Going / Seeing

Killarney: An Iconic Wilderness Preserved by Artists

trees, rock, waterPink granite trails, ultramarine and turquoise water, white quartzite mountains – even on cloudy days the colours of Killarney Provincial Park are like no place else. Group of Seven painters A.Y. Jackson, Franklin Carmichael and A.J. Casson returned again and again to paint this remote Georgian Bay landscape. I always thought their intense palette was an exaggeration until I saw this place. They petitioned the Ontario government successfully in 1964 for its preservation as a provincial park – the only park in the world founded by artists. There is just one road in; access is otherwise by water as it always has been. And this incredible beauty is only a four-and-a-half hour drive north from Toronto.

I have never hiked a place so pristine. Not a cigarette butt, torn scrap of wrapper or bottle cap to be seen anywhere – small red blazes are the only signs of human presence on the trails. Those blazes are so discreet they are barely noticeable, sometimes disconcertingly so. The trail in many places is not obvious – rounded pink granite boulders and bluffs to scramble up, gripping the roots of trees growing impossibly right out of the rock itself without soil. We are stalled often as we search for the markers of our way. We advance through an elemental terrain gentled by colour, the pastel softness of blue-green lichen lodged in hollows of rosy granite. The climb is rigorous, but visually exhilarating both in close detail as we scan the rock for hand and foot grips and every time we achieve a lookout. We are greeted then by the immense exquisite blueness of Georgian Bay waters stretching to the horizon, or the bony white flanks of the La Cloche mountains against the deep green of their pine forests.
Click on any photo to enlarge

When we reach the shore of Georgian Bay the rock eases smoothly down to water’s edge, an invitation, even mid-September, to slip into the summer-warm water and swim. Surrounded only by rock, water, trees and sky, were it not for my polka-dot spandex swimsuit it could be any century here right now.
Click on any photo to enlarge

The beauty is awe-inspiring and it is hard to believe that my response was not universal. To some people, rocks and forests are simply ore and lumber to be reaped and sold. When this park was founded 50 years ago it was to preserve the wilderness from proposed mining and logging.

Bonnie Devine's Battle for the Woodlands at the AGOThe Group of Seven artists were not the first to appreciate and work to preserve this place. The Anishnaabe people have lived on the land surrounding the Great Lakes for at least 12,000 years. Their art was recently exhibited at the AGO in Before and After the Horizon: Anishnaabe Artists of the Great Lakes, featuring work by contemporary artists who “sought to visually express the spiritual and social dimensions of human relations with the earth.” Historic art pieces presented a native culture which arose from this landscape. Much in post-contact Canadian history has taken place around here as the coureurs de bois and Jesuits paddled through and fur traders established the town of Killarney. Many contemporary pieces in the AGO exhibition addressed the historical record of misrepresentation and misleading treaty interpretations that are still unresolved today.

A continuity between artistic cultures each valuing this special place is suggested to me when I read a text painted on the gallery wall:

“In traditional Anishinaabe thought, the past and present are unified
in locations where important events happened.”

This gift of preservation, the fact that this landscape still exists to this day in its many historical and contemporary artistic renderings and in actual hike-able reality, must be one of those important events.

– Schuster Gindin
Photos by Schuster Gindin

Find out more here:
Killarney Village and Provincial Park
Killarney Provincial Park
Artists of Killarney Provincial Park
Native Art in Canada – The Woodlands School
Bonnie Devine’s Battle for the Woodlands at the AGO
A large permanent collection of Group of Seven and Woodland School art is held by the McMichael Gallery.

This article can be found in GOING OUT, in the sections Where We’re Going, and What We’re Seeing.


Love this piece. The photos are really beautiful.
Neddly, Toronto


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