By Dale Innes
Our annual Group of Seven and Glenn Gould Train Event occurred on September 22nd and 23rd, amongst the glorious fall colours of the Algoma Central Railway (ACR) corridor and the splendid vistas of Lake Superior along Highway 17, the highway that Glenn Gould used to take up to Wawa on a yearly basis in the late 60s and 70s. This event is organized by the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT), a voluntary, not-for-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of rail travel in the district of Algoma. CAPT has been organizing this event for the past five years and has achieved overwhelming success in delivering a very interesting, informative cultural experience for all participants.
On September 22, a group of 120 people boarded the Algoma Central Railway in Sault Ste. Marie to travel to the Searchmont Resort, where they experienced a presentation on Tom Thomson, this year’s featured artist. This presentation was given by noted art historian, Michael Burtch, and renowned Canadian actor, Jack Wetherall, who portrayed Tom Thomson through a reading of his letters. This was followed by lunch and a tribute to Glenn Gould in the form of a giant birthday cake to celebrate his 80th birthday.
After lunch, a smaller group of 51 people boarded a coach to Wawa. This year we were joined by Karl Brown, president of the Glenn Gould Society in Ottawa. We stayed at the historic Wawa Motor Inn, the motel where Gould regularly rented room 102. In the evening, we enjoyed a delicious whitefish dinner provided by David Wells of Naturally Superior Adventures at the splendid Rock Island Inn, which is located on one of the most spectacular headlands in all of Lake Superior. In the evening, I gave a presentation on Gould and his unique relationship to the north, and more specifically to the area around Wawa.
The next morning we boarded the coach for the “Footsteps of Glenn Gould” tour. I guided the group around some of Gould’s most treasured places, including Michipicoten Harbour, Sandy Beach and the Magpie High Falls. One imagines that the intense, remote beauty of these places provided the necessary solitude, silence and space for Gould to “do his best thinking”. Footage of these places is featured in such videos as Genius Within:The Inner Life of Glenn Gould by Hozer and Raymont, and Glenn Gould Hereafter by Monsaingeon. This “Footsteps” tour is based on one that I first used during the “Solitude Tour” of Gould enthusiasts from all over the world, which followed the Glenn Gould Gathering in 1999. It was on this tour that I met Junichi Miyazawa, a prominent Gould scholar and devotee. Hosted by “Soul of Superior” tours, Junichi returned to this area on September 14th to experience it once again in light of Gould’s 80th anniversary.
Following the Footsteps tour, we headed over to Hawk Junction, where we caught the ACR train southbound to Sault Ste. Marie. For the past three years, Michael Burtch has been working with Gary and Joanie McGuffin, authors and wilderness adventurers, in identifying the sites that the Group of Seven painted in Algonquin Park, in the Algoma Highlands and along the north shore of Lake Superior. All along the ACR route, Michael Burtch shared their research on the Group of Seven artists, and pointed out sites, including Isle of Spruce by Lismer, Waterfall Algoma by Harris, Agawa Valley by MacDonald, Solemn Land by MacDonald, Montreal River Falls by MacDonald, Autumn, Batchewana River by Harris, and Batchewana River by MacDonald.
Each year, a different Group of Seven artist is featured and relatives of the artist are invited to join us. Last year, the featured artist was Lawren Harris, and his cousin, Betty Carol Smith and her husband participated in the tour. This year, we were fortunate to have Stewart Sheppard and his wife, Clemencia, join us from Vancouver. Sheppard, the grandson of Lawren Harris, thought that linking Gould and Group of Seven in our event was most appropriate as his grandfather preferred painting with classical music playing in the background.
Feedback about the weekend was very positive. This is what one participant from the Number One Ladies Book Club (a genuine book club in SSM) said:
“I think I echo the feelings of many of us, when I tell you that this weekend of ‘Walking in the Footsteps of Glenn Gould and the Group of Seven’ was singularly one of the most moving and authentic experiences of my life here in Algoma. I already knew a lot about Glenn Gould from previous fascination, but I must say that after Dale’s talk, he actually moved from a “wondrous strange” man to a profoundly authentic human being who was truly in touch with his inner self and was simply insisting on living out of that place. So many of us miss the mark in that regard.” (Susan Febbraro, M.D.)
The event organizers aim to show how the remote, pristine Algoma Highlands and Lake Superior coastline have played a meaningful role in the lives of many Canadian artists, such as the Group of Seven and Glenn Gould. Participants on the 2012 event were able to celebrate the legacy of these treasured Canadian artists in the actual northern locations that gave rise to their creative voices.
The featured artist next year is A.Y. Jackson. Anyone interested in participating in next year’s event are encouraged to sign on early as several people are already on the list for next September. Please go to the CAPT website at www.groupofseventrainevent.ca
Dale Innes, pianist, is a senior examiner for the RCM, the Music Coordinator at Algoma University and a member of the organizing committee for the annual CAPT Group of Seven and Glenn Gould Train Event.