after his death, in an ironically tragic twist, his fame and reputation began to grow. Part of this transformation was related to the success of some his closest artistic friends, who banded together as the ‘Group of Seven’, and who quickly garnered significant interest as an important movement in Canadian art-making.

Of course, Thomson’s 1917 death meant we can never know what he might have contributed to the development of Canadian art. Many critics and historians speculate, however, that based on the works of his that remain, his progress and influence would have only become even more significant.

Tom Thomson, Letter to Dr. M.J. McRuer, October 17, 1912
Tom Thomson, Letter to Fred, July 8, 1914
Tom Thomson, Letter to Dr. James MacCallum, October 6, 1914
Tom Thomson, Letter to J.E.H. Macdonald, July 22, 1915
Tom Thomson, Letter to Dr. James MacCallum, October 4, 1916
Tom Thomson, Letter to Tom [T.J. Harkness], April 31, 1917
Tom Thomson, Letter to John Thomson, April 16, 1917
Tom Thomson, Letter to Dr. James MacCallum, April 21, 1917
Tom Thomson, Letter to Dr. James MacCallum, July 7, 1917