Follow the Trail of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven … and My Mom

by | Oct 20, 2016 | Canada, Toronto TomThompson and the Group of 7 | 6 comments

Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby


Autumn in Ontario is spectacular this year. A blog is the perfect excuse to jump in the car and head north to see the leaves in all their glory.

I planned a uniquely Canadian day to explore autumn through the eyes of the Group of Seven. The Group of Seven started the first Canadian art movement. They were landscape painters who trekked through the Canadian wilderness to capture nature on canvas. They used bold colours and swift strokes to create a distinctly Canadian feel. Many of their paintings have become symbols of our Canadian identity.

I did not plan an ambitious day of trekking through the Canadian wilderness. Instead, I planned a driving trip to the McMichal art gallery, followed by a drive to the town of Huntsville.

The McMichael art gallery is in Kleinburg, a quaint village north of Toronto. It took me exactly an hour to drive there. On a Friday in summer, this drive could take double or triple that time. On a beautiful Tuesday in October, the drive was easy.

The McMichael Canadian Art Collection is the dream and vision of Robert and Signe McMichael. In 1954, they built a 4-room log house in Kleinburg using salvaged pioneer hand-hewn logs and fieldstone. They bought their first Group of Seven work the next year. They were completely captivated by the Group of Seven because the paintings captured the same emotions and respect for the Canadian landscape that they felt. As their collection grew, more and more people asked permission to visit their home. Eventually, the couple donated their homestead and their entire art collection to the Province of Ontario.

Even though Kleinburg is just an hour from downtown Toronto, this was my first visit. From now on, it will be on the roster for Toronto visitors. Algonquin Provincial Park provided much of the inspiration for the Group of Seven. Huntsville is the gateway to Algonquin. Huntsville is home to 30 large outdoor murals of some of the most famous paintings by the Group of Seven. My second leg of my trek was to see these murals.


I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers

L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

McMichael Gallery is a huge estate with walking trails and fabulous vistas


My experience began as soon as I parked my car and meandered over to the Gallery. The outdoor sculptures were a wonderful surprise. This enormous stone is a single piece of Pre-Cambrian Shield granite. It is a pictograph of First Nations petroglyphs.

In the background is Tom Thomson’s shack. This was his home and studio in Toronto. Robert McMichael had it dismantled and reconstructed on the McMichael grounds.

Tom Thomson was the inspiration for the Group of Seven. Tragically, he died under mysterious circumstances in 1917, before the group was formed. He disappeared during a canoe trip in Algonquin Park in 1917. His body was found 8 days later. The official cause of death was listed as drowning.

Conspiracy theories have produced vast amounts of evidence to suggest suicide or murder as the cause of death.

The Group of Seven went to London to Visit the Queen


The Dulwich Picture Gallery is a quaint gallery in South London. It is the oldest public art gallery in the UK. I know it well. We lived in Dulwich for two years. The Director of the Dulwich Gallery mounted an exhibition of the Group of Seven at Dulwich a few years ago.

Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, Dulwich Picture Gallery: review

Alastair Sooke applauds Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, a new show at the Dulwich Picture Gallery devoted to pioneering painters who changed the face of Canadian art.

The Telegraph

The show was a phenomenal success!

Opening to glowing reviews in the British mainstream and art press, Painting Canada went on to become the third-most successful show in the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s 200-year history, as Brits rushed not only to see the exhibition, but also to empty Dulwich’s gift shop of Group of Seven mementos.


The Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery is coming to McMichael as the new Director

McMichael names Brit as director and CEO Ian Dejardin leaves London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery after championing Canadian art in UK   Ian Dejardin, director of London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, has been named the director and chief executive officer of the McMichael Collection of Canadian Art.


Dejardin, 61, an affable and garrulous Scotsman, comes to the McMichael from the UK’s oldest public art gallery, whose collection boasts an impressive volume of works by such historical painting luminaries as Rembrandt, Constable, Turner and Poussin.


But Dejardin is no stranger to Canadian content – to which the McMichael is exclusively devoted – having championed Canadian historical art in the UK and in Europe in recent years.


In 2011, he co-curated Painting Canada, a significant survey of works by the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson for Dulwich. The exhibition traveled to Norway and the Netherlands before landing back at the McMichael in 2012.   The Toronto Star


You better hurry to the McMichael Gallery before the new Director invites the world to see our treasures.

Below are some of the paintings that I saw at the McMichael Gallery. I took dozens of photos so these are just some of the highlights. You will have to go yourself to see what you like best.

