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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.
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.
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