Sunday, August 21, 2016

Tom Thomson Tour in Algonquin Park

As I mentioned in my previous post, my husband and I spent ten days in Algonquin Park last week and had a marvelous time. This park is my favourite place, and I can't wait to return every year ... it's like coming home to me. We did lots of hiking, canoeing and biking through various sections of the park.

The best part of the trip, however, was being able to see our son a few times as he is working in the park all summer. He left home on June 27 and moved into a residence there with all the other employees at The Portage Store on Canoe Lake. He is having a blast and regaled us with all kinds of fun stories when he came back to our campsite for a couple of days. We did drive up once in July to see him and make sure all was well, but it's a three-hour drive for us, and we couldn't do it regularly. He's 18 and doesn't seem to miss home at all (huh!), although I'm missing him terribly (this is his first long time away from home).

Hard at work ;)

Once we got settled at our site ...

Our beautiful campsite, it was so private and overlooking the lake!
... we quickly drove over to the store to say hello to him. We were surprised to witness him and a few other guys tossing his old friend into the lake for his birthday dunk! So funny ... I quickly grabbed my phone for a photo. Many moons ago I cared for this same young man (and his older sister) in my daycare! We had the best times together back then. We met him in the park last summer when he started working there. One thing led to another and now both my son and this friend are working in the park.

My son works on Canoe Lake in the park, which has an interesting history through the logging days, and he wanted to share some of that with us. He told us to be at the lake early one morning for breakfast, and he was going to take us on a Tom Thomson Tour of all the interesting spots by canoe. Tom Thomson, a Canadian artist (1877 - 1917) spent a lot of time in Algonquin Park, and particularly on Canoe Lake.

Our first stop was on the northwestern part of the lake. There once was a town, Mowat, of about 500 people living and working at a sawmill there. The town is gone now and the area has reverted to wilderness, but there are a few relics remaining. Along the shore there are a few old homes from the logging town that have been converted to cottages. Tom Thomson frequented the Mowat Lodge, which was erected on the site of the sawmill. The lodge had many of Thomson's paintings hanging on the walls, although at that time Thomson wasn't making too much money off his paintings. Now his paintings will sell for over $1 million each. The lodge was rebuilt after one fire, but a second fire destroyed it for good.

This old log cabin is my favourite.

There was another cottage that we saw that was one of the original park buildings, but I didn't realize that until I read it in a book we bought. Next time I'll get a photo of that building too (also a cottage now). The park has a policy that all disused buildings must be dismantled or removed from the park to allow the grounds to return to their natural state. Unfortunately, most buildings with any history have been torn down. I find this annoying because I love to see old places. Even the quaint little log cabin railway stations were demolished. The cottages dotting the entire park, however, are allowed to remain since they are privately owned and the land is leased from the park. A bit of a double standard if you ask me. 

As I mentioned, Thomson spent a lot of time at Canoe Lake throughout all the different seasons. We paddled to one of his favourite areas to camp. We weren't sure if this is the exact location, but it was somewhere close to this (we were following a rather vague map) ...

We also visited the cairn built in his memory on top of a very steep hill. 

My son also showed us the area where Thomson's body had been found in 1917 in the water. There is a whole mystery as to how Tom Thomson actually died, did he drown or was he murdered? When his body was dragged from the lake, there was apparently a blow to his head, and his foot was wrapped in fishing wire. The coroner ruled it as a drowning without even seeing the body. This riddle will probably never be solved now, but it makes for an interesting story.

This is apparently a small cabin that Tom Thomson painted, but I haven't been able to find the painting (yet). The cabin is just before the portage from Canoe Lake to Joe Lake. It too is a private cottage now, but quite overgrown!

My son had us zigzagging back and forth across Canoe Lake a few times. It was a beautiful day with a good breeze making for nice paddling.  It was so nice to have our son by our side again in his kayak, and my husband and I in our canoe. We chatted the day away as we have always done on our canoe trips together. He was a very good guide and kept us entertained!

He saved the most interesting spot for the very last. We paddled back across Canoe Lake and stopped at a large rock along the shore beside the former town of Mowat. Just into the woods we could see old stone foundations that were once part of the sawmill (and later Mowat Lodge). As you can see the forest is happily reclaiming this space, and it was quite dark and very quite under the pines. It's hard to imagine there was a bustling and noisy sawmill here so many years ago.

We then continued on foot through the woods to a narrow one-lane grassy road. This is now used by the cottagers, but at one time it was the link to the rail station further up the lake. From the road we detoured into the woods again along a narrow footpath through thick brush for quite a ways. Raspberry canes scratched at our legs in the sunny spots, and pine branches dragged at us in the shady spots. Until we at last came to this small clearing with an amazing huge birch tree residing as it had for many years over this tiny fenced-in graveyard ...

