Temperature Plunge Brings Hairballs

Kitty, an indoor Overlord

I can hear you thinking, ‘I can understand chilly weather bringing flannel, but hairballs?’ Well, it involves a cat, a tree and kibble. And rhubarb too.

Read the latest from Words & Worlds to clear up the mystery. If you enjoy the newletter, please feel free to subscribe, and tell your friends about it!

Too Close…

Portrait of a female moose

“Shitdamnmotherofchocolate!”

I jammed my foot down on the brake pedal, wrenched the steering wheel hard to the left, slammed my eyes shut and braced for impact.

And waited.

And waited.

I cautiously lifted one eyelid, half-expecting to see the Pearly Gates, but instead was treated to a wall of smelly brown hair.

I peered up into a soft brown eye…

What happened? Come back tomorrow and find out!

What Happened to Tom Thompson?

TomTompson1900

There is a mystery surrounding painter Tom Thompson’s death. Last time, I shared with you a letter written by his friend to Thompson’s benefactor.

Tom left here on sunday about one o’clock for a fishing trip down the lake and at three oclock his Canoe was found floating a short distance from my place with both paddles tied tight in the canoe also his provision were found packed in the canoe. The Canoe was up side down We can find no trace of where he landed or what happend to him Everything is being done that can be done his brother arrived this morning Will let you know at once if we find him.

Yours Truly

S. Fraser

 

Thompson’s body was found July 16th. 

 

Copy of Dr. G.W. Howland’s affidavit of July 17, 1917

Canoe Lake

July 17-17.

Dr. G. W. Howland qualified medical practitioner of Toronto, Ont., Sworn, Said:

I saw body of man floating in Canoe Lake Monday, July 16th, at about 10 A. M. and notified Mr. George Rowe a resident who removed body to shore. On 17th Tuesday, I examined boyd and found it to be that of a man aged about 40 years in advanced stage of decomposition, face abdomen and limbs swollen, blisters on limbs, was a bruise on right temple size of 4” long, no other sign of external marks visible on body, air issuing from mouth, some bleeding from right ear, cause of death drowning.

(Sgd.) Gordon W. Howland, 

 

Fraser sent Thompson’s father a letter dated July 18, 1917 (copied as it was written, spelling mistakes and all)

Mr. John Thomson

Owen Sound

Dear Sir:

We found your son floating in Canoe Lake on Monday moring about nine o clock in a most dreadful condition the flesh was coming of his hands. I sent for the undertaker and they found him in such a condition [illegible] he had to be buried at once he is buried in a little grave yard over looking Canoe Lake a beautiful spot. The Dr found a bruse over his eye and thinks he fell and and was hurt and this is how the accident happend.

Yours Truly

S. Fraser

 

Today, a lot of controversy still swirls around Thompson’s death. Some believe he ran afoul of poachers, others believe his canoe hit an underwater stump left over from logging. There were no witnesses to the actual cause of the canoe overturning. But while he was buried in the park at first, he was dug up the next day and reburied in Owen Sound in his family’s plot.

T.J Harkness was tasked with settling the estate of Thompson. While doing so, he accused Fraser via letter of “not dealing square”. The letter seems to imply that Harkness thought Fraser was trying to profit from Thompson’s death. Here’s an interesting excerpt,

‘…Surely Tom had some personal property. Had he no trunk or grip or clothes except what you showed Geo Thomson and how do you account for Tom only having .60 cts when found. I know what he drew from the bank when he was away, and he was guiding a few weeks and no doubt was paid for it and where do you suppose his money went to. I tell you frankly Mr. Fraser I am suspicious that you are not dealing square and I hope you will be able to give a satisfactory explanation of everything…’ 

In a letter from Winifred Trainor (a friend of Thomspon’s, and some speculated a sweetheart) to George Thomspon, dated September 17th 1917, both Frasers characters are maligned. What follows are excerpts.

