Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, Franklin Carmichael, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald and Frederick Varley are Canadian artists that changed the way the world and fellow Canadians looked at art and at Canada. Inspired by the landscape and colours of Canada the Group of Seven told the Canadian story from a uniquely Canadian viewpoint. They found their muse just North of Sault Ste Marie in the Agawa Canyon and returned more than seven times over the years to sketch and paint what they saw. The Agawa Canyon Tour Train lets you follow the same Agawa Canyon train route the Group of Seven took 90+ years ago, but with a few more comforts. The horn has sounded it is time to board. Are you ready for an adventure?
The adventure begins early in the morning. Boarding of the train begins promptly at 8 am so best to check in at the station early. If you get there by 7:15 am, chances are good you’ll catch the train coming in.
This is only the second trip of the 2017 season so the passenger count is on the lower end. Once school is out the numbers will increase and then come September and October the visitors will explode to upwards of 900 passengers. Best to book your tickets early to get the dates you want!
Your ticket comes with assigned train cars. I am in train car #3 which is the middle of this particular train. All settled in the train leaves the station right on time. The ride up to Agawa Canyon is approximately 114 miles and important spots along the way have GPS activated commentary that plays over the speaker system. They also offer this commentary in 5 languages that include Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, German and of course French.
Clickety clack we have begun the journey. The first few miles takes us through the industrial heart of old Sault Ste Marie which is still a vibrant and important part of the community. We soon get the call to make our way to the dining car for the optional breakfast service. You can pack your own food for the day trip, but we have opted to leave all the cooking and clean up to the catering team. It is Steak and Eggs for me. It was only $15 and the views were amazing.
As breakfast settles I head back to my car and begin hours of blissfully staring out the views. There is everything from up close to the forests to vistas that stretch out to Lake Superior and of course many lakes that dot the Agawa Canyon train route. There is a view for everyone.
The big view is the Montreal River Trestle. I was lucky enough to get permission to hang out in the space between cars. This meant I could look out the “windows” and capture these shots of the train as it went over the trestle. Amazing. I say that a lot on this trip but its true.
A few minutes after the trestle we arrive at mile 114, our destination. Here we have only 90 minutes to explore before the train begins its return journey to Sault Ste Marie. We have choices available to us though. There are many hiking trails available all with the listed “return time”. I choose the hike to Bridal Veil Falls, one of many scenes painted by the Group of Seven.
Off the train, it is time to generously apply bug spray and then begin the hike. I say hike but it more of a walk. 40 minutes round trip to the falls viewpoint and then back to the train.
The Bridal Veil Falls route follows the Agawa River and we pass by a Group of Seven interpretive panel. It shows several paintings inspired by the falls by various Group of Seven artists and provides a bit of information as well.
No surprise to me that Agawa Canyon inspired the artists. It is truly breathtaking. Greens and blues in so many shades and the raw power of nature as exhibited by the waterfall. It is easy to see why Lawren Harris and the others returned to this area year after year to capture “Canada”. This is a special place.
The train horn sounds, it is time for us to reboard and begin the journey back to the SOO. A quick lunch in the dining car and then a painting class led by local artist Eileen Halfpenny. We have hired Eileen to accompany us and help us channel our inner Group of Seven masterpieces ($250 + train ticket). You could also pick up your own art supplies and try your own hand back in Sault Ste Marie.
Now I am no painter, but with a little guidance and encouragement I attempt my first ever Group of Seven recreation.
It is not easy but it is also not as daunting a task as I thought it would be. As Eileen states “make a plan and work it”.
The horn sounds and the train slows as we approach the Algoma Central Train Station. We are back in Sault Ste Marie. It’s about 5:30 pm, just enough time to head back to the hotel, grab a shower, maybe a disco nap then head into town for some dinner and perhaps a sunset walk along the boardwalk.
I am so inspired to learn and discover more about the Group of Seven. I think my plans for tomorrow will be to explore the Art Gallery of Algoma, home to many of the groups’ sketches and smaller works. For the larger pieces, I’ll have to visit the AGO in Toronto.