North Shore Road Trip
Since their formation 100 years ago, Canada’s Group of Seven has become widely known as the artists who pioneered a style of painting unique to our country. They looked through a Canadian lens, capturing the landscapes of this vast country to create works that are quintessentially Canadian. So on the hundredth anniversary of the foundation of this group of celebrated artists, a series of Group of Seven Touring Routes have been developed to guide travellers who want to draw more from their travels throughout Ontario.
The Algoma and the North Shore of Lake Superior route is of particular interest because many of the landscapes remain as wild and beautiful today as when they were painted 100 years ago. This is the route my wife, Francine, and I choose to travel, with truck and camper, in the midst of rich autumn colours. Although Algoma and North Superior are our own backyard, recently developed resources around the Group of Seven, including a series of interpretive panels, Moments of Algoma App, and route description help to elevate our travels to another level.
Dedicated highway signage guides travellers along the route from Bruce Mines to Nipigon. At 652 kilometres, it could easily be travelled in a day or two, but taking a little more time increases our depth of understanding of the Group of Seven and the land they painted. Although we dedicate five days to our travels, it becomes quickly apparent that it’s impossible to do everything the route offers in one go. But we would come away fortified with knowledge and experience connecting us to the wilderness landscapes and wild waterways that first lured the now-famous artists to Northern Ontario.
Day One: From Huron to Superior
Francine and I cruise into Bruce Mines early on a misty October morning and are drawn to the marina and boat launch into Lake Huron’s North Channel. We visit the first of a dozen interpretive panels along this particular route. The signature stool and easel set up, consistent with each installation, tells us how Tom Thompson captured the Lake Huron shoreline, complete with debris-filled foaming water and turbulent skies, following an epic storm back in September 1912. Back on Hwy 17, we visit the Copper Bean Café where the owner, Melissa Ouimette, makes us a special Tom Thompson Canadian Maple tea for the road.
As we travel the rolling agricultural landscape toward Sault Ste Marie, it’s apparent that we won’t have time to ingest all that is offered around the Group of Seven. Accordingly, we allow ourselves only a cursory look at the interpretive panels at the Algoma Central Railway Station, The Art Gallery of Algoma, and The Machine Shop, where a recreated boxcar, featured in the TVO documentary Painted Land: In Search of the Group of Seven, provides insight into how the Group lived while painting along the Algoma Central Railway.
Day Two: Gateway to Superior
North of Sault Ste. Marie, the landscape erupts into rounded old mountains, where waterfalls spill over the cusp of the Canadian Shield. Chippewa Falls is a spectacular example. The interpretive panel here celebrates waterfalls as a favourite subject of the Group of Seven and a short hike along the cascading river offers an apt representation of what awaits those who get out and explore this area of Algoma Country.
We are meeting friends for a hike today and find Kyle and Kimberly, and their daughter, Elliot, waiting for us at Sinclair Cove. It’s a cool autumn afternoon alternating between snow flurries and shafts of sunlight falling on the rolling and rugged landscape of Lake Superior Provincial Park. We clamber up the rounded granite bluffs and survey the undulating wilderness that continues as far as the eye can see. We are close to the mouth of the Agawa River and the famous Agawa Pictographs. Upstream, the Algoma Central Railway mirrors the river into Agawa Canyon, the subject of many well-known Group of Seven paintings. We spend the night at a wooded campsite where a narrow path leads down the sand and rocky lakeshore at Rabbit Blanket Lake Campground.
Day Three: Superior’s North Shore
Our evening destination is Pukaskwa National Park where we have just enough time to visit the interpretive panel at Horseshoe Bay that relates to the Group of Seven’s penchant for painting the coast of Lake Superior. Our hike along the sands of Horseshoe Bay that evening, and along the elevated sculpted rock of the Headland Trail the next morning, confirms the inspirational nature of this land.
Day Four: Beaches and Superior Shorelines
Simply the drive along Highway 17 is worth the price of admission. Dramatic vistas are distracting, but fortunately, there are rest stops like the one looming over the Little Pic River. Here we see where the Canadian Pacific Railway is chiselled into the steep rocky coast of Superior. It was this rail line that brought Group of Seven members to places like Jack Fish, Port Coldwell, and Pic Island. Many of these places are lonelier now than when iconic paintings were produced by the likes of Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, and Franklin Carmichael in the 1920s.
We walk the cobble beaches at Marathon, climb the Lighthouse at Terrace Bay and navigate the platform overlooking 110-foot Aguasabon Falls on its course to the Big Lake. The shorter days of autumn are pressuring us to proceed to our evening destination at Rainbow Falls Provincial Park where a wooden walkway skirts a long tendril of white water spilling out of Whitesand Lake. The picturesque falls are just another of the gems that lurk in the nooks and crannies of northern Ontario. Our campsite of smooth rock, sloping into the waters of Lake Superior, is another.
Ahead lies the angular flat-topped mountains of the Nipigon area, but our time is up on the Group of Seven Touring Route this time around. After four days on the road, we’ve only scratched the surface. It’s no wonder this land captured the attention of the Group of Seven. With an area so rich in history and sheer beauty, the need to discover more of the wonders of this magical land bodes well for future travels.