Tom Thomson's Grey Canoe?????


LOVES Wooden Canoes
I've posted this previously on my blog and would appreciate input from WCHA forum members. I've been unable to find much on the make and model of Canadian artist Tom Thomson's grey canoe. Years ago the McMichael Art Gallery ran an exhibit on the canoe in art, with several works by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, with a similar exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario a few years later; the Canadian Canoe Museum was also present with a display at the AGO....but I saw no definitive comment on Tom's canoe. Any thoughts by WCHA forum members. Here's what I wrote on the blog:

Mike Elliot in his Canoeguy’s Blog,, has run several posts on the Chestnut canoes in Bill Mason’s films. One of the things that caught my attention was Mike’s comment on the “original factory colour” of the Chestnut Prospector as being “grey” (or as Mike terms it “light lichen green”). Of course, I’m pretty sure that the Prospector was available in other colours such as red or green….but it would seem that the basic colour for use by guides, prospectors, surveyors and trappers was indeed “grey”….grey being a more utilitarian colour. Curiously I recall reading that Tom Thomson was identified as using a “grey” canoe. For those of you who are unaware of Tom Thomson, he was a great Canadian artist often associated with the Group of Seven artists so famous for their work in Canadian landscapes. Tom painted from a canoeist’s viewpoint….because he was an accomplished paddler. Tom spent a lot of time in Algonquin not only painting but also guiding….in fact it was in Algonquin on Canoe Lake that Tom’s body was found in July 1917 shortly after he had gone missing and his canoe was first found capsized upside down….Tom was found with fishing line wrapped around his leg and an apparent head injury….yet still it was determined that he had hit his head and accidentally drowned….but there is much speculation about other causes of death including murder or even suicide and a possible lovers’ triangle. But no matter how he died or why, Tom Thomson is one of the icons of Canadian canoeing….especially for his fine art of the Canadian wilderness. For more on Tom Thomson see these links:

Now I have already mentioned Tom Thomson’s grey canoe. Here is a picture of the “grey canoe”:


Tom Thomson in his “grey canoe”….Alginquin Park. Picture from Don Charbonneau’s website,

Tom included the image of a grey canoe in a couple of his paintings….could this be the same grey canoe as shown in the above photo.

In December 2005 Joyner Waddington held an auction of works by Lawren Harris (a member of the Group of Seven) and Tom Thomson. These included a little-known oil sketch, by Tom entitled Canoe and Lake, Algonquin Park, which sold for $369,600 (now that would have bought a pile of Chestnut Prospectors LOL LOL).


Image of Tom Thomson’s ‘Canoe and Lake, Algonquin Park’ courtesy Joyner Waddington,

Tom Thomson also painted The Canoe in 1914, which is now in the Art Gallery of Ontario, yet another depiction of a grey canoe in Algonquin Park.


Image from Group of Seven, a fine arts reproduction company,
(Note: This image incorrectly identifies this painting as from 1912.)

So Tom Thomson obviously used a grey canoe….and chances are it was likely a Chestnut Prospector in utilitarian grey. It looks like it could be from the photo….and the date of the 1910s would be right too. So it would seem a Canadian icon used a Canadian icon.

So any ideas from WCHA gang....remember seeing a comment here on WCHA forum on a canoe used by Archie Belaney (Grey Owl) once....but nothing I could find on Tom Thomson's I wrote my guess is a Chestnut Prospector....but I think the experts here might have better ideas. If nothing else just a puzzler to begin 2010....Happy New Year!!!!
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I don't think the canoe in the pix are prospectors. They seem to have a tad too much back curve in the stem profile and too much rise from the middle to the tip of the stem. I know the grey-green shade used by Chestnut and that matches, so maybe another Chestnut model--maybe a cruiser.
I don't think the canoe in the pix are prospectors. They seem to have a tad too much back curve in the stem profile and too much rise from the middle to the tip of the stem. I know the grey-green shade used by Chestnut and that matches, so maybe another Chestnut model--maybe a cruiser.

The suggestion that this was a Cruiser instead of Prospector makes sense….”a tad too much back curve in the stem profile and too much rise from the middle to the tip of the stem….the grey-green shade used by Chestnut and that matches, so maybe another Chestnut model–maybe a cruiser”….after checking the Chestnut catalog for 1935, posted on, the oldest such catalog I could find online, I would possibly agree….the lines appear more like that of a Cruiser….or it could even possibly be the Guide’s Special model which was a Cruiser model with ribs built closer together to make the “strongest canvas canoe in the world”.

