FALL/WINTER 2020
BIGWIN INN
The story behind
the Muskoka mystique
Winter Games
Tighten
Family Bonds
SLED DOG MAIL RUN
CELEBRATES
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(Port Carling) Limited
(705) 765-5700
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705.644.9393
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MUSKOKA
...telling the Muskoka story
Features
11
Blending Old World Tradition
with New World Experiences
Article by Matt Driscoll
Photography by Tomasz Szumski
Across three generations from Soviet
Russia to Bracebridge, Elena Pozdeevas
family has been perfecting the ancient
art of felting. Now her home studio
bursts with the fruits of that labour
– scarves, hats, 3D sculptures and wall
hangings – all of it from the most
practical of beginnings.
18
Bracing for a Muskoka Winter
Article by John Challis
Photography by Tomasz Szumski
For those new to a Muskoka winter,
heres a few reminders about life from
November to April: Muskokas average
annual snowfall is 333.9 cm
(11 feet, if you prefer Imperial),
based on trends over a 30-year period.
Average low temperatures dip
to about –16° C in January,
but it will frequently
plunge to –30° or colder.
24
Winter Games Tighten Family Bonds
Article by Matt Driscoll
Photography by Kelly Holinshead
Endurance runs, axe
throwing, scavenger
hunts, marksmanship
competitions and a
poetry contest are just
a few of the many events
that make up the annual
challenge for the children of
Pam Carlaw and Paul Sullivan.
For the past seven years, the
couple has played host to the
High Falls Winter Games
on their 200-acre property
in Bracebridge.
30
The Contrasting Seasons
in Muskoka
Article by Meghan Smith
Photography by Andy Zeltkalns
e contrast of seasons, of
landscapes and of man-made
developments is a constant
in Muskoka. e beauty of
Muskokas natural landscape
has been modied and
inuenced by human
development.
However, the wildness
of Muskokas environment
has remained, producing a
unique composition
of contrasting
scenes.
2 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
[24]
[18]
[24]
[11]
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36
Bigwin and the Shaping
of the Muskoka Mystique
Article by J. Patrick Boyer
Great fanfare accompanied Bigwin Inns
long-awaited opening in June 1920. Exceptional in
size, design, style and culture, the Lake of Bays colossus
was the British Empire’s largest resort hotel, accommodating
over 500 guests. Bigwin Inn surpassed all expectations with
patrons of C.O. Shaws record-setting resort ocking north to
Muskoka from throughout Canada and the U.S.
44
Sled Dog Mail Run
Celebrating Canada’s heritage
Article by Meghan Smith
Photography by Tomasz Szumski
Before snowmobiles, sled dogs aided in the delivery
of mail, food, equipment and other supplies to
communities cut o from traditional modes of transport in the
winter months. e Seguin Sled Dog Mail Run is a tribute to
the energy, determination and hardiness of Siberian Huskies,
one of the leading sled dog breeds.
[44]
Departments
48
What’s Happened
Article by Matt Driscoll
Talks about the future of the former
Muskoka Regional Centre are once again
moving ahead. While popular large-scale
autumn events have been cancelled,
activities are still being planned.
An unprecedented donation funds
needed work at South Muskoka hospital.
Critical bridge gets repairs while
potential blue-green algal blooms
are getting attention.
50
Cottage Country Cuisine
Article by Karen Wehrstein
Photography by Tomasz Szumski
Muskokans might have to scale back
Christmas entertaining plans this year
by hosting more intimate groups of their
nearest and dearest family and friends.
But, that doesnt mean they cant be
memorable events. We talk with local
experts about suggestions for food
preparation and decorating.
[50]
Our Cover
Photography by Tomasz Szumski
e sights and sounds of the
Seguin Sled Dog Mail Run
harken back to times when
humans relied on their own
ingenuity and their partnership
with animals to travel and even
to survive.
FALL/WINTER 2020
BIGWIN INN
The story behind
the Muskoka mystique
Winter Games
Tighten
Family Bonds
SLED DOG MAIL RUN
CELEBRATES
CANADA’S HERITAGE
Opinion
9
Muskoka Insights
By Don Smith
60
Muskoka Moments
By Heather Douglas
[36]
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 5
…telling the Muskoka story
Unique Muskoka is published
six times per year
by Unique Publishing Inc.
Donald Smith
Publisher and Editor
Donna Ansley
Sales
Lisa Brazier
Design
Susan Smith
Administration
J. Patrick Boyer
John Challis
Heather Douglas
Matt Driscoll
Kelly Holinshead
Meghan Smith
Tomasz Szumski
Karen Wehrstein
Andy Zeltkalns
Contributors
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Mailing Address
Box 616, Bracebridge ON P1L 1T9
Street Address
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www.uniquemuskoka.com
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6 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
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Muskoka Insights
As I write this column and put the nal
touches on the Fall / Winter 2020 issue of
Unique Muskoka, there are aspects of the
autumn that remain unchanged. We are
blessed by trees of glorious colours that create
awe-inspiring panoramas. As
far as the eye can see, this
palette is breathtaking.
Warm temperatures and
blue skies beckon us outside,
whether to complete year end
chores or simply enjoy the
pleasure of a stroll amongst
falling leaves. Routines seem
almost normal. One could
imagine were not facing the
challenges of a world-wide
pandemic.
However, almost as certainly as the leaves
will fall, it is likely much will change in the
next few weeks. By the time this magazine is
released, it is likely the dynamics of
COVID-19 will be impacting Muskoka. As
we brace for the uncertain, scary statistics
indicate the anticipated second wave of this
dreaded virus is infecting the community.
However, most importantly, it is not the
second wave of COVID-19 which should be
our biggest concern. Rather, our focus must
be on how we respond.
In the past, through numerous
diculties, Muskokans have shown they are
resilient individuals who demonstrate great
care and compassion for their neighbours.
Earlier this year, Muskokans stepped
forward to shop for neighbours, assist
seniors who were encouraged to stay
housebound for their own safety and
provide support where it was required.
As the weeks of autumn evolve into
winter, it will be more important than ever
for Muskokans to provide their goodwill to
family and friends in need. ere should be
no time for social media nger-pointing.
More importantly, it will be a time to
reinforce goodness and to use social media
for all of its better purposes.
Here, in Muskoka, the past 150 years have
seen many inspiring stories of individuals
who had the vision and the tenacity to build
a better future. Some were farmers and
settlers who overcame the district’s
limitations to build a new home for their
families. Others were individuals of great
foresight and entrepreneurial courage who
would have a lasting impact
on Muskoka. When it came
to promotion of both his own
endeavours and the future of
the district, Charles Shaw was
in a league of his own.
Whether as an industrial
leader, businessman, tourism
operator or civic-minded
benefactor, Shaw shaped
much of the early growth
experienced in Muskoka.
Historian Patrick Boyer shares Shaw’s story
in this issue of Unique Muskoka.
We’ve always felt winter is a standalone
season that provides great opportunities for
photographic presentation. And, with that
in mind, were pleased to share with you
photographs that highlight the season. Local
photographer Andy Zeltkalns features the
juxtaposition of popular summer locations
as they appear with a covering of snow.
Regular contributor Tomasz Szumski turns
his lens to capturing the heritage of the
Seguin Sled Dog Mail Run and the
challenges of removing snow during a winter
when Muskoka usually receives 11 feet of
snowfall. And nally, the talented Kelly
Holinshead shares photographs of a family
that grows their bonds by taking part in
their own version of a winter games.
While we hope you will nd your own
way to celebrate and embrace the coming
winter, we encourage you to remember
others in our community. Since the rst
days of settlement, Muskokans have reached
out a hand of support. is year, that spirit
of community will be so important to the
well-being of all.
Until we chat again, all the best.
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 9
Mon - Thu 9:30 AM - 6:00 PM
Friday 9:30 AM - 7:00 PM
Saturday 9:30 AM - 5:30 PM
Sunday 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Regular Hours:
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6 Robert Dollar Drive
Bracebridge, ON P1L 1P9
Telephone: (705) 645-2279
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Telephone: (705) 789-5589
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cross three generations from Soviet
Russia to Bracebridge, Elena Pozdeevas
family has been perfecting the ancient
art of felting.
