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Canadian Art Trek- Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan

Days 8-10: Grasslands National Park

I finally reached my destination of Grasslands National Park on the 8th day of my trek.  The 70 Mile Butte was quite a site to behold after miles of flat prairie farmland. Tumbleweeds blew across the road on my way into the tiny village of Val Marie. The first thing you notice about the grasslands is the fact that it is so peaceful, you hardly hear any human activity and the sounds of nature take center stage. This seemingly barren landscape is teeming with wildlife.

  I drove the 80km Ecotour, a self guided driving tour through the west end of the park. This allowed me to view the French River Valley, historic homesteads and indigenous animals. Some of the wildlife seen were sage grouse, deer, antelope, black-tailed prairie dog and a herd of plains bison. Two artworks were built today. The first was constructed on the side of a large grassy hill overlooking the French river. It is made from wire mesh forms wrapped with yarn and combined with a tumbleweed.Image The second artwork is a yarn web installed in a dry river bed inside of a dead tree. The riverbed was lined with soft grasses and was a bedding area for deer. One thing is for certain, this was an unforgettable experience and I wished I could stay longer. I plan a return visit in the future. Tomorrow I begin the long drive back to Ontario.

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Canadian Art Trek: Reston, Manitoba

Day 7: Reston, Manitoba

On my drive from Brandon to Weyburn I stopped at the small village of Reston. Reston is situated near the Saskatchewan borderImage to the west and North Dakota to the south. I was craving a home-cooked breakfast and decided that the Dennis County Cafe looked inviting. The meal was fantastic and it also provided an opportunity to talk to local residents.  A  gentleman approached to chat once he realized that I was from Ontario. He had left Ontario quite a few years ago (from the Fergus area) and ran the local Reston bakery which was a very busy spot in its heyday. The bakery has since burned down and the gentleman has retired. As I drove away from town, rows of pumpjacks were apparent. The main economy in this region is oil and agriculture.

 

Canadian Art Trek: Brandon, Manitoba

Day 6: Brandon, Manitoba

 As I travelled from Kenora to the border of Manitoba the landscape began to change drastically. Large granite slabs, pine forests and endless lakes transformed into small shrubs and flat expanses of farmland. Surprisingly, this was the location that revealed the most wildlife thus far on my trek. I saw six bald eagles perched in small clumps of forest and white-tailed deer grazing along the roadside. As I neared Brandon, it became increasingly clear how important the rail system is to the economy of this area. Trains stretched for miles along the horizon carrying multi-coloured shipping containers. Today’s artwork was installed in the city of Brandon near the Assiniboine river on the Riverbank Trail System. The material of this work consists of hand-felted merino wool nests.Image

 

Canadian Art Trek: Kenora

Day 5: Kenora

 After a long snowy drive from Thunder Bay, I found myself in Kenora. The small city is has every amenity a tired traveller could wish for. I was very impressed with the harbourfront of the city which has maintained its old historic buildings and its small town appeal. Kenora is surrounded by Lake of the Woods. It seems that almost every house boasts a waterfront view or access. The city’s economy has long been based around mining and lumber. There is a large sign upon entering the city announcing that the Kenora Thistles had won the Stanley Cup in 1907 as an amateur team comprised of lumbermen. Near my motel the town mascot stood proudly-a giant 40 foot sculpture of “Husky the Muskie”. Due to heavy  snow conditions no art projects were made today.Image

Canadian Art Trek: Rossport

DAY 4: Rossport 

 The weather today was overcast with the sun periodically peaking through the clouds. I spent a few hours walking along the shoreline near Rainbow Falls Provincial Park and the small picturesque village of Rossport Ontario. This geographical area next to Lake Superior has a mix of cobble beach and smooth granite shoreline with amazing views of the Wilson Islands. I found a small rock peninsula jutting out into the lake with a freight train meandering along the escarpment behind. It was a quiet and peaceful location and I felt the sudden urge to build my work here.Image Nearby to my installation site, I stumbled into a small memorial dedicated to Steven J. Giguere lost to Lake Superior in 2010.

