Tag Archives: Artist

Artist Tom Thomson Family Link

Recent local travels took me to the village of Leith, near Owen Sound, Ontario.  I was thrilled to visit for two reasons – personal interest of local artists and family connections.

  1. World-famous Canadian artist Tom Thomson, my particular favourite, connected to Group of Seven had roots in the village of Leith, Ontario, Canada.
  2. My paternal Great-Grandfather Bertram Henry Symes (1976-1918) who died at the end of WWI is buried in Leith, Scotland.

The visit, however uncovered some interesting facts and local folklore!

The tiny church – Leith Church, erected 1865, closed 1969, Church of Scotland – United Church of Canada.  As the memorial plaque states right in the churchyard there is a grave for my favourite Canadian artist… Tom Thompson.

A few years ago, our family took a trip to Canoe Lake, and rowed to various memorial points there….. I had always thought he was buried at Canoe Lake.

However, local Leith village folklore tells us differently. We heard from family members from farms neighbouring the Thompson farm, that when Tom’s coffin was returned to the village, it was opened and several locals confirmed he was inside!

Tom Thomson Art Gallary Biography states…..

“…… Thomson was initially buried in a small cemetery up the hill from Mowat Lodge, overlooking Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. But at the request of his family, the body was re-interred in the family plot beside Leith United Church.”

It’s a mystery and part of a local folklore.

I was thrilled to notice that among the graves in the churchyard were many marked for the McKeen family, including one for Isabella Thompson Ross, (1827-1917) who originally came to Canada from Leith in Scotland.

By chance my Great-Grandfather Bertram Henry Symes (1976-1918), who died in the Leith American Hospital, near Edinburgh, Scotland, while trying to return home at the end of WWI. He is buried in a communal grave, a sad end to his many years serving in the British Royal Navy, and WWI. He joined the Navy in January 1899 as a carpenter’s mate, he was a ships diver until 1906 and went on to become a Chief Shipwright after getting the bends.

Artwork and reference information about Tom Thompson can be found at:

Tom Tompson Art Gallery

McMichael Art Gallery

Leith Church

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Exciting New Find: New Local Howard Artifact Discovered!

I met with a colleague, who kindly showed me this wonderful artifact.  Having read the story in the Winter issue of In the Hills Magazine – Illuminating the Past: Personal History he was interested to share it with the Howard family.  He kindly gave Treasured Collections his blessing to share it forward.

The item is a framed “illuminated” artwork created in April 1889 by Alfred Harold “A H” Howard (1854–1916 ). Presented by the townsmen of St. Mary’s, it celebrates the retirement Mr Robert Hillyard as Manager of St. Mary’s Branch of the Bank of Montreal. Measuring 15″ x 21″, it is set in an ornate gilded frame with acid free backing and archival-glass. The signature states, “A H Howard & Wilson Designers, Toronto.”

Among the artifacts by “A H” held in local museums, archives and by family members, there are several artworks of this nature, created for specific events, such as retirements etc., many of which were for banks.

How did he come by this commission? St. Mary’s is some distance from Toronto, but “A H” did have family connections to the Mitchell and Stratford area.  He was a founding member of the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto, or maybe “A H” was so well known for his creative illustrations, that he had became the “go-to” person for the whole area.

Photograph by Frank Cooper, London, Ontario, circa 1880

After his retirement from the bank in St. Mary’s, we understand that Robert Hillyard (1822-1893), moved his family to Toronto.

The artwork was discovered during research into one of Mr Hillyard’s daughters – Caroline “Carrie” Learoyd Hillyard, (born 1866) who became an established artist, known for her portraits and landscape paintings.

Evidently, “Carrie” died with no decedents, and her many paintings were left to the housekeeper to disperse. It is believed that after Robert died, Mrs Hillyard moved to Montreal and lived beyond 100 years. There was information about a niece among the research, and connections to Oakville. The Oakville Museum held an exhibit in 2002 – Returning Home: A Carrie Hillyard Retrospective.

In time, it is hoped the artifact will join the collection of St. Mary’s area museum. For now, we are grateful to my colleague to be able to share another wonderful piece of art created by “A H” Howard.