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.
Don’t miss out on Doppler! Sign up for our free newsletter here.