Grand Lake
Tom Thomson Sketching Locations

Abstract: In addition to The Out-Side-In, there are several other sketching locations on Grand Lake. Most are an easy walk from The Out-Side-In. We believe these sketches to be from Grand Lake.

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Sketch for 'The Jack Pine'

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Pine Trees at Sunset

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Smoke Lake

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Spring Lake (Rocks and Water)

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Sunset

The West Wind is perhaps from Grand Lake.

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Sketch for 'The West Wind'

Sketch for 'The Jack Pine'

This sketching location is well known. The Jack Pine Site is about a 10 minute walk along the railway tracks, east of the Out-Side-In. A walking trail has now been established leading to an interpretive plaque at the site of the sketch. However, The National Gallery of Canada still suggests that the location of this sketch is Little Cauchon Lake.

Sketch for The Jack Pine

This sketch is sometimes referred to as a spring painting; the 'white spots' on the far shore are interpreted as snow. If this were correct, it would be further evidence that Thomson was at Achray well before the start of his fire ranger appointment in late May. This sketch would date from before the Cauchon Lake fishing trip with Harris and MacCallum.

Our position is that this is incorrect. The 'white spots' are, in fact patches of bare granite, just as in the sketches across the lake from the Out-Side-In. While the patches on the hillsides are now obscured by forest regrowth, they are still partly present along the shoreline as can be seen in the photo below.

Carcajou Bay on Grand Lake in Algonquin Park stretched vertically by 35

(photo by Bob: 2012-06-29 - map - explore

Looking across Grand Lake into the mouth of Carcajou Bay from the Jack Pine Site. This photo has been stretched by 35% vertically.

Looking towards Carcajou Bay from Achray in Algonquin Park

(photo by Bob: 2013-06-14 - map - explore

For comparison, here's the same line of hills as seen from the beach in front of the Out-Side-In. (See Hills and Swirling Sky.) This photo has been stretched vertically by 35%. The match is definitely better from the Jack Pine Site.

Tom Thomson interpretive plaque on Grand Lake

( - map - explore

In the early 1970s, a dead jack pine was discovered in the right location and with the right configuration of branches (although perhaps a little more complicated) to be Thomson's tree. It is now gone, but a photo appears on the commemorative plaque marking the Jack Pine site. (The photo above is looking WNW along Grand Lake rather than SW towards Carcajou Bay.)

Well placed comfortable natural seating at the Jack Pine site

(photo by Diana: 2015-05-01 - map - explore

We speculate that this is where Thomson sat: well placed, comfortable natural seating.

Pine Trees at Sunset

Pine Trees at Sunset

This sketch is considered to be from 1915 (see the Tom Thomson Catalogue Raisonné entry for Pine Trees at Sunset) and thus should have no relationship with Achray and Grand Lake.

However, there are a few intriguing aspects of this sketch: the pine trees are jack pines which suggests the east side of the park; the background hills are consistent with the background hills of the Jack Pine Site; and the leftmost jack pine shares some similarities with the jack pine of the sketch The Jack Pine, in particular the 'demon' hiding in the branches at the top. Both sketches feature the general idea of dark tree(s) against an evening sky. In addition the sky colours (including the green that seems to surprise some people) in the studio painting of The Jack Pine are a more subtle version of those in Pine Trees at Sunset. We can't shake the feeling that this sketch is in some way related to The Jack Pine, but we have not worked out what that relationship might be.

We have subsequently learned that David Silcox has made similar comments with respect to the colours.

composite of three tom thomson paintings and a photo

A composite of Pine Trees at Sunset, The Jack Pine sketch, The Jack Pine and a currently living jack pine in Carcajou Bay. Make of it what you will.

Smoke Lake

Smoke Lake

In spite of the title of this sketch and its being dated 1915 (see the Tom Thomson Catalogue Raisonné entry for Smoke Lake), the skyline is an excellent match to the view west up Grand Lake from the point just west of the (current) Achray pier. This is less than a five minute walk from the Out-Side-In. The sun direction is correct for a mid-summer sunset (WNW).