Thanks Larry for feedback.
From the Algonquin Adventurers forum,'s+Canoe-----, in response to a similar post on Tom Thomson's canoe comes this info:

" reference in "Canoe Lake Algonquin Park" by S. Bernard Shaw: One of the significant omissions at the inquest was any serious discussion regarding the state of Tom's canoe and it's equipment. The canoe was distinctive with a metal strip along the keel and painted a GREY-GREEN OF TOM'S OWN CONCOCTION. The small population of Canoe Lake must have known it by sight" (pp107)

Another reference in response to the question on Tom Thomson's canoe, again on the same Algonquin Adventurers forum as above:

"....from "Exploring Algonquin Park" By Joanne Kates: "Thomsom had a canoe in which he took great pride, a graceful cedar and canvas CHESTNUT craft of a unique DOVE-GREY COLOUR, which he had achieved by adding a deluxe $2.00 tube of cobalt blue artist's paint to a standard grey canoe paint" (pp103)
So it sounds like he had a custom blue or green-grey Chestnut canoe"

So perhaps Tom's canoe wasn't a standard Chestnut grey.
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Posting images from the "Canadian Wood Canoe & Boat Company Catalog Collection" available on CD from and on the web.

The first is from the 1904 catalog and is the Cruiser model.

Second is from the 1913 catalog and is the Pleasure model.

Third is a picture that comes after the Pleasure model in the catalog... one could presume it is the Pleasure but that isn't stated. The angle is similar to the one in the picture of Thompson in his canoe, and the two canoes appear to have similar lines.

Fourth picture is the 1913 Guide model.

Seems to me that Thompson's Chestnut would have been of the early type, which was based on the Morris and therefore had more recurve and higher ends than later Chestnuts. But someone who knows the Canadian canoes better than I can speak to that with more authority.

One of the links (above) on Thompson (third link down--Tom Thompson Project) includes a letter stating that Thompson bought a Chestnut (it's under the picture of Winifred).



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Book and Movie and other stories...

Exploring information on the book ( and the movie (, it seems that each takes an opinion as to Thompson's death and runs with it.

The stories regarding his death tend to contradict each other... as though the authors of some are changing or withholding information to make a point, or deepen the mystery. For instance, one story tells us who found the body and another says that nobody knows who found the body (and he could have been killed by terrorists).
My bet is that it was a Chestnut cruiser. See attached photos of 16' and 18' cruisers. It is my understanding that the Chestnut cruisers were originally called prospectors before the newer version that we know as Chestnut prospectors. Any truth to that?


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What I recall reading someplace was that the Prospector was developed from the Cruiser in about the 20s. The Prospector has 2-3 inches more depth at the center. Thus a more slab sided appearance. Certainly some time in the 20s, the Prospector was a "famous" name in canoes, as evidenced in RM Patterson's Dangerous River.
I am convinced that it was an early Cruiser model.

It is my understanding that the Chestnut cruisers were originally called prospectors before the newer version that we know as Chestnut prospectors. Any truth to that?

The Chestnut Prospector model was officially introduced in 1923.
Before that time, they filled the demand for canoes larger than their regular size Pleasure and Cruiser models, but smaller and lighter than the Freight models, by building Cruiser and Pleasure models two and three inches deeper than standard.

All the Chestnut models were significantly changed when the molds were rebuilt after the fire in December 1921.
Thanks again Larry, Kathy, Dave and would seem that indeed Tom's canoe was a Cruiser (or possibly the Guide's Special that was a version of the Cruiser) instead of a Prospector...especially (as noted by Dick) since the Prospector didn't appear until 1923....and after the fire in 1921, the Chestnut canoe models were all is interesting too that Kathy noted how similar to a Morris the canoe Tom has was....especially given the influence Morris canoes had on the early Chestnuts....thanks again for all the input....just wondering if there has ever been an article written on Tom Thomson's canoe in Wooden Canoe....if not perhaps there certainly seems of interest (well at least to me I guess LOL LOL)
Dont know about Thomsons boat, but I've got a Canadian Canoe Company model owned by Tom Wattie. Google that name..... Perhaps not quite the celebrity, but its a lot easier to chase down info when I can call his Grandson (who sold me the boat) and ask him questions. Havent turned up Thomsons boat or any original sketches either (yet) ..., but I doubt its in South River or I'd have found it by now. I'll sign Thomsons name on my Moonlight if you really have to have his boat :p
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I'd agree that Tom Wattie was a well-known figure in Algonquin Park lore....he was a very respected park ranger....and a friend of Tom Thomson....I believe there is a memorial cairn to Park Rangers Frank Robichaud and Tom Wattie on the Amable Du Fond at the former site of the North Tea Lake to have a canoe of Tom Wattie's is for signing Thomson's name to the side of your Moonlight, does this mean you may have found it under all that snow LOL LOL....seriously, don't you dare mark up such a beautiful canoe....Happy New Year!!!!
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