When Art History Takes to the Rails

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(Photo credit from Group of Seven)

This article was written in conjunction with the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Train (CAPT)’s Linda Savory-Gordon, who has been a huge advocate of passenger rail service in the Algoma region and supporter of the Missanabie Cree-led initiative to renew the train. We are sharing it with you all to remind you of the diverse collection of tourist opportunities that serve economic, cultural, and personal needs, both for locals of the Algoma region and those travelling from abroad.

Every September from 2007 until 2014, the popular Group of Seven & Glenn Gould Train Event, sponsored by the CAPT, took to the rails. Sold out every year, the Train Event has answered a need and takes those who love the spectacular colours of an Algoma Highlands autumn to the same sites that inspired artists from the Group of Seven and Canada’s iconic pianist, Glenn Gould. Not only did this event satisfy art history lovers, but it also gave participants the opportunity to really connect with nature as well. Since the train service was cancelled in 2015, many people have asked to have their names put on a waiting list to take part in this event when the passenger service resumes.
 
The Group of Seven and Glenn Gould Train Event is an opportunity to partake in presentations, lecture-demonstrations, live music, food, a coach trip along Lake Superior’s storied eastern coast and, of course, a train ride through the magnificence of the Algoma Highlands. Travelers from far and wide want to participate in this event due to the historical significance of the Algoma rail corridor to the Group of Seven’s development. It was when Group of Seven artists stayed in a box car and tourist cabins along the ACR from 1918 to 1923 that they first bonded as a group, painted some of their most significant works and decided to become the Group of Seven.
 
The annual Group of Seven and Glenn Gould Train Event kicks off on Friday evening with a reception and presentation on that year’s featured artist, at the Art Gallery of Algoma.  On the Saturday and Sunday, participants enjoy the best of the Algoma Highlands. This includes the train trip on Saturday between Sault Ste. Marie and Hawk Junction aboard the Algoma passenger train, travelling on the same rails that took members of the Group of Seven to their various painting sites along the ACR. The tour is conducted by Michael Burtch, art historian and researcher. Also included is the coach drive on Sunday along the magnificent eastern coastline of Lake Superior – a drive that has been called one of Canada’s finest road trips. Stops are made along the coast to visit lookouts and points of interest including Lake Superior Provincial Park and its comprehensive Visitors’ Centre.
 
Wawa marks the Glenn Gould portion of the trip. Here, participants trace Gould’s footsteps around the beautiful waterfalls and shorelines in the Wawa environs that were frequented by the pianist. On Saturday evening there is a dinner, then a presentation by musicologist, Dale Innes, on the role that the north played in the music of Glenn Gould. Gould was a regular visitor to Wawa and the areas around Michipicoten so, fittingly, the evening is centered at the Wawa Motor Inn, Glenn Gould’s former lodging. 
 
On Sunday morning participants have the opportunity to participate in a lecture-demonstration art session, “Art and Landscape: Bring your Sketchbook and Camera” or a coach tour of Wawa. It was – and we have hopes that it will again be – a great opportunity to learn and be inspired! A delicious lunch is served on Lake Superior at the beautiful Rock Island Lodge.
 
(CAPT) sponsors the Train Event as a means to get passengers on board to have an enjoyable experience, and hopefully gain appreciation for the historical significance of the Algoma Central Railway and the Algoma Highlands through which the train travels. CAPT and the Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban initiative, as led by the Missanabie Cree First Nation, have been working closely together to check out the various marketing opportunities and means to renew this experience once the train runs again! Whether you are missing this event as a devout train rider, or are eager to take part in this art history experience amongst the Northern beauty, just know that we are working hard to bring it back to you an deserve this unique and distinguishing element of Algoma’s history.

For more information on CAPT and the Group of Seven Events of the past, click here.

For more information on Michael Burtch, click here.

For more articles on renewed passenger rail service in the North, click here.

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