love art and the outdoors?

Read about this 30 year journey of discovery

Editor's Note: this story originally appeared in the Ontario Parks Insider e-newsletter.

“When you go there you sit around and you feel you’re there with them - they’re still there; they’ve left their mark in the way they painted that scene, and one gets to feel good about that.” - Jim Waddington

Simple curiosity. That’s all it took to launch a 30-year art history wilderness adventure. A journey of discovery that would unearth 160 Group of Seven sketching sites along with the stories and shared passions that brought the artists to these remote locations. 

After choosing A.Y. Jackson’s painting, Hills, Killarney, Ontario (Nellie Lake), as inspiration for a rug hooking craft, Sue Waddington, and her husband Jim, decided to see if A.Y Jackson’s Nellie Lake was indeed the same one that is found in Killarney Provincial Park. With low expectations, but a great excuse for a family vacation, they packed up the kids and headed off to Killarney. After hefty portages and a lengthy hike up a blueberry filled ridge, to their amazement, laid out in front of them was the exact view that is in A.Y. Jackson’s painting.

Driven by the same curiosity and sense of adventure that many people said A.Y. Jackson had, the Waddington family pushed on even deeper into Killarney to another isolated lake. A few years later they discovered that a number of their photos from this trip looked strikingly familiar. After a visit to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, they returned to Killarney with copies of Group of Seven art and a rejuvenated hunger for discovery; a hunger that would reveal 160 Group of Seven sketch sites over a 30 year period.

Inspired by the enthusiasm of Jim and Sue, the McMichael launched a project celebrating the adventures of the Waddingtons that includes an interactive website and a gallery exhibition. Titled FootPrints: Legacy of the Group of Seven, the website takes visitors on six different adventures - through audio, video, text and images - that explore the Waddingtons’ extraordinary quest. You can read the story of the Group of Seven, get involved by checking out the teaching resources, learning about new ideas in education, or research the McMichael’s extensive collection database. The FootPrints project also encourages you to make your own history by sharing your stories about art and creativity using their community message board.

Following in the Footsteps of the Group of Seven is a gallery exhibit showcasing photographs of the sketching and painting locations tracked down by the Waddingtons and the corresponding Group of Seven artworks by Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson, A.J. Casson, Arthur Lismer, and J.E.H. MacDonald.

Let a little inspiration spark your adventurous spirit. You might find your eureka moment waiting for you in the landscape of Ontario Parks.

About Trish Manning

Trish Manning is an adventure travel writer and the content coordinator for Ontario Outdoor Adventures. She is an avid outdoor person who loves to hike, paddle, SUP, snowshoe, cross-country ski and explore Ontario's great outdoors with her golden retriever, Daisy.

Recommended Articles

Fall Animal Viewing in Ontario

Find out where to see these majestic creatures.

9 of the Most Beautiful Fall Destinations

And they’re all in Ontario.

20 Fall Views Away from the Crowds

Embrace adventure—it’ll be worth it.

Fall Outdoor Adventures in Ontario

6 ways to enjoy the best of the season.

Crown Land Camping

What it is and where you can camp in Ontario.

Natural Highs

7 magnificent mountains in Ontario to climb, hike, ride, ski and more.

16 Perfect Fall Hikes in Ontario

Add these trails to your bucket list.

11 Jaw-Droppingly Beautiful Landscapes

Don't miss the splendours of Northern Ontario

2023 Triathalons

Swim, cycle and run your way to triathlete status at these Ontario events.

The Best Camping In Ontario

Discover the best car-camping and backcountry locations.

25 Adventurous Fall Activities in Ontario

Get outside and make the most of the season.

Journey into the Past

Explore the ghost town of Jackfish, famous for CPR's "last spike."

Backpacking Trails in Ontario

7 multi-day hiking trips to the province’s most beautiful places.

Go Foraging in Ontario

Learn the basics of how to harvest wild edibles found across the province.

Hike The Best Trails

Discover your next great adventure.

Winter Wonderland Fun

The best winter activities in Ontario.

Winter Camping in Ontario Parks

Find the best cozy yurts or tents to stay in.

Where to See Ontario's Coolest Wildlife

Get expert tips on how to spot these iconic species.

6 Best Places To Camp On Manitoulin

Book a campsite as your base to roam this chill oasis.

Explore Ontario’s Hidden Gems

19 destinations you need to visit.