Spring is in the air. For all you cycling enthusiasts who have waited patiently through the winter for those milder temperatures and ice-free roads and trails, cycling season is here at last! If you find yourself in need of a trail to explore, we at York Durham Headwaters invite you to discover the Group of Seven trails in York Region. This trail route (new in 2021) has been extensively and intricately developed, with diverse points of interest to stop and explore, and a mix of trail surfaces to keep you challenged and engaged. What better way is there to experience nature than by paying homage to the natural world which this iconic group—a treasured piece of our Canadian heritage—revered?
Who is the Group of Seven?
If you don’t quite recall your school-aged history lessons as a Canadian student, or perhaps if you are a new Canadian and have not yet had the pleasure of being introduced to them, here is a brief overview on the Group of Seven to help you understand their significance to our natural spaces here in YDH. The Group of Seven were a collection of like-minded artists that operated from 1920 to 1933, which consisted originally of Lawren Harris, Franklin Carmichael, A.Y. Jackson, Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley. Later additions to the group would include A.J. Casson, Edwin Holgate, and LeMoine FitzGerald, with Thom Thompson and Emily Carr being recognized as unofficial members.
These celebrated artists held a unique reverence for the wild and untamed Canadian North, and sought to immortalize it on canvas. As a result of their efforts, the Group of Seven develop techniques to represent it in an artform which did not yet exist, and for this reason, they were recognized as pioneers of a new national school of art. As far back as humankind existed, art has always been a profound aspect of our collective heritage. Perhaps this is why the Group of Seven sought to capture the unique quality of the Canadian wilderness in their landscape paintings. So dedicated to this overwhelming panorama of the natural world were its members that they would travel the countryside of Ontario, especially the Muskoka and Algoma regions, to sketch the landscape and paint en plein air (which is the act of painting outdoors).
This insight into the Group of Seven, who they were and what they sought to accomplish together, was the inspiration for the Group of Seven Trails, and we encourage you to let their vision inspire you on your cycling journey through the natural landscape they loved. Connect to the legacy that this iconic group established and nurtured for future generations of Canadians—a legacy that exists both on canvas and in the way we now cherish our natural Canadian surroundings.
It is easy to understand why the Group of Seven so revered nature and the Canadian landscape. After all, nature and all its wonders have been revered for centuries. From the prehistoric Polynesians to the First Nations tribes of North America to the Druids of the ancient Celts, nature has always been seen as profound in every aspect
Cycle the Group of Seven trails
We suggest you begin your ride at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, a starting point which offers you a unique opportunity to connect with your inner Group of Seven. This stunning gallery is the spiritual home of the legendary group of artists, and proudly displays thousands of paintings by Tom Thomson, the Group of Seven, aboriginal groups and contemporary Canadian artists. Truly, how much more spiritually connected to the Group of Seven can the McMichael be considering the fascinating fact that six of the group’s seven members, plus four of their wives, are buried on its grounds?! New in 2022, if you’re cycling between now and May 31st, admission is free on Tuesdays!
The outdoor walking trails surrounding the McMichael wind through the beautifully forested lands of the Humber River Valley, echoing a reverence for the Canadian landscape that the Group of Seven cherished. Today, those looking to get back to nature come here to hike, cycle, walk or simply enjoy their surroundings, and each year the McMichael hosts an en plein air competition, which encourages participating artists to tap into their inner Group of Seven and paint on the gallery’s grounds. The McMichael grounds are also home to the Tom Thomson shack, where the visionary artist who inspired the group’s formation lived and worked originally in the Rosedale Ravine in Toronto before the structure was relocated to Kleinburg.
As you journey through York Region, you will find that this 72km route includes a mix of paved trails and roads, and is suitable for recreational cyclists. Access the route digitally with RidewithGPS, Strava and MapmyRide to help you navigate. On your adventure, you will come across these and more great spots we highly recommend you pause to enjoy.
- Boyd Conservation Park – This scenic stop is perfect for a picnic. Plan ahead and pack some goodies to enjoy here. Public washrooms are available before getting back on the trail.
- Big Cannoli Lane – Grab an authentic Italian sweet treat and a coffee at this European inspired hot-spot.
- Magnotta – Wine enthusiasts can enjoy the flavours of Ontario at this local, family-run winery. Their Vaughan flagship 75,000 square foot location features state-of-the-art winemaking, production and bottling facilities, microbrewery, copper pot distillery, underground barrel cellar and an outdoor patio. An extensive collection of original art, including works by Canadian Group of Seven artists, can also be found here.
- Nature’s Emporium – This is the place to go for organic food including hot entrées, a bakery, and a juice bar. Started by a passionate family in the 1990s, this grocery store provides a wide range of food options and products that will suit your every need.
- St. Phillips Bakery – Try some delicious Italian gelato, French macarons, or other sweet desserts to replenish you on your ride. Of course, if you just need a java fix to keep you going, here you can also enjoy an authentic espresso, latte or cappuccino.
- Black Creek Pioneer Village – This is a popular location you’ll want to come back and check out when you’ve got more time. Travel back in time to 1867 and experience life as it was for our early Canadian settlers. Self guided tours are available to discover the 40 heritage buildings, meet the friendly farm animals, and more, at your own pace.
- Kensington Brewing Company – Enjoy a refreshing brew at this local brewery’s newest “Uptown” location. A small patio area is available.
The Group of Seven Trails is one of ten tour routes developed by York Region and included as part of their York Region Cycling Tour Map. This YDH accompanying itinerary has been adapted with permission from York Region.
Story by Katherine Ryalen