June 11, 1930
Miss Blodwen Davies, Toronto, Ontario
c/o Toronto Daily Star
Dear Miss Davies:
Here is a brief outline of Tom's life from the time he started to school - about 1882 or 1883 - until about 1905. My recollections of him in his first school years are of course hazy. But he was a boy who never gave the teacher any trouble and I suppose that fact is accounted for by his easy going and placid disposition. But even then it was noticed how good hearted he was. Anything he had was always shared with his playmates and if there were only two, himself and friend, his friend always got the larger share. I think, everything considered, that was what made him so well liked. I could tell a dozen stories of his generosity. All the family were that way: utterly unselfish.
I have sometimes thought that two things might have changed the current of Tom’s life. These were marriage and a college education. Of the nine children he was the only one who remained single.
It was along in 1893 Tom first got into music. His eldest brother, George, organized and was leader of the village brass band in 1886. I joined it in 1888 and am still at it; 42 years as a band and orchestra musician. In 1893 I started the band again after it had been dormant for a year or two, and Tom was one of the recruits. He played cornet and tenor trombone, but only with indifferent success, but later took up and mastered the mandolin. At the best, however, he was never the musician such as his three brothers, George, Henry and Ralph, became. Henry, now in Tacoma, played cornet, violin and piano and played them all superlatively well.
Tom stayed at home until he came of age in 1898. His grandfather, Mr. Thomson’s father, had left rather a peculiar will by which all of Tom’s brothers and sisters, and Tom himself, came in for a certain amount on their coming of age. I am not very clear on this point, but think Tom’s share when he reached the age of 21 was something like $1800 or $2000. I had started an apprenticeship in the machinist’s trade with the Wm. Kennedy and Sons at Owen Sound in 1894. Tom apprenticed himself with the same firm in the winter of 1899. He only lasted about eight months at this, however. He and the foreman, a gentleman named Munro, never got along, and along in August of that year Tom quit. He told me about 3 years later that it was the most regrettable incident in his life until then and that he often thought of going back at the trade. Be that as it may, he returned home for a few months and then went to Chatham, Ont., where he entered the Canada Business College. That was where George and Harry both received their respective educations and it was in Chatham that George met and married his first wife, a Miss MacLaren. His second and present wife was a Miss Jean Telford, a first cousin of my own. George has always been regarded as a sort of Puritan, but I really believe he is about as upright and honorable a man as I could ever count as a friend. I don’t think Tom’s stay in Chatham did him much good. He seemed to me at the time to be drifting. He was clever enough at his studies but he lacked the faculty of concentration. By way of contrast, I remember my sister Maggie, who was a school teacher (she died in 1909, poor girl) once telling me that she never knew any who could concentrate on a task given him at school like his brother Ralph could.
Well, in 1901 Tom left home again, went to Winnipeg and a little later landed in Seattle. His brothers George and Henry were already there and Ralph followed the three to the same city in the winter of 1901-02. I went to the Coast myself in April of 1902 and saw considerable of Tom that summer. He was with a firm of engravers Maring and Ladd, and seemed to get along well. He made hosts of friends of course; I never knew anyone who made friends more easily. I came East again late in 1902 and Tom returned to Owen Sound, I think, in 1904, with his friend Horace Rutherford. Horace, who is now in Spokane, Wash., could tell a lot about Tom. He, Horace, was a former Owen Sound boy and also served his apprenticeship with Kennedy and Sons. I only saw Tom on two occasions after 1902, on each of those two for only a few days. Once was in 1905, when his father had moved to Owen Sound, and again in 1910. So I can tell you to [sic] nothing, or next to nothing of the last period of his life, for we got out of touch altogether. Should you go to Owen Sound I would advise you call on my cousin Ross McKeen, who was a bosom friend of Tom’s and was with him a great deal from 1904 until 1910 and 1912, and more or less from then on until his death. Ross is a traveling man now and makes the Soo about three times a year. He was with me for two evenings about six weeks ago and will be here again, as he said, about July.
