Monthly Archives: February, 2016

A Brief History of Muskoka: Part 5 – Milford Bay & Beaumaris

February 29th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

Did you miss Part 4? Read it Here

Milford Bay

Milford Bay is a small town on the northeastern coast of Lake Muskoka, built on a section of lake named (you guessed it!) Milford Bay; an inlet sheltered from the rest of Lake Muskoka by Tondern Island. Established along with the rest of Muskoka in the second half of the 19th century, thanks largely to The Free Grants and Homestead Act of 1868—which allowed settlers to claim up to 100 acres of land, provided they met certain conditions regarding the development of the land; 200 acres in extenuating circumstances—Milford Bay grew alongside Tondern Island, to which it has been connected by bridge since the 1870s. Capitalizing on Muskoka’s growing tourism industry, Robert Stroud; an early settler of Milford Bay who moved to the area in 1873; built the Milford Bay House in 1887, on a plot of land known as Huckleberry Rock. While a popular destination for new settlers and tourists alike, Milford Bay House was unfortunately burned to the ground in a terrible fire in 1933. Today, still a popular spot among tourists and cottagers, Milford Bay provides an important link to Tondern Island.


Beaumaris is a small settlement located on Tondern Island in Lake Muskoka; which, as mentioned above, is strategically linked to the mainland by a bridge at Milford Bay as it has been since the 1870s. Tondern Island, with a total area of 338 acres, was originally purchased from the crown by Paul Dane, an Irish immigrant, in 1868 for a total price of $101. Upon his death in 1871, ownership of the island passed to his nephew Maurice John McCarthy, who sold the island to brothers-in-law John Willmott and Edward Prowse in 1873. Prowse and Willmott are attributed with developing the settlement on Tondern Island, which they named Beaumaris. This included the construction of a bridge, connecting Tondern Island to the mainland at Milford Bay; the clearing of a section of forest to be converted to pasture; and the installation of a dock, which led to Beaumaris becoming an important transit point during the steamship era. As Muskoka became an increasingly popular tourist destination and word spread of Beaumaris’ natural beauty and excellent fishing, Willmott and Prowse profited through further calculated developments: Willmott opened an eponymous general store; and Prowse established the Beaumaris Hotel, which saw great success thanks its location midway between Port Carling and Bracebridge, and the rapid increase in steamship travel coupled with the majestic pier he built near the hotel. As many patrons of the hotel were known to spend entire seasons there, and demand for purchasable land increased, Willmott and Prowse began parceling and selling lots to vacationers seeking permanent residence. Thus the first cottages on Tondern Island were developed. As for the Beaumaris Hotel, it remained a popular getaway among vacationers until July 21, 1945, when it was burned in an act of arson by Edward John Van Buren, who was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 2 years in prison. The hotel was never rebuilt. Instead, the land on which it once stood is now part of the Beaumaris Golf Club. In addition to the golf club, Beaumaris is also home to the Beaumaris Yacht Club and the Beaumaris Marina. Tondern Island is one of the most desirable locations for vacation property in Muskoka, and certainly not one to be overlooked.

This concludes our brief history of Muskoka series. We hope you enjoyed it!

A Brief History of Muskoka: Part 4 – Three Mile Lake & Skeleton Lake

February 22nd, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet
Did you miss Part 3? Read it Here
Three Mile Lake

