An Afternoon of Canadian Art

The McMichael

After enjoying the hospitality at Stage West/Ramada in Mississauga and seeing the excellent production, Love Train, we travelled to Vaughn/Kleinburg to The McMichael the following day.

The McMichael calls itself a Canadian Art Collection, an agency of the Government of Ontario.  It’s set back in a pine forest where the McMichaels, a couple who loved Ontario art, built a log cabin in the fifties.  By the sixties, their personal collection of Canadian art had grown so big, school groups and the general public kept asking to see it.  From what I’ve read, the McMichaels were not your typical wealthy art collectors.  They had a wedding photography business and saved up to purchase works of art that they enjoyed.

They collected Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, along with other Canadiana by Inuit and Aboriginal artists.  In 1966, they wrote a letter to Ontario’s then premier John Robarts, offering their art collection, their log home and their beautiful country land to the province, to open a distinctly Canadian art gallery. McMichael

If you’ve never been, I’d highly recommend it.  I had read Roy McGregor’s book, “Northern Light: The Enduring Mystery of Tom Thomson and the Woman Who Loved Him”, so I enjoyed the Thomson works that much more.  Following Thomson’s sudden and suspicious death in 1917, the Group of Seven was formed to carry on painting the scenes of Northern Ontario.

The original Group of Seven included Franklin Carmichael (1890–1945), Lawren Harris (1885–1970), A. Y. Jackson (1882–1972), Frank Johnston (1888–1949), Arthur Lismer (1885–1969), J. E. H. MacDonald (1873–1932), and Frederick Varley (1881–1969).  Some of these artists are buried in the peaceful cemetery among the trees on the grounds of the McMichael.

The McMichael has exhibited the works by location – landscapes of Georgian Bay, Algonquin Park, Algoma and so on, even esoteric Artic scenes.   Fall colours on rocky shores are favourites of the Group of Seven, as are winter scenes with snow on pine trees and frozen streams.  That’s why one of my favourites really stood out.  I particularly liked J.E.H. MacDonald’s Fine Weather.  It’s a beautiful sunny, summer day on the shore of Georgian Bay.

Thomson and the Group carried their paints, pallet and easel out to a scene and then created small oil paintings on wood or cardboard.  They would travel all over the rugged countryside painting these small scenes (most were probably about 8” X 10”).  Then they would spend their winters re-creating the colours on huge canvasses.  It is so interesting to see the small and large views of the scenes hanging side by side in the gallery.  Thomson and the Group liked to use a lot of paint:  many of their works have a three-dimensional quality to them, as the ripples in lakes stand out in layers of paint.  The scenes are breathtakingly beautiful, and you marvel at the artist’s skill to capture that moment in time forever.

The McMichael also includes some of Emily Carr’s works, displays of Inuit sculpture and Aboriginal art (including several works by Norval Morrisseau) and an exhibit of photos and portraits of famous Canadians.  Of course, the exhibits are always changing, so it is best to look up and find out what is on display before you go.

A visit to Stage West, then going 25 minutes up the road to the McMichael, makes a great weekend.  At the Stage West/Ramada you can enjoy their huge buffet, see a show, spend the night in a suite and enjoy breakfast for the package price of $269 for two ($289 on Saturdays).  Love Train is now playing, with Fiddler on the Roof coming up next.  As well, they have “tribute” shows such as Beatles, Elvis, or Abba on Monday nights.

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