Picturing the Past

Searching for the Sublime: Algonquin Park and the Origins of Wilderness Tourism in Canada

By the end of the nineteenth century, rapid industrialization and immigration were dramatically changing life in Canada. Cities became places of great tension and contradictions; alongside growing wealth, cultural sophistication and abundant jobs were pollution, visible poverty and disease. The growing urban middle class sought relief in various forms of outdoor recreation and experiences.

Established in 1893, and located relatively close to Toronto, Algonquin Park became an ideal escape. The railway made this vision of the sublime accessible. Some came simply for peace and quiet or a good fishing hole. A small number of notable individuals arrived with strongly held scientific, aesthetic, religious, educational and feminist convictions and goals. These were the Searchers, whose passions lent greater meaning to it all. They included John Macoun, Tom Thomson, Henry Burton Sharman and Fannie L. Case. Over the years, increasing numbers of tourists were drawn to Algonquin and other parks, building the foundation for what we recognize today as a quintessentially Canadian experience: a vacation in the woods.