Can’t get enough of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven? There’s a mobile app for that. Plus Experience packages, driving tours, a route map and UFOs — Unexpected Friendly Objects. You’ll find these scattered across the Algoma region, a favourite stomping ground for Tom and 5 members of the painting group.
It’s all part of ‘The Group of Seven – Moments of Algoma” tourism project to promote the region. Why all the fuss? This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Group of Seven’s founding. Tom Thomson was its acclaimed mentor whose brilliance tragically ended in 1917 with his sudden death in Algonquin Park 3 years before the group was formed.
Those UFOs are 23 weather-proofed interpretive panels made from 100% tempered aluminum covered with epoxy coated paints. Each panel is set on a larger-than-life painter’s easel made of stainless steel that will never rust — even in northern Ontario winters! They should make the rest of the world like this.
The panels tell stories about the Group of Seven’s time in Algoma, illustrated with a large image of a painting by one of the members. There are also 3 supporting images with corresponding stories written by an art historian to ensure accuracy and authenticity. Colours and clarity are outstanding.
You’ll find all panel locations on the Moments of Algoma website under Must Sees. For those who would rather be surprised, these pop-up beacons of art are liable to appear anywhere along a trail.
Locations are often at spots where the painters did some of their iconic works. Sadly, some of the best views have given way to ubiquitous development — logging, mining, dams, hydro towers — the sort of progress that destroys the natural world the paintings glorify.
If all development was done with the same concern this project has for open views and low environmental impact Canada would be seen quite literally as a better place to live and to visit.
Algoma’s influence on The Group of Seven changed our perception of the Canadian wilderness. Simply put, the Moments project is meant to foster public appreciation and respect for the painters and the land they loved.
Only two panels are outside Algoma boundaries. One is at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, and the other at Allandale Station Park parallel to the GO train station in Toronto. Tom Thompson’s studio shack was moved from Toronto’s Rosedale neighbourhood to the McMichael grounds in 1962. Allandale is where the painters began their train journey northward.
The tour route outlined on the website extends from Bruce Mines southeast of Sault Ste. Marie (the Soo to locals) through that city and along the Trans-Canada highway around Lake Superior as far as Nipigon, near Thunder Bay.
In the Soo itself the Art Gallery of Algoma has a rotating collection by the Group whose legacy continues through local artists like John Laford, Lucie Gagnon and Warren Peterson whom I met at the gallery.
There’s also another G7 spot in town: a replica of the red boxcar used by the painters along the Algoma Central Railway sits at the original canoe lock and historic paper mill by the St. Mary River.
The land and water in the North can be either majestic or terrifying. Nineteen miles offshore at Batchawana Bay lies the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, largest ore carrier on the Great Lakes in its day, sunk with all 29 hands in a 1975 November gale made famous by singer Gordon Lightfoot.
Lake Superior Provincial Park has exhibits related to the Group of Seven and park history. An easel outside the entrance welcomes visitors to “Group of Seven Country”. All along the highway are streams and ponds to cool your feet, sandy beaches for walking and of course, Gitchegoomie, the Ojibway (Chippewa) name for Lake Superior meaning “big water.”
Further west along the top of Superior is a trail leading to magnificent views of Pic Island. Lawren Harris hiked up here to gather sketches for one of his most famous paintings. In his honour a panel and easel have been placed beside a small viewing pavilion. On a warm September afternoon I watched as silhouetted land forms floated on a blue haze over the shimmering water far below.
Canadian Wilderness magazine points out ‘Climate change is the latest challenge to preservation of the wilderness the Group of Seven adored. Now we need the wilderness to protect us.’
MORE ABOUT MOMENTS OF ALGOMA
Ontario Tourism: www.ontariotravel.net/en/home
Sault Ste. Marie: www.algomacountry.com/cities-towns/sault-ste-marie/