Tracking Tom Thomson's last spring in Algonquin Park, a century later

Tracking Tom Thomson's last spring in Algonquin Park, a century later

100 years ago today, legendary Canadian artist Tom Thomson embarked on his last trip from Toronto to Algonquin Park.

Now art enthusiasts and history buffs can follow along in real time, thanks to an Ottawa man who has recreated Thomson's final months on Twitter.

Tim Bouma runs the account @TTLastSpring and the blog Tom Thomson's Last Spring. He first began documenting Thomson's final spring in Algonquin Park in 2011, and he's revamped the account this year for the 100th anniversary of the artist's death.

"The story of [Thomson's] last spring is such a great story," Bouma told host Hallie Cotnam on CBC's Ottawa Morning. "There's lots of work out there, but nothing has been brought together from Tom Thomson's point of view."

Bouma grew up in the same village as Thomson near Owen Sound, Ont. As a lifelong fan, he was inspired to create the Twitter account by another that posts historical moments from the Second World War in real time.

The tweets are automated, based on a schedule Bouma created when he first undertook the project. 

"I knew that he had painted about 60 to 62 sketches that spring, one a day," he said. "So I found about 45 of them, through references and that, then I looked at them and tried to figure out exactly what point in time he would have painted them. And then from that I generated a series of tweets."

Bouma tweaks the content from year to year. He has special plans this year to commemorate Thomson's mysterious death on July 8, 1917, including a camping trip in the park and a fireside reading.

"My hope is that we'll be canoeing ... recreating the sequence of events exactly as they played out 100 years ago in a canoe," he said.

'The man behind the curtain'

Thanks to his research and his popular blog and Twitter account, Bouma has emerged as an expert on Thomson's work. A dealer from Spokane, Wash., reached out to him recently to confirm that a sketch he had picked up in Italy was in fact created by the artist.

"I saw it, and I just fell out of my chair. I looked at it and said, this is a Thomson, absolutely. I was so familiar with the environment he was painting in, I was familiar with his style, and this was a sketch that appeared," he said.

The dealer let him have the sketch, which Bouma estimates could be worth about $1.2 million. 

As his Twitter account begins to generate steam once again as it follow's Thomson's last spring in Algonquin Park, the excitement is building for Bouma.

"I feel like the man behind the curtain. I feel like I've really plugged into a really neat cultural vein. It's amazing. I get about 60,000 views a day, I get a couple hundred interactions a day, and it's all people that just love Tom Thomson. They love camping. They love Algonquin Park."