Today’s post is from Maureen Forrester, Natural Heritage Education Lead for Neys Provincial Park.
The Group of Seven is a famous group of Canadian artists that formed with the mission of painting the truly rugged landscape of Canada; something they did not believe could be achieved with the popular European art style of the time.
Before the Group of Seven became official in 1920, the members were simply men who loved to paint! Most of the members lived in Toronto and worked for a design company called Grip Limited. Here, as well as the Art and Letter Club in Toronto, is where many of them met and by 1911 these men had begun painting together.
Although not an official member, Tom Thomson was the first person to inspire the group to venture into nature. Thomson, in addition to being an artist, was a camping and fishing guide.
He lived in Algonquin Provincial Park six months a year, where many of his most famous pieces were created. Unfortunately, she drowned in 1917, three years before the group was formally established.
As the name suggests, there were seven members of the Group of Seven. However, over the years, as members left or died, new members were added, bringing the total number of artists to ten.
Neys Provincial Park
Original members included: Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, J.E.H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Franklin Carmichael, Frederick H. Varley and Frank Johnston. AJ Casson joined in 1926, followed by Edwin Holgate in 1930 and LL FitzGerald in 1932.
His first foray north
In 1921, Lawren Harris first came to the north shore of Lake Superior and fell in love with the landscape. He returned many times, bringing with him other members including AY Jackson, Arthur Lismer, AJ Casson and Franklin Carmichael.
These members painted the landscapes that are now part of Neys Provincial Park. One subject that inspired them to paint was Pic Island. One of Lawren Harris’s most famous works is Pic Island from 1924; However, over the years, Harris completed more than 50 sketches of the island.
According to AJ Casson, it was quite an adventure to get here. Near Port Coldwell (now a derelict community, about 5 km east of Neys), there is a steep slope towards the railway tracks, so the train could not stop.
Lawren Harris made a deal with the conductor to reduce the speed to 40 km/hour and the members jumped while throwing their supplies out of the baggage car. Then they continued along the track for a few more kilometers before entering the mountains and camping.
The group would make trips of an average duration of two weeks, and during that time they would hike and camp, much like what we do today in Neys Provincial Park.
Trust the process
The Group of Seven painted outdoor meaning “outdoors,” a phrase that commonly refers to painting what one actually sees outside.
During a trip, the group created “sketches,” which are quick miniature paintings of the landscape. In fact, they would produce many of these sketches on each trip. Some estimates report that each person would produce around 50 sketches per trip, with an average of about four sketches per day.
The group would then reproduce and turn some of their favorite sketches into life-sized gallery paintings when they returned to their studio in Toronto.
The rebel artists
In 1933, the group disbanded because their artwork was becoming more accepted and they no longer needed each other to support them against criticism. Although the group officially broke up, the men continued painting landscapes and traveling together. The Group of Seven will forever be remembered as the rebel artists who helped shape the Canadian art movement.
Today, between Sault Ste. Marie and Terrace Bay there are 16 Algoma Group of Seven Moments interpretive signs in the form of an easel and artist’s stool that tell the story of the Group of Seven and their travels along the North Coast of the Lake Superior.
These panels have been installed in beautiful viewpoints so you can appreciate the landscape as these painters did. Pancake Bay Provincial Park, Aubrey Falls Provincial Park, Lake Superior Provincial Park, and Neys Provincial Park are destinations along this road trip (as well as nearby local communities).
Algoma Interpretive Easel and Stool Moments near the park Visitor Center
On your next visit to Neys Provincial Park, be sure to stop by the park’s Visitor Center to see replicas of the artists’ works and learn more about the Group of Seven’s stay in and around the park.
Algoma interpretive easel and stool moments near the viewing platform.
You will find that one of the interpretive easels can be seen near the Visitor Center on the beach. This sign invites you to hike the Pic Island Overlook Trail to a beautiful overlook that offers a spectacular view of Pic Island.
The walk to Pic Island
The shortest way to the top is via the steep 4.5 kilometer linear trail that follows an old service road.
Earn a “Walked to Pic Island Overlook” pin!
Hikers who take the hike and show a photo of Pic Island from the top to park staff at the entrance gate or Visitor Center will receive their own “I walked to the Pic Island viewpoint” pin for your efforts. A second panel and a performing artist’s stool will also be found above, adjacent to the viewing platform.
The many ways to appreciate the Group of Seven
Even now, the Group of Seven continues to motivate us to tap into our inner artist and be inspired by the beautiful protected landscape in Neys Provincial Park. If you are in the Toronto area, be sure to visit the McMichael Art Gallery to see some of the original works of the Group of Seven.
Next time you visit Neys, look for our Group of Seven educational programs on the event boards and join in, or bring your own sketchpad or painting supplies to unleash your inner artist and capture the land that speaks to you in Neys Provincial Park.