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Who Killed Tom Thomson?: The Truth about the Murder of One of the 20th Century’s Most Famous Artists

by John Little

It’s the most enduring mystery in Canadian art: how did famed landscape painter Tom Thomson die? The past century has seen a flood of books, articles, and documentaries speculating – without reaching a definitive determination – whether Thomson’s 1917 death in Ontario’s Algonquin Park was an accident, suicide, or murder. John Little, an author from Bracebridge, Ontario, is the latest to weigh in on this most mysterious of subjects. The bluntly titled Who Killed Tom Thomson? pulls together previous research and often contradictory and inconclusive evidence on its way to a verdict of homicide. But if it was murder, who was the murderer?

According to Little, the Thomson case was never examined by trained police investigators. In an attempt to rectify this, Little presented the evidence he assembled to two very experienced Ontario Provincial Police detectives. It would be unfair to reveal the officers’ conclusions. Let’s just say they answer, in a fashion, the question in the book’s title.

Little is the son of William T. Little, who helped reignite interest in the Thomson mystery when, in 1956, he dug up the artist’s supposedly empty grave and found a man’s body buried there. If that corpse was Thomson’s, then whose remains were interred in the Thomson family plot in Leith, Ontario, in 1917? This became the subject of William Little’s own book, The Tom Thomson Mystery, published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson in 1970.

John Little picks up where his father left off. Unfortunately, his own book is replete with repetition and a lack of succinctness that results in something less than a spellbinding whodunit. But Little has done a service in assembling and analyzing the collective research of earlier Thomson scholars such as David P. Silcox, Roy MacGregor, Joan Murray, and Harold Town. “Anything that I might have added to the research and data of the Tom Thomson story is but a footnote compared to the work of all those who came before me,” Little writes.

In its accumulation of research and analysis, Who Killed Tom Thomson is more than just a footnote. The police officers’ conclusions, which are solid so far as they go, remove some of the mystery surrounding Thomson’s death. But even so, the final chapter of the story
remains to be written.