Big Fraud,Little Fraud
A painstaking word-for-word comparison of the original historical records with what Judge
William T. Little reproduced in his 1970 book,
The Tom Thomson Mystery, may prove that
he was not only a shameless self-aggrandizer but an outright fraud. If my previous efforts
to discredit both his book and his personal character were unpersuasive, then what I will
share in this essay ought to drive the final nails into his coffin.  
I was first drawn to the story of Tom Thomson’s tragic drowning in Algonquin Park’s
Canoe Lake on July 8, 1917, by the glorious color and simple beauty of one of his
paintings I saw on the cover of a book on a rack in a hallway near the men’s room of the
Algonquin Outfitters Store in 1973.
But it was Judge Little who introduced me to the two-fold mystery surrounding his death
and place of final burial. I was excited and fascinated by Judge Little’s 239-page book
which I thought not only told the full story with footnoted references to his source material
but he reproduced others giving added authority to his account.
   As many people have done, I wrongly assumed from the biographical blurb on the back
cover that Judge Little had been a practicing Canadian attorney before becoming provincial
judge of the family division court of York County, Ontario. Actually, he had no formal legal
education and was never admitted to the practice of law.
Over the past 40 years, I have so frequently used and criticized his book that it has now
completely fallen apart – both figuratively and literally. I cannot express how disappointed I
am to conclude here that so thorough was his scrubbing of the actual facts of the Tom
Thomson mystery that it is difficult to believe anything he wrote. That's hard for me to say
because I had been originally inspired to continue his work on  the Tom Thomson mystery
by Little's writing about the many years of historical investigation he had undertaken:
“The mystery of Tom Thomson’s death and the location of his final resting place
resembled a great jig-saw puzzle. It had taken over twenty-five years to collect the pieces
with the assistance of friends, co-workers and associates throughout the North,
particularly those closely associated with Canoe Lake. Now the many pieces seems to fit
into place and reveal a clearer picture of what had taken place during those final days after
Tom disappeared on his ill-fated fishing expedition.”
I truly admired his apparently faithful gathering of facts then carefully marshaled in writing
his book to which he gave added weight and credibility by what turned out to be  phony
footnoted references and tinkered reproductions related to the case. I was wrong to admire
him and its especially hard to be so disillusioned.
Before demonstrating how Little knowingly used a corrupted version of Dr. Sharpe’s
original report its readers were intended to believe was reproduced in full on pages 138-
142 of his book while leaving himself a plausible defense against its many deletions and
additions, I should summarize my earlier discoveries of discrepancies and outright
falsehoods I argued that he manufactured to boost his own credibility and sales.          
In chapter 17 of
Algonquin Elegy: Tom Thomson’s Last Spring titled Notebook: Little
 written over the summer of 2005, I described several crucial discrepancies in  
Little’s book regarding the two trips to Canoe Lake taken by George Thomson in 1917 to
recover his brother’s body and Thomson's funeral in Owen Sound. I began by quoting a
perceptive conclusion from a recent book by Dr. Sherrill Grace,
Inventing Tom Thomson:
From Biographical Fictions to Fictional Autobiographies and Reproductions
, which
recounted Judge Little’s book with palpable skepticism. Dr. Grace noted that he resorted to
narrative maneuvers and rhetorical questions in pointing the finger of guilt at Martin
Blecher, Jr., and arguing with the results of a forensic examination of skeletal remains dug
up by Little at Canoe Lake in 1956 he claimed could only be those of Tom Thomson.
“Try as he might to discredit, or at least render suspect, the forensic findings, Little
appears not to have solved the mystery, but to have further complicated it,” she concluded.
Dr. Grace was too kind but she did not fully realize the lengths to which Judge Little went in
trying to undermine the forensic report.  
Dr. Grace was not engaged in investigating the mystery but rather she was writing about
the body of Canadian literature growing out of his story. Since his drowning in 1917, Tom
Thomson has been recreated by poets, playwrights, novelists, filmmakers, biographers,
and other artists as a legendary figure representing Canada’s rugged northern identity. As
a great artist killed in the prime of his life, his mysterious death in Canoe Lake, Algonquin
Park, and the controversy about his final resting-place fired the popular imagination had
raised him to the status of a national hero.
Following publication of
Algonquin Elegy, I continued researching and writing essays on
parts of the Thomson story that I had not included or discovered since, adding them to the
book’s website. One of those essays called
A Few More Little Falsehoods describes
altered historical evidence and manufactured facts from Little I had found in Chapter 11 of
his book, which describes the arrival of Tom Thomson’s casket in Owen Sound and its
burial in the Leith cemetery on July 21, 1917.
