Toad River


Mary had started to show signs of serious illness while we were in Yukon territory; by the time we reached British Columbia, she was unable even to ride shotgun with me. Looking on the bright side, that gave me the opportunity to paint rock-flour water. Muncho Lake is about 50 km west of Toad River community, so I left Mary in a hotel bed there and backtracked to paint both the lake and river.

The Toad was named for the enormous toads found there by Hudson’s Bay Company explorers.  “I have seen some which weighed upwards of a pound, and the Indians inform me there are some to be seen of a much larger size,” wrote John McLeod in 1831.

It is so much easier to paint something commonplace than something unusual. Get the general shape of a teapot and your viewers will understand it to be a teapot. Hit the color of rock-flour water almost perfectly and it looks absurd.

I thought a great deal about Tom Thomson, Emily Carr and the Group of Seven painters while on this trip. There is something fantastical about their paintings that the American viewer sees as romanticism, or, to put it bluntly, exaggeration. It turns out to be literal truth-telling in a country that is larger than life.

I returned to Toad River in the early evening to find that Mary still hadn’t stirred. At this point, my husband took over as long-distance logistician. He has us moving in slow stages over the next few days so that she could rest and recover—and above all, not camp. I was fine with that, since the temperatures in Jasper and Banff National Parks were well below freezing at night. Even better, there was a clinic in Fort Nelson. She saw a doctor, and it turned out that she had mononucleosis.

In 2016, my daughter Mary and I set off across Alaska and Canada on a Great White North Adventure, which you can read about starting here. We arrived in Anchorage at the beginning of September and got home in mid-October. In between, we visited every province but PEI (been there, done that), and Yukon Territory. In retrospect, it might have made more sense to do this during the summer, since Alaska and Canada threw a mess of strange weather at us.

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Toad River is 8X10, oil on archival canvasboard.

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