Settlers began moving to the Three Mile Lake area in the mid-19th century assisted through the promotion of the Government of Canada’s Free Land Grant: a system awarding property as an incentive to encourage development of sparsely populated areas; and one that led directly to the Muskoka Settlement era of the mid-1800s. Jake’s Point was the first developed section of land surrounding Three Mile Lake, and was first settled by only a few families: the Morleys, Pickerings, Sheas, Sufferns, and Gotts. In 1866, Gotts Lodge No.229 was built; a bright orange structure that drew the attention of onlookers and became an iconic part of the landscape; later being renamed Three Mile Lake 229. Dee Bank was the next area surrounding Three Mile Lake to be developed; with the construction of a general store, hotel, sawmill, and Presbyterian Church. As the Presbyterians settled in Dee Bank, the Methodists built their own church in the Ufford area. In addition to the aforementioned developments, John Shannon built one of the largest flour mills in the area, on the banks of Three Mile Lake in 1871, which added to the local industry, and boosted development of the area, evidenced by the construction of a schoolhouse at the end of the 19th century. With a 31.2 km of shoreline perimeter, and 8.8 sq. km of surface area, Three Mile Lake is significantly smaller than any of the Muskoka Lakes, which is an appreciable feature for anyone interested in a quieter cottage experience. With roughly 620 waterfront properties, Three Mile Lake is nevertheless a prime destination for cottage living, water skiing, tubing, and fishing; yet it offers a more relaxed atmosphere than the larger lakes in Muskoka.

Skeleton Lake
Skeleton Lake is a crystal clear spring-fed lake 17 km west of Huntsville, with a rich history rooted in aboriginal folklore. While surveying the north shore, workers happened upon two human skeletons lying on the rocks. Local inquiry into the origin of the skeletons led settlers to an Ojibwe tribe, whose chief recounted the story of how his people had camped on the north shore of the lake one particularly harsh winter. Food was scarce, and the tribe had to move on or suffer continued starvation and death. An adolescent boy, too weak and ill from starvation, was unable to make the journey and needed to be left behind. His mother, unwilling to abandon her son, remained with him while the tribe left in search of food. Both died and Skeleton Lake was named in their honour, as a reminder of a mother’s undying love for her son, and of the ultimate sacrifice she made for him.
The lake is thought to have been formed when a meteorite struck the area over 800-million years ago. Altered by several glacial periods, what now remains as Skeleton Lake is a gorgeous, limestone-bedded lake, with clear shining waters; and—with fewer and less distinct bays and peninsulas—the largest body of truly open water in the Muskoka area, making it ideal for water sports such as windsurfing and sailing.
Continue to Part 5


A Brief History of Muskoka: Part 3 – Port Sandfield & Port Carling

February 15th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet
Did you miss Part 2? Read it Here


Port Sandfield
Formed in 1870 and named in honour of then Premier of Ontario John Sandfield MacDonald, Port Sandfield is a charming community between Lake Rosseau and Lake Joseph, originally founded in conjunction with a canal constructed to connect the two lakes. First President and founder of the Muskoka Settlers’ Association, and a member of Ontario Provincial Parliament, Alexander Peter Cockburn was instrumental in developing plans for the canal, as well as securing funding to see the project through completion. With the Port Sandfield canal completed at roughly the same time as the locks at Port Carling, steamships were now able to carry cargo, timber, mail, and passengers unhindered over the three largest lakes in Muskoka. This led ultimately to an influx of both tourists and settlers, which in turn revealed the need for a bridge over the new canal. In 1876, the first bridge across the Port Sandfield canal was completed. Eight years later, in response to Muskoka’s growing tourist industry, Enoch Cox founded the Prospect House, a posh summer resort. Following an economic downturn, the canal fell into disuse and neglect, yet it was restored to its former glory in 1999.  Built in 1924 and impeccably maintained to this day, the historic swing bridge over the Port Sandfield canal is the oldest of its kind in Ontario, and a proud landmark of Muskoka’s rich history.


