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The rocky ridges and tree-lined lakes of Ontario’s north come alive through the eyes of Canada’s most famous artist collective.

This photograph matches the painting by A.Y. Jackson called Hills, Killarney. CREDIT: Sarah Furchner Photography (provided by Destination Ontario).

As the co-owner of Bartlett Lodge in southwestern Algonquin Park, Kim Smith is part hotelier, part outdoorsman and part art collector.

“I began collecting the Group of Seven 35 years ago,” Smith explains. “Being in Algonquin Park, we have a huge connection to the group.” Canada’s oldest provincial park is one of several landscapes in Ontario often depicted by the Group of Seven.

Tom Thomson (1877–1917), Spring in Algonquin Park, 1917, oil on wood panel, 21.2 x 26.7 cm, Purchase 1980, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1980.5 / HANDOUT

Once Smith assumed ownership of the lodge in 1997, alongside his wife Marilyn, he found ways to incorporate his hobby into his new place of work. “We renamed all of our cabins after well-known Tom Thomson paintings,” says Smith, noting that Thomson frequented the area near what is now Bartlett Lodge, capturing it through several works of art such as View from a Height, Algonquin Park. “In our dining room, we have panels with stories on Thomson’s life in the park.” Smith has several Group of Seven reproductions proudly displayed throughout Bartlett Lodge.

While Thomson died before the Group of Seven was formally established, he is considered an unofficial member of the collective for his influence on its other members, which include A. Y. Jackson, Franklin Carmichael, Lawren Harris, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald and Frederick Varley.

Guests of Bartlett Lodge can simply peer out their windows or embark on a short stroll to see the views and vistas that inspired Thomson and the Group of Seven. The glistening lakes and endless evergreens of Algonquin Park are just one of several places in northern Ontario that the Group of Seven depicted in their art.

Smith says that most of his Canadian guests have some familiarity with the Group of Seven. But international visitors, which make up about a quarter of Bartlett Lodge’s guests, tend to ask more questions about the art on the walls. “We explain that these are iconic Canadian images created by a group of seven artists in the 1920s,” he says. “They got together for the purpose of showing their work on the Canadian wilderness.”

Arthur Lismer (1885–1969), Algonquin Park, 1914, oil on plywood, 30.5 x 23.2 cm, Purchase 1972, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1972.5.2 / HANDOUT

For guests who are looking to dive deeper into the region’s history and its Group of Seven connections, Smith has developed guided tours. “We take our guests to the sites where the paintings were painted,” he says. While the region was a favoured locale for Thomson, there are also sites nearby depicted by others in the group such as Lismer, Jackson and Varley.

Over the years, Smith has also entertained guests that channel their inner artist during their stay. “We have had a number of patrons, some who have returned on several occasions, stay at the lodge and they go off and paint during the day,” he says.

Arthur Lismer and Tom Thomson on Canoe Lake, Algonquin Park, May 1914, Photographer: H. A. Callighen, McMichael Canadian Art Collection Archives / HANDOUT

As many of the Group of Seven’s most popular sites in the area are only accessible by boat, some guests even bring their art materials into a canoe. For those eager to see the sites but less inclined to paddle their way there, Smith’s staff use a motorized canoe to help them get around. While most lakes in the area have a 20HP limit on motor boats, the majority of boaters use motors under 10HP to create a more peaceful environment.

Canoeing was certainly a popular mode of transport for the Group of Seven. “A.Y. Jackson was a keen canoeist, inspiring his fellow painters to paddle,” explains Dave Sproule, a natural heritage education specialist at Ontario Parks.

Jackson was particularly fond of canoeing through the Killarney region, where Lismer and Carmichael both had cottages. “The area drew the artists because of its striking landscapes,” says Sproule. “There were brilliant white hills, rugged and twisted pine and maple forests and sparkling lakes in between.”

A.Y. Jackson (1882–1974), Hills, Killarney, Ontario (Nellie Lake) c. 1933, oil on canvas, 77.3 x 81.7 cm, Gift of Mr. S. Walter Stewart, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1968.8.28 / HANDOUT

Featured on one of Jackson’s notable paintings from this era is Hills, Killarney, Ontario (Nellie Lake). “It captures the park and the mountains perfectly,” describes Sproule, noting the painting’s rolling hills and rugged bedrock. Current-day visitors to Nellie Lake will notice that the formerly bare hills have now grown in with vegetation. “In those days, many of the places they painted had experienced forest fires and the views were wider,” Sproule explains. “Some experts think that they sought out the wider views.”

Reaching Nellie Lake is a rewarding multi-day backcountry canoe trip with portages through varying elevation. The trip illustrates the lengths the Group of Seven went to seek out the scenes they captured in their art. But for visitors who prefer a less strenuous adventure there are still many ways to honour the artistic legacy of the region. Killarney Provincial Park boasts plenty of shorter day hikes, such as the two-kilometre Granite Ridge Trail that features spectacular lookout points over rocky hills and into Georgian Bay. Try bringing some drawing materials in your daypack and channel your inner artist with a few sketches once you reach these vistas. But visitors can appreciate Killarney’s white bedrock ridges and brilliant blue lakes surrounded by green forest even without picking up a pencil or paintbrush.

Lawren S. Harris (1885–1970), Algonquin Park, 1918–1922, graphite on paper, 18.2 x 21.2 cm, Gift of Jennifer F. Hardacre, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 2002.2.1, © FAMILY OF LAWREN S. HARRIS / HANDOUT

While these parks are Sproule’s passion and places of work, he’s confident that they’ll inspire any Canadian in need of a break from the city. “The Group of Seven were people who loved the outdoors, canoed, hiked and camped out in the woods,” he says. “They embraced and spent time in nature, and that’s something we all need to do more of.”

This year, 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Group of Seven, who are some of Canada’s most celebrated artists. Travellers can experience the Group of Seven’s spectacular works of art in galleries across Ontario. Check with individual galleries regarding current operating times.

If you want to explore more about Killarney Provincial Park and the nearby La Cloche area follow this itinerary for attractions to visit in the region. Travellers can follow this itinerary to explore more about the Group of Seven artists and their work in Algonquin Park and the surrounding area.

For more on all these attractions, including additional itineraries that you can follow, visit GroupofSevenContinues.ca.

Ontario encourages everyone to travel safe during this time and follow public health guidelines. It is important to practice physical distancing, frequent hand washing and wearing a non-medical face covering where required or where physical distancing is a challenge.


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