In September Ray and I went to visit Tom Thomson’s grave in Leith Ontario just outside of Owen Sound, where Thomson grew up.
Thomson of course is Canada’s great painter; one known world wide, who captured the soul of the land and thus the country in his paintings. Contrary to popular belief Thomson was not one of the Group of Seven, having died before it’s formation, but will forever be associated with them because of his subject matter and influence on the painters who did form the Group of Seven. As member painter Lawren Harris wrote “(Tom Thomson was ) a part of the movement before we pinned a label on it.” Thomson is as Canadian as hockey, healthcare or false humility and to some that makes him mundane. Just another symbol to stick in a collage of Canada. But that is Thomson as a symbol not the painter and not the paintings.
Having spent my teen years in Owen Sound the scenery that Thomson painted was all around to see with the naked eye, but being a teen I took it and his paintings somewhat for granted. I appreciated them but I was too busy trying to grow up as fast as I could to really absorb them. It is only returning to the Georgian Bay area as an adult with years of travel and having experienced the rough edges of a life lived, that I see the land around Georgian Bay for what it is, a rich a combination of shape, form, light and colour that is unique to this part of the world.
Looking now at with fresh eyes away from the landscape and at Thomson’s iconic paintings they appear all the more remarkable to me; like seeing the portrait of a familiar face taking on new aspects and truths on the canvas.
It was on July 8, 1917 while on a canoe trip on the perfectly named Canoe Lake in Nipissing District of Ontario that Thomson would have found himself in the water, then under the water and finally submerged in the void that death brings. 8 days later his body was found washed up on the shore. There was a bruise or hole on temple (depending on the account) and fishing line wrapped around his ankle.
Thomson’s gravestone is small , just one of many in the unassuming graveyard of the humble red brick Leith Church. Across the road is open farmer’s field. It was quiet, calm, even relaxing that morning in that place, as fall ushered in with the wind a little cooler, the sun a little lower and the geese honking overhead breaking the stillness as the made there way to southern lands. Tom Thomson died a relative unknown, writing to a friend that he would be happy if he “could get $10 or $15” for a sketch. A sketch by Thomson these days can sell for $2-million or more.
While stories and legends of murder and intrigue have grown up around his death his legend as a painter has grown even more, enshrining him and his paintings as a piece of Canadian national identity; which may be why some people reject him with such force. After all what is an iconoclast without icons to smash and rage against. But truth and legend need not be contrary. Sometimes they live quite well side by side. As Gordon Downie once said referring to the song Three pistols by his group the Tragically Hip, “Here’s one of many Canadian myths, that like many Canadian myths, just happens to be true.”
Looking out over Georgian Bay anyone who has seen a Tom Thomson painting can see Tom Thomson trees, clouds, rocks, water, but they are real, a fusion of his perception with ours across time. That is the magic.
Tom Thompson Gallery, Owen Sound
Three Pistols by the Tragically Hip
Southampton is an attractive “seaside” town on the Saugeen shores of Lake Huron. I use the term “seaside” because even though it is not technically on the sea it is as close as you get without salt water to a seaside experience. With lighthouses, ship wrecks, sea-birds, miles of beaches and no land in site when you gaze across the expanse of Lake Huron, one can easily imagine they are on the seashore.
Home to the Ojibway Saugeen First Nation, the area was visited by French fur traders, the Voyageurs, who would make stops along the route south to Detroit and the Mississippi interior. A permanent pioneer settlement wasn’t established until 1848 and in 1904 Southampton was incorporated as a town.
The area is know for it’s perilous waters with over one hundred marine disasters being recorded since 1848. In the 2001 the excavation of the fighting vessel the HMS General Hunter from the war of 1812, began along Saugeen the shoreline.
Southampton is known for it architecture. With over 100 homes from early days still standing it has the air of an outdoor museum or a trip back in time, magnificent sunsets that stretch from end to end of the western lake horizon, monarch butterfly way stations, the Chantry Island Lighthouse and The Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre.
All photos copyright James MacDougall, 2015, unless otherwise noted
By James MacDougall
“Have you been to the Morland Place?” When I ask locals this question they usually give me a puzzled look and say “The what?” I will then explain that it is the interesting looking property at the intersection of Grey Road 18 and the Inglis Falls Road. Then they will nod in recognition and say something like “oh that place!” We all know it’s in our backyard, but it’s not a place everyone has visited despite the fact it’s grounds are open to the public daily May through October from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm.
The Morland Place is a European style manor house with vast gardens, manicured lawns and a hedge-row labyrinth. The main residence is built around an original 1919 stone house which was purchased by Joe and Vera More in 1945. In the 1980s, their son Barry More, built an addition to the original building in Georgian Regency style. It was a project that took 10 years to complete. The house is in many ways a tribute to Barry’s mother Vera and serves as a showcase of her many collections of antique furniture, books and objects d’art.
Owner: Barry More
Phone: (519) 376-4617
Address: 102645 Grey Rd 18, Owen Sound
The Rural Route: Morland beauty
A Thing of Beauty: The Story of Morland Place by Barry Joseph More (ISBN: 978-1-897502-27-3)
All photographs copyright James MacDougall 2015.