The Group of Seven depicted the Canadian landscape for what it was: rugged, wind-swept and resolute against the relentlessness of the elements. Their work created a Canadian art scene that diverged from American and European artists, while also representing the adventurous spirit of explorers and frontiersmen who ventured through the territory when it was called British North America.
Much of the group’s paintings were inspired by (and created in) Algoma, the pristine region in northern Ontario surrounding Sault Ste. Marie. The group’s artists like Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson and J.E.H. MacDonald would travel from their homes in Toronto to paint the rough and beguiling land that has scarcely changed over the last billion years.
Each painting and every brush stroke, tells the story of our Canada -- our landscapes, our people and our history. Here are four of the most iconic, presented in partnership with Ontario Tourism and Tourism Sault Ste. Marie.
“North Shore, Lake Superior” (Lawren Harris)
Created in 1921, during Harris’s first trip to Lake Superior’s north shore, this painting shows a monolithic, leafless, branchless tree bathed in sunlight and standing stoic against the barren landscape. It’s a reflection on the Canadian pioneering spirit and the temperament needed to survive against the elements in the north. The spotlight rays in the painting are signifiers of strong winds and the region’s changing weather, while the bold rocks represent the region’s rugged landscape. Harris and other artists weathered this terrain and the changing elements to capture these remote scenes. The group rented boxcar #10557 from the Algoma Central Railway and transformed it into a cabin. At several stops, they would travel by foot or canoe to capture the perfect scene.
Fans of the group can see these scenes for themselves on board the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, which departs from Sault Ste. Marie and takes passengers on a round-trip journey through these magical vistas. A replica of the famous boxcar now sits in downtown Sault Ste. Marie.
“The Solemn Land” (J.E.H. MacDonald)
Using his mastery of colour, MacDonald honoured the beauty of Algoma’s Montreal River with a depiction of its massive rock faces, stoic trees and languid waters. “The Solemn Land” was completed in 1921 — late in MacDonald’s career — and now hangs in the National Art Gallery in Ottawa. It’s among the most epic and iconic of the Group of Seven’s works.
“Algoma” (Arthur Lismer)
Lismer’s work showcases the brilliant colours of fall in northern Ontario. Swatches of blues, yellows, greens and reds light up his canvas as he paints the variety of trees in Algoma. Indicative of Canadians’ love of the outdoors and the desire to protect areas of pristine nature, “Algoma” captures our never-ending romance with our land.
Like the lakes, trees and parks they painted, the Group of Seven is destined to always stand tall in the ranks of Canadian cultural icons. But one fact that can’t be forgotten is that much of the group’s work was inspired by the landscape of Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma. A recent TV film, “Painted Land: In Search of the Group of Seven,” makes this point clear. To that end, MacDonald once wrote to his wife, Joan, that the region had “all the attributes of an imagined Paradise.” The natural beauty of the landscapes in and around Sault Ste. Marie had a lasting impact on the artist’s work, helping the group define what it means to be Canadian.
“Waterfall, Agawa Canyon” (Lawren Harris)
With water cascading from a grey-green cliff and into the pool of a deep, dark lake, Harris evokes the raw beauty of the Agawa terrain. He also taps into the spirituality of the area. A viewer might also think of those white ribbons of water on the rock as rising up from the murky pool, ascending heavenward. Marked with Harris’s distinct style, “Waterfall, Agawa Canyon” is another iconic painting that will no doubt draw your interest to Northern Ontario and its wonders.
To truly get up close and personal with The Group of Seven, a trip to Sault Ste. Marie is a must. Works by members of the group are on permanent display at the Art Gallery of Algoma. And of course the Agawa Canyon Tour Train allows you to experience the landscapes that inspired the iconic Canadian artists and walk in their footsteps. Learn more here.