Now her home studio bursts with the fruits
of that labour – scarves, hats, 3D sculptures
and wall hangings – all of it from the most
practical of beginnings.
“In Russia, I was doing felting with my
mom and grandmother. is was mostly
domestic felting,” says Pozdeeva.
“Sometimes you dyed your own wool
but mostly we were using
unprocessed and undyed wool. It
was something traditionally done in
the area, but not done by everyone.
Beginning with modest creations
built to tackle frigid Russian winters,
the limits of Pozdeevas felting are now
only limited by her imagination.
Felting has seen an uptick in popularity
in recent years but primarily the process of
needle felting. Needle felting involves transforming
wool into 3D objects, using a barbed needle. At the micro-level,
felting involves agitating the wool bre and forcing it to bond
together, creating a solid fabric.
ARTIST BLENDS
OLD WORLD
TRADITION
WITH
NEW WORLD
EXPERIENCES
Article by Matt Driscoll
Photography by Tomasz Szumski
Elena Pozdeeva has created Muskoka themed wall hangings of all sizes,
sweaters, scarves, hats and even teardrop-shaped birdhouses.
A
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 11
12 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
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Beginning with modest creations meant to tackle frigid Russian winters, the limits of Elena
Pozdeeva’s felting are now only limited by her imagination.
Pozdeeva specializes in wet felting. Wet
felting is the process of connecting or blending
wool, wool roving or bre together to make a
fabric strictly by using water, water
temperature uctuation, soap and agitation.
In other words, it’s using only your hands to
transform wool into fabric.
From this seemingly basic technique,
Pozdeeva has created Muskoka themed wall
hangings of all sizes, sweaters, scarves, hats
and even birdhouses.
“e water passes right through and the
whole thing dries in about 30 minutes,” says
Pozdeeva, holding up one of her teardrop-
shaped birdhouse specimens. “e
colours wont run either.
Recently, Pozdeeva has
been returning to her roots
by creating sculptures from
unprocessed, undyed wool.
Her latest creations are a
series of three dimensional,
larger than life seeds and seed
pods.
Growing up in the Ural
region of Russia, Pozdeeva was
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interested in dierent styles of art like
conventional pastel painting and craftwork.
She worked in the advertising industry in
Russia, while her husband Petr was a
mechanical engineer by trade. e economic
turmoil that followed the dissolution of the
U.S.S.R. left Pozdeeva and her husband
looking for more stable options.
Essentially on a whim, they acquired their
Canadian visas and moved to Mississauga.
“Everyone warned me about the cold and
snow but its very cold in Ural. I was looking
around and wondering where the snow was.
Its not so bad,” Pozdeeva recalls with a laugh.
She eventually landed in the retail fashion
industry and the couple had two children –
Alexandria and Tim, before deciding they
needed a change of lifestyle and a fresh start
outside of the city.
“Ten years ago, we rented a cottage in
Gravenhurst,” says Pozdeeva. “I opened a
window and saw these rocks and trees. I said
I’m going to live here.
Before long, she and Petr had purchased a
house near the Muskoka River in Bracebridge.
She also became reacquainted with the
traditional family art of wet felting.
“I started simple, just to help make my
Above: Felting involves agitating the wool bre and forcing it to bond together, creating a more solid
fabric. Top: The method used by Elena Pozdeeva requires only hand movement to transform wool into
fabric.
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Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 13
14 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
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ngers remember,” she says. “en I started to
experiment with what is possible with wool,
like 3D eects and making it look like acrylic
– maybe I can do something dierent?”
Pozdeeva says she was welcomed with open
arms into Muskokas arts community and
particularly by the Muskoka Arts and Crafts
organization and its executive director Elene
Freer.
e house Pozdeeva and her husband live
in now is more than 100 hundred years old
and her artwork hangs from the walls in the
upper level and lls her basement. Her
materials are all sorted by their various colours
and types in orderly plastic tubs.
“I try to buy Canadian wool, mostly from
Quebec and Ontario,” says Pozdeeva. “Mostly
it’s sheeps wool - Merino is the most popular
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Painting by Paul Garbett, 72” x 48”
Paul Garbett, encaustic on panel, 75” x 45”
- but I also really like alpaca.
People are looking to make those stronger
connections to nature, says Pozdeeva, and
her artwork does just that.
While synthetic material like polyester can
take anywhere up to 200 years to decompose,
wool returns to the earth in as little as three
to four months.
Its also incredibly versatile, she explains,
as it can be worn in very cold Muskoka
winters, yet is light and breathable to wear in
summer.
e history of felted garments can be
traced as far back as 3,500 years ago to
Europe and China, and can be found in
many areas and cultures over the years.
Finished felt clothing products, like
scarves and coats, are soft and durable,
Elena Pozdeeva’s home studio bursts with the
colourful fruits of her labour – scarves, hats,
3D sculptures and wall hangings.
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 15
16 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
composed of one piece
and no stitching.
“I make all my own
patterns. e tricky
part is celebrating the
shrinkage. Dierent
things shrink at
dierent rates and
felting is a shrinking
process. When you
use the hot water
and soap you can
manipulate it. It will
shrink up to four
times its original
size,” she says. “It
takes about 40
hours to do a coat
and everything is
one of a kind. I dont like doing
the mass produced things.
e nished product can go
directly into the washing
machine, as it’s already been
shrunk.
Pozdeeva has now set a
new goal for herself – to take
what she knows and allow
others the chance to learn. She
would like to go to area farms
and teach them how to felt.
A lot of that extra wool
they have just goes in the
garbage,” she says. “I’d like to
show them how to wash it
and process it themselves.
You just need hands and
soap.
She also has some
experience in teaching art
and would like to do so
again.
“I want to make myself
useful and give back,” she
says. “Its less money than
other jobs but I’m more happy
because I can give more. In my
opinion, that’s the key to success.
With her talent for creating
and sharing her experiences,
Pozdeeva is already very
successful.
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Article by John Challis / Photography by Tomasz Szumski
S
o, hey, did you know it
snows in the winter in
Muskoka?
Yes, I’m being condescending.
But based on behaviour on the
roads, clearly the rst snowfall
of the season is a forgotten
phenomenon to many. Full
disclosure: Around our house,
even after decades in central
Ontario, that early blanket of
snow can come as a surprise.
“Damn. e lawn chairs are
still out ... and the barbecue is covered in
snow … the garden hose is frozen solid.
For some, the snow may actually come as a
genuinely unfamiliar condition. anks to a
certain pandemic, the majority of snowbirds
are unable or unwilling to contemplate their
winter migration. Oce complexes in the
city may not open until 2021. e work from
home option, so increasingly familiar these
days, could prompt a lot of summer residents
to try out the romance of winter in Muskoka.
Donelda Hayes, the Acting Deputy Mayor
for Muskoka Lakes Township says it’s a
challenge for the municipality. “Some
snowbirds may be coming up here for the
rst time in winter. And if the (COVID-19
case) numbers go up again, parents in the
city may want to pull their kids out of school
and come up here again.
In Lake of Bays, the speculation is the same.
“Time will tell,” Councillor Bob Lacroix says
of the numbers this winter. “But there are still
lots of people up here now (in
mid-September). eres more
trac on the highways;
Bracebridge and Huntsville are
just packed. eres a lot more
people than normal.
For those new to a Muskoka
winter, heres a few reminders
about life from November to
April: Muskokas average annual
snowfall is 333.9 cm (11 feet, if
you prefer Imperial), based on
trends over a 30-year period
calculated on the climate info site
eldoradoweather.com. It’s the norm for
December and January to experience close to
a metre of snow. e average low dips to about
–16° C in January, but it will frequently
plunge to –30° or colder. e record reached
past –40° C in at least two winters since the
1970s. From November to March, between
half and two-thirds of the days will be overcast.
row in a few freezing rain days and winter
weather can get on the nerves.
In early days, clearing town streets in Muskoka was a challenge that oen
saw roads covered with snow and huge snowbanks. This photo is in downtown
Bracebridge.
18 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
Photograph: Ken Veitch Collection
But on the positive side: A
chickadee may land on your
hand while youre out,
expecting a sunower seed
or a peanut. You may awake
one morning to billows of
snow that turn the evergreens
into marshmallow wonders.
