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The Gales of November – A Short History

Updated: By Rob Stimpson

It is early November, I am making my way to Wawa to lead the annual Gales of November Photo Workshop. It is a 9-hour drive from my home just west of Algonquin Provincial Park to Rock Island Lodge. The weather looks great to Sault Ste. Marie but after that, snow squalls are on the menu up the Lake Superior coast. I decide to take a shortcut, a route few know about, but will avoid the snow squalls. Make a right just out of Sudbury on to Highway 144, and now head north towards Timmins. This highway is not my favourite; narrow, don’t drive it at night, just head to where ever you are going…in the daylight. I pass Onaping Falls, where A. Y. Jackson painted the falls in 1953. In 1974 the painting was stolen and to this day has never been recovered.

I arrive in Gogama which is about an hour from Timmins, turn onto the infamous Sultan Industrial Road, a commercial logging route that the public can use. I may say, at your own risk especially in November. My travels on it are one of a harrowing drive, that had wrecked trucks along the side, soft shoulders, icy patches and keep your hands on the wheel. I get to Highway 129, 90 minutes later without incident. It is now 120 km to Wawa.

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Photo Credit: Rob Stimpson

All the drives were not like that thankfully. The Gales workshop history is a relatively long one. Back in 2000 Ontario Tourism launched a marketing initiative called Paddling Ontario and Arts in the Wild. The initial meeting was held at Buck Lake, on the Limberlost Forest Reserve, just outside of Huntsville. It brought together artists, outfitters and tourism people from all over Ontario. At that time, I met David Wells from Naturally Superior Adventures. He had an idea about storm watching, similar to what is done on the West coast of Vancouver Island. Our discussion was to create a photo workshop coinciding with the sinking of the Edmond Fitzgerald in the fall of 1975. So in November, the first Gales of November Photo Workshop happened and it was one of the Arts in the Wild first product offerings.

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Photo Credit: Rob Stimpson

We soon realized our work was cut out for us. The first order of the day was to persuade people to make the drive to Wawa in November, the second one was to explain where it was on the map. The workshop took its time gaining momentum. The film was still popular at this time, digital photography was in its infancy, so most shot Fuji or Kodak colour print film. David sourced out someone in Wawa who would process our film on the weekend then critiques could be held on what we created. Looking back at those times, participants would arrive with 3 or 4 rolls of 24 exposure film for a 3-day workshop. Fast forward to the digital era, it is not uncommon for some to shoot 500 images before breakfast.

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Photo Credit: Rob Stimpson

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Photo Credit: Rob Stimpson

The next few years were spent marketing the workshop, doing presentations with dramatic images of Superior and convincing potential participants that the landscape was definitely worth the drive.

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Photo Credit: Rob Stimpson

In 2006, a visit from the travel editor of the Ottawa Citizen, Laura Robin, took in the workshop. Not to put pressure on the Gales, she next headed to the Wickaninnish Inn on Vancouver Island to watch the Pacific storms. The Inn is a global destination for storm watching.

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We had no expectations, only hoping for a story that would promote the Gales and increase the number attending. So on December 9th, 2006, to our incredible surprise, the Gales makes the front page of the Ottawa Citizen’s Saturday Travel section. This was huge and in terms of coverage, the media weight of this one article reached thousands and help solidify the brand of this workshop. In 2007, I received an award from OTMP, now called Destination Ontario for best travel photography as a result of the Ottawa Citizen article. We started to get participants from as far away as North Carolina, Michigan and all parts of Ontario. The workshop soon morphed into, not so much a teaching environment, but a workshop that attracted skilled photographers who were passionate about the landscape and would share their knowledge. This is not to say teaching took a back seat; it was a different way to share photographic knowledge. The camaraderie that happened, the new friendships, the incredible images that were created are all part of the Gales fabric. Saturday evenings were a time of slideshows both analogue and digital, with friends of Naturally Superior dropping in. Our days took us into Lake Superior Provincial Park setting up our tripods at Sand River, Katherine Cove and Old Woman Bay. Closer to the Lodge; Sandy Beach, where A.Y.Jackson painted was popular as well as the Magpie River with its incredible rock formations. One cannot forget just walking out of the front door to the endless horizon of the big lake and the mouth of the historical Michipicoten River with the stunning beach of Michipicoten Post Provincial Park. Superior never disappointed us.

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Photo Credit: Rob Stimpson

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Photo Credit: Rob Stimpson

For the next 8 years, I would pack up the car in late fall, make the trek to Rock Island Lodge. 2014 was my last Gales; it was time to pass the torch. So the following year the late Glenn Springer took it on for a couple of years, followed by Ben Eby and now Andrew McLauchlan is the facilitator.

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Photo Credit: Rob Stimpson

Landscapes of Algoma’s Superior coast are the draw for this workshop. Late October and November with their wild unpredictable weather and Superior’s legendary winds provide the canvas. This raw, unbridled landscape is one of Canada’s best. Superior is a place that will grab you by the shoulders and give you a shake. Landscape artists, photographers, musicians and writers are inspired by this lake. This lake has and still does, ignites the creative fires of many. Artist Francis Hopkins painted the brigades of canoes as they paddled their huge Canot du Maitre down the coast in the 1800s, Gordon Lightfoot’s spell-bounding song; The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, with its opening lines“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee…”; all have spent many an hour or two putting a face to this iconic location.

You can book a spot in the 2021 Gales, the longest-running photo workshop in Ontario, by going to Rock Island Lodge website.

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About Rob Stimpson

Rob is an internationally published, award-winning photographer best known for capturing the wilds of the Canadian outdoors. In addition to teaching photography at Fleming College and doing workshops, Rob’s work can be seen on Ontario Parks, Ontario Tourism & Parks Canada web-based and print publications. With covid he is teaching and doing his talks over zoom as well his gallery is open with social distancing protocol.

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