The Haliburton Highlands Paddlers dragon boat team competed on Sturgeon Lake at the Port Perry Dragon Boat Festival June 18. The recreational club placed second in the D division at their first of two competitions this season. /Photo courtesy of Robin Bell

Paddle art contest marks significant anniversary

By Angelica Ingram

Published on July 28 2016

In 2017 Canadians will mark a historic milestone in the art world as next summer will be the 100th anniversary of the death of Tom Thomson one of the country’s most renowned painters.

Thomson who mysteriously disappeared while canoeing in Algonquin Park influenced the Group of Seven and many other artists throughout the country.

Algonquin Outfitters is hoping his art will inspire once again with the launch of their Paddle Art Contest.

The contest which was launched this summer celebrates the 55th anniversary of Algonquin Outfitters and the 100th anniversary of Thomson’s death.

Marketing manager for the store Randy Mitson said the contest is a way to celebrate Canadian heritage as next year is Canada’s 150th birthday.

For a $25 fee contestants are given a blank canoe paddle (from any Algonquin Outfitters location) and encouraged to create a work of art.

Paddles can be carved painted or transformed in whatever way you wish as long as it still includes a paddle.

The idea for the contest came from Algonquin Outfitters owner Richard Swift. With 14 locations across Ontario Algonquin Outfitters specializes in equipment and clothing for the outdoors.

“We do annual photo contests and we’re really engaged with our customers and clients … so this just kind of made sense” said Mitson.

Thomson who disappeared while canoeing in July of 1917 was found eight days later. His paddle was never found.

The contest was launched in June and has already seen more than 100 paddles purchased and a few completed. It runs until Aug. 31 2017 ensuring ample time to create a masterpiece.

Once all the entries have been received Algonquin Outfitters will be auctioning off 100 paddles next September at the Algonquin Theatre in Huntsville with proceeds going to local charities.

“We’ve done something like this in the past and were very successful with it” said Mitson. “I can’t even imagine how successful this is going to be.”

The auction will start online and then the live auction will be in the theatre. The winners are determined by who fetches the highest price at the auction which leaves the judging up to the public said Mitson.

The two charities that will benefit from the event are the Oxtongue Lake for Arts and Culture in Haliburton County and the town of Huntsville for future acquisitions of public art.

The Oxtongue Lake for Arts and Culture organization has a special tie in to Thomson as the painter was inspired by the Oxtongue River and did work there said Mitson.

“So there’s a whole history in that area that’s kind of undiscovered” he said. “They’re building a Tom Thomson trail … their plan is they want to physically educate people about it.”

Mitson said the goal of the contest was to have 100 paddles entered however he believes they will far exceed that number.

“We are at 116 paddles sold so far” he said. “We’ve already ordered more than 200 paddles … I’m suspecting that we’ll probably put out 300 or 400 paddles. If we get more than 100 back that’s even better. It’s been very very well received.”

Contestants can use their own paddles but they still have to pay the $25 fee to cover administration costs.

The Paddle Art Contest will award one prize for every 25 paddles returned. One prize is an all inclusive canoe trip valued at $600 or a paddle of your choice from Badger Paddles.

Completed paddles will also be on display at Rails End Gallery in Haliburton Village and at the Algonquin Theatre in Huntsville.

Mitson has already heard about paddle creations in the works and is excited to see what comes forward.

“It’s really exciting to see the things we didn’t expect” he said. “I know I’m going to get paddles back where I’m going to go wow I never thought somebody could do that with a paddle or I would have never thought of that. That’s ingenious.”

For more information about the contest including the rules visit or call 705-787-0262.