Out on a trail, you’ll marvel
at the quiet and air you
never thought could smell so
fresh and clean.
ere is a certain amount
of knowledge needed to cope with a snowy winter. And that
doesnt seem to be universal. Witness the tale of a seasonal
resident asking a local if a cord of wood would be enough to heat
a home for the winter. Hint: If you use wood as a sole source of
heat, the woodstove will be burning 24 hours a day, 7 days a
week. ink 8 to 12 cords.
You need to start preparations now, before the snow begins to
threaten. Has the woodstove chimney been cleaned? If youre on
propane, is the exhaust clear of debris? Is your propane provider
aware youre going to be staying here? Did you clear the leaves
out of the eave troughs? Do you have portable chargers for your
electronic devices? Have you
tested the backup generator
… do you even have a
backup generator? Power
failures happen all year
round, but in winter they
carry more serious con-
sequences.
Kevin Dawe feels the
most important thing to
think about now is snow
clearing. If you have a
snowblower, a strong back
and a healthy heart, you can probably clear your driveway and
your walkways on your own. A lot of people, though, rely on
contracted snow removal. Dawe, who runs Generations
Landscaping and Excavation, says he starts getting calls by mid-
September, and most of his winter business is booked by
anksgiving.
Dawes eet of plows and snowblowers has been clearing
driveways and private roads, mostly in Glen Orchard, Bala and
Walkers Point, for about six years. Its tough work but its income
for him and his crew when the landscaping stops.
If you want a snow clearing contract that doesnt break the
Muskoka Airport’s snow plan, which must be approved by
Transport Canada, spells out a rigorous set of procedures.
This modied Linn tractor, owned by the Moore family of Falkenburg, was
one of the ways Muskokans were able to transport goods in early Muskoka
winters.
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 19
Photograph: Ken Veitch Collection
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bank, Dawe advises you check the condition
of your driveway, and what’s around it. A
proper crown on the prole of the driveway
means good water runo that will prevent
ice buildup. If you have a loose gravel
driveway, be prepared to see a lot of stones
strewn around the yard; no amount of care
taken plowing can prevent a blade or a
blower from grabbing gravel. If your propane
tanks are close to the driveway, you could be
billed for extra time clearing snow from
around the tanks.
And make sure the plow route is clear of
dog chains, lawn furniture or childrens toys
that could be hidden under the snow. “I
chewed up an aluminum ladder once,” Dawe
recalls. “My hydraulic blower just sucked
that thing up and chopped it into pieces; it
blew bits of aluminum all over the place.
Plows dont have radar.
ere is one local driveway that demands
a little more attention than most. It’s 1,829
metres long, and a 747 has been known to
land there occasionally.
Muskoka Airport’s snow plan, which must
be approved by Transport Canada, spells out
a rigorous set of procedures. After 2.5 cm (1
inch) of snow falls, a driver must patrol the
airstrip, completing a friction test – basically
hard braking measured by a decelerometer
tted to the truck – every 1000 feet. e
conditions are reported to Nav Canada,
which conveys details to pilots. Meanwhile, a
plow with a seven-metre (22 foot) blade
takes a run at the snow on the runway. It’s
followed by a mammoth snowblower to
scoop up the windrow and hurl it 60 metres
out of the way. Various melting compounds
are deposited on the asphalt if hard pack
snow or ice are present. Once the plowing is
done, a second inspection takes place to be
reported to Nav Canada.
On top of that operation, the
apron and taxi lanes have to
be cleared, along with the rest of the parking
area and walkways for sta and visitors.
Snow creates a lot of work, usually at a time
of year when the business volume is actually
down.
What will come of business at Muskoka
Airport this winter is a very large question
mark for CEO Len O’Connor. COVID-19
has played havoc with its operations. Fly
GTA and Porter suspended their ights
earlier in the year. Meanwhile, private
business ights were up 120 per cent.
“is winter will tell us a lot,” O’Connor
says. Business keeps growing, with a new
operation potentially starting up before the
snow ies. If year-round ights are allowed
to return, the airport may be getting
signicantly more
trac than
winters
normally see.
To plan for that increase, O’Connor says
maintenance is being boosted, with the
airstrip getting service 22 hours a day.
Homeowners will need to be more
prepared for bad weather than in the past.
Unusual weather patterns are increasingly
likely to occur thanks to climate change, says
Environment Canadas senior climatologist
David Phillips. It’s not just about warming,
he explains: climate change is creating greater
variability in the weather. Stronger winds can
turn a brief hailstorm into a destructive
force, for instance. And weather systems
tend to linger for longer periods of time, or
in Phillips’ words, “more time to exert its
misery.
In mild winters, warm air over an ice-
free Georgian Bay loads west
winds with moisture,
creating the lake eect
snowfalls that produce the
most snow. ere will, inevitably,
be one or two big snowstorms, and
every few years there are monsters.
A snowfall on Dec. 10, 1995
Muskoka’s average annual snowfall is 333.9 cm
(11 feet, if you prefer Imperial), based on trends
over a 30-year period.
Snow clearing creates a lot of work at Muskoka Airport, usually at a time of year when the business
volume is actually down.
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 21
22 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
shut Muskoka down with nearly a metre of
snow overnight.
When storms happen, you may nd
yourself shut in without power. e Simcoe
Muskoka District Health Unit recommends
you keep a survival kit that will last 72 hours,
including water, cash, crank or battery
powered lighting and radio, a rst-aid kit,
extra keys to the car and house, prescription
medication, baby formula if needed, and any
other necessities for people with special needs.
Our municipalities, fortunately, have been
through the worst that winter – and angry
ratepayers – can dole out. ey have annual
procedures that have already begun; winter
supplies of sand and salt were purchased back
in the summer.
e District of Muskokas “winter control”
budget sits at about $4.5 million, up nearly 5
per cent from 2019. at money primarily
trickles down to the area municipalities,
which do the balance of road plowing and
sanding. Roads crews are considered to be in
active winter readiness as of November 1, and
the coverage will continue to April 30.
Muskoka Lakes Mayor Phil Harding says
township plow routes are currently being
reviewed and changed or updated as needed.
A eet of vehicles is being checked and
serviced and road crews are getting their
refresher training. e whole winter roads
maintenance process is going digital, too.
Harding notes that his Townships plows will
be equipped with location tracking software
that will transmit the vehicles’ whereabouts
directly to the townships website, so
ratepayers will know “when to expect the
plow at your location.
As the autumn colours begin to break out,
speculation on the winter to come is a
favourite pastime. David Phillips says early
forecasts from the Farmers Almanac or folk
tales are good for conversation but not much
else. Environment Canada doesnt do its long-
range charting of the weather until November.
However, Phillips says there are a few
factors that are already in play that can aect
how winter plays out.
“Summer sometimes inuences winter, and
for us, this was the summer of summers,” he
says. Muskokas summer had 22 days with
temperatures above 30, while the norm is ve.
e region received 20 per cent more rain
than normal, which fed the forests and kept
them healthy. “e Great Lakes are warmer
than they have ever been,” he added. e
residual heat on water and land may slow the
arrival of autumn, he predicted (in spite of the
rst frost advisory on Sept. 14). He also
predicts brilliant fall colours, although they
may start later in the season.
Long range forecasts and folk tales may not
be much help as you prepare for winter. But
the bottom line is you do need to prepare – for
both the nasty side of winter, and all the fun
that awaits.
Our municipalities, fortunately, have been through the worst that winter — and angry ratepayers — can dole out. They have annual procedures that have
already begun; winter supplies of sand and salt were purchased back in the summer.
24 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
Article by Matt Driscoll / Photography by Kelly Holinshead
For the past seven years, Pam Carlaw and
Paul Sullivan have played host to the High Falls
Winter Games on their 200-acre property in
Bracebridge. Every year, a new event is added
to the mix, just to make sure the competitors
are on their toes.
F
or generations, the allure of wild
Muskoka has brought families together
for unique outdoor experiences.
Some families take the experience slightly
more seriously than others and fewer still go
as far as Pam Carlaw and Paul Sullivan.
For the past seven years, the couple has
played host to the High Falls Winter Games
on their 200-acre property in Bracebridge.
Endurance runs, axe throwing, scavenger
hunts, marksmanship competitions and a
poetry contest are just a few of the many
events that make up the annual challenge.