There were only two engraved stones, and one smaller stone which I think was also a grave marker. Apparently there are only a few graves in this small yard. One is of an eight-year old boy who died of diphtheria ...

The other is of a young man, whose gravestone was apparently carved by a friend at the sawmill. The text is quite faded and now difficult to read on this huge stone, but I wrote out the verse just below the next photo.

"Remember Comrades (when passing by)
As you are now so once was I
As I am now so you shall be
Prepare thyself to follow me."

Just outside the graveyard fence is another unmarked cross ...

This apparently is the approximate location of where they first buried Tom Thomson when he was retrieved from the waters of Canoe Lake. His body was supposedly later exhumed and buried in his home town of Leith, Ontario. However, as with the controversy over his death, there was also a controversy over his burial. Some believe the body was never exhumed and that an empty casket went back to his family in Leith. If you want to read a very interesting write-up on Tom Thomson's death and burial, please read this link written by Roy MacGregor. 

Oh, and by the way, I forgot to mention in my last post that Roy MacGregor, who I mentioned in this post from last year, was also at my daughter's convocation and given an honorary degree from Trent University that same day. He is a wonderful story teller, and I was thrilled to see him and hear him speak in person. He had some hilarous stories to share with us of his own school days which had the entire audience laughing.

The graveyard was the last stop of our tour, and we were so pleased that my son took us around "his" lake. The graveyard visit was the perfect ending. He told us that one night the store employees participated in a "Tom Thomson Night". In the dark, the 20 or so employees paddled out in their canoes to the spot where Tom's body was found, they also stopped on that same rock and hiked through the brush to the graveyard. Some of the employees dressed up in character as Tom and as his girlfriend. It was raining steadily, so the atmosphere was intense! My son hates horror movies, and anything like that, so I imagine he felt the full impact that night as their guide told them of the mysteries surrounding Tom Thomson's death. 

I'll have more to share on Algonquin Park, but couldn't pack it all into one post. Hope you enjoyed the tour of Canoe Lake as well.

Thanks for stopping by!



  1. What an amazing experience! And what a great job your son landed for the summer. It must have been very rewarding to see him so grown up and independent. Thanks for sharing the pictures, and the history. :-)

  2. You had an excellent tour guide, is that part of his job or just something he liked to do? I'm going to look up the artist, he sounds interesting.

  3. Nice to have such an interesting private tour! Sounds like your son is having a grand summer :)

  4. Hello, your son is an awesome tour guide. Wonderful photos from your tour and of the park. The camping trip sounds like a relaxing and fun time. Wonderful photos. Happy Sunday, enjoy your new week ahead!

  5. How wonderful it is to have your very own tour guide! Great photos and I enjoyed reading all about it.


  6. What a wonderful time you must have had! Great story. You can have as many posts on Algonquin as you like! We've been to his grave in Leith, whether he's really there or not!

  7. What a beautiful place to spend time! WOW! It's breathtaking. And I always like to learn about the history of a place and see any old buildings or homes. This was a wonderful post my friend. Makes me want to go camping though! Hugs!

  8. What a great place to spend time, Wendy. I enjoyed this post very much, in fact half way through I stopped and found my book about the Group of Seven and looked at some of Thomson's paintings of Algonquin Park. Wonderful, luminous works of trees and lake, I love them. Great post!

  9. Good morning, Yes I really enjoyed the tour and all the photos and the history. Sounds like a perfect summer job for your son too-a familiar place and at age 18 good for him to get a feel of being on his own.
    I remember way back in my high school years that we were told upon graduation we could no longer stay at home-we had to figure out what to do-get a job, go to college, join the armed services or something-and we were not allowed to move back home either-I know things are different now but any ways it was a good learning life lesson
    I think it is awesome that you and your husband can still camp and canoe-your campsite looks perfect very peaceful and beautiful

  10. Our daughter loves Algonquin too and has a huge Tommy Thompson canvas print in her family room. I enjoyed the tour around the park with you Wendy, guess I should make it up there sometime myself!

  11. Very cool, Wendy! I'm not much of a camper so I'll have to live vicariously through you! Thank you (and your son) for the lovely tour of Algonquin and sharing the interesting Canadiana history!

  12. I thoroughly enjoyed this tour! I learned a lot about Tom Thomson. How great that your son could tour you around - it sounds like you have a great relationship! Beautiful landscapes.

  13. What a lovely place to visit, do you know I really want a canoe now! x

  14. A very enjoyable post! So glad you had such a lovely time camping and catching up with your son. And isn't it great to discover new things about a place you thought you knew well!

  15. What a wonderful place - I can see why you love it so and how wonderful to get to spend time with your son, too! Love the beautiful scenery and the mystery of the little lost town and the artist! That must have been a spooky night your son attended with his work buddies! x

  16. lovely photos Wendy ! have a nice week....Gail x


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