Thursday, 13 July 2017




Ah, summer. A time of carefree euphoria, backyard barbecues, swim days, and frequent ice cream outings. For me, summer also means camping in Ontario Parks - with the obvious exception of this year, as I write this from the Northwest Territories!

Since this past weekend was the centennial of Canadian painter Tom Thomson's fateful death on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park, and because I'm missing the comforting sounds (loons, crickets) and smells (pine, campfire) of camping in Ontario, I'll be featuring seven provincial parks that inspired members of the Group of Seven and their contemporaries (such as Thomson, who died before the group was officially formed).

NB: This list is not mutually exclusive. While many of the Group of Seven travelled to most of the parks to paint, I’ve chosen to highlight specific artists and their more well-known ties to certain locations.


A famous Canadian painter in a popular provincial park ... the myth of Tom Thomson’s mysterious disappearance and death on Canoe Lake on July 8, 1917 has remained a point of interest in Canadian art. In 1916 Thomson created the oil sketch for his iconic Jack Pine (1917) on Grand Lake near Carcajou Bay while living and working in Algonquin as a fire ranger.

Tom Thomson, The Jack Pine (1917). Source.
Many of the Group of Seven also painted at Algonquin Park, creating well-loved masterpieces. A. J. Casson did some of his later work at Algonquin, such as Beaver Pond, Algonquin Park (1940).

2. KILLARNEY PROVINCIAL PARK - Franklin Carmichael, A. Y. Jackson

One of my personal favourites, Killarney Provincial Park primarily features Franklin Carmichael and A.Y. Jackson. In fact, the park exists in part due to the efforts of A. Y. Jackson, who was so averse to the prospect of Trout Lake being logged that he petitioned the provincial government to preserve it. The lake was successfully preserved in trust by the Ontario Society of Artists, and its name was henceforth changed to O.S.A. Lake. For his efforts, Jackson received a lake named in his honour at his 90th birthday.

A. Y. Jackson, Nellie Lake (1933). This painting was inspired by the location in Killarney. Source.
The area increased in popularity, as Franklin Carmichael and other Group of Seven members often painted there as well. In 1959, the park became a wilderness preserve. In keeping with its artistic legacy, Killarney held its first ever Annual Group of Seven Festival to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2014. 

Franklin Carmichael, Grace Lake (1934). Source.

3. BON ECHO PROVINCIAL PARK - A. J. Casson, Arthur Lismer, Frank Johnston

When I went camping at Bon Echo four years ago, I was blessed with the experience of attending an evening program in which A. J. Casson’s daughter, Margaret Hall, shared some of her memories – such as holding the boat steady while her father painted on Mazinaw Lake. I remember taking in the imposing beauty of Mazinaw Rock and noting that Casson captures its uniqueness perfectly in his work. 

A. J. Casson's Bon Echo captures Mazinaw Rock, the iconic rock on which a tribute to Walt Whitman is etched. Source.
Not unlike the other parks, nearly all of the Group of Seven made their rounds at Bon Echo, but Casson is frequently associated with the landscape. Casson’s abstract style highlights the angular qualities of the Canadian Shield, which can be seen in his work Bon Echo. Of note, Arthur Lismer’s paintings take a more realistic interpretation of some of the same locations, complementing Casson's perspective.

4. NEYS PROVINCIAL PARK - Arthur Lismer, Lawren Harris

Lawren Harris’ Pic Island, Lake Superior (1924) was painted in Neys Provincial Park. The area only became a park in 1965. This is another case  of the Group of Seven painting in areas that were not yet officially preserved, which raises the intriguing question of the value the prolific painters themselves may have assigned to the region through their influence.

Lawren Harris, Pic Island, Lake Superior (1924). Source.


Harris, who is arguably the most famous of the official Group of Seven, spent a great deal of time on Lake Superior, achieving one of his most renowned and popular works, North Shore, Lake Superior (1926), there. 

Lawren Harris, North Shore, Lake Superior (1926). Source.
Harris’ travels to the north shore of Lake Superior yielded a number of his distinctive, cool-coloured paintings in which he uses light to his advantage and creates striking contrast in his imagery.


F. H. Varley’s Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay (1921) perfectly encompasses the trees at Killbear, in a similar way to one of Tom Thomson’s most famous paintings, The West Wind (1917).

F. H. Varley, Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay (1921). Source.
Killbear is one of the first parks I can remember camping in, and I loved it instantly. I can see why it would be an ideal location for the Group of Seven artists, since I myself have always felt the urge to return. Something about the Georgian Bay, and hiking on the giant slabs of rock to beautiful lookouts, creates a captivating view with the wind rushing through the trees. When I think of the Group of Seven, my first thought is to picture the pine trees leaning in the wind.

Northern Ontario played an important part in the Group of Seven’s landscape paintings. The area surrounding Windy Lake attracted A. Y. Jackson to Onaping Falls near Sudbury, where his historic presence has prompted a lookout in his name which is a tourist attraction. A.Y. Jackson Lookout offers a scenic view of High Falls, emphasizing the significance of landscape viewing in the appreciation of the Group of Seven’s history.

Similarly, Tom Thomson went to Aubrey Falls, some distance further north. Like Thomson, a number of the Group of Seven also spent time in the Algoma region, painting naturalistic scenes throughout the area.

The Group of Seven’s travels took them all across the province, both in existing parks and in landscapes that would later be preserved either by their direct influence or otherwise. The Group’s encapsulation of the province’s natural landscapes, through vivid colours and careful brushstrokes, have helped forge a powerful identity for Canadian art. Their work has also created a form of intersectional tourism in which outdoorsy art fans embark on pilgrimages to witness the Group of Seven's inspiration in person. I can certainly say that I’m glad I got to grow up appreciating such breathtaking views, just as they once did.

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