Passenger Train Urgently Needed for Group of Seven Tourism Opportunities, says Michael Burtch

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Group of Seven

The Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains received this important letter from Michael Burtch, artist and art historian and former Director of the Art Gallery of Algoma:

“The McGuffins and I began doing intensive research in Algoma in 2008 with the expressed purpose of locating, documenting and interpreting Group of Seven painting sites along the ACR corridor. It was that corridor that gave access to these now famous Canadian painters to a landscape that provided inspiration for their iconic works of art.

In 2013 White Pine Pictures began to document our search and in October 2015 the documentary film Painted Land, in Search of the Group of Seven premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival. The Georgia Straight called it a “must-see” film, and an “eye opener”. The film has been broadcast repeatedly on TVO with plans for more broadcasts from the Documentary Channel and Yes TV.

It has been screened to full houses in cities from Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and Yellowknife to Toronto, Oakville, Hamilton, Ottawa, Kingston, Kitchener, Montreal and Wolfville, NS, cities in Michigan, and others too numerous to list. The film was selected by the Ontario media Development Corporation to launch its 10th Anniversary celebration at the Bloor St. Cinema in Toronto and on June 22, the Directors Guild of Canada announced that it was one of four nominees, out of 260 submissions, for the prestigious Allan King Award of Excellence in Documentary Film.

This film has shone a spotlight on Algoma and the region’s importance in the shaping of a vision of Canada, and our project would have been almost impossible to realize had it not been for the passenger train and the access to these heritage locations. Gary and Joanie and I attend as many of these screening as possible and one of the first questions we get during the Question and Answer sessions is, can visitors bring their canoes and camping gear on the train and have the Group of Seven experience themselves. We sadly have to answer no; not at this point in time! This is a travesty, a travesty made more poignant at a time when the province has launched a new initiative to re-brand the province using the Group of Seven legacy, particularly in Algoma.

The cancellation of the passenger train has also had a negative impact on educators who want to follow the lead that Algoma University established by offering art courses on the very locations that are now becoming familiar even to international audiences. The cancellation has also curtailed the Group of Seven/Glenn Gould Train Event, an annual tour that attracted participants from far reaches of this country and the United States. I urge the Federal Government to reconsider its position and provide the funding that is so urgently needed.

Michael Burtch
Art Historian and former Director, Art Gallery of Algoma

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