During the month of January, 1882, rumours circulated concerning a hermit having taken up residence beside the Dundas Marsh. On the 25th day of that month, a Spectator reporter was sent to locate the man. The following day, the interview the hermit, Thomas Williams, appeared in the newspaper.
About 600 yards west of the Desjardins canal bridge, Williams had constructed a small hut out of bull rushes and driftwood. This lonely abode was low ceilinged, about 6 feet long and four feet wide, hardly affording its occupant room to turn his knees, much less stand up.
When the reporter descended the hill from York street to confront the reclusive Thomas Williams, the hermit poked his head out of a hole in the hut that served as a door and greeted his visitor with a cheery “good morning.”
The reporter noted that the man’s long grey hair hung out from under the man’s fur cap, and that his clothes were “much the worse for wear, through very, very clean.”
About 5 feet, 6 inches in height, the man was described as having “ bright, intelligent grey eyes and open countenance.”
Tom Williams’ curious history was then slowly unravelled to the man from the Spectator. He was 51 years old, having been born at a place called Hogsback Hocks on the Rideau river. As a young man he went to work in a silver plating factory, but had to give up that line of employment because the effects of potash on his system rendered him invalid.
Since boyhood, his greatest passion was music, and his greatest ambition was to be a performer in a negro minstrel show. He chose his current lifestyle because it afforded him the opportunity to compose songs in solitude, and then obtain a livelihood by singing them whenever he could obtain an audience.
When Williams also claimed to be a dancer, the reporter took him up on that point since he had previously claimed to be an invalid because of the nature of his earlier employment.
Reporter : “ You are a dancer too. Didn’t I understand you to say that you were unable to work ?”
Hermit : “So I am, that is with my hands, but I’m a smarter man below the hips that you can find in Canada at my age.”
Reporter : “Have you any relations living ? “
Hermit : “ Not that I know of. My father left me when I was a small boy, and I haven’t seen any of my relations.”
When the reporter asked Williams if he ever had been married, his cheerful expression fell and in a low voice, he said : “ I’ll tell you, between you and me, that that is the great cause of my solitude. No. I was never married, but at the age of 19, I got awfully gone on a gal in Buffalo named Mary Hicks, but her folks got her out of the way because they thought I was beneath her in station. The last time I saw any of her relations they told she had died in a certain poorhouse. I spent a great deal of time in trying to find out if this was true, and I found that it was not. She is living some place in the States and I’m bound to find her.”
When asked if he always lived in huts made of bull rushes and driftwood, Williams confessed to preferring no particular style of architecture, having spent the previous winter in a deserted cellar beside Lake Erie. In the summer, he slept outside in the woods.
As the interview wound down to a conclusion, Williams volunteered the information that he did not use either liquor or tobacco, although at one time he did.
Reporter : Do you ever have any trouble ?”
Hermit : “Sometimes. I was shot at several times. The boys sometimes throw stones and yell after me in the cities, but I’m used to that.”
Reporter : “Do you always intend to live in this way ?”
Hermit : “No, I intend to travel with a musical entertainment if I can get a chance. You don’t find many people at my age with any ambition in them, but I have. My undying ambition is to be a musician, not a common musician but one that composes music.”