Celebrating Tom Thomson in Algonquin

See the special legacy exhibit inside the park that inspired so much of his iconic art.

“ It’s a dream come true.” That’s how Joel Irwin of the Algonquin Art Centre describes the fulfillment of the decade old dream of bringing original Tom Thomson art back to Algonquin Provincial Park. Years ago, when his parents Doug and Orla ran the gallery located on Highway 60 in the middle of the park, Joel dreamed of seeing Thomson’s art return to the place that inspired it.  Joel and co-curator Matt Coles who now run the world-class gallery, worked for years to find the right time and the right patrons to make it happen. When they began planning their Legacy exhibit for 2017, they realized there would never be a better time than the 100th anniversary of the famous artist’s death.

“We researched and negotiated and finally arranged for the temporary loan of View from a Height and Northern Lake for an eight-day period between July 9 and 16,” said Irwin.

Original Tom Thomson Paintings - Northern Lake and View From A Height

The cost of transporting, insurance, and security for the works limited how long they could stay in the groundbreaking exhibit. “Obviously, the Thomsons are the star of the show but the works of over a dozen outstanding Canadian artists working various media are the core of the exhibit and they will remain the Centre until the season ends on October 22.”

“It was very much bringing them home,” says Irwin. The two works are small paintings that were done in the park by Thomson during two of the six short years he painted in Algonquin.  Both were the inspiration for larger works he later finished in his Toronto studio during his winter months but because these studies were painted on Smoke Lake and in the Barron Canyon, displaying them, if only for a short time was very special to Irwin and Coles.

The ceremony officially opening the Legacy Exhibit was held on July 8, and it was a large event that attracted dignitaries, patrons, and many of the artists who created works specifically for Legacy. “We gave the artists almost a full year’s notice” says Coles. “The results show the incredible impact that Thomson continues to have on artists who are inspired by his art and his travels by canoe in Algonquin.” Indeed, many of the works created for the show feature canoes. 

The best example is the work of Gene Canning, the first artist to be featured during Legacy.  Gene paddled and painted the same rivers and lakes as Thomson to create his own legacy project of 150 paintings created on location in the park. “Awestruck,” says Canning.

Gene Canning

Painting in the bush is completely unlike painting in studio, it’s almost liking learning to paint again. My other initial impression was of the sheer amount of work it took to get out to the locations in my red cedar strip canoe with all the gear and my paints and materials.  It wasn’t until I realized my work was displayed alongside that of Tom Thompson did it really hit home that I, like all the other artists in this exhibit are now a part, however small, in the Tom Thomson story. It’s an incredible feeling.”  

In tradition of Tom Thomson, one of the paintings is of his cedar strip canoe.


The July 8 ceremony was also the official opening of the Tom Thomson Legacy Path in front of Algonquin Art Centre. It was created in collaboration with the Friends of Algonquin Park.  This outdoor exhibit includes interpretive panels that share the story of Tom Thomson’s time in Algonquin Park. It was unveiled by the Friends as part of their Director’s Award Celebration.

Learn about Tom Thomson on the Legacy Path 


The Algonquin Art Centre is located at kilometre 20 of the Highway 60 corridor.  The centre is open daily from 10 am until 5 pm. Admission is free but a valid park permit is required for your vehicle. Find out more.  

About Allan Joyner

Allan Joyner is a high level communicator, expert digital content creator and photographer who loves the outdoors. He creates video, photography and writing that engages people through memorable and inspirational content. 

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