“e water boiling competition is the great
equalizer,” says Sullivan. “ey get two pieces
of wood, an axe, three matches, a 48 oz tin of
water and a one ounce bar of soap. eir job
is to build a re and make that water bubble
over.”
e competitors vie for the coveted Winter
Games plaque, but the real end goal is family
bonding. e games bring together the
couples four children and their partners, and
in more recent years, their three grandchildren
as well.
“Its so much fun and a real family party,
says Carlaw. “eyre all great kids but youd
better have your facts straight. eyve got a
competitive side and this really brings it out
in a good way.
e eight competitors, four couples all in
their 20s and 30s, come from as far away as
Australia to the High Falls Road property
every year on the weekend before Christmas
to tackle a range of physical and mental tests.
Originally from Toronto, the couple
purchased the property in 2013. ey had
previously owned a property on Birch Island
in Lake Muskoka but decided to move to the
region year-round and purchase a bigger
property.
“Its all about skill building and specically
the skill of living on a rural property,” says
Sullivan, whos been involved in forestry for
most of his life and has a degree in agriculture
from the University of Guelph. “e more
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 25
26 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
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skills you have, the more you’ll be able to
appreciate the outdoors. We started by
focusing on skills like axe throwing and log
splitting – things the old-time woodsmen
would have done to pass the time.
Sullivans children Eric and Emma and
Carlaw’s children Andrea and Emily have
been a blended family unit since the children
were in their early teens growing up in the
Leaside neighbourhood of Toronto.
“ey grew up with the same friends and
theyve always got along really well,” says
Carlaw. “In those early days we did a lot of
traveling and we found that it really brought
us closer as a family. ey grew up as cottage
and camp kids, so they love coming up here.
Now in addition to their partners – Jenna,
Jon, John and Ben – three grandchildren
come up for the games and a babysitter takes
over while the eight participants venture into
the frozen proving grounds.
Every year, Sullivan and Carlaw throw a
new event into the mix, just to make sure the
competitors are on their toes. Last years new
challenge was to create a serving tray using a
few tools and some rough cut lumber.
“We judged them on things like how tight
the joints were and the trays appearance, and
then we gave them an overall score,” says
Sullivan.
Another event involves participants being
given a single snowshoe and sent on a
scavenger hunt through the snow to nd the
other. Others include marksmanship with a
bow and arrow, BB gun or .22 (which requires
one of the partners to get a rearms Possession
and Acquisition License
to take part).
One contest began
with a desperate phone
call from a neighbour
claiming to be hurt
and lost in the
woods.
“It was
actually
part of a
search and
rescue event. We
had a neighbour hiding
in the woods who called to
say he had broken his leg
and was lost,” says
Sullivan. “ey had to go nd him but
everyone believed it was actually real at rst.
e year before that, the investment
challenge was the new addition to the games.
All of the contestants were given an amount
of money to invest over a ve-year term. e
only guidelines were the investment had to
be legal and trackable, which led most of
them to invest in the stock market. e
following years have seen the participants
using charts and graphs to outline the
outcomes.
“ey really went all over the place. Some
played it safe and some went very risky,” says
Carlaw. “Some went in for cannabis and lost
their shirts.
Another challenge involves one half of the
team competing in an endurance challenge
while the other pursues more
artistic endeavours in a poetry
writing competition. e
poems are then read over
dinner and all of them have
been kept for posterity. e
endurance challenge has
been somewhat tempered
over the years, as the
original version involved
repelling down an
icy gorge and
running
through knee-deep snow.
“It was a bit intense,” says Sullivan with a
chuckle. “We still havent lived that one
down.
e dierent competitions were originally
timed but it was felt the point of the games
– to truly appreciate the beauty of Muskoka
in winter and master the skills to enjoy the
outdoors here – was being lost in the rush.
Competitors no longer race against the clock
– with the exception of the water boiling
challenge. at event has seen times drop
from 15 minutes to boil down to just nine
minutes, last year.
e couples attend without fail every
winter, although Australian residents Ben and
Emily have had to attend virtually some years.
On another occasion, even a wedding
Endurance runs, axe throwing, scavenger hunts, marksmanship competitions and a poetry contest
are just a few of the many events that make up the annual challenge.
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 27
28 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
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between one of the couples couldnt get in
the way of the annual winter celebration. e
day after the nuptials all eight contestants
were back in Muskoka and ready for the
opening of the competition.
e planning always starts early and
Sullivan and Carlaw know after seven years
of competitions they need to up their game
each year. While healthy competition is a big
draw for the couples, camaraderie and family
spirit are the cornerstone of the High Falls
Winter Games.
A little healthy competition goes a long
way but they all really want to support each
other as much as possible,” says Carlaw.
“Even though our family might be scattered
all over the planet, the Winter Games really
helps to keep us a tightknit family.
While competitors vie for the coveted Winter Games plaque,
the real end goal is family bonding for the participants.
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30 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
Article by Meghan Smith / Photography by Andy Zeltkalns
M
uskoka is lled
with icons, both
natural and
manmade. Lakes, waterfalls
and rock formations coupled
with bridges, boats and
lookout towers shape the
memories of visitors and
locals, alike. In each season,
the iconic landscapes and
landmarks are altered. As the
seasons turn throughout the
year, each change brings a
new perspective.
Muskokas reputation as a
summer playground is well
earned. e multitude of
lakes, coupled with rugged
terrain make the region
perfect for boating, hiking,
cycling and generally,
escaping from the hustle and
bustle of daily life. From
spring to summer to fall to
winter, the small towns and
quaint villages throughout
Muskoka adapt to variable
temperatures, uctuating
populations and changing
weather.
Above: Bracebridge Falls in winter with the power station in the foreground. Below:
The same location in summer with lower water ow.
Places that are bustling hubs of activity
during the summer months become quieter,
with transient trac dropping after the
Labour Day and anksgiving holidays. As
nights turn colder, mornings include mist
rising from the rivers, lakes and marshes
across the region. As snow falls, trees become
lined in frost, ice peppers the edge of the
water and a hush settles on the landscape.
e contrast of seasons, of landscapes and
of manmade developments is a constant in
Muskoka. From one town to the next, the
beauty of Muskokas natural landscape has
been modied and inuenced by human
development. However, the wildness of
Muskokas environment has remained,
producing a unique composition of
contrasting scenes.
High Falls
Waterfalls are an undeniable force of
nature – the sheer power, the noise, the light
reecting and refracting o the surface as the
water cascades down over rocks. Along the
north branch of the Muskoka River, High
Falls plunges a steep 50-foot drop, making it
one of the highest waterfalls in the region.
Although a dam was constructed in 1948 to
capture hydro-electric power, the main falls
remain relatively intact.
While High Falls is the most visible, there
are an additional four waterfalls in the same
area. During the spring freshet, the roar of
water thundering down the rocks makes
High Falls an incredible site to visit. e
trailhead, accessible from Cedar Lane, is
somewhat hidden. e 2.4-kilometre hike
passes by Little High Falls, with a picturesque
walking bridge, before ending at High Falls.
During the height of the winter, High
Falls becomes a mass of ice, snow and icicles,
growing with each day as the rushing waters
freeze in the sub-zero temperatures. e trail
provides excellent snowshoeing or cross-
country skiing in winter and hiking, walking
or trail running through the summer.
Bracebridge Falls
Further down the north branch of the
Muskoka River, Bracebridge Falls is the nal
drop of the north branch of the river before
it joins the south branch and meets Lake
Muskoka. e falls are impressive, topped
by the iconic Silver Bridge and surrounded
by hydro stations, harnessing the power of
the water owing through the river.
e falls are located in downtown
Bracebridge, just o of Manitoba Street,
with the Bracebridge Bay Trail providing
scenic views of the bay and falls. e rich
history of the falls and the development of
Bracebridge are outlined in various plaques
along the trail. Bracebridge Falls, and the
other waterfalls in the Bracebridge area,
provided the hydro power necessary for
much of the local development through the
decades.
Winter sees a slowdown in seasonal
visitors but the frosted trees and steam rising
from the powerful churn of the falls are not
a sight to be missed. In December, the
Above: A frozen
cap of ice covers
the waterfall and
rocks at High
Falls. Below:
Regardless of the
season, there
always seems to
be a strong ow
of water at High
Falls.
