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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