by Pat Rich
One of my main activities on social media for the last few years has been to follow on Twitter the life of a man who dies each year and is then reborn to die again the following year.
No, not him.
I’m referring to perhaps Canada’s only truly iconic artist — Tom Thomson.
Twitter will never be mistaken for a cultural Nirvana. But amongst all of the ephemeral references to daily living, the enigmatic posts to fellow travellers and links to the news of the day, there are some hidden gems and interesting threads woven through the accounts of the 3,000 people I follow.
Tom Thomson is not the only dead person in my Twitter stream. Someone representing Grey Owl is there as well, as are the accounts of one or more Canadian soldiers living through the trench warfare of WW1. There is even the phantom account of a British family physician who died a couple of years ago, but whose account continues to collate news items based on his preferences and publish them as an online newsletter.
But to me, @TTLastSpring functions at a totally different level.
Since November 2011, the anonymous contributor who created the account has been recounting the last days of Thomson from November 1916 until his mysterious death on July 21, 1917. Each year, tweets are posted detailing journal entries, letters and newspaper clippings often accompanied by copies of sketches and paintings Thomson created. And woven through it all is the mystery — very strongly implied to be a murder mystery — of how Thomson met his end on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park.
What makes the account even more true to the engaging nature of social media is that it is more than just a very detailed transcript or narrative of Thomson’s last days unrolling in a chronological fashion. @TTLastSpring also interacts in real time with many of the almost 5,000 people who follow him or her on Twitter, especially when it comes to the natural beauty and seasonal changes in Algonquin Park.
For example, on November 20, @TTLastSpring not only supplied the temperature in Algonquin Park for November 20, 1916, but also provided a link to an article from that week’s newspaper in 2015 on the 50th anniversary of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, where many of Thomson’s paintings reside.
The combination is one that is well-suited to the medium where the accounts of multi-million-follower celebrities appear along with multiple faux celebrity accounts, and authorship is often concealed or cryptic. @TTLastSpring has appropriated much of the life and work of Tom Thomson but never claims — thank goodness — to be the reincarnation of Thomson.
“I can’t promise to tell you who I truly am but I’ll definitely do my best to tell you what Tom was thinking, sketching or reading,” @TTLastSpring writes in an associated blog post. The real identity behind @TTLastSpring is still unknown. In a direct message to me on Twitter recently, the author indicated he or she was planning on remaining anonymous until 2017, the centenary of Thomson’s death.
I cannot think of a cultural icon more appropriate for this kind of exhaustive treatment, given that Tom Thomson has created one of the most prominent visions of Canada – fall leaves, lone pines and all.