”Well, James, my boy, down on your knees and give great gobs of thanks to Allah! Sing his praises, yell terrific halleluiahs. That they may even reach into His ears – we have a car awaiting us on the Algoma Central!!!”
(Peter Mellen The Group Of Seven, P.80)
That is how Harris broke the news to JEH MacDonald about the boxcar that they were to use on their painting trips to the Algoma
At the end of WWI, a group of painters who later called themselves the Group of Seven, loaded their gear on a train trip from Toronto to Sault Ste Marie. There, they were to meet up with another train on the Algoma Central Railway that was to pull and then unhook and park their specially equipped boxcar at various locations in the Algoma wilderness of northern Ontario. They would stay there for several weeks painting and sketching the pristine views, from The canyon near the Agawa River, to Hubert near Montreal Falls, to Batchawana.
Thanks in no small part to Harris and the invisible hand of Dr. MacCallum, the Algoma Central Railway furnished this boxcar, namely boxcar A.C.R 10557 with the painters’ every need. It was in fact a studio on wheels. It was fitted out with windows, lamps, bunks, stove, water-tank, sink and cupboards was their home away from home. A true luxury in the middle of the wilderness.
The works that they produced on these trips – yes they made a few from 1918-1925 – would become national icons and would etch their names in national Canadian history.
Last month a train retracing the same route took a group of tourists as well as art workshop enthusiasts through a trip in time. This event, sponsored by The Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains sparked my imagination. While this is a wonderful event for their cause and indeed opens the Algoma area to added tourism, I had often wondered if it was possible to recreate the boxcar trip for plein air artists. Not as a day trip, but as a sketching trip for a week or more of painting in the Algoma wilderness.
So after reading about the tour train I went googling and finally stumbled across the answer.
You can actually book a boxcar similar to the one that housed the group of seven on their trip. A train will take you to several locations on the Algoma Central Rail and drop the boxcar and you in camping grounds in the Agawa Park. The boxcar can accommodate up to four passengers and can be booked for 5 days (4 nights) for a reasonable rate of around Cdn$800 per person. Now when you add a flight to Sault Ste Marie and back, the trip becomes a bit hefty but it is not one that you do every day.
I am hoping that someone reading this blog post will decide that they would like to sponsor 3 or 4 OPAS members (Me included of course) on a trip like this next summer. We could arrange for payment through works painted up there and an exhibition to recoup some of the costs. Anyone interested in becoming a true patron of Canadian Art?