Listen Up! My guess is that Pipe Man is here to stay – Opinion


Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

There is a great story about Huntsville in this weekend’s edition of Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail. It is written by Roy MacGregor who has deep roots in our community and it is about the controversy over ‘Pipe Man’. Love it or hate it, given this Canada wide publicity, my guess is that Pipe Man is here to stay.

Pipe Man, of course, is a tribute to Tom Thomson and as MacGregor pointed out in his article, there has been a great deal of opposition to it. What has struck me, however, is that with the publication of this article, Pipe Man has gone from being a perceived obstruction to becoming a landmark. And the more I think about it, the more I believe that to be appropriate.

Tom Thomson after all, is a part of Huntsville’s history. Orillia has Stephen Leacock, Stratford has Shakespeare, Niagara on the Lake has George Bernard Shaw and we have Tom Thomson. The opportunities are endless. Critics will argue that he never actually lived here but Huntsville was certainly part of his life, especially his love life. Huntsville is the gateway to Algonquin Park, an area made famous, in part, because of the mystery and legacy of Tom Thomson.

This weekend, in a tribute to the 100th anniversary of Tom Thomson’s death and as part of Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations, an original play, When Winnie Knew, commissioned by the Town of Huntsville and written by Grant Nickalls, had its debut at the Algonquin Theatre to a full house.

Winnie Trainor, of course, was Tom Thomson’s girlfriend. She was born and raised in Huntsville and spent much of her time in Algonquin Park. Her home was just off of Main Street and is long gone now. But I remember talking to a man who knew Winnie Trainor. He recalled being in her home when she asked him to get something for her from her basement. Down this person went and, when looking for what Winnie asked for, he noticed on the dirt floor of the basement a fruit basket, behind the furnace, which contained a number of Tom Thomson sketches. He suggested to Winnie that there might be a safer place to keep them and she just shrugged as if they were of no consequence. Years later, after her death, there was no trace of those sketches. There are a number of other stories like that, many of them told by Roy MacGregor.

In another part of the Algonquin Theatre is an exhibit of Tom Thomson-inspired paintings by Huntsville artist Janine Marson. It, too, is almost sold out.

All of this is to say there is an opportunity here. Every successful tourist community has a focal point. To a great degree Tom Thomson is ours and we should celebrate it and promote it. If it is accompanied by controversy, so much the better. Controversy attracts interest. A good debate, a fascinating mystery and endless intriguing stories are a recipe for success in the tourist industry and we have it all here in Huntsville.

In retrospect, I am somewhat surprised at the significant opposition we have seen lately in relation to Tom Thomson. It’s not only about Pipe Man. Recently, Lake of Bays Mayor Bob Young proposed naming a part of Highway 60 the Tom Thomson Parkway and that suggestion was not well received by many.

And I must confess that when Pipe Man first made his appearance on the Muskoka River, I was not overly impressed. He has grown on me, however, as a good piece of art should. Now I would miss him if he were gone. Pipe Man could well become a modern beacon at our waterfront, to our heritage as it relates to Tom Thomson. When you really think about it, that’s not a bad idea.

Read Roy MacGregor’s Globe and Mail article here.

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  1. I agree.
    Tom Thomson is interesting, the sculpture is unique and the work was done by valuable members of our community.
    Settle in and enjoy it.

  2. Jacquie Howell on

    I must agree with my grand children who saw it for the first time and made the following comments
    : What is a black pipe doing in the middle of the river?’ ( at this time it was turned and no design was visible”

    Second teenage Grand daughter was more specific after touring around it by boat. ” What this town needs is some enterprising teens who would look after it in the middle of the night.” I am keeping an eye on her!

    I have spoken with several people and all are of the same opinion. The TOWN survey is bias and does not allow for a person to say remove it. If you can not answer # 1 it is impossible to answer # 2 oh well – it is like us – we will accept and laugh about it for years or like Canadians discuss it like the weather it. Thanks to Doppler’s survey it was simple to state an opinion. Positive or Negative

  3. Kelly Haywood on

    Very well said. And, thank you Hugh for reminding our community of Tom’s great connection with Huntsville!

