By Ted Simpson –
Tom Thomson, famed Canadian painter and member of the Group of Seven, died 100 years ago this July. You can follow the events leading up to his untimely death and the aftermath of that event on Twitter right now, thanks to the dedicated effort of Westboro Beach resident, Tim Bouma.
Tim curates the Twitter account, @TTLastSpring, where Tom Thomson himself tells the stories of his final days on earth, leading up to his mysterious death on July 8, 1917. The account delves into Thomson’s personal journals, historical records, and the artist’s paintings and sketches to create a thorough, day-by-day retelling.
The account has been active since 2011, each year telling a more refined and detailed account of these events.
For Tim, the fascination with Thomson has been going on far longer than 2011. Thomson grew up in the small town of Leith, Ontario* (near Owen Sound, on Georgian Bay), and so did Tim. For residents of Leith, Thomson is a hometown hero.
Owen Sound has an art gallery of Thomson’s work. “He’s part of the fabric there,” says Tim. “I’ve always had a childhood connection,” says Tim. “The farm I grew up on, relatives of Tom owned that farm, I’ve known Tom all my life, I have relatives buried in the same cemetery he’s supposed to be buried in.”
Thomson is best known as a landscape painter, travelling to Algonquin Park and returning with sketches that he would transform into vibrant works of art in his Toronto studio. Thomson’s work is cited as a major influence on the Canadian painters who would form the Group of Seven, though he died before the group was officially formed.
Thomson was an avid fisherman and outdoorsman who began visiting Algonquin Park in 1912 and served as a fire ranger in the park and fishing guide. Which is why, to this day, a mystery surrounds his death on a routine trip to Canoe Lake.
Thomson set out in his canoe in the early afternoon of July 8, 1917. Only hours later, it was spotted upside down. His body was found in the same lake eight days later.
Over the decades, a debate has carried on over the circumstances of Thomson’s death. Speculation is that maybe it was an accident, maybe it was murder, maybe it was death by natural causes; the mystery continues to this day.
“The facts and the circumstances don’t really add up to a neat and tidy conclusion,” says Tim, who holds his own ideas on Thomson’s death, but keeps that a secret, for now. “I don’t want to lay my hat on one specific theory,” says Tim.
Once the Twitter account reaches Thomson’s demise, and the events that follow – including a questionable exhumation and reburial – the timeline goes into a sort of hibernation before restarting again in November. “I call it the haunting period from August till November,” says Tim.
For Tim, the project started as a little experiment in social media, a curiosity, in 2011 Twitter was starting to explode as an international communication medium. Now the account has grown to over 7,000 followers and attracted major media attention. Tim remained anonymous as the page’s curator for years, only coming out for a Globe and Mail article. Still, Tim keeps his distance from the page, letting Tom speak for himself, “When people see Tom, it’s like he’s got a smartphone in 1917,” says Tim.
For followers of the page, the death of Tom Thomson becomes a sort of annual tradition, with each year the story growing and evolving, as social media grows and evolves. Each year Tom’s voice becomes a little more defined and each year the mystery of his death becomes that much more fascinating.
“I feel like the man behind the curtain, I get about 100 interactions per day, a nice cross section of people that love art, people that love nature, people that love history,” says Tim.
Follow Tim’s Twitter account at www.twitter.com/TTLastSpring. * The original version of this article incorrectly stated that the population of Leith Ontario has a population of 10,000 residents. We regret the error.
* The original version of this article stated that Leith, Ontario has a population of 10,000 residents. This is incorrect and we regret the error.