Friday, June 30, 2017


Bridal Veil Falls, Agawa Canyon, Ontario, June 2017

THERE ARE THINGS CANADIANS LIKE TO TELL EACH OTHER to flatter ourselves and downplay our uncertain sense of ourselves. One is that we have a unique relationship to our landscape. But what landscape? It's a very big country.

I somehow doubt that someone from Saskatchewan thinks of the Atlantic coastline when you say something like that. And I can't imagine that a Maritimer's mental picture of the shore looks anything like that of someone from British Columbia. I'm pretty sure that no one who wasn't born and raised there pictures the harsh, often treeless tundra and snowscapes of the Arctic north.

Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, June 2017

I suppose if I'm called to conjure up a Canadian landscape in my mind's eye, it would probably be the lakes and trees and rocky outcrops of the Canadian Shield, and mostly that's because of two things - a couple of camping trips I took with my sister and her husband when I was a boy, and the paintings of the Group of Seven.

A travel assignment sent me to Sault Ste. Marie, just across from our long border with the United States, at the choke point between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. We'd passed through Algoma - the name for this region of Ontario - on one of those trips back in the '70s, but closer to Wawa as we hopped from campsite to campsite in a string of provincial parks.

I liked "The Soo," as it fondly refers to itself. It's a modest little city that feels like it's clinging to a slip of land between the water and the forest, and humbly goes about the inevitable business that it was fated to do, in a place where shipping and mining, forestry and tourism and hydroelectric power were always going to be competing for time and effort.

I had couple of very nice meals (the town has a well-established Italian-Canadian community) and got to visit the Bushplane Museum, which is very worth seeing in the Soo's particular context. I also got to ponder the epic vastness of the Edison Sault hydroelectric power plant on the U.S side of the St. Marys River.

Agawa Canyon, Ontario, June 2017

The main purpose of my trip, however, was the Agawa Canyon scenic train tour, which leaves daily from a station by the mall next to the river and heads north into Agawa Canyon Wilderness Park through landscapes that Lawren Harris, J.E.H. MacDonald and several other members of the Group of Seven painted when they were in hot pursuit of a uniquely Canadian vision for their work.

It was, on every turn of the tracks and during our modest hike in the park, very much the Canadian landscape I have in my mind, in all its somewhat terrifying glory. On the following day we took a car trip up the shore of Superior parallel to the train's route, to visit a few other of the Group's painting locations, contemplate the hugeness of Lake Superior - really more of an inland sea than a lake - and get up close and personal with the mosquitoes and black flies.

Chippewa Falls, Ontario, June 2017
Agawa Bay, Lake Superior, Ontario, June 2017

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