On the water, I prefer a kayak. But canoes are such a part of Canadian life that I am endlessly drawn to the often mystical imagery of paddling, especially in art.
So many iconic Canadian moments are tied to canoeing, including the wilderness trips of Group of Seven founder and painter Tom Thomson. He died mysteriously on (yes) Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park in 1917.
Canoeing is firmly entwined with our history. One of the most influential trippers was former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. He traveled to the ends of Canada by canoe and wrote:
What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature. Source: published in French in Jeunesse Etudiante Catholique, November 1944.
Thousands of Canadian artists have included the canoe in their portfolios, making the craft an integral image in our mythologized northern identity. A handful of examples:
Emily Carr, War Canoe, Alert Bay, 1912
From the Singing Wilderness, By Sigurd Olson: “The movement of a canoe is like a reed in the wind. Silence is part of it, and the sounds of lapping water, bird songs, and wind in the trees. It is part of the medium through which it floats, the sky, the water, the shores”.
Categories: Group of Seven, Nature
Very interesting. I especially like the Peter Doig.
Yes the colors and raw lines in that one are special, and compelling. (But I bet it was the Colville that first caught your eye!)
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Yes, and spectacular on the Coleville. It’s simply a canoe, in some reeds to a lake. Now, with the dog, and that a woman guiding, there is a story. His work is exceptional, as it works on many levels. I probably mentioned it before, but my favourite painting, ever, is Horse and Train. It’s Coleville at his hypnotic best.
You did mention it before, and every time I look at Horse and Train I remember that I promised he’d be one of the 150 (which has re-started, you may have noticed, after that hiatus)
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Now that hiatus is over, I will enjoy the 150series. I need to catch up!
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I think you’ve given us a delicious tasting of works inspired by the canoe – I’d forgotten how this vehicle is so entwined with the history and mythology of Canada, and of course, as a recreational vehicle in more modern times. Frankly, I was amazed at how attracted I was to so many of these pictures. I’m conflicted, and bedazzled by the stylised vibrancy of several of the images, but if I were being tortured to reveal a preference, I’d probably nominate Christine Montague’s Ghost Canoes. They seem more in keeping, somehow, with my memories of Canada.
Oh what an interesting response. I guess it’s because so many artists have “done” the canoe that some of them (ie Peter Doig) are so stylized, as you correctly label it. I can see why the Ghost Canoes reflect your time in Canada. Not only are they frequently laid out that way, that image is more in keeping with the basic, beloved shape of a canoe. Thanks so much. I always enjoy your comments, and the thoughts they provoke.
I agree – this is a lovely post. A very nice sampling of canoe art. I’ve seen a couple hand-made canoes and they were such works of art.
Thank you. I’m with you completely that hand-made canoes in particular are their own works of art.
Great point, especially from you as a cyclist. Thanks for the comment.
“What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature. Source: published in French in Jeunesse Etudiante Catholique, November 1944.”
I think PM Trudeau forgot about the cyclists who cycled with their camping gear and cycled across Canada (I haven’t done this yet, but my partner has done it solo, twice). It definitiely is not a bourgeois feeling to cycle with the weight of camping gear, clothing and food. 🙂
Anyway, maybe you might find more canoe art for installment #2. (I did for the bike across Metro Vancouver). I love the canoe as an iconic symbol of Canadian exploration.