If you’ve ever wondered who started the quintessential Canadian outdoor stereotype, it was Tom Thomson. He’s the original spark. The instigator, the patriarch.
This is the guy who is responsible for painting and submerging us into the wild landscapes that gave Canada a backbone when we were still a nation in its infancy fighting to maintain some form of unique identity in the face of American expansion and progress.
The Tom Thomson Art Gallery in Owen Sound, Ontario, has partnered with Roots Canada to bring the world a line of classic Canadiana that pays homage to the man who dipped, dipped and swung into the history books by slapping oil paint onto a few hundred canvases while camping in the Algonquin and Algoma regions of Ontario.
Gallery Director and Chief Curator Virginia Eichhorn took a moment to chat with us and explain where the idea came from, who helped make it happen, and why respecting a guy like Tom matters.
“I was leafing through a magazine – this was back in October 2011 – and I saw an advertisement for Roots. It just kind of popped into my head: Roots, Tom Thomson, Algonquin Park – there’s such a natural natural tie-in there. I thought they would be excellent to do some work with. Maybe a sponsorship, or a project together, but I hadn’t thought too much more forward than that. I got in touch with their head of marketing and public relations and basically called him up and said ‘I’m representing the TOM, you’re representing Roots, we should build on this.'”
Within an hour after sending the idea out into the world, Michael Budman – the co-founder of Roots – wanted to sit down with Virginia.
“A week later, I headed down to Toronto and met with Michael and we started talking. My passion for Tom and Michael’s passion for Tom was very genuine. It became apparent very quickly that there was going to be much more to this than just a Roots name over top of the gallery or over an exhibit or something. As we kept talking, he brought in members of his team – designers and the like. I’ve described it to people as ‘the best first date ever’ – our first meeting was about four hours.”
The new line is based on the man himself – his ideals, and taking the paintings off the wall and onto people’s backs from Yonge Street to Vancouver to the backcountry of Algonquin. Virginia noted during our chat that one of the biggest factors behind the idea was to create some interest and appreciation for Algonquin Park itself.
“It had to be appropriate,” said Virginia. “It had to be respectful. We’re often approached by groups wanting to partner, and because of the national-icon status that Tom has, and everything he stands for, it had to be respectful of the legacy he’s left… Art isn’t elitist. If you can be wearing a T-shirt with Spring Ice on it, it shows connection. If there wasn’t this connection to the land and to this legacy, then nobody would wear the clothing. At the same time, it’s about spreading awareness about the Gallery and promoting Tom’s legacy in a way that makes it tangible and present for a younger generation – that’s distinctly non-elitist.
“It was during that first meeting where Michael threw out the words, ‘Tom Thomson was the original Roots man,’ and that’s pretty bang-on. Thomson embodies the ethos and mantra that Roots is founded upon,” Virginia continued, “and the guy built a budding style of patriotism rooted in the land itself for the rest of Canada to cling onto. And we did. Stereotype or not, it’s what we’ve got and it’s what we’re good at.”