The Group of Seven Discovery Route

Chasing the Landscapes of Algoma

Updated: By Rob Stimpson

I am heading to Northern Ontario. Algoma to be specific, to photograph some of the iconic painting locations of the Group of Seven artists. The landscape here has not changed much since the glaciers rolled over it some 12,000 years ago. As I follow the recently created Group of Seven Route Discovery Route, a designated driving tour, it is not hard for me, as a professional photographer to understand the Group’s attraction to this landscape.

Group of Seven Touring Route sign

Some say that our landscape inspires; it speaks to the artist who then takes that inspiration and creates art. Certainly, Algoma and the spell of Lake Superior will grab you. Artists, musicians, and writers might call this their muse and Algoma became that for the iconic Group of Seven. After the death of painter Tom Thomson; Lawren Harris, J.E.H MacDonald and Dr. James MacCallum, the principal benefactor of these artists migrated north from Algonquin and Georgian Bay to discover Algoma. MacDonald wrote, “It is a land of Dante’s heart” in describing how the landscape here, “all the attributes of an imagined Paradise.” Soon to follow were artists A. Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, Franz Johnson and then later, the newest member of the Group, A. J. Casson.

Group of Seven panel, Chippewa Falls, Hwy 17

A Group of Seven panel on the trail at Chippewa Falls, Hwy 17.

The Halfway Point of TransCanada Hwy 17

I head to Chippewa Falls just off the Trans Canada Highway. Heading along the highway in the grey smokey mist of the early morning light, I navigate the big hill leading down to Goulais River but the views of Superior are still shaded in the darkness. Chippewa Falls is close to the highway, actually marking the halfway point of the Trans Canada Highway. The landscape here is classic Canadian Shield. Gnarled rock, scrapped clean by the glaciers, tall pines and cascading water leaping to the river below. Climbing one of the trails, I see the big lake in the distance. One of the iconic picturesque Group of Seven signposts can be found at the trailhead here. It shows A. Y. Jackson’s painting of the falls, created in 1955.

Sandy Beach, Lake Superior

Sandy Beach, another painting location on Lake Superior is a short distance from Wawa. This location is covered in dune grass and offers a long sandy beach with rocky outcroppings and a long view of Superior. Mother Nature never disappoints as I walk out from the parking lot into a stunning panorama of forest and headlands. A. Y. Jackson painted Shorelines here in 1955.

Group of Seven panel, Sandy Beach, Lake Superior, Wawa.

A Group of Seven panel at Sandy Beach on Lake Superior in Wawa.

The North Shore of Lake Superior

Neys Provincial Park is my next destination. This location is where the iconic paintings by Harris, his creative interpretations of Pic Island which noted comedian and movie star Steve Martin owns in his personal collection; Casson’s Pike Lake with its striking earth tone layers of colours and Lismer’s depictions of the Superior landscape swiftly come to mind. I have the place to myself. The beach is empty. The lake is quiet, only a gentle lapping of the waves greets me.

Neys Provincial Park

Neys Provincial Park, North Shore of Lake Superior

Next is Port Coldwell, having never explored this location, I find an old road, well used, that descends down to the lake. The remains of a tiny fishing community in the 1920s are now a distant memory. Some of the old boilers and docks poke their way out of the beach gravel. I now realize how many paintings the Group of Seven created here. Lismer’s October on the North Shore, Lake Superior, painted in 1927, was painted from the left side of the bay looking across to Neys. Casson spoke about this area, the storms and wind they encountered and how they endured those hardships to be able to paint.

He wrote later, “The North shore of Lake Superior was a revelation to me and my sketches of the area were a major departure from anything I had done before.” Looking at Casson’s painting of Pike Lake, which he says was a short hike from where they camped, you can locate that area situated about six km west of Port Coldwell where Pike Lake is located.

Port Coldwell Lismer

Port Coldwell

Members of the Group of Seven painted at Port Coldwell, on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Capturing Solemn Land

I now head back south to Montreal River where MacDonald painted Solemn Land as well as other canvases. The light is amazing, so I pull off the highway, close to Superior. I put the drone up and captured a few images that might give the viewer a sense of the landscape that MacDonald painted almost a century ago.

view over Montreal River Harbour, Lake Superior

View over Montreal River in Autumn.

The arts and cultural history of Ontario is extensive and Algoma has its share of arts experiences to offer the traveller. As the German philosopher J. G. Fichte (1762-1814) once said, “Aesthetic experiences might not straightforwardly make us wiser or better people, but the unploughed fields of our minds are nevertheless opened up.”

Definitely take the time to visit these great works of art in our museums and galleries. Then, set out to explore the ‘Group of Seven Experience Route’ and see those beautiful Ontario landscapes that will certainly inspire you.

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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