Three Missing Documents recorded in the 1970s

Three Missing Documents recorded in the 1970s

l. Canada’s Greatest School of Business (Chatham, Ontario: Planet, 1903) (formerly in the Chatham Public Library)

(reproduce cover, pages 1, 16, 20)

2.  Letter from Stuart L. Thompson to Alan Jarvis, Director of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 118 Bessborough Dr.?, Toronto, February 4, 1956 (presently unlocated by the Library and Archives of the National Gallery of Canada)


Dear Mr. Jarvis ~

I can only give you my own personal recollection of Tom Thomson and I’m afraid these being of his obscure days may not be of much value. However such as they are you are at liberty to delete as you see fit. The situation reminds me of one occasion when my uncle Ernest Thompson Seton was preparing his autobiography, since published, he used to read his lines to me at length much of it was family matters. I would say “you ain’t going to publish that, are you? “No he would say“ my publishers ask for everything from me and delete at will.” They did I see.

The background of Tom Thomson’s information is as follows: As a boy I had greatest difficulty in finding myself. My father had no money for boys who had naturalists’ tastes. The family reserve was such that I had to begin earning at once. Someone told me that it would be a good move if I were to find a job in a photo-engraving firm for there I might become an artist and could carry on my nature studies and become a writer and illustrator. Accordingly in June 1905 I found myself hired by a firm called Legg Bros as an apprentice at the magnificent salary of $2.00 per week. This is a source of wonder to present day apprentices I find who want $2.00 per hour (more or less) But when I say that the manager of the firm was getting perhaps 20.00 per week. You will see the situation. The staff consisted of a head artist named Nelson (21.00 per week) Tom Thomson, W. Wilks,* another apprentice and myself. 5 in all working in one room.

Tom Thomson sat at far corner next a window (note this). He was tall, lanky, wiry with a thin Indian-like face a long nose and straight black hair that hung in his eyes. He was slow, deliberate, quiet and friendly and temperamental. We boys liked him and looked up to him. He was an artist that had “arrived” and was earning $11.00 per week (i.e. $2.00 per day with Saturday P.M. off.). I do not recall his type of work, general illustrating, I think. We knew he lived in Owen Sound and boarded some-place up Yonge St. which he referred to as “Barney’s “. I recall I recall once his saying He had been eating Barney’s chop suey ever since coming to Toronto. The very first Saturday I was there they all went up the Humber River here, sketching Tom included. On Monday asked why I had not joined them kindly I replied modestly I wasn’t asked. (I have always regretted I did not go on that occasion more to tell you). He often went home to Owen Sound over weekend and on Monday morning we knew his long deliberate step coming along the hall, generally late.

Tho careful with his work he dressed indifferently. I recall once he washed his hands by simply pouring his art water over them letting it run freely to the floor. He used to sing rather well while at his work. I recall once he broke into the well-known anthem “Consider and hear me…” I asked him if he sang in the choir that he knew it he said he did. On one occasion he landed at work his sister. I remember he took her to each of us in turn and told what work we were doing. He introduced me as a “namesake” – the first time I ever heard the term.

He was very moody and temperamental subject to fits of depression which I think he played up largely. I recall once he threatened to quit and leave town, saying he [had been]  “down at the yards looking over the freight trains going east last night.” The joke being that freight trains did not wait 24 hours in the yard and any night would do. Another time he announced that he was going to quit all his bad habits and straightway threw his pipe, matches and plug of tobacco out the window into the street. He was smoking next day. Occasionally he drank too much when he would become morose and would go home. Once he drank enough to quit and stayed away. I understand he phoned in and said he was getting another job and requested the boss not to knock him when he asked for reference.

On another occasion he professed a great liking for United States, saying he had been at a band concert last night and when they played “star-spangled banner” he stood up and took his hat off. “By God! I like the country better than Canada” he protested. I believe he had been in N.Y.

He was always courteous and helpful to us boys and had a strange way of calling out “which” if he did not hear a remark instead of “what” or “pardon.”

After some weeks of fruitless trying I was out of the art dept. and set to work to learn the trade practically. I recall Tom’s comment. “I think you are wise, you might struggle along with art for a long while get no where and end up driving a street car” [sic]. I could do worse today. For this non-descript job they are paid, what 2.00 per? hour for easy unlearned profession. (ed). At the practical part I saw little of Tom until one day I heard he had quit. Personally I learned photo-engraving and am now a salesman. I make a living at this business and really live outdoors as a naturalist. However you do not want to know about me sufficient to say that my hobby paved the way to learn a business so I could enjoy my hobby more fully and Tom Thomson was part of my background. Incidentally if I were to get the public recognition from my connection? with photo-engraving that I do, unsought, for my hobby I would be rich (financially I mean)

My next word of Tom Thomson was years after when I was overseas. I received a letter with a clipping showing a portrait of Tom Thomson and an account of his death in July 1917 asking if he was my relation. The spelling is different.

My next was in 1920 when I was a nature study instructor in a camp on the very lake Tom was drowned and saw the cabin on the point. A man named Frazer (not Shannon Frazer of hotel fame on same lake) was instructor on mushrooms, etc. and art in same camp same season and told a story of Tom.

He said Tom had sold a picture for $75.00 and when he presented the check at the bank, he was asked for identification and in the presence of the manager said “Must I be identified to cash this cheque?” and tore the cheque up & walked out. I do not know the origin of this story nor can I verify it. Frazer is now dead.

This is all I can bring together Mr. Jarvis. I have told all fully from memory. I write an extensive diary about my outdoor experiences and have for years but rarely mention my city life. Had I but known anyone would want notes on Tom Thomson then indeed would I have kept them fully. But how could I?

You have my permission to use any of this but of course you will use your own discretion in publishing some which may be untoward. I shall be glad to hear from you further at any time.

Yours very sincerely



Stuart L. Thompson


*William Edwin Wilkes (1883-1969). When Wilkes, then a student at the Central Ontario School of Art and Design (later the Ontario College of Art), visited the studio of Tom Thomson in the winter of 1916-17, Thomson gave him five oil sketches. The sketches, two of which have been split, are 1916.143, 1916.153, 1916.156 and 1916.159, and 1916.161 and 1916.162.

3. Exhibition recorded from a catalogue or list presently unknown with references to the possible works to which the titles refer in the catalogue:

OSA? 1914? Exhibition of Pictures from [Ontario Society of Artists?], April 10-April 22, 1914[?] [this was not the annual exhibition, but one of shorter duration]. Thomson showed the following works:

#97      Windy Day                 $250                            [1912-1913.01?

#98      Thunderstorm               100                            1913-1914.03?

#99      Sketch, September          25                            1913.28?

#100    Sketch, November           25                            1913.34?]