The Tragedy

[ In the Northland ]

In the Northland, Tom Thomson, 1915, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1922.179, Oil on canvas, 101.7 X 114.5 cm. Photo : The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Denis Farley. Gift of the Friends of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

During the summer of 1917, Tom Thomson’s death in Ontario’s Algonquin Park shocked his friends and family. Almost immediately, rumours began to circulate that the cause of death declared by the coroner — ‘accidental drowning’ — might not be the correct cause of death.

You will find here a variety of documents created by Thomson before his death, by people who were in contact with Thomson in the months before the tragedy, and by those who were involved in its immediate aftermath. These documents, created at or near the time of his death, cannot provide us with an eye-witness account of what happened to Thomson, because no witnesses to his death have ever come forward. You will find a number of accounts of the events surrounding the tragedy — reports describing Thomson’s disappearance, the search that followed, and the discovery of his body. Some of these documents may contain vital evidence about what happened. Other documents offer ‘background’ information that might help you piece together how Thomson died, as well as answer the question ‘why’.

As you read these accounts, take careful notes. More than one theory regarding the cause of Thomson’s death emerged at the time, and you will want to gauge whose testimony seems most believable, and what unanswered questions the testimony leaves you with.