The landscapes of cottage country—wherever that might be for you—have been a source of inspiration for artists since Indigenous peoples created pictographs and petroglyphs millennia ago. Now, rural areas continue to spark artistic creativity—and here are some of the best places to find cottage country artists.
The most famous artists in the Muskoka region were (and are) undoubtedly the Group of Seven—you can go on a tour of their pieces reproduced as murals in and around Huntsville and pick up souvenirs showcasing their work pretty much anywhere. But there’s more to the area’s artists than the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson. To see some work made by artists of today, check out the most recent guidebook from Muskoka Arts and Crafts or visit the Art Centre in Algonquin Park.
Bancroft’s Rockhound Gemboree may be a yearly destination for gemstone enthusiasts, but its artists also draw in the crowds. From stained glass to jewellery to painting to pottery—and many media in between—Bancroft’s artistic community makes it a perfect place to visit, even if you’re not all that into rocks. If you’re there in the fall, you can get to know the area’s artists during the yearly Bancroft and Area Studio Tour.
Manitoulin’s artists thrive in communities from one end of the island to the other. One of the highlights of Manitoulin’s art scene is the many contemporary Indigenous artists whose works are on display in various galleries, including Lillian’s Crafts, Mishibinijima Art Gallery, and the Wiikwemkoong Art Gallery and Gift Shop. For a listing of galleries and arts organizations across the island, check out Destination Manitoulin.
The rolling hills and charming towns of Dufferin County, Caledon, and the surrounding areas are home to many cottage country artists and craftspeople. You can check out much of their work at the Headwaters Art Gallery in the historic Alton MiIll Arts Centre, where you can see works by local artists. Looking for a holiday present? Until January 2, the gallery is running Artful Giving, where you can pick up locally-made art to give as gifts.
These two picturesque towns seem to have more than their fair share of painters, glass blowers, woodworkers, potters, and other artists—just take a look at the Elora and Fergus Studio Tour. If you missed the studio tour, check out the Elora Centre for the Arts, a community hub that offers classes, art supplies, and both a virtual and onsite gallery.
The City of Thunder Bay is designated a Cultural Capital of Canada, and it’s not hard to see why. Along with professional music and theatre groups, the city boasts an array of eclectic art galleries, including the Definitely Superior (DefSup) Art Gallery, an artist-run centre committed to contemporary art, and the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, the largest public gallery between Sault Ste. Marie and Winnipeg.
Snuggling up against Muskoka, the Haliburton Highlands is full of cottage country artists, many of whom use the area’s beauty for inspiration in a wide range of visual arts. While there is a yearly studio tour over the first two weekends of October, there are also several studios open for holiday shopping.
In 2005, Perth was the runner-up in a TVO competition for the most artistic communities in Ontario—and not much has changed. The area boasts two studio tours: one in the summer and one in the fall. If you’re feeling artsy yourself, check out a painting or felting class or simply do some shopping online.
Bruce Peninsula and surrounding area
There’s more to the Bruce Peninsula and the eastern shore of Lake Huron than just the Bruce Trail—although that’s undoubtedly been an inspiration to some of the artists in the area. There are galleries, classes, workshops, and online activities throughout southern Bruce and the Peninsula—but one new, COVID-friendly activity is to go on a drive to spot the community’s “barn quilts”—colourful designs painted on the sides of farm buildings.