Port Carling
Situated on the Indian River between Lake Rosseau and Lake Muskoka, the area that is now Port Carling was originally settled by the Ojibwe (or Chippewa) in the 1850s, who called the land Obogawanung (or Obajewanung). By the 1860s, with increasing development in the Muskoka area, and an onslaught of European settlers arriving, the Ojibwe moved to Parry Sound and the area was developed as part of Medora Township. The first post office was established in 1869 by Benjamin Hardcastle Johnston, at which point he named the community Port Carling in honour of Ontario Minister of Public Works, John Carling, who was instrumental in the development of the locks between Lake Rosseau and Lake Muskoka. With Carling’s support, the locks were completed in 1871 which, coupled with the Port Sandfield canal between Lake Rosseau and Lake Joseph, linked the three Muskoka Lakes together, and led to an economic boom with a staggering increase in logging and tourism. Development moved quickly in this era, with the construction of many summer homes, resorts, and sawmills resulting from the optimistic economic situation. Port Carling’s location in the Muskoka Lakes system and the connection it provides between Lake Muskoka and Lake Rosseau has earned it the moniker Hub of the Lakes. In 1896, Port Carling gained independence from the Township of Medora, becoming an incorporated village; which it remained until 1971, when it merged with the Township of Muskoka Lakes. In addition to its ease of access via water, Port Carling, located on Muskoka Road 118, is more quickly and easily accessible by road than ever. With recent improvements to Highway 69, now linking it to Highway 400 as well as Highway 11, Port Carling has become a popular destination for tourists from Southern Ontario, and a desirable location for anyone looking to buy a cottage in Muskoka.

Continue to Part 4

A Brief History of Muskoka: Part 2 – Bala, Torrance, & Windermere

February 8th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

Did you miss Part 1? Read it Here.


Located on Bala Bay, on the western coast of Lake Muskoka, and marked by many bare outcroppings of the Canadian Shield as well as the famous Bala Falls, lies the town of Bala; settled by Thomas Burgess in 1868, who opened a sawmill and general store to serve the settlers scattered among the area. Burgess named it after the town of Bala, in the Bala Lake area of Wales. Bala’s first post office opened in 1872, with Burgess as postmaster. Unsuitable for farming given its rocky Canadian Shield geography, Bala’s economy began to decline with a downturn in the logging industry. However, with the expansion of the railway bringing rail service to the area in 1907, Bala was reinvigorated as a tourist destination, and a popular location for summer resorts and cottages. The town incorporated in 1914, and A.M. Burgess, son of Thomas Burgess, became the first mayor of Bala, which was, at the time, the smallest incorporated town in Canada. It remained so until it amalgamated with the Muskoka Lakes Township in 1971. Known as the Cranberry Capital of Ontario; with cranberries being the one crop that really thrived in the area; the town hosts the Bala Cranberry Festival during harvest season each autumn.


The community now known as Torrance was settled in 1870 by three men; William Torrance, Joseph Coulter, and George Jestin; and their families—all originally from Eramosa, a small community near Guelph, Ontario. Torrance, Coulter, and Jestin traveled to Muskoka in 1869 to investigate a Free Land Grant offer made by the Government of Canada. After realizing the sheer beauty and boundless potential of the area, they relocated their families to start life anew in Muskoka; each purchasing 100 acres of land for $0.75 apiece. William Torrance, as the first postmaster of the community, was honoured when the town was given his name. By 1906, the railway had reached Torrance, expanding its potential as a tourist destination and summer resort community. Torrance is proud of its history; and as the only stop in West Muskoka on Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Canada in 1959; the community named Queen’s Walk Road in her honour.


With a name almost as unequivocally English as “The Shire”, it comes as no surprise that Windermere was named after a lake in England—situated in Lake District National Park, it is in fact the largest natural lake in all of England. Windermere, Ontario, on the other hand is a small, scenic village on the eastern coast of Lake Rosseau, originally settled during the Muskoka Settlement in the latter half of the 19th century. The development of Windermere was headed primarily by three men: Francis Forge, a successful farmer and employee of business magnate Timothy Eaton; David Fife, a businessman working in the resort and tourism industry, and founder of Fife House (unfortunately demolished in 1970); and Thomas Aitkens, community postmaster and founder of Windermere House, once a prestigious boarding house, now a popular four-star resort and vacation destination. Unfortunately, in 1996, at 127 years old, the original Windermere House burned to the ground during the filming of The Long Kiss Goodnight. It was faithfully rebuilt in the original Victorian style in 1997. Windermere is also home to the stunning and beautifully maintained Windermere Golf & Country Club. Forge, Fife, and Aitkens are honoured in a memorial window mounted in the local Windermere United Church, for their contributions made toward the development of the area.

