Between St. Andrews Lake and High Falls Lake
Tom Thomson painted both The Waterfall (sketch for the full sized painting Woodland Waterfall) and Autumn, Petawawa along the Barron River (South Branch of the Petawawa River) between St. Andrews Lake and High Falls Lake. This area is two to three hours from the Out-Side-In by canoe. We believe that in Thomson's day, it was also accessible by tote road.
The location of The Waterfall (just upstream of where the river flows into High Falls Lake) is well known. However forest regeneration and the decay of logging works that were active in Thomson's time, preclude getting an exact photographic match to the sketch.
The title of Autumn, Petawawa may be a misnomer because it is possible that it is a spring scene as evidenced by the water flow. The location is the pond a short distance upstream from the waterfall.
We suspect that the sketches Rapids on Muskoka River and Spring Foliage on the Muskoka River may have been painted along this stretch of the Barron River and that the sketch Landscape, Sunset is from nearby. However, the first too are too generic for any definite positive identification and the latter view no longer exists because of obstructing forest growth.
In searching for Tom Thomson sketching locations, we sometimes wondered:
Where are the missing waterfall paintings? Whatever happened to his sketch of High Falls? Of Carcajou Falls? Could Thomson have painted in this vicinity and not have painted these impressive scenes?
The answer might be that he didn't paint those scenes because in 1916 they didn't exist. The Algonquin Park that we see today is not the Algonquin Park that Thomson saw. Logging activity at the time made significant changes to the landscape, both due to removal of trees and to the structures built to make transport of logs feasible. In the 100 years since, the vegetation has grown significantly, and most of the logging structures have decayed away.
Thomson painted relatively few waterfalls because, in his day, undisturbed waterfalls in Algonquin Park were rare. Essentially any watercourse of consequence was used for the transport of logs, and many waterfalls were altered or eliminated by the construction of dams and chutes. There is no sketch of Carcajou Falls because it was most likely hidden behind a logging dam or the view was obstructed by a chute.
There is no sketch of High Falls because it may have been essentially dry. The transport of logs out of Stratton Lake was via St. Andrews Lake and then to High Falls Lake; it was not over High Falls. It seems likely that the High Falls outlet of Stratton Lake was dammed or at least had the flow impeded. The evidence of the river improvements to facilitate this route is still visible today (although we have yet to find definitive evidence of a dam at the outlet of Stratton Lake).
The logs would have been collected in the pond before being fed down the narrow log chute around the falls, one log at a time. It is not clear whether the water level in this pond was maintained by a dam at the foot of the pond or not. There is no evidence of a dam remaining today, though there are rock cribs near the downstream end of the pond.
The sketch Autumn, Petawawa depicts a substantial water flow into the pond. This might indicate that this is actually an early season painting. (The strong red hues are indicative but not definitive that it is autumn). In the current era, by midsummer, the flow here is low; the white water is minimal. This would probably be true even with the extra water diverted from the High Falls outlet of Stratton Lake. However, the dam — no longer existing — that controlled the flow out of Grand Lake might have contributed to maintaining the flow later in the season.
The log chute around the falls is gone but some traces remain.
The Waterfall, sketch for Woodland Waterfall
In the studio painting, (see the Tom Thomson Catalogue Raisonné entry for Woodland Waterfall) the thin white line through the trees does not appear and the overflow from the timber chute has been enhanced to make it appear as the main flow of the river. Thus if you were trying to locate this waterfall based on the studio painting rather than the sketch, you would be looking for a waterfall where the river executed a right angle turn at the brink of the falls and you might reject this location. Bob did for a long time until Diana set him straight.
Spring Foliage on the Muskoka River
It is interesting to compare Thomson's painting of the rock face on the far shore in this sketch, Spring Foliage on the Muskoka River, with that in The Waterfall and with the finished painting Woodland Waterfall. We suggest that this similarity supports our hypothesis that Spring Foliage on the Muskoka River was painted just downstream of The Waterfall.
Rapids on the Muskoka River
Officially, Carcajou Falls at the top of Carcajou Bay on Grand Lake are named High Falls. But there are too many "High Falls" in Algonquin Park — this one on Carcajou Creek, one on the Barron River, one on the Nipissing River, one on the Bonnechere River, one on the York River, and perhaps more. We prefer Carcajou Falls as a better name for these particular falls.
The assertion that there was a dam at the foot of Stratton Lake is speculative, though it would help explain the rate of flow of the river in the sketch Autumn, Petawawa, especially if indeed, it is an autumn picture. However, none of the sketch locations identified on this page depend upon this assertion.
While we have not (yet) found evidence of a dam at the High Falls outlet of Stratton Lake, in the spring of 2015 we perhaps found evidence of a crossing at this point and an old road. We need to revisit this location for further investigation. Also, there was an old lumber camp located in the near vicinity (at the group of four backpacking campsites).