Speaking on Bill 78: Group of Seven Day Act 2023

It brings me a great deal of joy to have the opportunity to speak to Bill 78, the Group of Seven Day Act today, and I thank the member for Durham for bringing it forward.

I can think of no better tribute than marking the seventh day of the seventh month as a celebration of these seven trail blazing artists. 

Ontario’s arts and culture sector contributes to a strong, prosperous economy and creates vibrant communities.  

Our arts and culture sector pulls in up to 28.5 billion dollars annually and supports as many as 290,000 jobs.  

Our government knows that a thriving arts sector: 

…enriches our lives, 

…attracts investors, 

…supports tourism and culture, and 

…makes our communities attractive places to live, work, and visit. 

The Group of Seven’s depictions of the uniquely beautiful Canadian landscape took the world by storm in the 1930s, and their works still draw great crowds to our museums today. 

Ontario’s museums are key contributors to a strong cultural tourism sector and to quality of life for all Ontarians.

And museums play a crucial role in our communities – they help grow our economy, preserve our culture, and strengthen our pride of place.

Ontario museums generate more than 100 million dollars in revenue and support almost 2,500 jobs.

Fifteen galleries across Ontario showcase the Group of Seven’s paintings and keep the group’s legacy alive. 

This includes the Art Gallery of Ontario and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection both of which are right here in the Greater Toronto Area.

I am proud to represent a riding that has a deep historic connection with this group of brilliant Canadians.

Thornhill’s historic tourism sector has an entire section dedicated to the remembrance of the Group of Seven, who were also known as the Algonquin Group. 

James Edward Hervey Macdonald, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley, Frank johnston, and Franklin Carmichael met as employees of a Toronto-based design firm named Grip Ltd.

Quickly, they became more than co-workers and discovered their common artistic interests, eventually forming the Group of Seven. 

M Speaker, I hope you brought your walking shoes – because I want to take you on a walk through the streets of my riding, which served as the home and inspiration for many of this group.

Our tour begins on Centre St, where we find the James Edward Hervey Macdonald House. 

Macdonald was the founding member of the group of seven – he immigrated to Canada from England in 1887.

In 1913 he purchased his home in Thornhill, and it quickly became a hub for visiting artists as well as the birthplace of many of his iconic works.

 It was in the backyard of this very house where he painted his most controversial painting, “Tangled Garden” 

First exhibited in 1916, the artist was criticized for using such a large canvas for a mundane subject. One critic even compared the painting to “a huge tomato salad.” 

I believe – M. Speaker, that there is so much beauty in being able to make something as mundane as flowers in his backyard into something breathtaking. 

Moving on, we walk down Yonge Street until we hit John Street. Where we arrive at house number 14, which was rented by Frank Johnston in 1920. 

Although his association with the group was brief, he was known for his strong decorative interpretation of landscapes and his ability to complete works quickly. 

In fact, he contributed a staggering sixty works to the Algoma show in 1919 at the Art Gallery of Toronto, more than any other artist.

If we continue to walk along John Street, we arrive at a one-and-a-half-storey frame house where Arthur Lismer lived. 

Lismer met Johnston and Macdonald while working at a design and engraving firm and eventually moved to Thornhill himself. 

As we stand in front of 22 John Street, we are standing before the birthplace of Lismer’s paintings titled “My Garden, Thornhill” “Afternoon Sunlight, Thornhill Ontario” and “John Street, Thornhill.” 

It was this very spot that inspired the creation of these masterpieces. 

During his time here, Lismer was stirred by his surroundings and felt the urge to capture the beauty of this street, this garden, and this town. 

While he may no longer be with us, his talent allows us to see where we are standing through his eyes. 

There is still more to discover on John Street. It’s incredible to know that these brilliant minds walked this very path and found so much inspiration here. 

We now stop at a small cottage on the east side of Thornhill Cemetery. 

In 1915, Franklin Carmichael and his childhood sweetheart Ada Went moved to Thornhill and made their home in this cottage. 

Carmichael was the youngest original member of the Group of Seven, however, the art he produced was certainly on par with that of older friends in terms of his style and approach. 

Among other members, Carmichael stood out for reviving the neglected art of watercolor painting to capture Ontario landscapes.

And finally, let us stroll down to our last stop, the Pomona mill House. 

Located right by Pomona Mills Park, it was home to Frederick Horsman Varley in 1912 for a short time. 

A war artist, he painted scenes of battles and cemeteries that he witnessed in England and France. He is best known for his illustrations of people. 

This brings us to the end of our tour M. Speaker. I hope one day you’ll have the opportunity to walk this tour in person – led annually by Thornhill’s Historic Society. 

There were two other members in the Group of Seven that unfortunately did not join their colleagues in Thornhill. 

Lawren Stewart Harris was born in Brantford, Ontario and was a key figure in the founding of the Group of Seven. 

In 1911, he met MacDonald at the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto and they became inseparable from that moment on. 

They went on sketching trips together and visited the exhibition of contemporary Scandinavian art in Buffalo. 

At this exhibition, they realized they too could create landscape art that was distinctly Canadian and modern. 

Harris was always exploring different artistic styles – earlier on, his works were full of rich and bright colors, and once he discovered Lake Superior, he adopted a more simplified and somber style. 

The Group of Seven began to take shape in 1913, when Macdonald and Harris invited an artist by the name of Alexander Young Jackson to Toronto. 

Jackson was born in Montreal, Quebec and having studied in France, he brought with him a respected talent when he joined the rest of the group in Ontario. 

Similar to his colleague Varley, Jackson was also a war artist during the First World War. 

Every member of the Group of Seven played a critical role in ensuring the success and long lasting impact of the group’s works. 

With the help of each member’s distinct strengths, the Group of Seven became responsible for Canada’s first internationally recognized art movement.

Rather than following other movements, they broke away from European tradition and embarked on a journey to do what had not been done before. 

These artists saw something in our vast nation that others did not. 

When they looked upon our wilderness, they did not only see trees, lakes, and mountains. 

They saw beyond the surface and were inspired by the soul of our landscapes which reflected a strength, depth, and mysticism. 

I am immensely proud that my riding of Thornhill provided both a home and inspiration to these important figures in Canadian history.

I hope that educators in my riding can use the legislation of this day as a part of their history curriculum, taking students down the same journey that we took today just before the end of the school year.

M Speaker, my father used to say that we cannot move forward without looking back. 

Through difficult times, arts and culture has sustained us; not physically – like food or water, but through the nourishment of our spirits and minds. 

While the arts industry suffered many hardships throughout the last few years, I am proud to see so many recovered and operating back in full swing in our province. 

Art challenges the way we see the world, and perhaps – most importantly, it brings us together. 

The Group of Seven’s artwork revealed the beauty of Canada to people who had never stepped foot inside our country, showing the rest of the world what it means to be Canadian. 

Not only that, but they also brought Canadians together under a shared appreciation for the land we inhabit. 

Their works created a Canadian identity that united people across different provinces and territories 

Establishing the seventh day of the seventh month of every year as the Group of Seven day will ensure that their significance to our province is not lost, but rather continues to be remembered and celebrated. 

I thank you for the opportunity to speak to this bill and look forward to celebrating July 7th as Group of Seven Day with the rest of the province.