Continue to Part 3

A Brief History of Muskoka: Part 1 – The Muskoka Lakes

February 1st, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet
Most Ontarians have, more than likely, at least heard of the Muskoka Lakes. While the use of these two words back-to-back has been known to cause some confusion for certain people in the past—(i.e. “Does that mean all lakes in Muskoka?”)—the term “Muskoka Lakes” typically refers to either the three largest interconnected bodies of water in the Muskoka area; Lake Muskoka, Lake Rosseau, and Lake Joseph; or the township that houses all three, aptly named the Township of Muskoka Lakes and often referred to as both the jewel of Muskoka and the heart of cottage country. In 1870, the area now known as the Township of Muskoka Lakes was opened for settlement. At this time, it was divided into several geographic and municipal townships: Cardwell, Christie, Humphrey, Medora, and Wood. It was not until 101 years later, in 1971, that Bala, Port Carling, Windermere, and the townships of Cardwell, Medora, Watt, Wood, (and part of Monck Township) were merged to create the municipal structure that exists to this day.


 With poor, rocky soil compliments of the rugged Canadian Shield, Muskoka has never been particularly suited to agriculture (although with dedication and care many gardeners have created and maintained some truly stunning and artistic gardens throughout the area). Instead, with its surplus of lush forests, it was timber that proved the greatest economic attractant, driving the initial Muskoka settlement in the latter half of the 19th century. Later, after a decline in the resource industries, and with a fast-growing urbanized Southern Ontario population in close proximity, tourism became Muskoka’s chief industry. Many visitors to the area, after experiencing its natural wonder, could not bear the thought of leaving and so purchased land and built summer homes in Muskoka, and thus cottage country was born. As the largest lakes in the area; Lake Muskoka, Lake Rosseau, and Lake Joseph are home to the greatest number, and some of the most desirable cottages in all of Muskoka.


 The Muskoka Lakes were named by the Honourable William Robinson, Commissioner for Indian Affairs and member of the House of Assembly. Lake Muskoka was named, as was the area as a whole, after Mesqua Ukie or Chief Yellowhead, a Chippewa chief whose tribe used the forest surrounding the lake as their hunting grounds into the mid-19thcentury. Lake Joseph and Lake Rosseau were both named in honour of Joseph Rousseau—Robinson’s close personal friend and trading partner. The westernmost of the Muskoka Lakes, Lake Joseph has the deepest recorded water in all of Muskoka—measured at 93.8 m. Lake Joseph drains through the Joseph River east to Lake Rosseau, arguably one of the most popular recreation lakes in Ontario; with an intricate array of islands, bays, peninsulas, and other various shoreline features, Lake Rosseau’s summers come alive with water sports from swimming, sailing, kayaking, canoeing, wakeboarding and water skiing, to lazy-pontoon-party-boating (it’s a sport too!). Finally, the largest and southernmost of the three, and fed by both Lake Joseph and Lake Rosseau—the eponymous Lake Muskoka; a crystal clear lake enjoyed by cottagers, year-round residents, and tourists alike; and bordered by the scenic towns of Bala on the southwest shore, and Gravenhurst on the southeast. Like both Lake Joseph and Lake Rosseau, Lake Muskoka offers premier fishing, with varieties ranging from muskellunge to largemouth and smallmouth bass, lake trout and walleye. Whether you have a particular interest in one lake, or are simply trying to familiarize yourself with the area; whether you are an angler, swimmer, or semi-pro lazy-pontoon-party-boater (again, it’s a sport!); whether you choose to vacation in the Muskoka Lakes for the first time, or are considering buying your first cottage; with something for everyong, when you choose the Muskoka Lakes, you can’t go wrong.


Continue to Part 2