Looking up Grand Lake from the rocky point just west of Achray in Algonquin Park

(photo by Bob: 2014-09-19 - map - explore

Spring Lake (Rocks and Water)

Spring Lake Rocks and Water

This sketch shows the Grand Lake Tombolo from a location about 1 km west west of Achray. In reality, the railway ran between the large pink rock and the lake across the foreground but has been artistically omitted.

The sketching site is about a 10 minute walk west of the Out-Side-In along the railway tracks. As with many Thomson sketches, the regrowth of vegetation in the last 100 years has obscured the scene depicted. But in this particular case, it is possible to capture the various components of the scene separately.

Along the shore of Grand Lake in Algonquin Park

(photo by Diana: 2015-05-01 - map - explore

This is our best estimate as to where he sat — on a slight rise above the railway tracks, just east of the big rock.

Along the shore of Grand Lake in Algonquin Park

(photo by Diana: 2015-05-01 - map - explore

And here is the view from that location in 2015. The big rock is hiding in the shadows to the right obscured by the trees. The tombolo is in the background. The field of view of the sketch is a little wider than this photo.

Along the shore of Grand Lake in Algonquin Park

(photo by Bob: 2015-05-01 - map - explore

Here is a better look at the rock with the tombolo in the background. The rail bed lies between the rock and the lake. The railway was there when the picture was painted in 1916 and Thomson chose not to include it in his sketch.

The Tombolo in Grand Lake in Algonquin Park

(photo by Diana: 2015-05-01 - map - explore

This is an unobstructed view of the tombolo from atop the big rock.

The following figures compare parts of the painting with photographs from this location

Composite of tom Thomson sketch and corresponding photograph

The tombolo.

Composite of tom Thomson sketch and corresponding photograph

The big rock.

Composite of tom Thomson sketch and corresponding photograph

The small rocks along the shore.

Along the shore of Grand Lake in Algonquin Park

(photo by Diana: 2015-05-01 - map - explore

Here is a slightly different modern view that explicitly shows the the old roadbed.

So, while a single modern photograph cannot capture the painted scene, if you visit this location with a copy of the sketch in hand, you will have no doubts that this is the sketch's location; all of the components of the scene are there in the correct relationship. It points out that Thomson was not averse to altering a scene and omitting evidence of industry (and no doubt other distractions) when it suited his artistic intent.

And a minor quibble: we also believe that the sketch is a fall scene — late September, early October — rather than spring, based on the colours of the foreground bushes and trees on the distant hills.

Sunset

Sunset

While this sketch is dated 1915 (see the Tom Thomson Catalogue Raisonné entry for Sunset), the background hills are a reasonable (but not conclusive) match for the skyline looking into Carcajou Bay from the Jack Pine Site.

Carcajou Bay skyline from the beach adjacent to The Jackpine site

(photo by Bob: 2012-06-29 - map - explore

The skyline as seen from the beach immediately adjacent to the Jack Pine site

Sketch for 'The West Wind'

Sketch for The West Wind

The Sketch for 'The West Wind' is usually said to have been painted on Cauchon Lake but many other locations have been suggested as well, including Grand Lake. For a more complete discussion of where this sketch may have been painted see our page The West Wind by Tom Thomson

We have not identified the following sketches to definitely be of Grand Lake - and indeed, at least one is considered to have been painted in 1915 - but they all have the correct 'feel'. For completeness they are reproduced in the appendix.

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Sunset

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Birch by a Lake with Big Cloud

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Northern Mist

Notes

A tombolo is an island attached to the mainland by a narrow spit of land. The Grand Lake Tombolo is listed in the Algonquin Provincial Park Management Plan as a Class II Special Management Area (SMA). It is an earth science feature of local significance. While the names of special management areas are included in the Management Plan, their locations and other details are not publicly identified. Operational guidelines for the protection of Class I SMAs are included in the management plan, but none for Class II SMAs. The Grand Lake Tombolo is the site of a cottage lease.

The "Death on a Painted Lake" website says, with respect to Spring Lake (Rocks and Water): This image is very similar to a photograph taken by Thomson of the Scarborough bluffs, now in the Tom Thomson fonds of the Library and Archives Canada. If this is the photo being referred to, we have a very different understanding of the phrase 'very similar'.