Artists for hire: the rich history of the Group of Seven at Bon Echo

The next time you visit Bon Echo Provincial Park in south central Ontario, north of Kaladar, take a good long look at the breathtaking beauty that surrounds you. Not only are the shining waters, rugged landscape and iconic Mazinaw Rock natural wonders in their own right, they also tell a little-known story about the origins of the Group of Seven.  This is just one of the cool things about Bon Echo.

While most of us tend to associate the works of the world-famous group with Algonquin Provincial Park and more northerly Ontario climbs, artists such as Arthur Lismer visited Bon Echo to capture its beauty on canvas. And just to demonstrate the value of his work during that time period, Sotheby’s fetched a record $780,000 for Lismer’s painting, Bon Echo Rock in June 2010. The painting was sold to an Alberta collector who paid more than $1 million for the piece and several other Canadian historical items.

“Lismer’s (32 ¾ x 26 ½ in) painting of this towering sheer granite bluff – a rock face over one hundred metres high plunging straight into Ontario’s second deepest lake (Mazinaw) – was done as a result of his sojourns there in 1921 and 1922,” said the Sotheby’s catalogue. “The canvas is a tour de force, and was quite probably one of three Bon Echo subjects shown by the artist in an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in December of 1922.”

Another Lismer work, The Sheep’s Nose, Bon Echo resides at the Vancouver Art Gallery and some of his other Bon Echo works are at the National Gallery of Canada.

Here are some other fascinating facts about the Group of Seven at Bon Echo you may not know:

  • During the Roaring Twenties, Bon Echo was a major centre for the arts in the summertime and nearly all members of the Group of Seven painted and sketched there. They were drawn to the magnificent landscape and artistic values of the Bon Echo Inn, which was owned by a Toronto feminist Flora MacDonald Denison. She was so inspired by American poet Walt Whitman she created the inn as an avant-garde, artistic retreat.


  • Vacationers came from all around to take painting lessons, perform amateur theatre and conduct poetry readings. Artists such as Arthur Lismer, Frank Johnston, A. Y. Jackson, Franklin Carmichael and A. J. Casson had yet to make a name for themselves as artists and painted some posters and other promotional material for the proprietors.  According to Lisa Roach, natural heritage education leader at Bon Echo, the artists were printmakers at the time and just beginning their transition into painting and sketching.


  • Some of the Group of Seven members would climb up a metal staircase to the top of Mazinaw Rock to get the best perspective for their paintings. Mazinaw Rock is 100 metres high and features over 260 Aboriginal pictographs – one of the largest visible collections in Canada.
  • The Friends of Bon Echo have been given the rights to re-print some of these posters, which are available for sale in the park gift shop and on display at the visitor centre. “Some of these posters are amazing,” says Roach. “The artists would paint this promotional material in exchange for their room and board at the inn.”


  • Every year, the rich artistic history of Bon Echo is re-lived and continues through the Bon Echo Art Exhibition and Sale, which takes place this year between July 25, 26 and 27.

Visitors to Bon Echo can take an interpretive boat ride for an up close and personal look at the Mazinaw Rock or they can rent a canoe or kayak and paddle over.  Bon Echo offers classic car camping as well as canoe-in and hike-in sites. There are three sandy beaches for swimming and relaxing and Mazinaw Lake is great for fishing both deep, cold water and shallow, warmer water fish species.  For those wanting to put a roof over their head, the park has six yurts, the historic Cabin on the Hill and new this year, four camp cabins located in a secluded setting away from the main campground.

Looking for more Cool Things at Bon Echo?  Check out our latest video.