Ride the Rails with the Group of Seven

See the landscapes that inspired them

When the Group of Seven visited Algoma to create some of their most famous work, they got there in a boxcar from Sault Ste. Marie. Today, thanks to the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, you can ride the same rails and see some of the inspirational locations for yourself.

Several members of Canada's Group of Seven painted in the Algoma region between 1918 and 1923, including Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, J.E.H. MacDonald and Arthur Lismer. To gain access to this remote region, they rented a boxcar from the Algoma Central Railway. The car was outfitted like a cabin and was shunted to sidings near choice painting locations. From these locations they would set out on foot or canoe to capture this untamed area on canvas. Their paintings brought this vast, rugged and beautiful part of the country to fellow Canadians and the world. 

J.E.H. MacDonald - Humber Flats (1912) 
Photo provided by the Art Gallery of Algoma
J.E. H. MacDonald - Solemn Land (1919) 
Photo provided by the Art Gallery of Algoma

Here are some interesting facts and details that you'll find along your journey:

Mile 76: Mongoose Lake
In the fall of 1920 the artists stayed in a cabin on Mongoose Lake instead of the boxcar to sketch and paint. One of these painting sites was discovered as recently as the fall of 2013.

Mile 92: Montreal River/Falls/ Hubert
The Montreal River attracted MacDonald and he made sketches in the neighborhood of the falls that resulted in his large canvas, Falls, Montreal River. Among all the Group of Seven painters, he responded most deeply to Algoma, creating a magnificent series of large-scale compositions.

Mile 113: Agawa Canyon
The artists stayed in their boxcar studio in Agawa Canyon to sketch for several days and then, using an Algoma Central Railway hand-car, they ventured north and south to sketch and paint.

Mile 123: Eton and Mile 138: Sand Lake
In the fall of 1921 Harris, Lismer and Jackson came north again to sketch and paint in the Eton area, and then moved further north to finish up on Sand Lake.

Mile 195: Franz
At the end of their 1921 fall trip, Harris and Jackson decided to travel west along the shore of Lake Superior. They took the ACR north to Franz, where they caught a C.P.R. freight to Schriber where they got off and walked to Rossport, from which point they undertook their adventures along Lake Superior's north shore.

Sault Ste. Marie is privileged with an abundance of artists, festivials, and inspiration alike. On October 15, 2016, the Algoma Fall Festival is hosting "Where the Universe Sings: The Spiritual Journey of Lawren Harris," a documentary and exhibition of the most valued artist in Canadian history.

About Dionne Elgie

Dionne Elgie grew up in Sault Ste. Marie and has a deep personal love for this city, and like many Saultites, a real passion for the great outdoors. Along with her team at DIG (Digital Intelligence Group)—she works with Tourism Sault Ste. Marie to curate compelling travel stories and collect truly useful tour tips that appeal to both local residents and out-of-town visitors. You can contact Dionne at dionne@digdeep.ca—she’d love to hear from you!