Tom Thomson: Algonquin in October


Even though I had ventured only as far as Kleinburg, it felt like I was in Algonquin Park in October.

Tom Thomson: Black Spruce in Autumn

Tom Thomson: Byng Inlet

Thomson’s paintings have been compared to those of van Gogh and Cézanne

Everyone’s Dream: Discovering a Masterpiece at a Garage Sale


Garage sale Group of Seven painting sells for $110K

A Tom Thomson painting picked up for just $50 at an East Vancouver garage sale was auctioned off for $110,000 Wednesday, a hefty price tag that still fell short of expectations for the serendipitous discovery.

A few years ago, another unknown Thomas painting sold for $170,000 at auction after spending years hanging above a television in a New England home.

CTV News

A Y Jackson: The Red Maple


Some of the most iconic Canadian images come from the work of A Y Jackson. Canadian art was Jackson’s vocation. For the final six years of his life, he lived at the McMichael gallery with Robert and Signe McMichael

A J Casson: White Pine

J E H MacDonald: Leaves in the Brook


MacDonald captured the rugged landscapes of the Algoma region.

The bench that runs down the centre of the room is hewn from a single timber


The upper gallery in the McMichael is a massive room, ideal for displaying large works by Harris.

The Steve Martin Effect:

A Lawren Harris painting set a record price of $4.6 million for the Group of Seven


Hollywood entertainer, Steve Martin, loves the work of Lawren Harris. Martin owns three Harris paintings. He worked for three years on an art exhibit of Harris paintings that opened in Los Angeles, Boston and Toronto.

Steve Martin Adds ‘Curator’ to His Wild and Crazy Résumé

Yes, this multifaceted actor, comedian, New Yorker writer, novelist, semiprofessional magician and Grammy-winning banjo player, who has long been a serious collector of modern American painting, is adding a new role to his repertoire: art curator.


Working closely with two seasoned curators he has organized a tightly focused, masterpiece-driven show, “The Idea of North,” to introduce the 20th-century Canadian painter Lawren Harris (1885-1970) to American museumgoers.


“He’s Canada’s greatest artist and nobody in America knows who he is, with a few exceptions,” said Mr. Martin, 70, who sees the show as a chance to use “my celebrity face” to try to draw attention to the painter he sees as a counterpart to Georgia O’Keeffe and Marsden Hartley.   New York Times


On November 23, Harris’s Mountain Forms will be auctioned in Toronto. The auction house, Heffel Fine Art’s, estimates that the hammer price will be in the $3 to $5 million range. Steve Martin predicts that it will sell for $10 million! You can read more about recent demand for Harris’s art in a Globe and Mail article:

Lawren Harris’s iconic Mountain Forms could go to an American at auction




Lawren Harris painting Mountain Forms sells for record $11.2M at auction

Group of Seven founder’s work is now the most expensive Canadian artwork ever sold at auction

On the morning of the auction, I walked downtown to see the Harris painting before the auction. Below is a photo that I took at the preview.

Live-streaming the auction at home


My credit card limit would not cover even the 18% buyer’s premium on the hammer price. Since I was not going to bid on the Harris,, I live-streamed the auction at home.

I did not need to worry about getting carried away with my bidding if I had a glass of wine while I watched the live action.

With this update, we can now return to the McMichael Gallery and continue to follow the trail of the Group of Seven.

Lawren Harris: Montreal River


Harris came from a wealth family, part of the Massey-Harris industrialists. With his wealth, he opened a studio for Canadian artists. A Y Jackson said:

Without Harris, there would be no Group of Seven. He provided the stimulus; it was he who encouraged us to always take the bolder course, to find new trails.

Through his art, Harris searched for a deeper spiritual meaning in life.

Arthur Lismer:

Nova Scotia Landscape


I love the work of Arthur Lismer, particularly his painting of Nova Scotia. He spent time in Nova Scotia during the first World War.

The Group of Seven …. Plus One…. Mary K MacGillivray … My Mom:

Autumn in Antigonish


You will not find this painting in any gallery. You will find it in my living room. The artist is my mother.

Mom was mainly an en plein air artist. She would sit outside and paint what she saw.

She produced many works but has given them all away. I am lucky to have this wonderful painting that reminds me of the Group of Seven and my mother. My mother started the art movement in Antigonish.

In 1960, she started teaching art lessons in our basement. She cold-called the wives of doctors and professors to tell them that she was going to start art lessons for kids. She figured that households with doctors and professors had money to spend on art lessons.

