painting and photographic works

Northern Light – a book review


NORTHERN LIGHT, The enduring mystery of Tom Thomson and the woman who loved him is an interesting and tragic book.  I won’t spoil the mystery by revealing the author’s conclusions but I will say it was a good, entertaining read. MacGregor wraps up years of investigation (his own and others) to lay out all of the theories and suspects around the death of legendary Canadian painter Tom Thomson back in 1917.

Northern Light by Roy MacGregor

Aside from addressing the Thompson mystery, there is another major theme to this book. Northern Light devotes significant pages to the sad story of Winnie Trainor, who was reported to be engaged to Thomson and just perhaps… After Thomson’s death she lead a rather solitary and sometimes mysterious life.

Much of the story takes place in and around Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park in Northern Ontario. This area was the base for many of Thomson’s sketching and outdoors adventures and also the location of the lakeside cabin of the Trainor family. Through the book we are introduced to an intriguing cast of characters and their white lies, second hand stories and faded memories. No doubt it is very challenging to piece together a story, to solve a mystery, without a lot of documentary evidence but MacGregor does a very admirable job. A number of times while reading I thought “Okay, now I know what the author is thinking” only to realize that there was still a good portion of the book to go. Sure enough, as the remaining pages unfolded  more twists and evidence were revealed, contributing to the entertaining read.

Northern Light was published  by Random House in the October of 2010. The 357 page book includes a couple of simple but welcome maps of Northern Ontario around Algonquin Park and the Canoe Lake areas. Also useful are the many black and white photos reproduced through the pages. It’s great to look through books rich with big color images of Tom Thomson paintings. This book doesn’t have any of those painting reproductions but still is a worthwhile read that I recommend to fans of Canadian painting and to those just interested in a good real-life mystery story.


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