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Canadian Art Trek: Chippewa Falls

Canadian Art Trek

 Day 3: Chippewa Falls

 Before I left Sault Ste. Marie I had some difficult decisions to make. How do I make art in nature after a snowstorm? I decided that I would simply deal with whatever conditions I would encounter-nature doesn’t always provide perfect situations. That being said, I spent a great deal of time checking the weather forecast and snow conditions along the Trans-Canada Highway. My best possible location would be a stretch of land between Batchawana Bay Provincial Park and Agawa Canyon. I built today’s work at Chippewa Falls near Batchawana Bay where the snow was only a few centimeters deep. Chippewa Falls is the approximate half-way point of the Trans-Canada highway between St. John’s, Newfoundland and Victoria, British Colombia.

This artwork was carefully installed by climbing out onto a snow covered portion of the Falls. It is constructed from braided material made from old clothing torn into strips. Image

Canadian Art Trek: Sault Saint Marie

Day 2: Sault Ste. Marie

Canadian Art Trek

 On day two of my trek, I traveled from Parry Sound to Sault Ste. Marie. I didn’t get a chance to make any art today due to a spring snowstorm that pelted Southern Ontario with freezing rain and Northern Ontario with a blizzard. I was able to keep on schedule by leaving Parry Sound early in the morning before the highway was closed between Pointe au Baril and Sudbury. Sault Ste. Marie was bustling after the storm and I was never more happy to reach my quiet and clean hotel next to the St. Mary’s River. The harbour seems quiet this time of year but this will soon change whenever spring decides to arrive. I was also very pleased to find that the ship Norgoma has a home in this city and has been turned into a museum. The Norgoma is the sister ship of the Norisle. Norgoma and Norisle were car ferries that operated between Tobermory and South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island. My grandfather has often told me stories of his various travels on these ships in the 1960s and how they were notorious for sea-sickness. Tobermory now offers a comfortable ride on the M.S Chi-Cheemaun which has been in operation since 1974. The ship Norisle is currently docked in Manitowaning on Manitoulin Island.Image

Canada Art Trek: Parry Sound

Day 1: Parry Sound, Ontario

Canada Art Trek

 The first thing you notice about the town of Parry Sound is the fact that it is nestled amid brightly coloured granite rock formations left long ago by glaciers. Arriving in Parry Sound two hours ahead of schedule I decided to spend the day exploring the area. After meeting with a few local residents I was directed to Waubuno Beach, a small sandy swimming area surrounded by large boulders and flat granite outcroppings. Waubuno beach is located on a strip of shoreline between the Canada Coast Guard base and the Bobby Orr Museum. I am assuming that the beach is named after the Parry Sound’s most famous shipwreck of the same name. Waubuno was a a paddle-wheeler that sank in 1879 with all-hands. Only portions of the wreck have ever been found and it remains somewhat of a mystery to this day.ImageThis installation utilizes a needle felted and hand-dyed textile made from merino wool which was carefully tucked around existing rocks to take its form.

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The Murky Marshes of Memory and Conjecture

tom and the boys

Amongst the Tom Thomson artefacts that are part of the Gallery’s permanent collection, there is Tom’s copy of The Cloister and the Hearth, written by Charles Reade. By turns a tragic love story, an adventure novel, and a testament to finding and being true to one’s calling, it is revealed at the end that the young man in the story, Gerard, is actually the great Catholic scholar and Humanist, Erasmus of Rotterdam. While Erasmus is indeed a major historical figure, little is actually known about his true parentage. Using likely scenarios, research and imagination, Reade conjured up the parts of Erasmus’s story that are unknown. And who is to say definitely whether or not they happened as described? And even what we believe we “know” as fact can be questionable, especially when it involves the past. Marcel Proust described the past a being “…broken and scattered…poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest…” The Norwegian novelist Karl O. Knausgaard addresses this subject in a number of his works and believes we are wrong to imagine that those of the past are anything like us, for “our world is only one of many possible worlds.”

