As Paul Walde disrobes to enter Durrance Lake for a training swim he almost manages to get in without complaining about the cold.
“[Durrance] isn’t bad once you’re swimming, you warm up just like you do with any other exercise,” Walde said.
The training is for an upcoming three-kilometre swim. But Walde’s waterworks are just the first stroke of a massive art installation he’s been planning for July 8, which will involve more than a dozen people, including canoes with trumpets and trombones.
The project, dubbed the Tom Thomson Swim, takes place in Ontario’s Algonquin Park. Walde will swim 3km across Canoe Lake, with a brass band in a flotilla of canoes beside him, as well as a synchronized swimming team. It’s part of a dedication to legendary Canadian artist Tom Thomson, who drowned there in mysterious circumstances 100 years ago.
“Thomson brought Canadian landscape art to the fore,” said Walde, who lives in the Cedar Hill neighbourhood. “I’m from Ontario, and I’ve wanted to do this for a few years now, especially with the timing of his death.”
Walde, an intermedia artist and the chair of the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Victoria, is known for leading unique art projects.
Inspired by Thomson, and always looking to do something different, the death of Thomson has called to Walde for years. In 2013, Walde organized the Requiem for a Glacier installation and sound performance that memorialized the Jumbo Glacier in the East Kootenays which filmed an orchestra and opera performance on the glacier.
Prior to his death, Thomson spent plenty of summers in Algonquin Park as a summer guide. It was during the spring and fall that he would paint, often bringing summer sketches back to Toronto to spend the winter turning them into some of his most prolific works.
Walde will swim next to the flotilla of canoes carrying brass playing musicians and other instruments, as well as a team of synchronized swimmers. The synchronized swimmers will perform a few times, including a memorial at the site where Thomson is said to have drowned 100 years ago, at which Walde will submerge for an elongated period of time.
The performance will provide the material for an audio-visual installation that Walde can feature in gallery exhibitions, combined with shots of the lake and locations featured in Thomson’s paintings.