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Northern Light    by Roy MacGregor order for
Northern Light
by Roy MacGregor
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Northern Light: The Enduring Mystery of Tom Thomson and the Woman Who Loved Him, Roy MacGregor (who wrote a novel, Canoe Lake, and various articles on the same subject) addresses a cold case that has aroused great interest in Canada for almost a century. That is, the mysterious 1917 death of the country's most admired painter, Tom Thomson, the legendary artist who introduced the Group of Seven to the wilderness of Algonquin Park. Was his death accidental drowning, murder, or suicide and how might his longstanding relationship with Winnie Trainor (his fiancée?) have contributed to it?

Having grown up in Huntsville, Ontario and being distantly related by marriage to Winnie Trainor, MacGregor was in a good position to explore the mystery of Thomson's death as well as that of the present location of the artist's bones (which is also controversial). He shares his sources with readers in Northern Light, along with a thorough analysis of the information he's gleaned through nearly forty years of research. Of course he's not the only one to address the subject - there have been other books and films - but he does an impressively thorough job here, beginning with the artist's early life and his discovery of The North Country.

Tom Thomson was just starting to receive serious recognition for his work when he died, which makes it all the more tragic. He was found with a suspicious bruise on his temple and with fishing line wrapped around an ankle. It seems incomprehensible nowadays that such a discovery would have been dismissed as an accidental death, as it was at the time. MacGregor takes readers through a myriad of conflicting accounts of what happened and when, giving each a measured assessment. He sums up by telling us what he himself believes happened but also states that 'this, essentially, is the story of Tom Thomson's death: stop the fuss, put an end to the furor, protect reputations at every possible step.'

Like a multitude of other Canadians, I have prints of Tom Thomson's art (which I've long admired) on the walls of my home. So I was fascinated by this book, but not only for the cold case mystery that it addresses. MacGregor also shares a wealth of information on the development of Algonquin Park, and on the emergence of a unique identity in Canadian art. If any of these subjects intrigue you, then pick up Northern Light.

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