Jim and Sue Waddington are keen canoe trippers. They have spent many a winter evening thinking about places to paddle, perusing maps and wondering when Spring will melt the white landscape and free their intended waterway from the icy grip of winter. Of course, trip planning includes gear lists, menus and grocery lists, and maps.
Most of us paddle our canoes or kayaks to find solitude, connect with nature, recharge our batteries, stay healthy, get together with friends and family, or all of the above.
While they have definitely had all of those things on their trip checklist, for 40 years, Jim and Sue have had one more slightly different reason for wanting winter to move along than the rest of us paddling enthusiasts have. Of course they want to get out and go paddling, but when they plan their canoe trips, they have a mission. Their mission has been to locate the painting locations of the Group of Seven. It all started with a rug-hooking project Sue started all those years ago. It was her first one, and she based it on a painting of Nellie Lake by AY Jackson.
Sue started working on the rug hooking project, finding the right colours of wool, planning how it would be done, and became curious about the painting and wondered if the location could be found.
Sue and Jim had been taking their family to Killarney Provincial Park and developing their canoe tripping skills in the southern half around George Lake and Killarney Lake. They looked at the map of the park and wondered if the Nellie Lake in Jackson’s painting was the one in the north west corner of the park.
Paddling out with their young children from Willisville, just northwest of the park, was pleasant, but when they arrived at the portage into Murray Lake, they noticed that it was significantly different from those they had portaged in the southern part of the park – it seemed to go straight up..!
After a 1470 metre portage, they arrived on Nellie Lake, surrounded by the white hills of Killarney’s La Cloche Range. Looking for blueberries above their campsite the next day, brought them by chance to the spot AY Jackson had done his painting. They compared the view in front of them with a copy of the painting they had with them, and this was it.
This trip had them hooked, and not just on rug hookings… Over the years Sue and Jim continued on with this unusual element in their canoe trip planning. Finding these places has not been easy. It has often required some serious detective work.
The Group of Seven often named their paintings with unhelpful titles like “Northern Lake”, and often took “artistic licence” and changed the landscape they painted. Jim and Sue have used other clues like when the paintings were done, and where the members of the Group had been painting that year. Maps are very important, and sometimes the internet can help (although there was no internet in 1977!).
To pinpoint the possible location, Jim uses the map, some of the paintings landmarks that can be identified, and a compass and works backwards through the painting to the most likely location.
These methods have worked quite well, and since that first trip to find Jackson’s painting site, they have found more than 80 painting locations in Killarney and the La Cloche Mountains. They have also found painting sites in Algoma, along the Georgian Bay Coast and Algonquin Park. It looks like there will be more Group of Seven hunting trips in the future.
In 2016, Jim and Sue published their book ‘In the Footsteps of the Group of Seven‘ with the Art Gallery of Sudbury. The book tells their stories of searching for and finding hundreds of places the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson painted.