There are some facts about Tom Thomson which are incontrovertible. Yet many aspects of his life remain within the realm of conjecture and (sometimes contrarian) supposition. The Murky Marshes of Memory and Conjecture exhibit offers an opportunity for viewers to explore the less-documented times in Thomson’s life. Using real places and events as a jumping off point the exhibit delves into the idea of how memory and conjecture can create alternative, but not necessarily false, only unproven, narratives. It also brings into the discussion the role that museums play in being custodians of “authenticity” and that what is a “fact” can actually be a mutable idea.
Last year, someone began posting on Twitter as Tom Thomson under the name “@TTLastSpring” gaining thousands of Twitter followers and national media coverage. Blending impeccable research with conjecture and fantasy, @TTLastSpring embodied the spirit of Tom in dialogue with contemporary and historic personages (including Winnie Trainor and Shannon Fraser) while creating a window into the soul of Tom with words and reflections that he imagines Tom to be feelings. These are interspersed with authentic excerpts from letters by and about Tom and are hinged upon actual events. The crescendo of feelings expressed by @TTLastSpring’s followers that culminated on July 8th (the anniversary of Tom’s disappearance) and July 16th (the anniversary of when Tom’s body was found) illustrate how effective this mixing of fact and fancy can be in creating an alternative, but not necessary false, other or expanded reality around the life of someone from the past.
Another project, this one a collaboration between Germinio Pio Politi and Joel Richardson, envisions what Tom was up to when he took one of his trips into the deep forests of Algonquin Park. Whereas traditional the assumption was that Tom went alone Politi and Richardson posit the possibility that he had companions – James, Louis and Antonio – who also had their reasons for wanting to spend time away from “polite” society. Inspired by letters from the TOM’s collection, where Jack Wilkinson (who grew up at Canoe Lake and, as a child, knew Tom)recounts his memories of hearing his parents discuss Tom’s antics when he “went off in the woods,” Politi and Richardson develop a scenario of what would it have been like, had Tom encountered a philosophical disenfranchised, Italian aristocrat; a young man who rejected involvement in the Great War and who was in love with a young First Nations woman; and a young Ojibwe man who rounded out their travelling party. And what, they ask, would it mean to our understanding of Tom’s story if a book was found almost a century after Tom’s death containing a photo of the four friends, a hand-drawn map indicating the spot where they camped and possibly left other so-far undiscovered artefacts, and the discovery that Antonio and James vanished in the fall of 1917 never to be seen again. It is all within the realm of possibility.
Photos are supposed to be 100% empirical. They document things and as such, are not supposed to be false – especially the photos from the past. Yet the photos that Tom Thomson took offer their own mysteries. An unidentified man. Indistinct locations that could be bodies of water in Algonquin Park or closer to home in Owen Sound. The same shack – off in the distance – seen clearly in one image but which is cloudy and blurred in a second image. What are we to make of these images? Whatever our imagination and knowledge of Tom allows us to. We have to fill in the story and decide what they could mean and what stories they tell us.
It has been said of Tom Thomson that had Tom not existed, Canada would have had to invent him. While rooted in fact and flesh and blood, Tom Thomson has reached a mythic level in our Canadian psyche. Charles Reade once wrote “Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.” This can be applied to Tom – his artistic genius and passion, the mystery of his life and death – all serve as sources of inspiration that continue to inspire and intrigue. The unknown elements around Tom and his story allow for people to project their own particular theory, thoughts or suppositions around who he was, what he was like and what ultimately happened to him. The truth to the secrets, to the realms of unknowns and what ifs that surround Tom, will likely lie hidden from us forever as if drowned in the muddy waters of a marshland. And the fact that so many of the truths are hidden from us will continue to inspire musings, imaginings and conjecture as we look to know Tom better, regardless of how murky the total picture is that we might have of him.

(Watch for more Tom-related “discoveries” in Algonquin Park as Canadian Spirit continues.)

Canadian Spirit on the Move

We’ve kicked off “Canadian Spirit 2013: One with the North” with several projects already taking place across the province and now we’re spreading out across the country with artist Ann Marie Hadcock who is embracing Canadian Spirit by making an art-trek that will go from Owen Sound to Parry Sound, Sault Ste Marie, Marathon, Thunder Bay, Kenora, Brandon (MB), Weybourn (SK) ending up at Grass Lands National Park (SK). Ann Marie will be creating and installing artwork as she travels along and will be documenting her travels on this site as she goes along. Stay tuned to see what develops!