• Tom Thomson and The Grey Canoe

Tom Thomson and The Grey Canoe

Tom Thomson

May 9 - November 15, 2015

Everything he produced grew out of his experience, and he painted himself into it all.

  1. Lismer to J.M. MacCallum, 21 July 1917, private collection.


It has been almost 100 years since Tom Thomson’s death. During that time he has become a Canadian icon, an artist of mythic proportions, and a marketable commodity; even Roots Canada has a line of Tom Thomson – “the original Roots man” – apparel and accessories.

This exhibition provides an introduction to the 1911-17 time period in the life and art of Tom Thomson, from his employment as a graphic designer at Grip, to his establishment as one of Canada’s foremost landscape artists, to his influence on the development of the Group of Seven. The majority of his painted sketches were produced in Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park and much of the landscape he and his fellow artists depicted was only accessible by water.

The canoe was as important to the artistic development of Tom Thomson as his brushes and tubes of paint. Thomson traveled thousands of miles by canoe: as a painter, a fishing guide, a Park Ranger and for his personal enjoyment. This exhibition includes a short history of the canoe from indigenous First Nations use to the development of the “white-man” canoe with particular attention to the Chestnut Canoe Company, the builder of choice for Thomson.

You will not find Thomson’s artwork on display here. The focus of this exhibition is on the man, his love of canoeing the rivers and lakes of Ontario, his passion for painting, and his deep friendships. The video, photographs, text panels, and letters provide a window into his relationship with the landscape he experienced and his friends and fellow painters who encouraged his artistic development as they paddled, sketched, and fished with him.

A 16 ft. Chestnut canoe similar to the one used by Thomson is included in the exhibit. This canoe, restored and donated by Mike Elliott of Kettle River Canoes, Grand Forks, will be raffled off at the close of the exhibition as a fund-raiser for Gallery 2 Art and Heritage Centre.

I have drawn on numerous sources for this exhibition but primarily Tom Thomson, Art Gallery of Ontario and National Gallery of Canada exhibition catalogue 2002.  For those who would like to delve deeper into Thomson’s life and works this book provides viewpoints unique to each of the eight contributing experts. David Huff, Manager of Public Programs at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound has a complied a brief biography which can be found at http://tomthomson.org/tom-thomson/tom-thomson-biography/. Joan Murray has spent more than thirty years researching Thompson’s work and has an excellent website catalogue at http://www.tomthomsoncatalogue.org/. For a detailed account of the history of the canoe in North America, and the Chestnut Canoe Company in particular, I recommend When the Chestnut was in Flower: Inside the Chestnut Canoe by Roger MacGregor and The Story of the Chestnut Canoe by Kenneth Solway.

I would like to acknowledge the Archives of Ontario, Art Gallery of Ontario, McMichael Canadian Art Archives, National Gallery of Canada Archives, and Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery for providing access to the images used in this exhibition.

I would also like to thank curator and art historian Roger H. Boulet for his support and encouragement and Mike Elliott, master canoe restorer, for his contribution to this project.

 Opening Reception: May 9, 2015 from 1-3pm

Ted Fogg


March 2015