Science grad lends her voice to grandparents’ Group of Seven adventure story

An older image of a young Emma and her grandparents holding her hands as they stand at the top of the mountain and the park

A much younger Emma Waddington at the top of Silver Peak during one of her first trips to Killarney Provincial Park with her grandparents Jim and Sue Waddington.

Emma Waddington’s grandparents have a cool hobby that she’s beyond proud to share with the world.  

Waddington is the narrator for Hidden Secrets of the Canvas: One Couple’s Lifetime Quest to Uncover a Century, a project that stars her grandparents Sue and Jim Waddington.  

Jim Waddington is a professor emeritus with the Department of Physics & Astronomy. 

“Narrating the film was such an incredibly special moment for me,” says Emma Waddington, who graduated last year with a master’s degree in Kinesiology. She continues to work as a research assistant in the NeuroFit Lab at McMaster and is the director of communications and research for a company called PrehabMD. 

In 1977, her grandparents took up the hobby of finding the landscapes painted by Canada’s Group of Seven artists between 1920 and  1933.

They have so far discovered, documented and photographed more than 800 locations. 

“Our hobby is a really strange one,” says Jim Waddington.

“It’s taken us all over Canada- from sea to sea to sea. We kept it private not because we didn’t want others to know about it but because we didn’t realize that anyone would be interested. Boy, were we wrong.”  

They’ve published a bestselling book and delivered talks to more than 12,000 people. And now they have a video on YouTube that’s narrated by their oldest granddaughter. 

Waddington was five years old when she went on her first interior camping trip with her grandparents.

“They’ve shared countless painting sites with me over the years. They always have some photos ready to go and some research about another painting location,” she says.  

“I’ve tried to locate some sites on my own but I still have lot to learn from my grandparents.” 

For the video, her 80-year-old grandparents revisit the first location they found. It took 28 kilometres of paddling and seven kilometres of portaging through Killarney Provincial Park to get there. 

Waddington couldn’t make the trip, although a few other family members joined in, including her mom Starr and dad Mike Waddington, a professor in the School of Earth, Environment & Society, and Canada Research Chair in Ecohydrology.  

“My grandfather made sure they didn’t do all the work.” 

It was a family-wide decision to have the eldest grandchild narrate the film. She’d been hearing the story of her grandparent’s first trip for her entire life, and she now gets to help tell it. 

“Proud doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel about my grandparents. I’ve been on some of their portages and my grandfather isn’t wrong when he says those hikes are uphill both ways. But I know if there’s anyone who can do it, it’s them. 

“Maybe when they’re a little older, they’ll finally take me to the very first painting site.” 

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