It’s not like the story has never been told, so Millbrook’s Geoff Taylor knew he had to tell the story of the death of Tom Thomson in a unique way.
He knew it wouldn’t be easy, a fact confirmed by a heckler at his first reading challenging him on his topic selection. He remained undeterred, because he already had an angle. The cabin in Algonquin where Thomson spent a lot of his time during the story line was owned by Taylor’s aunt and uncle for more than 30 years. Taylor knew it well, and felt a connection.
He approached the enduring mystery on a chronological basis covering the 24 hours immediately after the unlikely discovery of Thomson’s body below the surface of Canoe Lake, one of Thomson’s favourite haunts. Based on meticulous research, the story includes direct quotes from Head Ranger Mark Robinson, whose diary is held at the Trent archives. The story’s authenticity is also derived from Taylor’s personal paddling expertise, fishing advice he received from Paul Storace and an understanding of the artist’s sensibilities explained by George Raab. The novel follows the movements of those involved in the grisly discovery and the steps they took to uncover the truth. The mystery of Thomson’s untimely death has been the source of speculation for more than a century and is a Canadian mystery which endures to this day.
The book developed in Taylor’s imagination for almost ten years, but once he decided to go to print, things fell into place at a rapid pace. At the suggestion of his friend and local writer/illustrator Bill Slavin, Taylor contacted Burnstown Publishing, a boutique publishing house in Ottawa specializing in smaller editions and those featuring local history. They were back to him within hours with a green light to publish the book!
This summer Taylor did the rounds promoting the novel in places where interest was natural, including Algonquin Park and the Canoe Museum. Sales were proceeding well, until an interview in July with Explore magazine whose subscribers are outdoor adventurers, took them through the roof. By the beginning of August, the book had sold out and a second printing has now replenished the supply.
Since his relocation to Millbrook more than 20 years ago, Taylor has been inspired and motivated by a deep appreciation for the rich culture of creativity and the attitude of inclusion that infuses this town. He is encouraged by the local attitude of “if we make it, they will come ,” and residents’ ability to create home grown fun as evidenced by local farmers’ markets, the Zucchini Festivals, Give a Hoot Cafe, 4th Line Theatre, Legion Nights and events at the Pastry Peddler. Talents including George and Evelyn Raab, Glenn Fallis, Rob Winslow, JoEllen Brydon, Bill Slavin, Grace Glass and Jeff Brackett have been very encouraging and nurturing in the creation of this story and its development into a book. He believes the Millbrook creative community pushes the boundaries, forges new directions and strikes out with creative independence. He would be pleased to think that having written this book, he can be included in that group. In his words, “It is a canoe I am happy to be paddling”.
The book is available at Bear Essentials. Geoff Taylor will be speaking on Thursday, September 28th at 7 pm at the Millbrook & Cavan Historical Society’s kick-off gathering of the season at Centennial Place. KG