Finding the Group of Seven

By Jenn Watt

Over the last four decades Jim and Sue Waddington have travelled Canada solving mysteries. A professor and nurse respectively the couple used their vacation time to follow clues scouring the landscape for the sites of famous artwork.

Last week we ran a feature story on the Waddingtons who spoke on Thursday at CFUW’s meeting at the college in town.

Their presentation was captivating. Jim quite comfortable giving lectures from his days at McMaster University told the audience about their travels all the while clicking through slides that started with the artwork and morphed into the real life location.

There were times it took the Waddingtons weeks of searching the wilderness to find the specific lookouts and valleys that the Group of Seven and their contemporaries found to create the iconic Canadian works.

Cheers and applause rose spontaneously from the crowd as some of the more clever finds and gorgeous vantage points were displayed.

These works were hard to find. In most cases the artists did little to document for the public where they went to do their painting. The Waddingtons would use clues from archives and unsubstantiated stories to track down the scenes that inspired some of this country’s great artists.

The locations they found were nothing short of amazing. They climbed to incredible heights and tucked their canoe into tight bays and they were rewarded with more than 550 finds (which are chronicled in their book In the Footsteps of the Group of Seven).

But they haven’t found them all not even close. Each of these artists has hundreds if not thousands of works to his name – some of them done in the Haliburton Highlands.

At the end of their presentation the Waddingtons highlighted several paintings that were done in the Highlands but the sites aren’t yet known.

Unfortunately due to copyright laws we can’t reproduce those in the Echo either but some of the works created here can be found on the National Gallery of Canada’s searchable website and other arts websites.

Which leads to a tempting idea: why don’t more of us follow in the Waddingtons’ lead?

Lawren Harris J.E.H. MacDonald A. J. Casson Tom Thomson and many other iconic artists have wandered the same woods and paddled the same lakes that we have access to every day.

With far fewer roads gear or information they took in the towering rocks and tangled trees and created the art that has shaped us as a culture. What better way to rediscover our own backyard than walking in their footsteps?