FALL COLOURS IN ONTARIO ARE A BITTERSWEET THING – they’re lovely, but they mean that winter is on the way. Leaves begin turning in September in the north and make their way down the province to the lakes like wildfire. There are plenty of ways to take in the fall colours, but one of the most pleasant and educational is just an hour or so outside Toronto.
The McMichael Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario houses one of the country’s greatest collections of paintings by the Group of Seven – the short-lived but influential artists’ collective that provided the fledgling country of Canada with a sense of itself, through their landscape paintings. You’ll see more than just work by artists like Lawren Harris, A.J. Casson, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley, A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston and J.E.H. MacDonald at the gallery, but their work is the core of the collection.
Once the home of art collectors Signe and Robert McMichael, the gallery has been expanded many times, with a restaurant and gift shop and spaces for several shows to run at the same time. But one of the features of the building are the windows – provided with convenient chairs and benches – where you can look out and enjoy the sort of landscape that inspired the Group of Seven.
The McMichael Collection is also home to the wooden shack that was once the dollar-a-month home to Tom Thomson – a humble wooden cabin which was moved from Toronto by the McMichaels in 1968. Thomson was a legendary painter and outdoorsman who inspired the Group of Seven to form, and would have made them a Group of Eight if he hadn’t died in a tragic and mysterious canoeing accident while painting in Algonquin Park in 1917.
A short walk from Thomson’s shack is another unique feature of the McMichael – the cemetery where six of the Group of Seven’s remains are buried, under headstones made of raw stone from the Canadian Shield. It’s the sort of completeness that very few art collections can likely boast.
The McMichael’s hundred acres of grounds also includes several hiking trails that take in the Sculpture Garden alongside Thomson’s shack and the cemetery, and branch out into the grounds with paths of varying length and difficulty. They’re a great place to take in Ontario’s fall colours, especially if you don’t have a car.
The trails pass through the Humber River Valley and views change constantly. There are always painters and sketchers at work, and while the grounds often host weddings and other events, you can find yourself alone with the wilderness after just a few minutes of walking.
The landscape along the trails is very much a piece with the woods and wilderness of Southern Ontario, which was the starting point for the painters of the Go7 at their inception. But while walking I came across one view that looked more Constable than Carmichael:
The McMichael is a fantastic day trip from Toronto, and not just when the fall colours are out. Serious hikers can walk there from the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre stop at the end of the #1 Toronto subway line, by making their way through the Boyd and Kortright Conservation Areas to Kleinburg. Or you can take the Art Bus that runs from downtown Toronto, traveling every Sunday from June to October.
Photos and story © 2018 Rick McGinnis All Rights Reserved