Dear Mr. Thomson

Your letter received this am. and would say I had the pleasure of meeting your sister Margaret in Toronto Aug 31 — together with her niece Jessie Harkness and a little boy Charles – and she asked me about the $25000 Tom loaned J. S. Fraser. I told her all I knew about it and that is at the time, May or June 1915, the loan was made — and in July 1915 Tom bought a new chestnut canoe silk tent etc. and went from Canoe Lake on a long trip coming out at South River about Labor Day. Anyway he said just in time to send your brother who was being married a telegram of congratulation. I do not think Tom got his canoe from Hville. Frasers got theirs here. I also heard at the time he was trying to make the raise of a loan in town and was even asked by the agent if I would like to put it up and my reply was no. I did not know until July 1915, that Tom had made it or I would have said no for him not too as the thing was risky. They also were charging him a $ a day for his board when he could have got it anywhere for $4. You see the Frasers were money grabbing as usual but it will all come back to them. It was awful of Shannon Fraser to charge cartage on the casket. When Tom the day he was drowned helped to cadge a boat for Shannon to rent. Never mind they’ll get it yet. As far as Frasers good faith he has none. Mark Robinson the Ranger hates him.

Well Tom said this spring while at our house that he had loaned Fraser $25000 for canoes, but that he had got it all back but in little bits though. Again if I had known, I could have got them all wholesale instead of retail and Tom might have realized $5000 on the out lay instead of nothing. I suppose Frasers thought he would board on till Fall with them. I did not know the amount until this spring. When we happened to bring up Shan’s financial standing.

About the overcoat I am enclosing a snap with the one he wore this spring. It was a green plaid Mackinaw. He also bought the Mackinaw trousers, socks & shoepacks he has on, here this spring. I would think the best way would be to have the executor send for all his belongings, saying the estate required them, as Shan will sell the things & keep the money. The things we have can be had next year when we go back. Your sister Margaret may go with me sometime. Hoping this will be some information to you. You could ask Frasers about it, saying you had come upon some correspondence about this transaction.

I am so sorry I burned my letters that I had left after our home was burned. I had this one where he left the Frasers dissatisfied but he did not tell the reason till the Fall 1915. Then again Tom did not care for Martin Blecher. […] Mrs. Fraser I think would see you got everything should you request it. I do not think Frasers deserve one thing. Tom no doubt was paying his board well, supplying fish work & etc. His canoes can be easily stored at the Lake. Tom ploughed and planted their garden & ploughed Larry Dixon’s garden too-

To add to all of this suspicion, a letter was penned by George Thompson to Fraser, dated December 25th, 1917. I find this letter both fascinating and very telling.

Dec. 25th, 1917

The Quinnipiack club

New Haven, Conn.

Dear Sir:- I am the brother of Tom Thomson who visited Canoe Lake last July. Only a few weeks ago I was informed for the first time that the coroner’s conclusion at the inquest was that Tom had taken his own life based on evidence given soley by you and Mrs Fraser. While I was there both you and Mrs Fraser protested over and over your great friendship for Tom, and from what I learn from various sources there was reason that you should entertain some such feeling, as a mighty good friend he had apparently been to you. […]

Now I want to say in passing that I have from various sources a pretty accurate account of what happened at the inquest and in common with other friends and relatives of Tom’s am more firmly convinced than ever that his death was caused either by accident or foul play and not by suicide. He had altogether too much to live for — many true friends and a remarkable success in his chosen profession.

Yours etc.

George Thomson

The letters all seem to imply that the Frasers were not the wonderful friends they reported to be and that J.S Fraser may have had something to do with Thompson’s death. On Dec 29th, Fraser wrote back to say ‘There is not an atom of truth in your accusations & as sincere friends of Tom’s, it hurt us not a little that you, his brother, should accuse us of desecrating his memory.’   (Clearly the post moved faster in those days than it does today!)

TomTomsonCairn

TO THE MEMORY OF 

TOM THOMSON

ARTIST, WOODSMAN

AND GUIDE

WHO WAS DROWNED IN CANOE LAKE

JULY 8TH, 1917

HE LIVED HUMBLY BUT PASSIONATELY

WITH THE WILD IT MADE HIM BROTHER

TO ALL UNTAMED THINGS OF NATURE

IT DREW HIM APART AND REVEALED

ITSELF WONDERFULLY TO HIM

IT SENT HIM OUT FROM THE WOODS

ONLY TO SHOW THESE REVELATIONS

THROUGH HIS ART AND IT TOOK 

HIM TO ITSELF AT LAST.