As regards to his father, John Thomson, now in his 91st year, I could tell many stories, but they would be largely gossip and would probably be of little use to you in the work you are undertaking. Johnny Thomson, as every one calls him, was always regarded as rather a unique character at Leith. He was a gentleman in every sense, but one of the most eccentric men who ever drew the breath of life. [...] But when the Thomson family lived at Leith I do not know of any family in the whole of Sydenham township who were more highly esteemed by all their neighbors and acquaintances. I think this was mostly on account of their hospitality. “It snowed of meat and drink in that house” as Chaucer said. For another thing, they were all music minded and liked to have music and musicians around them. Every one of them, to mention them in the order of their ages, George, Lizzie, (now Mrs. Thos. Harkness and a widow) Henry, Louise, who is now Mrs. Jas. Henry, Minnie, now Mrs. Will Henry, Tom, Ralph, Margaret, now Mrs. Twaddle, and Frazer, were all musicians in one respect or another and were devoted to music. They took this from their father, who had a tenor voice of excellent quality. I want you to believe me, Miss Davies, when I tell you that you would have esteemed it a privilege to have known that family as we all knew them. They were the kind of people of whom you carry nothing but pleasant memories in after life. They had their faults just as we all have - a lack of punctuality seemed, for one thing, to be common to them all - but I never knew a family anywhere or at any time who were so utterly unselfish, and that is a virtue which, like charity, covers a multitude of sins. I think they got this quality from their mother. The poor and needy will never have a better friend than Mrs. Thomson was to the unfortunates of Sydenham.
I never remember of seeing Tom either excited or in an angry passion. Once, when he was in Seattle, he was held up on a dark street by a bandit. Tom told the story next day to his brother Ralph and seemed to regard the whole thing as a joke. He held his hands up on the word and kept them up while the hold-up man, who, Tom said, was quite a young fellow, frisked him for a watch and four or five dollars. Tom was far the cooler of the two and remarked to the man who was robbing him that he must be new to the business as he trembled so violently. “Yes” said the bandit, “you are my first”, and then, having secured everything of value Tom had on his person, he turned and bolted. I do not know of anything that illustrates as well his easy going disposition. Nothing seemed to disturb him. I often think that had he been more anxious minded it had been better for him. He had a sort of funny little silent laugh and as his sense of humor was a pretty active one, one often heard, or rather saw it. I think he was the most ardent sportsman of the whole family, with the possible exception of his father. He seemed to be one of those people who are born with a shotgun in one hand and a fishing rod in the other. He and I trolled 44 salmon trout between Waterton’s Creek and Vail’s Point one day in the fall of 1898. Tom had his shotgun in the boat, I remember, and if a flying duck came within possible range at all would always have a try at it.
He may have changed in the last fifteen years of his life, when, as I have said, I only saw him twice, but prior to that he was one of the most companionable men it has been my fortune to hold friendship with, and there are scores of others, I venture to say, who will tell you the same thing. Knowing him as I did it seems to be the most improbable thing in the world that he even would even contemplate suicide. How he came by his death will perhaps always remain a mystery. What I do know is that he was one of the best swimmers of all the boys around Leith, and some of them were pretty good. A lady friend of mine, who did not know him at all and had never seen him, told me about five years ago that when he was taken from the lake a fishing line was tightly drawn around his arms and body. I do not know what credence to give the story; there are always a lot of reports after a death like his.
I think that, speaking from personal experience as a bachelor, he was far too much alone in his last years for his own good. Solitude, in the sense of being often alone, is not a bad thing, and it is appalling to say the least when one sees around him such a host of people who simply cannot endure it and who fly from their own company as though it were a pestilence. But too much solitude, it seems to me, makes one self centred first and then develops a sort of morbidness. I think his worst fault in the time referred to must have been his drinking, that is, if the stories told me be true. I am the last who should throw stones, for in my time I have taken far more whiskey than was good for me. But there is no use in trying to canonize a man simply because he is dead, and from stories Ross McKeen and others have told me there was absolutely no sense to the manner in which Tom set about his drinking when the humor seemed to take him. There may have been a reason, or rather a cause, for it, one can never tell.
I hope all this will be treated in the strictest confidence, or at least as not coming from me.
Some of the happiest hours of my life have been spent in Tom’s company. Of another thing you may be sure, and it is that if the dead have any consciousness of existence, and if they know what is transpiring among their friends in the world they left, then you may be sure that Tom was astounded when he learned that he was to be made the subject of a book. He was always as plain and easy as an old shoe; there was never the slightest pretence, affectation [sic] or self consciousness about him at all. That can be said of few of us. I am afraid to look back through this letter as its general incoherence would be likely to discourage me, so with best wishes I will remain
Alan H. Ross
(LAC, MG30 D38 'Blodwen Davies fonds', Vol. 11)