Finding Tom Thomson’s Paddle

Finding Tom Thomson’s Paddle

100 years ago, on July 8th, we lost one of Canada’s most influential artists whose works contributed greatly not only to Canadian art, but also to the identity of Canada and its wild places. And on that day, he, in turn, lost a paddle.

Tom Thomson Fishing

By Franklin Carmichael – This image is available from Library and Archives Canada under the MIKAN ID number 3721120 Public Domain, Link

A bright and brief burning campfire was lit in 1912, the first time Tom Thomson set foot in Algonquin Park. A young group of like-minded artists inspired by Canadian Nature to showcase the beauty they found in it. This concept was relatively new, as “the woods” had mostly been depicted as a dark and scary place to either avoid, civilise or conquer. Instead, these bold impressionists used wild strokes and bright contrasting colours to bring out the wonder and allure of the wild landscape, popularising the “Wild Mush” style – a term appropriately co-opted from what was supposed to be a critique of a style we all now recognise and celebrate. Sadly, Tom would only be creating his works for a brief 4-5 years before his sudden death, his dedication and proficiency left us with such a huge amount of amazing works, with his death being the catalyst to the forming of the Group of Seven. He also left us with a mystery, well… a few mysteries as it turns out.

For more information on the life and works of Tom Thomson we highly recommend visiting the McMichael Gallery in Klienburg or the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound.

No one really knows what happened to Tom Thomson or how he died. Was it an accident? Was it murder? Was it “Northern Justice” as suggested in Roy McGregor’s book, Northern Lights, or a one of the many other more fun and obscure theories on the subject (German spies, mini tornadoes, aliens… ). Who really knows? Then there’s the mystery of where his remains are resting? Did he get moved like his family wanted (and paid for, by the way), or is he still buried on Canoe Lake?

For more information on all the theories surrounding Tom’s fate, best to consult @TTLastSpring who recounts Thomson’s last days annually on Twitter, and has many theories, stories and archives on the TTLLastSpring website.

For our purposes though, the most interesting mystery surrounding the Fate of Tom Thomson was where his beloved paddle wound up? (We might be a bit biased.) They found his distinctive blue dove canoe, and of course they eventually found his body, but they never did find Tom Thomson’s paddle. The strange part was that they found his spare, but not his personal, preferred paddle – and we don’t have to tell you how precious your own personal paddle can be. Some have suggested the fact that it went missing might be some kind of clue, maybe even the murder weapon, destroyed to hide the evidence. Again, who knows?  By our accounts, there were still people looking for that paddle into the 1990s, each with a theory on where it wound up washing ashore, and why, and were out there combing the shoreline of Canoe Lake looking for that needle in a haystack – or what would likely have been a mostly rotted piece of wood in the forest.


Obviously we don’t know where Tom’s paddle went, and don’t worry, we’re not going to send you “Out There” looking for that paddle. Instead, we’ll send you looking for the next best thing. 🙂

As part of our celebration of all kinds of anniversaries happening this year, the 5 year history of the Paddle In The Park Contest, 100 years since Tom’s … um, disappearance(?), Canada’s 150th and even Algonquin Outfitter’s 55th year serving the park visitors, we’ve decided to partner with Algonquin Outfitters to create a new Tom Thomson mystery, along with a brand new, custom made, hand-crafted Badger Paddle for some lucky Wild Detective who can figure out where we hid this last paddle for 2017. Paired with AO’s Tom Thomson Paddle Art contest (see details below), this should be a fantastic way to celebrate Tom’s legacy, bringing more art, more mystery, more paddling, and most of all, more #rewards getting “Out There”!

Keep an eye out for clues coming soon!!! #RewardsAreOutThere

The hidden paddle!

60″ Cherry, BadgerTail, Oiled, with Badger Paddle Sock and Custom Laser Engraving honouring the life and work of Group of Seven artist, Tom Thomson

Total MSRP $239.00 CAD from Badger Paddles

See more… AO Tom Thomson Paddle

Other Algonquin Outfitters & Tom Thomson Inspired Initiatives and Events

This year Algonquin Outfitters is working closely with the Town of Huntsville to celebrate the life of Tom Thomson, as 2017 marks the 100th anniversary and mystery of his untimely passing. For more information on this and other great things you can see and do in the area, visit the Tom Thomson 100 event page and explore their website from there. 

Also in honour of Tom Thomson’s life and contribution to Canadian art, AO is hosting a rather unique event; a Paddle Art Contest. If you love art and paddling, you will surely want to take part in this event!

•The submission period closes Thursday, Aug 31st at the end of day.
•The online auction will run 1st week of Sept until Friday Sept 29th
•Friday Sept 29th all the paddles will be on display at the Algonquin Theatre if people would like to come by and physically see them, there will also be staff on site to help you bid online right there and there will be some entertainment too!

See Algonquin Outfitters for all the contest details.

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