Roy MacGregor’s lifelong fascination with Tom Thomson first led him to write Canoe Lake, a novel inspired by a distant relative’s affair with one of Canada’s greatest painters. Now, MacGregor breaks new ground, re-examining the mysteries of Thomson’s life, loves and violent death in the definitive non-fiction account. Why does a man who died almost a century ago and painted relatively little still have such a grip on our imagination?
The eccentric spinster Winnie Trainor was a fixture of Roy MacGregor’s childhood in Huntsville, Ontario. She was considered too odd to be a truly romantic figure in the eyes of the town, but the locals knew that Canada’s most famous painter had once been in love with her, and that she had never gotten over his untimely death. She kept some paintings he gave her in a six-quart basket she’d leave with the neighbours on her rare trips out of town, and in the summers she’d make the trip from her family cottage, where Thomson used to stay, on foot to the graveyard up the hill, where fans of the artist occasionally left bouquets. There she would clear away the flowers. After all, as far as anyone knew, he wasn’t there: she had arranged at his family’s request for him to be exhumed and moved to a cemetery near Owen Sound.
As Roy MacGregor’s richly detailed Northern Light reveals, not much is as it seems when it comes to Tom Thomson, the most iconic of Canadian painters. Philandering deadbeat or visionary artist and gentleman, victim of accidental drowning or deliberate murder, the man’s myth has grown to obscure the real view — and the answers to the mysteries are finally revealed in these pages