The Group of Seven Artists Now
Canada’s most famous painters made this wilderness paradise north of Toronto their muse.
The Group of Seven painters hold a special connection to this part of Ontario, as did their more famous friend and inspiration, Tom Thomson. In the early part of the 20th Century, this band of artists joined Thomson in Algonquin Park and further afield to create what would become a new form of Canadian realist painting.
With Thomson painting the most iconic pieces of art in the Canadian archives (Jack Pine, 1916, and The West Wind, 1917, shown above), his mysterious death in Algonquin Park in 1917 only adds to his mystic and the nation’s fascination with this revolutionary group of painters.
There are numerous monuments to the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson throughout Ontario’s cottage country, including at Oxtongue and Canoe Lake, as well as paddling routes dedicated to Thomson out of South River, and artisan stations in Parry Sound that let modern artists see (and potentially recreate) what Thomson painted.
Experience Algonquin Park from the view of your platform tent (a rustic experience that these painters would have known), or explore Parry Sound on Georgian Bay with a luxury tent to call home. Both areas are famed for being the subject of works by Tom Thomson and other members of the Group of Seven. And all across the region you will encounter hundreds of modern artists who, continuing the legacy of their more famous predecessors, are just as inspired by this wilderness paradise.
Check out this suggested itinerary for ideas on how to encounter the Group of Seven Now (with locations on the map below).
Day 1 – Huntsville and Lake of Bays (“A” to “B” and “C” on Map)
En route from Toronto today, make a stop in Huntsville, Muskoka for lunch and to refresh at one of many fine accommodations here. Then take a self-guided mobile tour of the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery, which features 100 murals celebrating the unique artwork these painters and of Tom Thomson. With your phone or tablet at hand, you can explore downtown Huntsville, and travel as far as Lake of Bays to see many more murals.
Day 2 – Algonquin Park (“D” on Map)
Time to head into Canada’s oldest provincial park and experience for yourself what impressed the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson so much. Begin at The Portage Store on Canoe Lake (where Tom Thomson mysteriously died over 100 years ago), and learn more about the lore of Canada’s most famous painter (who also worked as a park warden). Take a guided 1/2 or full-day canoe trip with Portage Store staff (book ahead), and immerse yourself in the most Canadian of outdoor activities. Read Paddling After Tom: A Canoe Lake Adventure for more inspiration.
Day 3 – South River in the Almaguin Highlands (“E” on Map)
From your base in Huntsville, drive north to South River in the beautiful Almaguin Highlands of Ontario, where Tom Thomson would paddle to for some time out of Algonquin Park.
Visit the Algonquin Guest House and Gallery to meet Brenda Scott, an artist herself and in the warmer seasons, a storyteller who conducts guided paddling tours about Thomson’s time in South River. Grab a bite to eat in town and enjoy a picnic at Tom Thomson Park. (Be sure to visit Highlander Brew Co.’s impressive brewery as well for cold, tasty libations.)
In the fall, more serious adventurers can take the guided “Following Tom Thomson” canoe trip tour with Voyageur Quest. Stay in their iconic Algonquin Log Cabin and enjoy meals prepared by a personal chef. Learn about Thomson’s connection to Kawawaymog Lake, the South River and his mysterious death in 1917 (perhaps recounted in front of a roaring fire).
Day 4 – Parry Sound on Georgian Bay (“F” on Map)
Take Highway 518 West over to Parry Sound, part of the UNESCO-designated Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve. Hop aboard the Island Queen or its sister explorer The Islander to discover up close the landscape that inspired Tom Thomson and other members of the Group of Seven, including Arthur Lismer (whose September Gale, 1921, is shown at left).
In downtown Parry Sound, visit the artisan stations and do your own sketches at the spots where Tom Thomson sketched. Enjoy a mesmerising view of the legendary Parry Sound trestle, preferably from the deck of the Trestle Brewing Company headquarters.
To plan your Group of Seven Now tour in the wilderness just north of Toronto, click here.
For tour package suggestions, click here.
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