The Natch
A Tom Thomson Sketching Location

Abstract: Several of Tom Thomson's sketches of 1916 are entitled as some variant of "Gorges of the Petawawa". While many of these are from the Barron Canyon, at least two appear to be from The Natch on the North Branch of the Petawawa River.

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Petawawa, Algonquin Park

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Petawawa Gorges, Night

It had previously been our contention that most of the various Gorges of the Petawawa sketches were from the Barron Canyon and that at least reasonable matches could be found there. However, we were aware that a strong case could be made for Petawawa, Algonquin Park having been painted at The Natch on the north branch of the Petawawa River. In 2016 September, we travelled to the Natch to investigate further (see Trip Log - The Petawawa River from Lake Travers to McManus Lake).

On the basis of this visit, we have concluded that Petawawa, Algonquin Park and Petawawa Gorges, Night were painted there. If you are there with copies of the prints in hand you have no doubt that this was the painting location. But our photographs are not sufficient to prove the case. When you are there in person, your mind can see through the changes in vegetation and tolerate not being in the precise location in way that it cannot do when only looking at photographs.

Petawawa, Algonquin Park

Petawawa Algonquin Park
The Natch on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park at sundown

(photo by Bob: 2016-09-12 - map - explore

This photo is from 2016 September 11 and provides a reasonable match to the sketch. The photo is not taken from quite the right spot however. It should be from more to the left, more into the little bay between the campsite and the cliff. However access there is quite difficult with the current vegetation.

The angle of the shadow on the cliff face is not quite right but the sketch would have been painted a few weeks earlier in the year. (Godin and Thomson's canoe trip was "in August". By September — close to the equinox — the angle of the sun is changing quite quickly from day to day.)

The Natch on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park

(photo by Bob / Diana: 1981-06-29 - explore

This photo from 1981 June is of The Natch on the Petawawa River (north branch). This photo also provides a good match to the sketch, but again, the photo location is too far to the right. Perhaps it shows the underlying shapes of the land on the right hand side a little better than the modern photo

In the Barron Canyon in Algonquin Park

(photo by Diana: 2013-06-19 - map - explore

This photo shows the match in the Barron Canyon. It is a good good match to the shape of the north wall of the canyon at this location — just upstream of the lookout — but the match to the south wall is not as good.

From the photographic evidence, the choice between the two possible locations is not clear cut. But having visited both locations, we are convinced that Petawawa, Algonquin Park was painted at The Natch. For completeness we need to return to the Barron Canyon in August at sundown in order to establish how (if) the sunset shadows fall on the cliff face.

Petawawa Gorges, Night

Petawawa Gorges Night

If this painting is of The Natch, it is looking downstream and it is probably before dawn. If it is from the Barron Canyon, it is after sundown and the view is upstream.

There are no nearby campsites in the canyon, but there is at The Natch. A nearby campsite is not a requirement but it facilitates painting after sunset and before dawn.

The Natch on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park at sundown

(photo by Diana: 2016-09-11 - map - explore

This is after sundown at The Natch on 2016 September 11. As is the case for the previous sketch, the correct photo location should be more to the left.

The Natch on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park at dawn

(photo by Bob: 2016-09-12 - map - explore

For comparison, here's a dawn picture from about the same location. On both mornings we ere there, there was morning mist. We suspect that Thomson got rained on later in the day.

In the Barron Canyon in Algonquin Park

(photo by Diana: 2013-06-19 - map - explore

This is the best match we can find in the Barron Canyon — just upstream from where Hardwood Creek falls into the canyon. But certainly, there are differences between the photograph and the sketch. To make the case one needs to argue that the apparent discrepancy is due to the current tree cover; in particular, the skyline defined by the tree tops diverges from the cliff top on the north (right) canyon wall.

This photo has been stretched vertically by 30%.

We believe that both these sketches are from The Natch but accept that there still remains some uncertainty.