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Algoma Hills, 1921 J.E.H. MacDonald (1873-1932). Oil on panel, 21.6 x 26.7 cm University College Art Collection, purchased 1942 / Photo: Michael Visser
Photo by Michael Visser

The True North?

J.E.H. MacDonald's view of the Algoma region

From 1918 to 1922, various members of the Group of Seven, seeking “Nordic” painting spots farther afield than Algonquin Park, accompanied Lawren Harris on his so-called “boxcar trips” to the Algoma region of Ontario, due north of Sault Ste. Marie.

Harris arranged with the Algoma Central Railway Line (running between the Sault and Hearst) to shunt the artists off onto an unused siding, where they camped out in a loaned boxcar (a prototype, one might surmise, of the modern RV).

From this temporary base they made day hikes and paddles in the wild and rugged territory, to produce oil sketches, such as the one reproduced here. J.E.H. MacDonald, the senior member of the Group, has found a high vantage point from which he depicts receding cliffs and hills in muted olives and greys. Our eye begins, however, with the sun-bleached, rough rocks in the foreground, then hops to the bright orange of some deciduous trees in full fall colour in the middle ground, before meandering through the distant hills and finally reaching the small band of cloudy sky at top. All detail has been schematized and simplified so that we concentrate on the whole – the pulsating oneness of the sublime wilderness landscape. This sketch typifies what the Group was all about in its heyday, capturing and then conveying to its public the grandeur and awesome beauty of the more remote areas of Ontario’s near North, and the mythic power of that northernness in all its melancholy and elusive beauty.

Algoma Hills is part of the permanent collection of the Art Centre.

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  1. One Response to “ The True North? ”

  2. Michael O'Toole says:

    Thank you for the article. Are you by chance related to the artist Alan Wylie?