She had ten kids in her first Saturday morning class. Soon, she added a second class on Saturday. As word spread, she added classes every day after school. Parents called and asked if she would do a pre-school class in the morning. Then, adults wanted to join the experience and asked if she would add an evening class for them. When I was in high school, I asked her to add an evening class for teens. Eventually, the high school asked her to teach full time.

We had a very busy household when I was young. There were people coming and going all the time. Pupils’ works were propped up to dry everywhere in the house. You had to be careful where you sat. She had many art exhibit in the house to showcase the works of her students.

A whole generation of artists got their start in our basement. One of her most best known students, Bruce MacKinnon, was awarded the Order of Canada for his work as an editorial cartoonist. Bruce is wonderful to give credit to his start with Mom.

Mom is 96 and does not paint any more. Occasionally she will pick up a brush. She can do more in a minute than I can do with years of lessons from her.


My mother was an entrepreneur before it was fashionable. Moreover, she was a female entrepreneur in 1960 in a Catholic town where women were not encouraged to get a job or start a business.


No time to dine


The dining room looked lovely, paired with Group of Seven vintages. However, I was on a mission …. still a long trek ahead of me to Huntsville to see the massive outdoor murals.

Huntsville is the gateway to Algonquin Park


After my wonderful visit to the McMichael gallery, I headed further north to the town of Huntsville.

Huntsville is a picturesque town in Muskoka, a region known as ‘cottage country’ in Toronto. Huntsville is nestled in the rocky terrain of the Canadian shield. Although it is located just 200 kilometres north of Toronto, the landscape is totally different. Toronto is flat, flat, flat. Muskoka is characterized by giant granite boulders, covered with a thin veneer of soil. It is hard to believe that trees cling precariously to every teaspoon of soil.

Huntsville is a major tourist destination in the summer. The drive can stretch into hours on a Friday afternoon. I took this photo from the bridge at the end of the main street. It looks like there are lovely places to dine on the water, but no time to dine …. needed to see the murals. This is the place to start your self-guided tour of 80 outdoor murals of famous works by the Group of Seven.


Welcome to the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery

A unique outdoor trail that features over 90 incredible mural replicas showcasing the works of the Group of Seven painters and the gentleman who inspired them, Tom Thomson. Take the mobile tour of locations throughout Muskoka and Algonquin Park, Ontario, and experience iconic 20th century Canadian art coming to life again in the digital age.


Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery

The Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery is an inspiring and dramatic mural collection featuring over 80 world-class reproductions of famous artwork by Tom Thomson and Canada’s renown Group of Seven artists. The Gallery is a free public art experience that is designed to engage the community, residents, visitors and tourists alike. The murals are hand painted by select mural artists from across Canada, and are displayed on the exterior walls of businesses and public buildings throughout the Huntsville, Lake of Bays, and Algonquin Park region. The Group of Seven Outdoor Galleries main collection in focused around the Historic Downtown Huntsville Main St district.

This is a life-size statue of Tom Thomson, painting beside his canoe

It was a scavenger hunt to find the murals


The murals were not obvious on first sight. They are on the sides and backs of buildings. This mural is now overgrown with trees. It makes an abstract image. I couldn’t get through the trees for a closer view. I have just included a few pictures of the murals here. There are 30 murals in Huntsville. There are 90 murals in total, scattered throughout the Muskoka region and Algonquin Park.

You can plan your trip with the official site for the outdoor gallery

Mural of Tom Thomson’s Autumn in October


This mural is behind city hall where I parked my car so it was easy to see.

Tom Thomson’s The Canoe


Thomson loved his canoe treks but he should not have gone alone.

A J Casson’s White Pine

I wandered down to the river and was rewarded with spectacular autumn colours

These ducks heard me coming and swam away

Do you want to move to Huntsville?


If you have teenagers, you will want to move to Huntsville. Once school was out, the waterfront trail was filled with cross country runners. They all said ‘excuse me’ as they ran by. They looked young and wholesome and energetic.

A kayaker was taking pictures from the water


I took a picture of the kayaker as he paddled down the river.

Follow the trail of the Group of Seven


If you are more adventurous than me, you can continue the trek into Algonquin Park to experience the Group of Seven exactly as they painted it.



Next week: More of Autumn in Ontario with a tour along the Niagara Parkway, one of the most scenic and historic drives in Canada

Rose Ann MacGillivray

Rose Ann MacGillivray

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Rose Ann MacGillivray