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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