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 31
32 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
annual Festival of Lights sees the lighting of
trees and the Silver Bridge. In summer, the
Bracebridge Falls and Bracebridge Bay Park
are host to a multitude of events, none more
well-attended than the annual Canada Day
reworks, igniting beautifully above the
Silver Bridge and falls.
Lady Muskoka
For over 50 years, the Lady Muskoka has
graced the Muskoka River and Lake Muskoka
with its presence. e three-level, 104-foot
boat holds up to 300 passengers per cruise,
providing a leisurely look at cottages, wildlife
and the nearby Millionaires Row.
Summertime cruises, complete with
lunch or dinner and stunning sunsets on
Lake Muskoka, give passengers a glimpse of
the seasonal homes of the wealthy Muskoka
residents. e heritage homes built in the
last century along the route and the nearby
private islands are exceptional.
As winter takes hold in Bracebridge, ice
creeping along the riverbanks and owing
down the river, the Lady Muskoka remains
docked at the Quality Inn, awaiting her next
voyage in the spring. Travelling up the
Muskoka River from Lake Muskoka is not a
swift journey, taking approximately 40
minutes.
Gravenhurst Bay
Steamships represent another iconic piece
of Muskoka and Muskokas history as a
tourist destination. ey were rst introduced
to the Muskoka lakes in the late 1800s, as
settlers required a way to traverse the
territory, having arrived by steam train. As
hotels and resorts were built on the many
water access properties, steamship travel
ourished until the 1930s, when roadways
became more passable.
Steamships re-entered Muskoka as a
commercial vessel with the restoration and
relaunch of the Segwun in 1981 by the
Muskoka Lakes Navigation and Hotel
Company Limited, now owned by the
Muskoka Steamship and Historical Society.
In 1993, the company took on the operation
of the heritage steam yacht Wanda III and in
2002 launched an entirely new vessel,
Wenonah II.
During the sailing season, both Segwun
and Wenonah II can be seen passing along
various routes of the Muskoka lakes. Segwun
has made the long journey all the way up the
Muskoka River to Bracebridge Bay, but not
since 1983 when a low bridge was
constructed, preventing her passing.
roughout the winter, the ships of the
Muskoka Steamship and Historical Society
are moored at Gravenhurst Bay. As thick ice
Above: The popular cruise boats
Segwun
and
Wenonah
are frozen in place at their Gravenhurst Bay berth. Below: With the coming of summer, these
popular attractions are ready to cruise with passengers.
encrusts the shallow bay and snow coats their
decks, the ships could almost be mistaken for
those lost in the Arctic, found years later as
the snows shift. Luckily, winter soon gives
way to spring and the ships can recommence
their regular journeys, ferrying tourists to the
many unique sights of Muskokas lakes.
Dorset
Located to the east of Lake of Bays, the
hamlet of Dorset has a year-round population
of 500 residents, swelling in the summer
months. e quaint village is a dividing line
between the District of Muskoka and the
County of Haliburton, technically split
directly at the Main Street.
e small community was developed with
partnership and dedication and both
municipalities work together in ensuring
Dorsets prosperity. In early times, like much
of Muskoka, settlers tried to make a living
rst with logging, and then farming before
tourism nally became the more viable
industry. No matter the season, tourists can
enjoy the local shops and artisans along with
the beautiful natural backdrop of clear blue
water, dense forests and open air. Dorset
Lookout Tower at the top of Tower Hill
draws crowds, particularly during the change
of the fall colours, for the views of the many
breathtaking vistas.
Similar to the Muskoka Steamship and
Historical Society’s refurbishment of Segwun,
Dorset and Lake of Bays were at one time
regularly visited by steamships, large and
small. Starting in 1925, SS Bigwin delivered
visitors from the mainland
to Bigwin Inn on Bigwin
Island. As tourism changed,
the SS Bigwin fell into
disuse and eventually sat
partially submerged at the
docks of Bigwin Inn.
In 1991, a group of Lake
of Bays cottagers and
residents began work to
purchase and restore the SS
Bigwin to its former glory.
e Lake of Bays Marine Museum and
Navigation Society acquired use of property
in the heart of Dorset with a rich nautical
history to complete the restoration project
and to later become a permanent docking
facility. In November 2012, the SS Bigwin
once again set sail on Lake of Bays to pass
preliminary engine tests. e ship was
ocially relaunched to the public in July of
2013 and continues to provide public and
private cruises.
Lions Lookout
Although there are no mountains in
Muskoka, elevation can change drastically
with the hills and rock formations
Le: The cut in Dorset with the
S.S. Bigwin
, in the
background, pulled from the water for the winter. Right: The
S.S. Bigwin
waiting to take passengers on a cruise from its
Dorset dock.
Above: Docked at the convergence of the North Branch and South Branch of the Muskoka River, the
Lady Muskoka
awaits spring thaw before it will be ready to cruise. Below: For over 50 years, the
Lady Muskoka
has graced the Muskoka River and Lake Muskoka with its presence.
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 33
34 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
throughout the region. Often accessible by
hiking or walking trail, the lofty vantage
points all over Muskoka provide breathtaking
views of the nearby communities and lakes,
in any season.
Lions Lookout is one such vantage point.
Located on a 1.5-kilometre trail, accessible
from the Canada Summit Centre in
Huntsville, the trail follows Camp Kitchen
Road along the Muskoka River to Fairy
Lake. Before the steep climb to the top of
the lookout, the trail crosses the railway
tracks of the Portage Flyer, the worlds
smallest commercial railroad.
In winter or in summer, the panorama
from the top of Lions Lookout is striking.
e lookout has been maintained by the
local Lions Club since 1968 for residents
and visitors to enjoy. Viewing the town of
Huntsville and the Muskoka River
meandering through its core or looking out
to Fairy Lake and beyond, the combination
of natural and urban provides a contrasted
perspective of all Muskoka has to oer.
The Clis at Skeleton Bay
Highway 141 covers a stretch of rural
Muskoka area from Utterson to just north of
MacTier. e route snakes through rugged
rock and forests, passing by many smaller
lakes and hugging the edge of Lake Rosseau
as the highway passes through the village of
Above: The vista from the Lions Lookout is wide and expansive in the winter without any leaves on
the trees. Below: The Lions Lookout is a popular north Muskoka location to see the view from a
Huntsville highpoint in summer.
The four corners of Highway 141, at Rice Street and Cardwell
Road, host the Rosseau General Store, Hilltop Interiors,
Crossroads Restaurant and the local post oce with a much
dierent look between summer and winter.
Rosseau. e 78-kilometre route is perfect
for a leisurely Sunday drive in every season.
Much of the area is unpopulated, giving
long sight lines of the prominent Canadian
Shield, dotted with evergreens and, at some
points, jutting seemingly directly out of
Lake Rosseau. e large stretches of natural
landscape are punctuated by small pockets of
settlement, often hidden among the trees,
down small laneways. Each curve, hill and
sweep of the road presents a new adventure,
whether cycling, driving, motorcycling or
snowmobiling.
Rosseau
Similarly, to Dorset, Rosseau rests on the
edge of two municipalities, Muskoka Lakes
and Seguin, between two dierent districts,
Muskoka and Parry Sound. e small
community boasts rich history in Muskoka
and in Ontario. Rosseau was a major
thoroughfare in connecting to more northern
communities, specically those along the
now defunct Rosseau-Nipissing Road.
Settlers, despite the challenges of the terrain
and the changing seasons, built homes in
Rosseau, many of which are still in use by
later generations today.
Along the route to the village are many
summer camps and Rosseau Lake College.
e four corners of Highway 141, at Rice
Street and Cardwell Road, host the Rosseau
General Store, Hilltop Interiors, Crossroads
Restaurant and the local post oce. Sitting
at the most northern part of Lake Rosseau,
the village of Rosseau welcomes thousands
of tourists and cottagers in the summer
months and enjoys a more relaxing pace
during the winter.
e rich history of Muskokas settlement
and the changing industries have forever
marked the region. Muskoka is a patchwork
of communities, landscapes, natural wonders
and human attractions. Whether it is the
height of hot, sunny summers or the deep
winter’s frigid brilliance, Muskokas
contrasting natural and manmade wonders
are worth visiting.
