Art on the Bay – Exploring Artistic Inspiration Around Georgian Bay

Georgian Bay

By Jennifer Harker

Across the country the wilderness, spectacular scenery and animals of Canada’s National Parks have served as inspiration for artists for over a century. Georgian Bay Islands National Park is rekindling the traditional link between the park and the arts with their Artist in the Park program which has successfully run for more than five years at several other national parks.

Visitor experience manager Graham Lamb said there is a long tradition of the landscape inspiring artists. “Georgian Bay in general, as well as specific locations within the park, were both the inspiration and actual location for several works by members of the Group of Seven.” Six artists, working in a variety of styles from traditional landscape painting and photography to sculpture and installation work will each spend five days living and working in the park and interacting with visitors at meet and greet sessions on Saturday and Sunday at the park’s Cedar Spring visitor centre. “It’s not formal. It’s a chance to chat and talk about their work and what they do, to share their techniques and source of inspiration.”

He said the hope is the program enriches visitors’ experience and helps them discover the park’s connection with the Canadian arts community.

There are numerous docks at Beausoleil Island and despite fluctuating water levels Lamb said, “We expect that the Tobey Docks at Cedar Spring, the main destination in the park and the site of the artist meet and greet, will be fully operational in 2013.” Non-boaters can book a spot on Parks Canada’s DayTripper which departs several times daily from Honey Harbour for the 15-minute boat ride. For fees, times and reservations call 705-526-8907.

This year’s artists include Wendy Bachiu (July 25-29); Claude St-Cyr (Aug. 8-12); Brian Chu and Shiao Ping Wang (Aug. 15-19) and Nicola McGarry (Aug. 22-26).


The husband and wife artistic team of Stuart Leggett and Carol Currie, known as Claustro, were artists in residence at the island park for several days in September as part of the first Artist in the Park last year. While the Midland artists had previously visited Beausoleil Island, uninterrupted time allowed the freedom to experience the island more completely and intimately. “We chose the shoulder season of September and the quiet was at times a bit surreal being at once displaced from civilization while at the same time still seeing the twinkling lights of Midland across the bay. The biodiversity and rich cultural history of the island quickly became obvious and in fact a large part of our current work-in-progress is drawn from that experience.”

Artistic pioneers, the pair collaborate to create unusual large scale sculpted paintings with Leggett carving and Currie painting the work. Most of their custom commissioned pieces hang in private collections but visitors are welcome at their 372 Midland Ave. studio. “We’re generally hard at work behind closed doors, but at the same time we do encourage private viewings, by appointment and we also do host open studios from time to time. Visit the website at www.claustro.ca for details and to peruse the on-line gallery.”

Claustro’s work is inextricably linked to the bay. “More than just inspirational, Georgian Bay has provided much of the foundation upon which we’ve built our lives,” Currie said. She grew up boating and hiking along the North Shore while Leggett spent summers at the family cottage and those early experiences taught respect and admiration for nature in general and the bay in particular which they now express through their art. “For us it’s hard to pin down exactly how much of our artistic expressionism is intentional or how much comes from something intrinsically within us, but from our body of work it can easily be seen that essentially every part of our creative energy depicts some aspect of our Georgian Bay experience.”

Claustro Piece

A remarkable piece is evolving at the studio, as Leggett carves mahogany salvaged from on old sailboat. “What began for us as a well-constructed and logically presented depiction of the physical environment linked to our memories has evolved into a vehicle of emotional expression,” Leggett said. “As we grow and evolve we know that our medium and message will change, but we can’t imagine a time when we’d become tired of telling the story of Georgian Bay. There is more to see and experience here than could ever be realized in a lifetime!”

While in Midland let the galley cool down and give the on-board cook a break by stopping at one of several fine dining restaurants in Midland, including The Explorers Cafe featuring an eclectic collection of comfort food and wine to please globetrotters everywhere. At 354 King St. (GPS coordinates N 44.44.54. and W 79.52.59.) their menu entices … “The Explorers Cafe is a celebration of exploration in all its forms – geographic, scientific, musical, artistic and culinary. Whether one discovers a new continent or cocktail, a song or salad, to discover we must first explore!”

