Canada is undoubtedly singularly blessed with magnificent vistas. But in some parts of the country, sky and rocks, trees and water come together in spectacular and soul-stirring synchrony. Algoma is just such a place. Small wonder, then, that painting Algoma is an imperative for so many artists.
Artists like Lawren Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald, Frank Johnston, A.Y. Jackson and Arthur Lismer – all members of Canada’s iconic Group of Seven – came here to paint these landscapes.
They found the harmony in those vistas and it guided their imaginations and their paintbrushes. The results have brought this unique group of Canadian artistic pioneers to the world’s attention.
Artists in Algoma
“Thanks to these five men and the Algoma Region, Canadian art would be recognized by many as a patriotic emblem of our land,” Eileen Halfpenny, a local water colour artist is an enthusiastic promoter of Algoma, “With the essence of Canada as a natural backdrop, and its rugged beauty defined by each artist, they showed the world the treasures that were and remain prominent in the Northern landscape.”
I’m fortunate enough to take a trip on the Agawa Canyon Railway with Halfpenny. This train ride has been on my bucket list for some time and I relish each curve of the tracks that gives me a view of the engine as it steams past breathtaking scenes of trees and water.
Halfpenny offers some basic instruction and gives us an opportunity to try our hand at painting some of the scenes we see.
As we pass iconic views, Halfpenny points out stony outcrops and waterfalls. This landscape hasn’t changed much in the 100 or more years since these artists immortalized them.
The waterfalls and J.E.H. Macdonald
We pass Bridal Veil Falls on the train. As soon as we stop, I head along the trail to see this cascade up close and I understand why Bridal Veil Falls has inspired so many artists. Pounding down the granite rock face, the water splits into two cascades, before it pours into the Algoma River. Remarkably, trees are growing straight out of the rock face, mute testimony to the tenacity and determination of nature to flourish against the odds.
Two of J.E.H. Macdonald’s colourful views of these waterfalls are set on an easel nearby. The Autumn scene is striking with bright orange foliage make a sharp contrast to the rock. The summer looks almost dull in comparison.
It’s Spring when I visit and there’s a mist rising from the rushing water today, giving the scene an ethereal beauty. It makes me want to rush out, grab some paints and create my own view of these falls.
Most people have gathered near Bridal Veil Falls but nearby, two more pretty waterfalls are labelled Black Beaver Falls, North and South.
The puffing of our train has receded and it’s peaceful here, with only the sound of rushing water and an occasional bird call breaking the silence.
I find myself imagining a time before trains, before carefully signposted trails, when the only feet to crunch the leaves on this forest floor were those of the First Nations who inhabited the area. Agawa means ‘shelter” in Ojibwa. And these rocky canyon walls and sheltering trees would indeed have been a refuge.
Indeed, the story of Algoma is inextricably linked to the indigenous people who once inhabited this land, a land they cherished and protected. Sadly much of that knowledge and history has been lost but fortunately, much remains to be explored.
Don’t miss an opportunity to see this extraordinary landscape up close and one of the best ways to do this is to take the Agawa Canyon Railway……but don’t forget your paintbox and easel!