The clis at Skeleton Bay on Lake Rosseau make an amazing venue for photos whether in the winter
(Above) or the summer (Below). They are located just south of the Village of Rosseau, o Hwy. 141.
28 MANITOBA STREET
BRACEBRIDGE | 705-637-0204
It’s getting cooler
and we’ve stocked up
with Tilley toques
and Tilley winter hats
It’s getting cooler
(The warm hats with hide-away ear warmers
– both stylish and practical.)
KEEP WARM THIS WINTER
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 35
36 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
The waterfront at Bigwin Inn was a busy spot with boathouse and dock
infrastructure to support the arrival of steamers including the steam yacht,
S.S. Bigwin
.
“B
igwin Inn lends prestige to our
District because it enjoys a
continent-wide reputation as the
largest and most attractive summer resort in
America,” wrote Captain Levi Fraser in his
1940s book e History of Muskoka.
e steamship captain knew Muskoka
intimately from lifelong work on the lakes
and as a visionary municipal leader with a
district-wide perspective. With Bigwin Inn
on an island, Captain Fraser knew rst-hand
about the resort’s North American renown,
having ferried thousands of notables across
Lake of Bays to this summer paradise,
including aboard legendary Wanda III when
she was part of the Bigwin eet.
Great fanfare had accompanied Bigwin
Inns long-awaited opening in June 1920.
Exceptional in size, design, style and culture,
the Lake of Bays colossus, built by
entrepreneur Charles Orlando Shaw, was the
British Empires largest resort hotel,
accommodating over 500 guests. Top chefs,
modern kitchens and extensive sta (one
waitress for each table) could serve more than
750 diners at once in the fabulous 12-sided
“Indian Head” dining room. Bigwin Farm in
Huntsville sent vegetables, fruit and dairy
products daily aboard Shaw’s steamships,
which also picked up clean linens and towels
laundered in town. e resort was an
extensive, community-wide operation.
Bigwin Inn surpassed all expectations in
high fashion and patrons of C.O. Shaws
record-setting resort ocked north from his
own native land, the United States. Today,
Huntsville’s train station may seem oddly
situated, well below the main street, but in
the Golden Age of steam, arriving trainloads
of vacationers with coveted Bigwin Inn
reservations had only to leisurely descend the
short distance downhill from their Grand
By J. Patrick Boyer
Trunks of formal attire for weeks-long stays at Bigwin Inn were
commonplace when the resort opened. The steamer
Iroquois
delivers
guests and prepares to board excursionists.
Bigwin Inn guests arriving from across North American and beyond aboard either of C.O. Shaw’s steamships
Iroquois
or
Mohawk Belle
gasped with
delight to see appearing before them on Lake of Bays these uniquely imposing, elegant and reproof Bigwin Island structures.
Photograph:
Douglas Graham McTaggart Collection
Photograph: Muskoka Heritage Place, Huntsville
Photograph: Douglas Graham McTaggart Collection
Trunk Railway coaches, admiring scenery
while horse-drawn wagons transferred their
large trunks for month-long stays to a wharf-
side steamer such as the Algonquin, awaiting
them on Hunter’s Bay.
Muskoka vacationing had advanced in
tandem with the steam era. Passengers arriving
in easy comfort by steam train from across the
continent moved in stately fashion through
Huntsville as a swing bridge let their steamer
pass. e canal dredged in 1887 between
Fairy and Peninsula lakes enabled the large
vessel to carry them through dramatic scenery.
A waiting steam-train at North Portage gave
them a wilderness wonderland adventure as
the smallest commercially operated railway in
the world” climbed 103 feet over the mere
5/8ths of a mile to South Portage and higher
Lake of Bays.
Another steamship, such as the Iroquois or
Mohawk Belle, then transported them toward
Bigwin Island as spectacular structures,
grander and more extravagant than anything
ever before in Muskoka, came into view. ey
landed to well-orchestrated welcomes. eir
trunks were discreetly moved by uniformed
sta to their allotted spacious and well-
appointed rooms in the East Lodge, West
Lodge or free-standing stone cottages. Quiet
and privacy awaited in these quarters,
separated as they were from the Rotunda,
dancing pavilion, dining room and other
facilities, though connected by covered
pathways.
Bigwin Inn opened just as Prohibition
became law, but it was a “dry” hotel anyway
because C.O. had become a prohibitionist
when running a leather tannery in Cheboygan,
Michigan. Guests brought clandestine
supplies in their luggage and bellboys made
fortunes in tips discreetly bringing ice and
mix to their exquisitely private rooms. At
Bigwin Inn, one way or another, everything
worked to perfection.
e on-island experience was so exceptional
that, as Captain Fraser observed in the 1940s,
guests have fallen into habit of coming back
year after year.” He named many of the eras
tycoons and celebrities as examples, a number
having shown up 23 consecutive seasons! By
the same token, Shaws loyal and long-serving
sta infused Bigwin Inn with familiar
stability. e rich and famous were
comfortably at home on their island paradise.
Wanting to return the coming season, theyd
learned to book well ahead.
Bigwin Inn deserved its stellar reputation.
It was no run-of-the-mill addition to
Muskokas existing array of holiday
accommodations. e only other resort in its
league was e Royal Muskoka on Lake
Rosseau, a magnet to plutocrats for two
decades before Shaws Lake of Bays gem
appeared on the scene. Both well-publicized
resorts catapulted the Muskoka vacation
experience, already famous as early as the
1880s, into the stratosphere.
Lieutenant Perry Deters and his wife
arrived from Los Angeles in 1942, their rst
time in Canada. eyd never heard about
Muskoka or its famous resort until a Chicago
friend tipped them o. ey were so surprised
and impressed by lavish Bigwin Inn that,
upon leaving, declared their rst visit would
not be their last.
“It would seem that Muskoka needs a more
intensive and enthusiastic
program or system for
advertising its wares,” concluded
Fraser, “to let more of the world
know that Muskoka ranks rst
among vacation centres of
America.” e captain listed
what made life in Muskoka
enjoyable: sunshine, pure air,
cool nights, pure spring water in
abundance, plenty of choice
food, beds in which a king or
queen could relax to their heart’s
content. Ones choice of sports,
he added, included golf, tennis,
bathing, swimming, sailing,
canoeing, shing, or hiking.
By this date, all parts of Muskoka were
easily accessible. Whether at Bigwin, the
Royal Muskoka or the many other resorts and
camps oering a full range of accommodations,
the district oered freedom from demands of
city life that could match anyones budget.
But Bigwin Inn had become Muskokas
agship, a denite upgrade on the Royal
Muskokas model of convenient steam era
travel to an island club for societys movers
and shakers.
For decades, Bigwin Inn indelibly
rearmed the prestigious status of Muskoka
vacationing by staying focused and
innovating. C.O. Shaw implemented Capt.
Fraser’s recommendation for more intensive
advertising. Engaging promotional lms
shot at Bigwin were shown in American
movie theatres, and yers and newspaper
ads drew attention as Hollywood promoted
its new movies. By mid-century, 65 per cent
of Bigwins guests came from the United
States. And if Americans
liked it, Canadians would
too.
e saga of Bigwin Inn is
inseparable from the career of
its creator, Charles Shaw, a
man who did so much to
make Muskoka famous yet
who seems an enigma today.
Charles Orlando Shaw, a
virtuoso cornet player since
childhood and a Boston-
trained civil engineer, was
born at Dexter, Maine in
1859 and raised to be a
tanning industry player in the
Charles O. Shaw was a man
who did much to make
Muskoka famous.
Owner-operator Charles Orlando Shaw (second from right) enjoys the amiable company of prominent
male guests in Bigwin Inn’s spacious Rotunda. Despite all the wood in this interior, Shaw was at the
North American vanguard of ensuring re-resistant construction.
Photograph: Douglas Graham McTaggart Collection
Photograph: Muskoka Heritage Place, Huntsville
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 37
705.645.4294 TF: 866.645.4294
STORE: 228 TAYLOR RD., BRACEBRIDGE
OFFICE: 1646 WINHARA RD., GRAVENHURST
38 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
Shaw familys generations-long business. In
1890 Charles and wife, Jennie Lavinia Abbott,
a renowned musician in her own right,
relocated with their daughters Pauline and
Jennifer, to Cheboygan, Michigan.