Early explorers of Georgian Bay included the Jesuits whose story comes to life every summer with costumed interpreters, activities and experiences at Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, the 17th Century mission in Midland. Operated by Huronia Historical Parks, Bill Brodeur, marketing and media relations coordinator pointed out the site, originally founded by the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), shares a connection to the newly appointed Pope Francis, who is a member of that religious order. Daily demonstrations of 17th century fire starting, birch bark technology, historic cooking, clothing, blacksmithing and Aboriginal storytelling in the atmospheric longhouses make this a must-do destination for vessels with young crew aboard.

Tugfest Midland Tugfest Midland

Special event days include Franco-Ontarian Day on Sept. 25 and a family favourite the popular Thanksgiving Harvest Festival and Arts and Crafts Show Oct. 12 and 13. The historic site is a short taxi ride from the harbour, or take advantage of the free shuttle service offered to visiting boaters docking at Bay Port Yachting Centre or Wye Heritage Marina.

At Sainte Marie Park on the banks of the Wye River, the Georgian Bay Native Friendship Centre hosts the 13th Annual Traditional Pow Wow on Sept. 7 and 8 with grand entry featuring colourful dancers and drummers daily at noon and at 6 p.m. on Saturday.

For added value, time a visit to Sainte-Marie to coincide with the Aug. 16-18 Tugfest Georgian Bay in Midland featuring tug tours, races and a majestic night time parade of decorated vessels The town hosts a party all weekend long with the Harbour Festival and ArtWalk where artists, artisans and musicians line a closed-off King Street in the downtown.

It’s also the perfect time to check out the magnificent new Midland Cultural Centre on King Street with theatre, music, and Quest Art Gallery’s continually changing shows, workshops and gift shop. The centre is just steps from the harbourfront and town dock. Visit www.midlandculturalcentre.com for upcoming events and activities.

Discovery Harbour

Just around the bay in Penetanguishene, Discovery Harbour has a landmark legacy project set to open to the public in August. The impressive new HMS Tecumseth Centre will house and protect the carefully stabilized original 1815 ship’s hull pulled from Penetang Bay in 1953 as well as showcase intriguing artefacts from the naval and military site’s 19th century history.

The site continues a summer-long celebration of peace with activities and events commemorating the War of 1812 including a visit by the American vessels Lynx and Friends Goodwill as part of the Tall Ships 1812 Tour. The tour travels the bay this summer with ships in port at Discovery Harbour, Penetanguishene and Midland on Aug. 24-25. Live music and fun family activities like model ship building and quill pen writing round out the weekend.

Open seven days a week until Sept. 1 and for a few fall days, avid boaters squeezing in some late season days on the water might even want to visit Discovery Harbour for the Haunted Harbour event evenings Oct. 24-26 when the eerily lit site promises goose bumps and fun for the entire family. Details of all Discovery Harbour events can be found at www.discoveryharbour.on.ca

Throughout the summer season boaters can dock in the shadow of the two resident replica tall ships moored here and enjoy live theatre presented by Drayton Entertainment in The Kings Wharf Theatre. Log on to www.draytonentertainment.com for show details.

The arts are alive throughout Georgian Bay with easy access for boaters. Looking for an arts show and sale with a twist? Check out the annual Art on the Rocks fine art and craft, show and sale by the Cognashene Cottagers’ Association. It’s usually held the last Sunday in July on the southern tip of Maxwell/Whalen Island about 10 km from Honey Harbour. For two decades the show and sale has offered paintings, pottery, jewellery, stained glass, woodwork, photography and culinary arts to cruisers and cottagers with proceeds going to the to cottagers association.

Stockney CentreFurther north, since 1979 the Festival of the Sound has been bringing outstanding live musical performance to the shores of Georgian Bay in Parry Sound. Now in its 34th season executive director Jennifer McGillivray said it’s another big year of diverse programming with something for everyone. “There are so many highlights,” she enthused. “It’s a chamber music festival with some vocal, some opera and one full weekend of really excellent jazz music played by Canadians.”

Running mid-July to mid-August she said Festival of the Sound attracts boaters, cottagers and travellers from southern and central Ontario. “Our audience comes from all over. A great percentage of our visitors are from Toronto, cottagers from Muskoka and Parry Sound, as well as further north from Sudbury and North Bay. For boaters it’s a great thing to do after dark, to relax after being outside all day.”

