Muskoka - Summer Fun with Canadian Flavour
New York has The Hamptons, Ontario has Muskoka
What is it about the Muskoka region of Ontario with its rocky granite outcroppings, crystal clear lakes, towering white spruce, jack pines and poplar trees that has become synonomous with summer family fun bringing to mind those hot, lazy summer days of our youth that we all try to hang onto no matter what age we are.
The Muskoka region, situated about 200 kilometres north of Toronto, Canada encompasses the townships of Georgian Bay, the Muskoka Lakes, the Town of Huntsville, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst and Lake of Bays and was first mentioned in 1615 when populated by the Huron
The name Muskoka is an Indian term that comes from a Chippewa tribe chief Mesque Ukee (also written as Misquukkey) that means “not easily turned back in the day of battle” and it was he who created the treaty selling 250,000 acres of land to the Province. In 1868 the Free Land Grant and Homestead Act was created to encourage settling in this area and if a settler met the qualifications he was given his land after 5 years with the Province claiming all mineral rights, quarry rock and pine trees.
Lumber cutting was a huge and profitable business for those men granted licenses to cut wood on settler’s lands and the province collected dues which greatly fattened the government coffers. At this time the railways were built to enable tourists to come to the region.
Alexander Cockburn, often called the Father of Muskoka, was a reeve in Victoria County who explored th
In that same year a Benjamin Hardcastle Johnston built a house at Indian village beside the river rapids and this was to become the first post office in the area with Mr. Johnston as the first postmaster. He recognized that there was a need for a canal to connect Lake Rosseau and Lake Muskoka and petitioned the settlers in the area. With Mr. Cockburn as an ally, the petition went to the provincial government in Toronto and in 1871 - 1872 the canal was completed. The Muskoka region was on its way!
The Steamship Era on the Muskoka Lakes dates from 1893 to 1929, and his company operated 19 different steamers that sailed the Muskoka Lakes taking people, goods and mail to the various resorts and cottages from 1866 right until 1958. The original Wenonah was abandoned in 1886 to make way for newer vessels.
RMS Segwun - The Royal Mail Ship Segwun (meaning springtime in Ojibwa)
She was retired in 1958 along with RMS Sagamo and was a floating museum until 1968. The RMS Sagamo was burnt by fire in 1969. A dedicated group sought to restore the RMS Segwun her to her former glory; a challenge achieved by the Ontario Road Builders Association and completed in 1981. That same year, the Muskoka Lakes Navigation Company was revived to become a commercial operator for Segwun.
Today, the RMS Segwun once again sails from the Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre at the Gravenhurst dock and, along with the the newly built Wenonah II, proudly escorts tourists and sightseers while offering dinner cruises and modern conveniences. The RMS Segwun remains to this day the oldest Royal Mail Ship in the world, one of only three left. She runs on coal brought all the way from Kentucky!
RMS Segwun: The Life and Times of a Regal Queen
Muskoka Boathouses: Lakeside Guardians
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The Hotels: Denizens of the Domain
Windermere House as it stands today is a far cry
Tragedy struck this grande dame in 1996 when a fire broke out during the filming of A Long Kiss Goodnight and by morning there was nothing but smoke and ash left of this iconic landmark. One observer said that the fire was so hot that it even melted the porcelain sinks and toilets. Happily the hotel was rebuilt and kept just as it was with its stone pillars, massive white towers, striped awnings and red roof to stand proud alongside the Lake Rosseau waterfront. Today,Windermere House plays host to thousands who come to swim, boat, dine and enjoy a get-away with true Canadian laid back hospitality. And, for those guests who want a little something extra to enhance their stay, there is always the chance of connecting to the spirit of first owner Thomas Aitken whom, some say, has never left his beloved hotel and may be responsible for rocking chairs on windless porches, whispers, footsteps, a small vanishing child or a phone that rings from a non existent floor.
Since 1969, the Cornell family has managed Clevelands House offering hospitality to thousands of tourists each season.
The Muskoka Mystique: Resistance is Futile
A Muskoka "cottage" is certainly a misnomer...mansion is the real word to describe these retreats where curb appeal really means waterfront appeal. And, while the houses are impressive, the boathouses, often filled with rare wooden speed boats, also boast kitchens, saunas, wet bars, living space and bedrooms to enjoy as you sit and watch the sunrise with the loons or the canoers glide bay at sunset.
Star gazing in the Muskokas isn't a new thing. As far back as the 1950's stars of the silver screen came for some steamboat cruising and to hang out at the Bigwun Hotel. Clark Gable, Carol Lombard were also guests and they might have danced to Duke Ellington or The Man himelf, Frank Sinatra. From 1941 to 1945 the Dutch Royal Family, including Queen Beatrix, summered there when they were in exile in Ottawa.
In the 60's Americans Andrew Mellon and John D. Rockefeller and Canadian Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker all enjoyed their lakefront properties. Before that names like Eaton, Labatt and Bronfman were also "cottage" owners. Today barons of industry, dot.com magnates and sports stars aplenty all have homes on Lake Joseph in the Muskokas, now called Billionaires Row, its answer to Lake Muskoka's Millionaires Row.
Hollywood North In the past people like Steven Spielberg, Goldie Hawn, Bill Murray and Kate Hudson have been seen around and about along with Tom Cruise and former wife Katie Holmes, musician Kenny G and Cindy Crawford. Some own and some just come for a visit but over time, eventually the thrill dims and the stars are left alone in the restaurants, cafes and golf clubs. One restaurant even has a no autographs policy and some residents admit," We see them everywhere and nobody pays attention anymore."
Whether you get to the Muskoka region by driving north on the 400 highway from Toronto - a Thursday or Friday summer afternoon ritual for many - or arrive in your private Gulfsteam jet at the Muskoka airport - the Muskoka mystique and magic wrap its arms around you and resistance is futile.
However, the Muskoka region isn't just about summer fun; she has a few more tricks up her sleeve as the days shorten. In the autumn when the trees have dressed in their brightest red, yellow and orange finery, when the lakes are quieter and the roads less travelled, she takes on a new persona and shows off her more tranquil and placid side. Months later she transforms once again into a winter wonderland and her fir and pine boughs are elegant in mantles of heavy white draped like ermine shawls. She will remain like this until the warmth of March or April beckons her to re-awaken, come to life and get ready for her visitors once again.
The Ultimate Muskoka book
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Historical Fiction at its Best!
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