Mad About the Bay: Photographs of Georgian Bay

Summer 2004 CSANews Issue 51  |  Posted date : May 10, 2007.Back to list

Mad About the Bay is an exquisite book. Photographer/artist William Harris celebrates the very essence of Georgian Bay, the so-called “sixth” and most treacherous Great Lake, in gorgeous digital portraits. Harris has created this century’s version of the dramatic scenery made famous by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven.

The evocative text accompanying Harris’ computer- generated interpretations is by husband-and-wife writing team Elizabeth MacCallum and John Fraser.

Elizabeth is a fourth-generation island dweller at Go Home Bay, an area developed as a vacation retreat by professors from the University of Toronto at the turn of the century.

Her grandfather, Dr. James MacCallum and his colleagues invited young commercial artists to come up and paint. This really became the genesis of Canada’s famous Group of Seven.

The MacCallums had an especially close association with these artists. Tom Thomson was the family “boat boy.” As a surprise for his wife’s birthday, Dr. MacCallum commissioned the artists to paint cartoon panels on the walls of their cottage. Ironically, these panels (which Mrs. MacCallum disliked intensely) are now enshrined in the National Gallery of Canada.

Although Fraser really “married into the Bay,” he also spent his childhood summers on Georgian Bay; not among the rocks, but on the sandy beaches at Nottawasaga near Penetang. He ironically points out that he doesn’t talk much about this more egalitarian vacation area in the “snootier academic corners of little Go Home Bay.”

There’s a seamless quality in the portrayal of family summer life in Mad About the Bay that could only be accomplished by a husband-and-wife team.

Their whimsical vignettes range from lyrical sunsets with small brown children, folksy details of annual berry-picking, and hard black-soled feet, the proud product of barefoot rock-walking, to heart-stopping drama.

There were great electrical storms (one direct hit), a tornado that lifted the library shed – complete with reading children – off of the supply dock at Go Home Bay. The kids described it as “just like the Wizard of Oz.” Fortunately, an intrepid father turned himself into a human drag anchor and the shed jolted down against a nearby cliff, with no injuries.

The authors also vividly convey the barometer-tapping weather obsession of island dwellers on a Bay, infamous for storms that can churn up ferocious seas in an instant.

The authors are both historians and environmentalists who bring an expertise to their reverence for these, the “oldest rocks in the world” – the southern edge of the Canadian Shield. They also include an alarming but informed rant against the modern pollution problems that threaten the future of this unique area.

I was impressed with their vivid portrayal of canoeing around the Bay at sunrise or sunset accompanied by “the chorus of frogs, bugs and birds. It is possible to be both sentimental and practical. The sentiment comes from imagining our original forerunners doing the same thing; the practical from ensuring that this shoreline remains safe for nesting loons and all other life of the Bay.”

William Harris’ computer-enhanced pictures eloquently illustrate the observations of MacCallum and Fraser.

Mad About the Bay is beautiful and uniquely Canadian – a celebration of one of the few remaining easily accessible retreats in urbanized North America.

Willa McLean is a freelance writer and radio producer who lives in Kitchener.