There is music during the day with feature concerts in the evening. “Most concerts start at 7:30 p.m.,” McGillivray said, noting the music is matched by the scenery. “The music is spectacular but you won’t get a more fantastic sunset than at intermission on the deck of the Charles W. Stockey Centre.”

The 480 seat performance space is at 2 Bay St. right beside the municipal Big Sound Marina. “It’s an absolutely amazing hall built in 2003 and run by the town of Parry Sound. It is acoustically, in my opinion, one of the best halls in Canada. It’s really beautiful too, all stone and woodwork, you really feel welcomed into the setting, it’s really marvellous.”

In a decidedly Canadian cultural twist the acoustically outstanding performance centre is partnered alongside the Bobby Orr Hall of Fame honouring this hometown hockey legend. Inside memorabilia, trophies and interactive activities testing skills and sports knowledge will keep crew of all ages entertained on shore – perfect for a rainy day. “Pop in and take a look before the show,” McGillivray recommends.

Last year she joined the long-running festival, which has enjoyed the artistic direction of James Campbell for 29 years. “It’s one of the best festivals in Canada. How could I resist the opportunity to be here?” Now from her waterfront condo home McGillivray watches the yachts go by and said the Festival of the Sound is a perfect way for those boaters to enjoy some fantastic music that’s easily accessible by boat with several marinas conveniently close by including Big Sound Marina, Parry Sound Marina, Georgian Bay Marina, Sound Boatworks, Rose Point Marina and Glen Burney Marina.

Check out www.festivalofthesound.ca for complete programming and ticket prices.

Gilly's Restaurant - Snug HarbourWhile in the area there are many fine dining establishments but two boaters favourites have to be the legendary Henry’s on Frying Pan Island in Sans Souci and Gilly’s Snug Harbour Restaurant. Henry’s has a world famous reputation for pan fried pickerel served seven days a week until Labour Day. At the busy island cottage boats, large cruisers from Canada and the US and sailors enjoying a change from swinging at anchor all share dock space with float planes as Henry’s is a registered aerodrome and many diners arrive by air.

Gilly’s serves the bounty of the bay with white fish, pickerel, lake trout and perch on the menu alongside hand cut fries. With seating for 75, the small but busy restaurant has been known to serve 300 or more diners in a day. Not a fish fan? Not to worry. Vegetarian fare, handmade burgers, steaks, fresh salads and soup are also served – and save room for homemade dessert. At 139 Snug Harbour Rd., Gilly’s is close to Pointe au Baril, Sans Souci, Parry Sound, Killbear Provincial Park and Franklin Island. Open seven days a week until Labour Day, noon to 9 p.m.

Clearly Georgian Bay’s unsurpassed scenery and awe-inspiring anchorages are a dynamic destination for boaters seeking a little arts and culture with their on-board escape.


Captions and Credits:

Photo 2: Claustro, the husband and wife artistic pair of Carol Currie and Stuart Leggett use Georgian Bay’s rugged landscape as inspiration for their unique large scale sculpted work combining woodcarving and painting. Credit:  Jennifer Harker

Photos 3 and 4: Tugs of all sizes are part of the fun of Tugfest Georgian Bay which steams into Midland Aug. 16-18.  Credit:  Jennifer Harker

Photo 5:  Discovery Harbour in Penetanguishene brings the past to life and plans an exciting season this year with the below-decks area of the replica ship H.M.S. Tecumseth now furnished based on the original ship’s 1815 log, the construction of the new “H.M.S. Tecumseth Centre” to be opened in August, housing the original 1815 hull remains of H.M.S. Tecumseth and all-new exhibits, and the Tall Ships 1812 ® Tour event the weekend of August 24-25. Credit:  Discovery Harbour

Photo 6: Parry Sound’s acoustically outstanding Charles W. Stockey Centre is home to the annual Festival of the Sound featuring live musical performances. Credit:  Stockney Centre

Photo 6: Gilly’s Restaurant – an icon in Snug Harbour, water and road access.  Credit:  Terri Hodgson

Photo 7: Stunning images of Georgian Bay have served as artistic inspiration for many artists.

Georgian Bay Anchorages

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