A legacy of art: the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery in Huntsville and Lake of Bays
Over one hundred years ago, a budding painter would unknowingly change the course of art history in Canada, and he did it right in our backyard. That painter was Tom Thomson.
A commercial artist, it was a 1912 fishing trip to Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park that would inspire Thomson to develop his skills as a painter. He would return to the park each summer for the next five years, and his work there inspired his artist friends to not only visit the park themselves, but to dramatically change their painting styles and challenge the realism that was the accepted art form of the day.
They joined forces to form the Group of Seven in 1920, three years after Thomson’s mysterious death at Canoe Lake. His friends — Franklin Carmichael, Lawren S. Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley — created a body of work that would become revered for its innovation.
The Group of Seven’s forays in this area weren’t limited to Algonquin Park — they also spent much time capturing the wild beauty of Muskoka and the Algonquin Highlands.
In homage to these painters and their achievements, local artist Gerry Lantaigne founded the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery, which now comprises more than 100 mural reproductions of Group of Seven paintings in Huntsville, Lake of Bays, and Algonquin Park.
Visitors can take a leisurely self-guided walking tour of more than 30 murals in Downtown Huntsville, or spend a day driving to view all of the murals located throughout North Muskoka and Algonquin Park while enjoying the stunning scenery in between.
The walking tour begins in Huntsville with a bronze statue of Tom Thomson, created by Brenda Wainman Goulet, in front of the Algonquin Theatre. The first gallery work on view, located adjacent to the theatre, is a reproduction of Thomson’s “Autumn’s Garland”. It was the first community mural to be painted, with Gerry directing the brush strokes of more than 1,200 community members and visitors to complete the mural in 2007. Thomson’s original was painted over the winter of 1915-16. New to the gallery, you can now also enjoy a virtual tour of the downtown Huntsville murals available on the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery website.
To see the very first mural created for the gallery, which was painted in 1997 by Gerry Lantaigne and Paul Meyers, head over to Huntsville’s newly refurbished Kent Park on the corner of Brunel Road and Main Street. “The Jack Pine” is Thomson’s most recognizable painting; the original is at the National Gallery of Canada.
But you don’t have to go all the way to Ottawa to see more from Thomson and the Group of Seven. Large-scale reproductions are on view elsewhere in Huntsville, Lake of Bays, and Algonquin Park.
Begin your driving tour at Deerhurst Resort, where you’ll find a mural of Tom Thomson’s “In the Northland” (also known as “Autumn in Algonquin Park”), painted by Gerry Lantaigne in 2010, the year world leaders converged in Muskoka for the G8 Summit.
From Deerhurst, return to Huntsville to see a corresponding G8-painted mural of Thomson’s “The West Wind” hanging at the Canada Summit Centre. The mural was largely completed by community members and Deerhurst staff, under the direction of Gerry Lantaigne, with a section of skyline left unfinished. During the Summit, leaders of the G8 nations were invited to add their brushstrokes to the painting. The brushes they each used have been framed alongside the mural.
Then head south to Baysville, and take a stroll to view that community’s eight murals including A.J. Casson’s “The Blue Heron”, reproduced by local artist Janine Marson in 2010 and installed at Baysville Marina. Casson was the youngest member of the Group of Seven, joining them in 1926 at the invitation of Franklin Carmichael after Frank Johnston resigned from the group.
Continue around Lake of Bays to Dorset to see murals of works by Frank (Franz) Johnston. After Johnston died, his family made Dorset their home, and his son became an art teacher and prominent member of the community. Two reproductions of Johnston’s paintings are on display at the Dorset Heritage Museum: the “Moose Pond” mural, painted by Gerry Lantaigne and Ingred Zschogner, and “Northern Evening” painted by Gerry Lantaigne. Both were completed in 2008.
At the north end of Lake of Bays, in the charming village of Dwight, is Tom Thomson’s “The Drive”, painted by mural artist Ron Murdoch in 2009 and installed at the Dwight Community Centre. Just a short drive away, three murals grace Port Cunnington Lodge including a reproduction of J.E.H. MacDonald’s “Batchewana Falls”, another community mural project.
Finish your tour where Thomson’s inspiration began, at Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. At the Canoe Lake Store, there are two murals of Thomson’s work: “Autumn Foliage” painted by Gerry Lantaigne in 2009 and “Spring Ice” painted by Marc Sorozan in 2009.
Even today, you can easily see why these famed artists held Algonquin Park and the surrounding area in such regard, and how it would inspire artists — both then and now — to capture the rugged beauty of this area. More than a century later, it’s still here for you to explore and enjoy.
To learn more about the Group of Seven Gallery and to view all the mural reproductions please visit: groupofsevenoutdoorgallery.com.
Make the most of your trip to Huntsville and Lake of Bays and check out these great accommodations nearby.