The unanswered questions surrounding the death of one of Canada’s most celebrated artists are as familiar as the dark, loping branches of the wind-blown jack pines he painted. Nearly a century after Tom Thomson’s mysterious death, social media is bringing history into the digital age by revisiting his unfinished story.
On July 8, 1917 Thomson famously took his canoe for a last paddle in Algonquin Park. Eight days later, his body was found on Canoe Lake, and although his death was recorded as an accidental drowning, various theories point to either suicide or murder.
The Twitter handle @TTLastSpring was created late in 2011 and provides frequent updates on the possible activities and thoughts of Thomson leading up to the day of his death, 95 years ago. At the end of the countdown, the account creator says he will recount the days leading to the discovery of Thomson’s body, along with all of the investigation, speculation, and reaction that followed.
The creator chose anonymity to allow followers to suspend the idea of a third-party behind the tweets and really connect with Thomson. He says the timeliness of @TTLastSpring is another way to deepen this connection, as the 2012 calendar days coincide with those in 1917—July 8 falls on a Sunday in both 1917 and 2012.
“In effect, I have created the ‘ghost’ of Tom Thomson on Twitter. And this ghost has created a community of artists, outdoor enthusiasts, art collectors/dealers and museums that want to engage with his life as it was 95 years ago,” he says.
Tweets include links to sketches and letters written by Thomson, as well as simple day-to-day updates on where he was and whom he was with. In order to form historically accurate, or at least realistic tweets, the operator uses a variety of references on Thomson, including The Last Spring by Joan Murray, also the inspiration for the Twitter handle.
He says he has his own ideas about the events surrounding Thomson’s death, but is careful not to infuse his own opinion into his tweets. He plans to reconstruct @TTLastSpring each year allowing for the introduction of new research.
“It’s like writing a novel, piece by piece and carrying the readers [followers] with you as you create,” he says. “It’s about exploring life as it actually unfolds, not after the fact, packaged up as a product.”