Barron Canyon
A Tom Thomson Sketching Location

Abstract: Several of Thomson's sketches of 1916 were painted in what is now known as the Barron Canyon on the Barron River. Most of these sketches are entitled as some variant of "Gorges of the Petawawa".

navigational icon

Petawawa Gorges

navigational icon

Petawawa

navigational icon

Petawawa Gorges

navigational icon

Petawawa Gorges

We previously believed that these two sketches were also from the Barron Canyon. Our present opinion is that they are from The Natch on the north branch of the Petawawa River, although some uncertainty remains.

navigational icon

Petawawa, Algonquin Park

navigational icon

Petawawa Gorges, Night

These three sketches are not from the Barron Canyon:

navigational icon

Autumn, Petawawa

navigational icon

In Petawawa Gorges, Spring

navigational icon

Sketch for 'Petawawa Gorges (Early Spring)'

Sketching locations in the Barron Canyon are within a day's travel by canoe from the Out-Side-In, but too far to visit comfortably as a day trip. These locations may also have been reachable by tote road.

The main impediment to locating Thomson's sketching locations in the Barron Canyon is that, in the modern canyon, sight-lines and the shapes of the canyon walls are often obscured by the regrowth of the forest.

Petawawa Gorges

Petawawa Gorges

This sketch is the most upstream of his canyon paintings; it is also the most difficult to recognize in the current era, due to forest regrowth.

Gorges of the Petawawa  Barron Canyon on Barron River in Algonquin Park

(photo by Diana: 2016-06-01 - map - explore

While most of the cliffs of the painting are now almost completely obscured, the underlying shapes are still recognizable.

Petawawa

Petawawa

This sketch is from a little farther down stream. Note the cracked rock on the near north (left) shoreline. The angle and colour of the light suggest this painting was done in the late afternoon or early evening.

In the Barron Canyon in Algonquin Park

(photo by Diana: 2014-09-24 - map - explore

The cracked rock is quite obvious in this photo and and uniquely defines the location. Further downstream is an overgrown talus pile. The talus pile is also evident in the sketch. The lack of tree cover in the sketch compared to the photograph is quite noticeable and is a legitimate change over the last 100 years.

Petawawa Gorges

Petawawa Gorges

The location of this sketch is just downstream from where Hardwood Creek falls into the canyon. The island just discernible on the right hand side is the island featured in the following sketch (also Petawawa Gorges). From the light direction, it is an early morning picture.

In the Barron Canyon in Algonquin Park

(photo by Diana: 2013-06-19 - map - explore

Unfortunately, because of the lighting and tree cover, the island doesn't really show up in this photo, but it's there. Since it is the only island in the canyon, there is not really any doubt as to the location. However, we are unable to match some of the foreground details. The separation between the island and the farther point in the sketch suggests that it was painted from an elevation higher than water level. (The north face of the canyon is scaleable in this vicinity (see Climbing Out of the Barron Canyon) but present tree cover precludes an unobstructed view.) This photo has been stretched vertically by 20%.

The Barron Canyon in Algonquin Park in 1979

(photo by R/D McElroy: 1979-04-29 - explore

Here's essentially the same view (not stretched) from 1979. The lighting shows off the island better and the vegetation is a little sparser allowing, a better look at the underlying shapes of the cliffs.

Petawawa Gorges

Petawawa Gorges

This is the same island that appears in the above sketch (also titled Petawawa Gorges) and is the only island in the canyon. The sketching location is about at the south shore, adjacent to the upstream end of the island. In the fall, the sun does not reach most of the river in the canyon, even at mid-day, so this could be any time of the day.

In the Barron Canyon in Algonquin Park

(photo by Bob: 2014-09-24 - map - explore

Since this is the only island in the canyon, this location is not in doubt. But it is tricky to match the sketch with a photograph. The challenges are three-fold:

the present tree cover of both the island and canyon walls; the shape of the underlying island is no longer evident.

the lighting whereby the island is in shade while the far canyon wall is sunlit (if you photograph it when the island is sunlit, it disappears against the background);

and we suspect that it was painted from a tethered canoe that was drifting over a small area and confusing the various lines of sight.

The colours and lighting in all of the above sketches (with the possible exception of the second one) are consistent with being painted in early to mid October, that is, after Thomson would have been laid off from his fire ranging job. With respect to the first sketch, if the white on the south canyon walls is ice (but we don't think it is), then it is a late April, early May sketch (see Early Spring in the Barron Canyon.)

We believe that the following two sketches were painted at the Natch on the north Branch of the Petawawa River. We accept however, the possibility that they were executed in the Barron Canyon as we previously thought. These issues are discussed on a new page entitled The Natch.

Petawawa, Algonquin Park

Petawawa Algonquin Park

We believe this sketch to have been painted at the Natch on the north Branch of the Petawawa River.

Petawawa Gorges, Night

Petawawa Gorges Night

We believe this sketch to have been painted at the Natch on the north Branch of the Petawawa River.

There remain three other sketches whose title are variants of Petawawa Gorges. These are not from the Barron Canyon (or from the Natch). One of these remains unlocated.

Autumn, Petawawa

Autumn Petawawa

This sketch is located on the Barron River between St. Andrews Lake and High Falls Lake. It is discussed in Between St. Andrews Lake and High Falls Lake.

In Petawawa Gorges Spring

This sketch is not in the Barron Canyon. Rather, it is along the short channel that drains the Spectacle Lakes into Carcajou Creek. (see South of Grand Lake)

Sketch for 'Petawawa Gorges (Early Spring)'

Sketch for Petawawa Gorges Early Spring

The finished painting, Petawawa Gorges (Early Spring), was exhibited at Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, Toronto, Ontario in 1914 entitled 'A Lake, Early Spring'(?) (see the Tom Thomson Catalogue Raisonné entry for Petawawa Gorges (Early Spring)). Thus the sketch definitely was not painted in 1916. It did not acquire 'Petawawa Gorges' as part of its title until perhaps 1941.

It is not from the Barron Canyon. It perhaps has the feel of Lake Travers, but it doesn't match. Thus we don't know where it is or even whether it has anything to do with the Petawawa River system; we suspect not.