not so private history

where history is oh, so very public

The Value of Heritage in Canada: Tom Thomson and the Internet

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I love twitter these days. Giving my blog lots of content.

Skimming through the world’s tweets last week, I came upon @TTLastSpring. Tom Thomson, one of the Group of Seven, the work of whom I very much enjoy, was tweeting ‘from the grave’

[tweeting from the grave is when someone sets up a twitter account for a dead famous person and tweets in first person. Example: Tom Thomson @TTLastSpring, Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier @PMLaurier]

about the last Spring he spent alive, sketching his way through Algonquin Park in 1917. 

Check out the blog and his twitter account. It’s a bit late for this year, I know, since he died July 8, 1917 but it’s never too late for those of us still living to learn about the past. Get into it. It’s still beautiful.

Now, I have a bit of a strong connection to Tom Thomson. I always say that the best interpretive programs stay with me for years and years. One such program was called ‘Tom Thomson was a Weather Man’ in which physicist and meteorologist Phil Chadwick presented the weather through the work of Tom Thomson. It was a wonderful, hilarious (because Phil is actually hilarious) and emotional program because Phil knew just to relate our human experience of weather and life to the reclusive Tom Thomson. 

Skip ahead a few years later. Thomson’s story and Phil’s program are still with me as inspiration for the type of interpretive program I would love to do some day. I come upon this awesome tweet/blog on the last days of Tom Thomson’s life. I really enjoy reading the blog posts, diary entries and letters of this guy who has such a place in our history. I leave it for a few days and then come back for more when I can’t stop thinking about it.

Then, Mr. Public Historian awakens inside me and I think: holy crap, the internet is such a powerful tool for sharing personal stories. The reach we can have today as historians (amateur and professional) is so important to sparking the love of history in the hearts of the public. It always seems to be those personal interest stories that give significance to larger issues because people are looking for ways to connect themselves and their experience to the large narrative.

I think one really cool example of this is Tom’s post/diary entry on the 1917 Affirmation of Conscription. It’s one thing to learn about Conscription from a text book. Text books are (sometimes) boring and are so busy with telling every story that they often tell stories very badly. Learning about Conscription and it’s impact on the people of the country through the experiences and diary of someone like Tom Thomson is neat, brings it home and presents information as he saw it and how he reacted to it in a more readable story. (Sorry academics. Sometimes, you’re too boring). 

If we can share that stuff on the internet, think of how many people could be backwards-tricked into loving history. 

RIP Tom Thomson. You probably don’t like the attention but your life and death has had more impact than you’ll ever know. Thank you. 

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Author: Adrian Petry

Visitor Services Coordinator at @stcmuseum / Board Chair at @ChorusNiagara / Lead Tenor at @StAnnesTO / @westernuHistory & @HistoryBrockU grad.

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