As a tannery specialist and civil engineer,
Shaw would design and oversee construction
of a new tanning plant for the Pster and
Vogel Leather Company. e project created
a company town of more than 30 buildings
on 25 acres along the riverbank. e land had
been donated by Cheboygan council as
incentive to build a tannery, councillors
guring best use of their areas hemlock forests
was the tannin in the trees’ bark. When
extracted and combined in a vat with raw
hides, tannic acid creates a chemical reaction
that cures the leather while preventing its
decomposition.
Shaw thrilled to the size of the operation.
e Cheboygan tannery had capacity to tan a
thousand hides a day. A spur rail line
connected the tannery oor to tracks of the
Michigan Central, bringing in raw hides and
taking out tanned leather for boots and
industrial drive belts. In addition to everything
needed for producing leather, the complete
community boasted a company-owned and
operated general store, hospital, school,
boarding houses, apartments, water tower
and, essential in the 1890s mid-west, a saloon.
A number of almost identical company-
owned houses were rented to workers with
families. By 1894, besides Charles, the place
employed some 250 men. e company had
oces across the U.S. and in Europe.
At this northern Michigan town, Charless
inherited understanding of tanning from his
familys smaller operations rapidly expanded
in new areas. He learned how a company
could control its workers. He discovered how
to operate a tight relationship with a
municipality. His experience with men
staggering to work from the companys own
saloon made him a prohibitionist. And hed
gained condence that he could run just
about anything.
In autumn 1898, Charles received urgent
word from cousin William Sutherland Shaw
imploring him to come to Huntsville and
help tackle mounting problems at his
Muskoka tanneries. Back in 1890, Huntsville
council had granted William a 10-year tax
exemption “in consideration of establishing a
tannery in the village.” In 1891, in partnership
with David Alexander, he built the Shaw-
Cassils tannery on Center Street by the
Muskoka River and, while at it, constructed a
second tanning facility farther downstream
on the same river in Bracebridge.
Now, seven years on, C.O. Shaw and his
family, which included a son also named
Charles born at Cheboygan, arrived in
Huntsville. He could readily have imagined
himself still in Dexter, or Cheboygan. e
North Muskoka scenery, appearance of
Huntsville, its sawmill and tanning economy,
and local enthusiasm for hunting and shing
were common to all three towns nestling
along the same 45th latitude.
Photograph: Douglas Graham McTaggart Collection
White linen service, a waitress for each table who memorized orders, stylish formal attire for
breakfast, and the comforting elegance of Art Deco design were among the compelling attributes of
Bigwin’s Indian Head dining room.
e trouble-shooter found
his Canadian cousin at an
impasse, facing workers
demanding more pay. ey
were slowing down work,
jeopardizing valuable hides
part-way through curing.
Unlike his cousin, however,
Charles was seasoned in
hardball American industrial
relations, where owners ran
tanneries like any other
manufacturing plant, mine or
mill. e clear-eyed paladin knew just what
to do.
After quickly reviewing the numbers, he
expressed dismay over the plant’s tawdry
output and the tanners’ declining productivity.
He pushed the men to work harder than most
in Muskokas easygoing workforce were
accustomed. If they showed up late for work,
theyd be sent home for the day without pay.
eyd have daily and weekly production
quotas to meet.
In reply, they downed tools and walked o
the job, upset with an autocratic Yankee’s
regulations. e Huntsville Forester reported
workers complaining of being so worn out by
workdays end they were “almost unable to
walk home.” Huntsville’s Reeve Tom Goldie
and local clergymen inserted themselves as
go-betweens, or conciliators, in North
Muskokas rst industrial stoppage. But
Charles Shaw said no time could be wasted
waiting for divine intervention. He looked at
the politician and the clerics without blinking,
stating hed simply hire an entire new
workforce if the men didnt return to their
jobs. After their week-long strike, the men
returned to the tannery, picked up their tools,
and resumed work at the unchanged pay rate.
And that’s about where the
Muskoka saga of C.O. Shaw
as hard-bitten American
business tycoon generally
begins. In the words of
Douglas McTaggart, author
of the denitive history of
Bigwin Inn, “upon arrival in
Huntsville Shaw appeared to
be quite the autocratic individual. … he cast
himself as a martinet in the business world.
But McTaggart under-standably looked
beyond that general perception because being
a strict authoritarian could not alone account
for C.O. Shaws unique accomplishments.
e author, whod experienced Bigwin Inn
from childhood summers on Lake of Bays,
saw in Shaw “a man of great vision,” one who
refused to compromise the integrity of work
done under his name,” possessing “unrelenting
commitment to excellence,” and having great
“business acumen,” which included getting
municipal tax exemptions from Huntsville
and Bracebridge councils.
e simple fact is that Charles Shaw rose
to prominence as a major player in North
Americas tanning industry, a crude and foul
business. He ran operations with an iron
hand, as his thousands of employees over the
years would attest. Yet the same man made
his tanneries reproof, hired more workers,
built company housing for his Huntsville
tanners as hed done at Cheboygan, and
negotiated with Canada Life Assurance
Company its rst-ever group policy, issued
January 12, 1920 for $300,000, covering 30
key employees. He deeply cared about
children. He was active in community life.
He displayed high sensitivity for music and
had married a woman of great musical talent
of her own. Lavinia, a contralto, for years led
the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Choir.
Other interests found her in Huntsville’s
Literary Club.
An alpha male, C.O. was wiry, kept his
hair cropped short, wore bowties and was
physically strong. Yet that middle name lent
his character a romantic dimension.
Charles Orlando Shaw was a Muskoka
exotic.
He was, moreover, in Muskoka to stay.
Charles became vice-president of the
company upon arrival in Huntsville. By
1905, hed consolidated ownership, become
president and general manager, and
reorganized and renamed the company to t
his grander vision. Local farming communities
protably sold him hides from their
slaughtered livestock and tanning bark from
their hemlock stands to cure them. Distant
Argentinian cattlemen exported hides to his
ecient tanneries in Bracebridge and
Huntsville. Combined with Muskoka Leather
Companys tannery in Bracebridge, the three
accounted for the largest leather production
in the British Empire.
C.O. applied more Cheboygan lessons to
Muskoka. He rebuilt and expanded his
Huntsville and Bracebridge tanneries with
reproof concrete. He increased international
leather sales from a head oce in Montreal,
taking full advantage of British Empire trade
preferences. He changed the business name
from Shaw-Cassils to the more broadly
Photograph: Robert McLennan
Above: Bigwin Inn opened a century ago in June 2020 to much fanfare, including
music provided by C.O. Shaw’s already famous Anglo-Canadian Concert Band which
performed by invitation at the CNE Grandstand. Le: Jennie Lavinia Abbott, a
renowned musician in her own right, was the wife of Bigwin owner C.O. Shaw.
Photograph: J. Mills Collection, Muskoka Heritage Place
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 39
40 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
appealing Anglo-Canadian Leather
Company.
Under that name, Shaw happily and
unstintingly fostered formation of the
Anglo-Canadian Concert Band from
talented musicians at his Huntsville
tannery, poor immigrants from Italy with
familiar but battered instruments. He
bought them swank uniforms and
expensive new instruments. He himself
played rst coronet. He imported talent,
including top clarinettist E.A. Wall Sr.
from Chicago. He landed pre-eminent
American band leader Herbert L. Clarke
with a ve-year $75,000 (present value,
$2,850,000) contract.
Besides conducting, renowned
composer Clarke wrote many pieces while
living in Huntsville, including Lake of
Bays, Twilight Dreams, Lavinia in honour
of Shaws wife and Helen for his
granddaughter. Clarkes march Bigwin,
played during the band’s acclaimed
performance at 1919’s CNE grandstand
show in Toronto, was part of the resort’s
prelaunch publicity. Huntsvilles Anglo-
Canadian Band became internationally
renowned, thanks to radio broadcasts across
Canada and as far south as Miami – another
way C.O. Shaw was putting Muskoka on the
map. To everyone’s delight but nobodys
surprise, next year music by the Anglo-
Canadian Concert Band drifted across Lake of
Bays from Bigwin Inn.
