Thomas John Thomson, a member of the Group of Seven, said Canada’s most beautiful scenery is in the north. He wasn’t referring to Yukon, Northwest Territories, or Newfoundland, but to Northern Ontario with its swathes of forests, sparkling lakes and rivers, and the vast rocky plateau of the Canadian Shield.
At the end of August I spent four days in Sault Ste. Marie—one of Northern Ontario’s nine cities—along with four friends, and we got a glimpse of what Thomson was talking about.
While there we visited the Art Gallery of Algoma, an art museum located on the St. Marys River in Sault Ste. Marie. It features over 4,000 artworks by local, national, and international artists, including paintings by the Group of Seven.
We learned about how the Group of Seven developed their unique painting style. They loved the land and the surrounding natural beauty, which brought inspiration to their work. On the grounds of the museum is the Elsie Savoie Sculpture Park, which features works by Canadian and American artists.
Our next stop was the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site on Queen Street. The site consists of an interactive Heritage Discovery Centre and two of Canada’s oldest stone buildings: the Ermatinger Old Stone House and the Clergue Blockhouse.
Charles Oaks Ermatinger, who lived in the fully restored stone house with his family, was an Ontario lawyer, judge, and political figure in the late 1800s. The Clergue Blockhouse served as the home of industrialist Francis Hector Clergue from 1894 to 1908. The houses are so authentic that we felt transported back 200 years.
We also visited the nearby Canadian Bushplane Heritage Center, which was founded in 1987 by a group of local volunteers to preserve the province’s history in bush planes and aerial firefighting. Featured in the museum’s 30 exhibits are float planes, bush planes, water bombers, and forest firefighting equipment, along with other aviation and forestry-related artifacts.
A must-do for us was a fishing trip on St. Marys River. None of us had ever fished before and we had so much fun! Fishing is popular among visitors here but most only do it for enjoyment and will throw the fish back into the water afterwards, so the fish don’t die.
We set out early in the morning but the fog was so thick we had to leave and come back around noon. It took half an hour to get to the centre of the river by motorboat, even at top speed. Our guide showed us how it’s done using a hand net, and eventually we caught a few fish. We were thrilled.
The highlight of our trip was taking the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, which offers one-day wilderness excursions to the 1.2 billion-year-old Agawa Canyon, 114 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie. The tour includes a stop at the pristine Agawa Canyon Wilderness Park, only accessible by rail or hiking trail.
The scenery was spectacular—the same rugged landscapes that inspired the Group of Seven. We could only imagine how beautiful it would be in the fall, when the Algoma region is ablaze with autumn colours.