HIS FELLOW ARTISTS AND OTHER FRIENDS AND ADMIRERS

JOIN GLADLY IN THIS TRIBUTE TO

HIS CHARACTER AND GENIUS

HIS BODY IS BURIED AT

OWEN SOUND ONTARIO NEAR

WHERE HE WAS BORN

AUGUST 1877

The official account lists Thompson’s death as caused by drowning. But all of the correspondence flying back and forth certainly makes one wonder if perhaps the painter’s death was not accidental, but came about as a result of money. Perhaps Fraser owed Thompson money and did not want to pay it back? Perhaps Thompson knew something he shouldn’t have?  Many writers have investigated the matter, and as a result, there are a number of books that discuss Tom Thompson’s life and death. If you have found my brief series of blog posts concerning this mystery interesting, I encourage you to seek out the books.

Does your hometown have an unsolved mystery? Or perhaps one steeped in lore and controversy? 

Body In The Bush…Wait…Where?

CrimeScene1

Here in the North, I am surrounded by the bush, so it made sense to have my Detective Anais Quinn live here too. But non-Northern readers may not be familiar with “the bush”.

So let me explain.

Wikipedia explains it best, “In northern Canada, “the bush” refers to the massive expanse of primarily coniferous trees that sprawl undeveloped. The term is not generally used in the southern parts of the country.

CanadianBush1

Bush flying refers to aircraft operations carried out in the bush. Bush flying involves operations in rough terrain where there are often no prepared landing strips or runways, frequently necessitating that bush planes be equipped with abnormally large tires, floats or skis. (This is what Anne’s (Anais’ aunt) boyfriend, Jackson Orr does for a living.) It is, even in this day and age, a hard reality that many Northern communities rely heavily on this form of transportation for everything from mail, groceries, building supplies, medical care, and much more.

Snip20200101_6

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into a small part of what makes us Canadian. If you did, I encourage you to sign up for my newsletter. It comes out approximately once a month and contains news about my writing, tidbits of my world like this one, behind-the-scenes looks at the process of writing a novel, and from time to time, newsletter subscriber-exclusive goodies! You can find a link to sign up at the top of this page. Or failing that, drop me an email and I can sign you up.

Until next time!

Mowat, Ontario-Ghost Town Connected To Possible Murder?

Mowat was a mill town that attracted residents in 1897 on the northwestern shore of Canoe Lake in western Algonquin Park. Mowat was a lumberman’s town that included all the usual stores and businesses of the early mill villages including a hospital for a town that grew to a population of more than 500, the largest town in the Park. A school opened in 1898, listing 30 pupils in attendance. But then the lumber industry entered a recession and the population dwindled to just over 200. By 1914 it was down to 150. The community continued to decline and in 1946 the school closed having only 6 pupils. Soon the trains stopped running and Mowat became a ghost of its former self. A fate all too common in Northern Ontario, including, to a lesser extent my home base.

After Mowat’s decline the Group of Seven painter, Tom Thomson painted and lived in the area. Thomson often stayed at Mowat Lodge, a tourist retreat operated by Shannon and Annie Fraser, which made use of a converted Gilmour company building. In 1917 Thomson died in Canoe Lake under mysterious circumstances after staying at the lodge. Speculation is that he was murdered. During the time Tom Thomson used Mowat as his ‘home base’ in the Park, residents there included visitors from as far away as Europe, cottagers from the United States of America, as well as from Canadian cities such as Ottawa and Toronto. The population of Mowat also included those people who serviced tourists’ needs, such as hotel operators and guides. Park staff watched over all of them, maintaining the safety of the area, and enforcing Park regulations.

Today, time and forest regrowth has reclaimed most signs of the community of Mowat, originally named in honour of Sir Oliver Mowat, Premier of Ontario from 1872 to 1896. Only a few cottage leases, old foundations, and the Tom Thomson cairn commemorating the artist’s life remain in Algonquin Park.

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at Tom Thomson himself and the influence Algonquin Park had on his paintings, as well as the circumstances surrounding his death. Did he die by misadventure or was he murdered by spies?