Lake O’Hara, in Yoho National Park in British Columbia, is perhaps the most picturesque spot in the Canadian Rockies: a sparkling alpine tarn set in a bowl of rock carved by glaciers. Painter J.E.H. MacDonald, of the Group of Seven, travelled there regularly in the 1920s and made this small oil sketch, Lake O’Hara, in 1926.
“If it is possible to make reservations in Heaven, I am going to have an upper berth somewhere in the O'Hara ranges of Paradise," he said of his attraction to the place.
This now 25-year tradition of reproducing a painting from the Thomson Collection in The Globe and Mail on Dec. 24 continues with this sketch, which hangs in the Art Gallery of Ontario beside a larger, finished version from 1930. There, planes of muted colours produce a more flattened effect, almost as stylized as one of the classic travel posters for the Canadian Pacific Railway, the line that transported Mr. MacDonald to Yoho. This plein air sketch, however, is both more detailed and livelier: The bright green lake with a stunted pine in the foreground and rock faces covered in bluish snow in the background capture Mr. MacDonald’s immediate reaction to the splendour before him.
To urban eyes, those white cliffs and tapering fingers of snow might suggest a wintry setting, but Mr. MacDonald travelled to the Rockies in August, during summer breaks from his teaching job in Toronto. Today, year-round snow is retreating, but Lake O’Hara – and Lake O’Hara – remain a gift for all seasons.