  4. If we celebrate Tom Thomson with a piece of pipe why not the founder of Huntsville on a piece of pipe beside old Tommy so he don’t get lonely. Not against the art but not in the middle of our beautiful downtown river.👎

  5. Frankly, stuck in the middle of the river, this pipe just looks silly. Because it has caused notoriety doesn’t make it useful, or valued, as Hugh Mackenzie suggests. Being part of a town remembered for something silly isn’t really a quality I’d like. Tom Thomson is certainly a local icon, but the pipe has nothing to do with him. Unless you’re in a boat on the river you can’t even tell what the visual is supposed to be. I would suggest it be installed on land. In River Mill Park even. Then people could get close and enjoy the design, perhaps read a plaque that explains what it’s about. In the middle of the river it is only advertising for a company that builds docks, but maybe not such a positive ad. Tom Thomson’s paintings reproduced all over town are far more appropriate for us to remember him and the group of seven’s great contribution to opening Muskoka for all to enjoy.

  6. My hope is that the town powers will listen to the people that have spoke up since it was installed and have it removed. It is not an asset to our beautiful downtown water front.

  7. Kathy Kay said it all. The controversy was created by its location. It’s interesting that The Pman fans continuously evade this point.
    Move it to land. The Globe and Mail Article is not especially flattering in its depiction of Huntsville residents. The comparison of the Pman to a controversial piece of art in Ottawa is also confusing as the art was not plopped into the middle of a river. Viewed from a distance and now brought attention that it resembles a phallic symbol. It’s embarrassing and most of all humiliating to the artist and donor. Please clarify that most opposition is to the location and not the actual art itself. Move it to land. Wherever it is located it’s doubtful people will travel to Huntsville to see what the fuss is all about. Let’s also not delude ourselves that if Mr MacGregor did not have ties to Huntsville it would highly unlikely have generated an article in the Globe and Mail. Pman can be here to stay all the artsy community want… just please relocate it in the fall. Compromise is much better than irritating the public much more with suggestions that the art invites discussion. The LOCATION of the art invited outrage about something that never should have happened.
    If the art invites so much discussion and interest then I’m sure it will invite it also when it is located elsewhere. Keep it but move it.

  8. Brian Tapley on

    Stick the pipe on the land somewhere.
    Leave Highway 60 as it is. Multiple names on the same road just confuse visitors.
    He stayed and started painting at Oxtongue Lake so maybe some park areas along the highway could be named to remember Tom, rather than change the name of the actual highway.
    If we ever actually build a “trail” on that park to park route, like a trail that is not just a side road or the shoulder of highway 60, then this trail could be named after Tom too. This might be a good way to do it.

  9. Russell Nicholls on

    ‘Just wonderin’….. If the Pipe Man were picked up and dropped down in the lake a hundred feet or so, but directly in front of Roy MacGregor’s cottage, would it still be considered at piece of art ???? Just wonderin’

  10. Jim Sinclair on

    So much time spent on this silliness! Remove the darned thing and be done with it! The majority of the comments here are in favor of removing it and returning it to sender, so why not do that?
    NyDock’s owner and employees don’t deserve the flak they are reportedly receiving, – not fair to them.
    As for a symbol to commemorate Tom, what’s wrong with the beautiful statue at the entrance to the Algonquin Theater? – suits me just fine. Did anyone ever think about how he met his demise? On, or in the water, mysteriously, and just how we’ll never know. Leave the Pipe Man out there in the river much longer and there might just be a mysterious re-enactment of his untimely end. C’mon Council, DO SOMETHING! Like maybe think?? You think? P.S. – for starters if you want to clear up and beautify the Town, clean up the old A&P Plaza next to the river.

  11. What are the town fathers waiting for? Majority have spoken. We don’t want it. We don’t need it. Where to put it? Many suggestions. Let’s just send it on its way.

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