Two artists, one lake, 100 years apart

Fine Arts

Paul Walde at a local lake ahead of July 8 swim in Ontario. Credit: UVic Photo Services.

On the 100th anniversary of iconic Canadian painter Tom Thomson’s death in Algonquin Park, intermedia artist Paul Walde will swim the length of Canoe Lake on July 8 — accompanied by a synchronized swim squad, canoe flotilla and brass band — followed by one minute of silence recorded from the bottom of the lake. Walde, chair of the University of Victoria’s Department of Visual Arts, intends to reframe the early 20th-century artist’s legacy and enduring images of Canada in a gallery installation.

Walde is well-known for his bold and innovative sound and video installations, including Requiem for a Glacier in 2013, filmed live on Farnham Glacier in BC’s Purcell Mountains and earning international headlines, and Alaska Variations for an Anchorage Museum exhibition in 2016, which was singled out by USA Today as one of the top US museum exhibits of the year and was recently exhibited in Norway.

“I grew up in Northern Ontario near where the Group of Seven did their first trip together,” says Walde. “This is what was presented to us as Canadian art, and through my work I’ve been trying to find other ways of engaging with the landscape, especially around issues of the environment and colonialism.”

The Tom Thomson Centennial Swim will be documented by a professional film and audio crew. Footage from the event — including underwater body-cam, mobile boat units and stationary positions — will be combined with shots of the lake and locations featured in Thomson’s paintings. 

Thomson was also the subject of Walde’s 1997 theatrical performance, Index 1036, a collaborative work created with his wife Christine Walde, a UVic librarian, which fictively examined Thomson’s death in the context of contemporary performance art. A former competitive swimmer who uses lake swimming to inform his practice as an intermedia artist, composer and curator, Walde has created a body of work exploring interconnections between landscape, identity, and technology with historical events as a recurring theme.

The Department of Visual Arts at UVic is recognized nationally and internationally for developing innovative artistic voices and is one of Canada’s leading contemporary art programs. Canoe Lake, where Canadian artist Tom Thomson died in 1917, is located in Ontario’s Algonquin Park, Canada’s oldest provincial park (est. 1893) where Thomson worked as a guide from 1913 until his death.

Media advisory: B-roll of footage will be available late afternoon on July 8. All media requests must be received by Paul Walde or John Threlfall by July 6. Walde arrives in Ottawa June 28 and rehearses until July 3 before heading to Algonquin Park on July 4; the swimmers and musicians arrive July 6. Walde is available in advance by phone, and his cell will be monitored on the day of the swim. He will be available for on-camera interviews after the swim, by request.

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Media contacts

Paul Walde (Chair, Dept. of Visual Arts) at 250-661-6826 or

John Threlfall (Fine Arts Communications) at

Tara Sharpe (University Communications + Marketing) at

In this story

Keywords: arts, visual arts, Tom Thomson, Group of Seven

People: Paul Walde

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