I showed how Little’s book included an entry he said was made in Knox Church records
following Thomson’s Owen Sound funeral in 1917 that was an obvious fake intentionally
reproduced in such a way as to lend authenticity to his book.  “While other researchers
may downplay what Little did here,” I said in writing
A Few More Little Falsehoods that. “it is
clear and convincing evidence of Little's cynical methods. Elsewhere in his book he
committed the worst sin a biographer can make --  he fabricated evidence to suit his
Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History website project provides engaging,
high-quality materials to schools and universities for the teaching of historical methods
and Canadian History. It is also used in a wide variety of other courses including law,
language, literature, aboriginal issues and many others. The project, based at the
University of Victoria, the Université de Sherbrooke and the Ontario Institute for Studies in
Education at the University of Toronto, has created a series of instructional websites
based on the premise that students can be drawn into Canadian history and archival
research through the enticement of solving historical cold crimes. All the material is
provided free as a public service.
Several years ago, in a project led by Dr. Gregory Klages, PhD, materials regarding the
Thomson  mystery were added to the
Canadian Mysteries website. I was one of four
persons asked to provide interpretative essays for the Thomson mystery project, which are
available by password for teachers only rather than student users.  My subject was the
errors and omissions I had trouble understanding from Judge Little’s book.
What happened in 1956 causing a sensation across Canada was a remarkable discovery
in the Mowat Cemetery on Canoe Lake by William T. Little, then a reform school
superintendent in Brampton, Ontario. He and three friends dug-up the skeletal remains of
a body in an unmarked grave that many believed should not have been there. Even greater
astonishment resulted, however, from the official forensic conclusion that the skeletal
remains found were not that those of Tom Thomson but instead possibly of a native Indian
nobody knew had ever been buried there.
It was not the discovery of the remains or their less than conclusive identification, however,
that gave the discovery its great significance. To those interested in Tom Thomson’s death
and final burial, the utterly remarkable fact was the condition of the skull. On the left temple
was a dime-sized ragged hole, an injury matching-up with one of two old written reports of
a four-inch bruise on the left or right temple of Thomson’s skull when his body was found
in Canoe Lake in 1917.
The Ontario government directed a forensic investigation. Assigned was Dr. Noble
Sharpe, M.D. His conclusion that the remains found were probably those of a nearly full-
breed Indian who was likely younger and certainly shorter than Thomson and whose skull
possibly had been opened by a rare surgical operation called trephining caused a national
Never mind differing details of the location and extent of the actual physical injury originally
described in 1917 to Thomson’s temple, the coincidence of the hole's existence has ever
since persuaded most writers and many readers that the body found in 1956 could only be
that of Tom Thomson.        
Thomson mystery investigators have struggled in disbelief ever since against the only
forensic report , a copy of which is available on the Canadian Mysteries website
dated October 30, 1956. Dr. Sharpe addressed his report in the form of a memorandum to
James Bartlett, assistant commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police.
   In 1968, in response to a request from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation with
which Little was working, the Ontario government's Centre of Forensic Sciences produced
a drastically edited summary of the report much different from that reproduced on the
Canadian Mysteries website.
    Dr. Sharpe participated in preparing the summary. At the same time, also prepared was
final report he backdated to December 12, 1956 then intended for confidential use by the
Ontario Provincial Police and other law officers of the Crown.  
    On p. 137 of
The Tom Thomson Mystery, preceding his reproduction of this summary,
however, Little claims to have "immediately contact
ed Dr. Sharpe and studied details of his
report" following October 19, 1956, newspaper stories about  Dr. Sharpe's surprising
conclusions. If so, he could only be referring to the report dated October 30, 1956. It's
apparent, however, that Little
never actually got a copy of the October 30 report.
     Instead, years later, he saw and reproduced the summary that made substantive
deletions, additions and changes in  Dr. Sharpe's original report. For example, the
summary completely omitted the following explanation made by Dr. Sharpe in his original
“Corporal Rodger and I decided that, to protect ourselves from criticism re opening a
grave, we would proceed as a routine case of reported findings of human bones to
establish their identity with some missing person and the possibility of foul play, but that
we were not concerned with local rumours of it being Mr. Thomson the artist, except as a
possible identification. From subsequent events it would seem we have been criticized.”
Little was sensitive to his personal role in desecrating an unmarked grave in the Mowat
Cemetery from which his crew had stolen casket handles and memorial plates and,
perhaps, the bones of a foot as more fully described in another essay
here describing
more fully what happened.
The next critical deletion is particularly glaring for me today because both Little and Dr.
Sharpe likely were aware of the fact that a good newspaper reporter working stories in
northern Ontario on October 9, 1956, had spoken with Mrs. Jean Chittendon, a daughter of
the Hayhurst family, who owned the cottage north of the Tom Thomson Memorial Cairn on
Canoe Lake, about Judge Little's discovery of human remains in the Mowat Cemetery.
