This essay reports on a brief article written between 1944 and 1946 by Dr. Edwin
C. Guillet for his Famous Canadian Trials series called "The Death of Tom
Thomson, Canadian Artist: A Study of the Evidence at the Coroner's Inquest,
1917." It apparently was intended for publication in Volume 10 of the series in
1944 but because there are notes added to the typescript dated as late as
February 17, 1952, I doubt that it was included.
Dr. Edwin Clarence Guillet was born in 1898 in Coburg, Ontario and educated at
the Coburg Collegiate Institute, the University of Toronto (B. A. 1922, Economics
and Political Science) and at McMaster University (B. A. 1926, English and History;
M. A. 1927, History). He taught for thirty-three years at the Lindsay Collegiate
Institute, at the Central Technical Institute, and at the Eastern High School of
Commerce in Toronto.
During this time he was also appointed Historiographer of the Department of
Education of Ontario and wrote twenty published monographs, numerous articles
for Canadian newspapers, magazines, and journals, as well as his fifty volume
Famous Canadian Trials series. Dr. Guillet died in 1975. Some of his papers were
purchased by the Osgoode Hall Law Library in 1968 from Dr. Guillet and are now
located at York University in Toronto.
In preparing notes for my book tour in Ontario the summer of 2006, I noted with
excited interest a reference earlier over-looked to Dr. Guillet's article in the
extensive bibliography included in the catalogue, Tom Thomson, published by the
National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario and Douglas & McIntyre on
the occasion of an exhibition of his paintings which toured across the country in
2002 and 2003. The York University Archives generously forwarded a copy to me
The materials include a handwritten first draft, an apparently unfinished typescript,
and a typewritten postscript. Guillet's brief essay draws chiefly upon Blodwen
Davies's book, A Study of Tom Thomson, which she self-published in 1935. I have
a copy 62 of 100 signed by Ms. Davies, which I purchased at www.alibris.com for
$252.00 in November 2003, a detail added to the story of Jon Kristian's
investigation in Algonquin Elegy.
Consequently, the essay added very little new information to the story while
suggesting how the barely outlined murder theory offered by Ms. Davies in 1935
grew into what Dr. Sherrill Grace described as the narrative maneuvers and
rhetorical questions used by Judge William T. Little in pointing the finger of guilt at
Martin Blecher, Jr., in his book, The Tom Thomson Mystery in 1970.
A typewritten note from the Guillet essay dated September 15, 1946, first advances
in any writing I have seen the Blecher theory from which he can be identified.
(Blecher died of a heart attack in 1938.) What Guillet says in some respects is
particularly remarkable because he indirectly attributes this theory to Canadian
artist, A.Y. Jackson, who himself edited out any mention of murder from Ms. Davies
book when he arranged for its republication in 1967.
"As a result of a talk with A.Y. Jackson . . . the writer believes that the following
theory more nearly fits the probabilities than any of those advanced previously,"
Guillet wrote. He goes on to say that Thomson hired himself out as a guide that
last spring, cutting deeply into the earning of "a German-American guide. . . .The
theory is that the two men met and that, during an altercation, Thomson was
knocked from his canoe by a severe blow from a paddle."
The 1952 note added an additional motive, seized upon by Judge Little.
"Information subsequently obtained . . . all point to the same direction -- that he
was murdered. A guide who objected to his activities -- for he was always in
demand in that capacity -- seems to have been responsible for his death; and
opinion in the neighborhood suggests that there was a love angle in the tragedy. "
The German-American referred to by Guillet is certainly Martin Blecher, Jr.
However, Blecher is never mentioned as having worked as a guide in any
accounts of events around Canoe Lake. During the days that Thomson might have
worked as a guide -- the period from May 24, 1917 to July 8, 1917 -- Algonquin Park
was likely getting few visitors because of an especially intense season of black
flies. I seriously doubt that anyone was doing much guide work.
However, Thomson himself said in a letter to Dr. James H. MacCallum on July 7,
1917, that he had "done a great deal of paddling this spring and the fishing has
been fine. Have done some guiding for fishing parties and will have some other
trips this month and next with probably sketching in between."
The love angle mentioned by Guillet certainly is that further developed by Judge
Little, who imagined that Thomson and Blecher pursued jealous romance with
Winnifred Trainor, who is briefly mentioned in Thomson family correspondence in
the months following his drowning. Harold E. Emery of the Huntsville Public Library
wrote to Harrison O. McCurry at the National Gallery of Canada in 1933, describing
her "as a personal friend of (and I believe engaged to be married to) the late Mr.
Thomson." Ms. Davies had a 1930 letter from Mark Robinson who suggested that
she talk with "Miss Trainor or Huntsville Ontario to whom it is said Tom was
engaged. . . ." However, Ms. Davies never followed up on this intriguing lead. Ms.
Trainor died in 1962.
Judge Little's book was the first to fully describe Winnie's relationship with
Thomson, following in 1980 by Roy MacGregor's fictional story, Shorelines, since
republished as Canoe Lake, in which a pregnant character based on his great
aunt, Winnifred Trainor, confronts Thomson, demanding marriage. MacGregor's
book then follows her over the next months to a Philadelphia home for unwed
mothers, where she gives birth on Easter Day to a daughter, who returns as a
young woman to Algonquin Park in search of mother and father.
Algonquin Elegy closely examines these Blecher murder theories and helps
readers reach their own conclusions about what now appear to be mere rumors
told among Canoe Lake residents and Thomson's friends in the Canadian art
world dating back to 1917 but which none told in any detail for the historical record
until everyone involved had long since passed away. In this 1944 essay, Guillet
came closer than any earlier biographer to grasping desperately for the truth, if any,
behind these rumors.
Dr. Edwin C. Guillet's Study
of the Evidence