 Only two stone markers stood in the Mowat Cemetery in 1956. The first marks the grave of
James Watson, a 21-year-old killed on in a Gilmour Lumber Company sawmill accident on
May 25, 1897. The second grave held the remains of an eight- year-old child who died of
diphtheria, Alexander Hayhurst. The
Globe and Mail ran a long story by Don Delaplante the
next day headlined
Long a Mystery of Art World: Body May Answer Riddle of Tom
Thomson's Death
. The last paragraph of the news report said:
“Some residents think the body may be that of an unidentified lumberjack who worked for
the Gilmour firm many years ago. Mrs. Jean Chittendon said she had been told there are
several unmarked graves adjacent to those of Hayhurst and Watson.” (Emphasis added.)
Continuing, Dr. Sharpe described his conclusions regarding the body.  In pertinent part,
his original report said: “Had the body been
embalmed and buried for 40 years, as in
Thomson's case, I would expect some remnants of flesh. There were none.”
  This was completely deleted from Little's version. Thomson’s body had been
, according to eyewitnesses and historical records, a fact readily available but,
nonetheless, omitted from his book because Little wrongly believed that the human
remains he found were those of Tom Thomson.
 In a later part of his original report, Dr. Sharpe wrote:
“The records available show that Mr. Thomson was bruised on the
right side of the face.
This is in Dr. Howland’s description and one of the undertaker’s. Mr. Little (of the original
group) is not sure he hasn’t read somewhere it was on the
left side. Dr. Howland was an
old teacher of mine and a Neurologist. He was such a good observer, he would not have
missed a wound on the
left temple and hole in the skull, if fresh, must have had a face
wound, if old, a noticeable scar.”   
This was completely deleted from the summary. Little had another and bigger motive for
accepting the deletion of these parts of Dr. Sharpe’s conclusions regarding records from
1917 of bruising on the
right side of Thomson’s forehead because the skull he found
inconveniently had a three-quarter inch hole on the
left temple.
 Grace recognized the dramatic and persuasive power Judge Little succeeded in giving
his book by illustrating it with a full-page photo of the hole on the
left temple of the skull
examined by Dr. Sharpe.
  “I have already noted that Little does not include any art reproductions in his book,” she
wrote adding that this significant omission was underscored by what photographs he did
include. "The most dramatic of these is the full-page photograph of the skull in
left profile –
ironically, the profile of Thomson we know best in art and photography -- and the same
image that Dr. Sharpe used -- and with an assertive explanatory note: 'Another view of the
skull found in Thomson’s Canoe Lake grave. Note the hole at the temple, coinciding with
the injury sustained by the artist prior to his death, July 8, 1917'."
I fully agree with Dr. Grace’s perceptive statement and want to further argue that the full-
page photograph of the skull with its three-quarter inch almost round hole on the
temple is such powerful evidence that anyone with just a little knowledge of the story is
thereby fully convinced to accept Little’s book.
Dr. Sharpe's original report said:
"He had been buried for 20 years at least,
more likely 20 than older."
In 1968, he added a note to his handwritten notes used in preparing the December 12
report.: It said:
From recent tests not then available, I place time of burial up to 20 years before 1956, not
longer." (Emphasis added.)
Whoever prepared the summary used by Little, however, failed to include Dr. Sharpe's
note, a fact I am flabbergasted that nobody has earlier discovered and reported . Instead,
the summary used by Little was as follows:
"He had been buried for 20 years at least,
more likely 30 to 40."
 Little then quotes from this on p. 144 of his book, saying, "Dr. Sharpe, interestingly
enough, does, himself, estimate the length of time that elapsed since the burial in his own
report. . . . This calculation would bring the burial time within the period of Tom Thomson's
original burial 39 years before."    
The summary used by Little made even more significant changes. Dr. Sharpe’s original
report said:
“Professor Eric Linnel of the Department of Neuropathology, agrees this opening is in the
classical position for the operation of trephining of the skull for haemorrhage following a
head injury. Final e-rays, after removal of the skull cap prove to the radiologist and to me
that it is a surgical trephine opening not due to bullet, or sharp instrument such as a pick
or arrow.”
The summary added a sentence to the middle of this paragraph:
“The wound, however, though definitely not due to a bullet, could be caused by sharp
instrument such as a pick, a narrow hammer head, or an arrow – not likely a peevee,
though some might have that shape. It has been pointed out that if self-inflicted, it is likely a
left-handed man.”  (Emphasis added.)
The detail is especially curious because nowhere else in his original report  did Dr.
Sharpe ever raise the possibility of suicide and Thomson was
right-handed. Evidently,
anticipating how the CBC would use his report, Dr. Sharpe wanted to emphasize this fact.
Finally, only a very careful reader would have taken notice that Little was using a summary
rather than the original report.
Dr. Sharpe was 82 years old when the book was published in 1970 and he made no
public fuss with Judge Little, who reproduced the doctored forensic report under an
italicized caption: "
The Reports" immediately followed by a brief partial sentence reading:
"Summary of Dr. N.C. Sharpe's report:"
Missing from Little's reproduction, however, was the letterhead of the Centre for Forensic
Sciences, which he obviously should have known did not exist in 1956.          
I should hope that William T. Little is turning over and over in his grave.