Shaws inuence extended with his
economic and political power. His tanneries
in Huntsville and Bracebridge, steadily
generating wealth, provided a $70,000 yearly
payroll – by far Muskokas largest – for Anglo-
Canadians 150 employees. Funds owed to
suppliers, municipal coers (once taxes began
to be paid), the treasuries of railway companies
and the pockets of teamsters. He meshed
municipal government and local industry. He
got himself elected to Huntsville council.
Exemplifying what “hands-on” management
means, relentlessly energetic Shaw was a hard-
driving, can-do American engineer and
entrepreneur with good taste, musical talent
and a touch of class.
With his Anglo-Canadian tanneries well
anchored in the global leather business, and
his Anglo-Canadian Concert Band bringing
pleasure and renown, C.O. Shaw next
advanced into the transportation and
accommodation businesses.
In 1905, he gained control of Huntsville
and Lake of Bays Navigation Company,
backed by nancial resources from his high
production tanneries. Its steam era eet of
inland ships and railway at the Portage
dominated transport throughout Huntsvilles
hinterland.
In 1907, he learned all about resorts when
assisting the Canadian Railway News
Company build its upscale $195,000 WaWa
Hotel on the east side of Lake of Bays. Shaw’s
involvement was key, given his transportation
monopoly between Huntsville’s train station
and Lake of Bays resorts.
In 1910, he contemplated his integrated
transport system and the continuously
escalating success of numerous Lake of Bays
resorts – Gouldie House, Hotel Britannia,
Ronville Lodge, Iroquois Hotel, Ganoseyo,
Port Cunnington Lodge, New Moon Lodge,
Burlmarie House, Langton House, White
House and Point Pleasant – and envisaged
tying all these elements together more
eectively by a trophy destination: a
spectacular tourist hotel of his own.
In 1911, he bought the largest island
in the lake, Bigwin, mid-channel in the
northern part of the lake and special to
the Ojibwe people for its communal life,
sacred for its three burial grounds. e
only way eager guests and all their
luggage could arrive would be on one of
Shaws steamers.
e redevelopment of Patmore House
lodge as Hotel Britannia particularly
captivated Shaw by its artful integrity of
design. Britannias owner, omas J.
White, introduced C.O. to his architect,
John Wilson, a fellow resident of
Collingwood. Already Simcoe Countys
top architect, Wilson was rapidly
becoming one of Canadas pre-eminent
designers.
And the magic began. e visionary
civil engineer and innovative architect
mirrored each other as they shared ideas
and outlooks. Shaw described his vision
for Bigwin Inn – its bold nature, extensive
use of space, a complete community like
hed created in Cheboygan, and direct
and continuing expression of Bigwin Island’s
Aboriginal importance. Receptive Wilson
oered ideas for turning this dream into
reality.
Having lived most of his life along the
45th parallel in Dexter, Cheboygan and
Huntsville, Shaw knew what a northern
hinterland style required, and so did Wilson.
eyd use local materials – wood, stone,
gravel from the Tapley farm. ey’d honour
Indigenous people. eyd pioneer with steel
reinforced concrete, mortar, huge spaces,
large wood beams and extensive masonry
using Muskoka rock – blending diverse but
complementary designs. Together they
opened a new chapter in Canadian
architecture and North American resort life.
Once underway, Bigwin came in for
derision as Toronto dailies mocked the idea of
such a high-end resort in the provinces
backwaters. Following the Toronto Star’s cue,
locals gleefully dubbed the monumental but
languishing project “Shaws Folly.
Construction dragged not only because of
new uses of special materials. Shaws
unprecedented standards, Wilsons innovative
Photograph: Douglas Graham McTaggart Collection
Ample supplies of pure spring water (100,000 gallons) for
Bigwin Inn’s extensive operations came from this water
tower but the source of the springs themselves, high on an
island, remains a mystery.
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 41
42 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
excelrailings.ca
705-646-2508
STYLE
DESIGN
INNOVATION
structures and exacting
specications, complications of
island work and the projects
immense scale, all contributed to
delays. As well, the workers
needed were absent, overseas as
soldiers, from 1914 to 1918.
C.O., who enjoyed solving
problems, arranged for Canadian
wartime civilian prisoners,
interned by Ottawa as “enemy
aliens” because they’d earlier
immigrated from a now belligerent nation, to
continue the project on Bigwin (their tents
and cookstove in a wired-fenced compound)
– just as others had been “paroled” from
northern Ontarios Kapuskasing concentration
camp to work in one of Bracebridges
undermanned tanneries. ere were always
setbacks: the war over, men came home to
resume work, but spread Spanish Flu that
killed several hundred Muskokans, including
stone masons working on Bigwin Inn.
Undeterred, C.O. relied on the American
playbook: get ’er done, open the chequebook
and play hard, because nothing succeeds like
success and doubters can be won over.
ose Toronto papers? Joseph Atkinson,
owner of the Star, began coming to Bigwin
Inn with his entourage in 1922 and, for the
rest of his life (to 1948), was one of Bigwins
biggest boosters and best customers. e
sceptical locals? Muskokans delighted to get
the thousands of paycheques and paid
invoices owing from Miss Collins, Shaw’s
capable long-time secretary, while basking in
the glow of celebrated notables in their midst.
Concrete and stone buildings cost far more
than the traditional wood-frame construction
of Muskoka resorts. But they had substance
and style beyond anything else
in the District. ey would keep
Bigwin standing while other
Muskoka wood-frame resorts
vanished in ames. In August
1923, the prestigious WaWa
Hotel disappeared in a blaze,
claiming the lives of nine female
guests and sta. An inquest
recommended future resorts
consist of multiple buildings
rather than a single rambling
structure, the typical Muskoka pattern.
Across the lake Bigwin Inns many
buildings, linked by covered walkways, not
only made it distinctly dierent – a colony of
special venues having their individual
character – but showed Shaw, whod do
anything to prevent re, had already adopted
that idea about many separate buildings part
of his plan – a full decade before the coroners
recommendation. And though C.O. didnt
play golf, he liked how the fairways of Bigwins
18-hole course, in addition to satisfying
guests, served as rebreaks on the heavily
wooded island.
Photograph: Jennifer Mills
With a full-regalia show to enchant Bigwin guests (and C.O. Shaw, at right),
internationally celebrated First Nation bass-baritone Os-Ke-Non-Ton knew how
to impress audiences in London, New York and Lake of Bays.
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Serving Muskoka Lakes
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CALL FOR ALL YOUR
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P.O. Box 330, Bracebridge, ON P1L 1T7
705.645.8881
admin@cedarbeachgroup.ca
THE PLACE TO SHOP
IN MUSKOKA
OPEN 6 DAYS A WEEK
( CLOSED MONDAY )
10:00am - 4:00pm
MOOSE FEATHERS GIFT SHOP
4080 HWY. 118 West, Port Carling, ON
705 762 1232
Tour our Morgan Davis printing museum
and learn about the origin of printing.
UNIQUE GIFTS
FOR HOME AND COTTAGE
Kitchenware, jewellery, lotions,
women’s fashions, purses,
Chelsea Chocolates, games,
assorted cards for every occasion.
Visit our kiddy corner for books,
beach toys, etc.
Shaws fulsome embrace of Indigenous
realities began with the resort name honouring
Chippewa Chief Bigwin, whose traditional
Muskoka lands these were. It included Indian
motifs worked into the resorts woodwork and
poured concrete designs, Bigwin Inns wigwam-
canoe-and-island logo on place settings and
stationery, and cultural activities featuring
internationally celebrated First Nation bass-
baritone singer Os-Ke-Non-Ton.
It was not happenstance that Bigwin Inns
emergence coincided with the Group of Seven
simultaneously projecting an authentic
Canadian atmosphere through refreshingly
bold artistic expression in the enduring spirit of
Tom omson whod operated from Huntsville
when painting in Algonquin Park. Shaw and
Wilson designed a contributing element to the
exhilarating cultural mood astir in Canada.
Charles Orlando Shaw stood apart from
Muskokans, even as he became central to
them and the entire community. He was an
American with zeal, know-how and
uninching determination. He sought to
bring out the best in people. He kept an eye
out for talent and, when nding it, encouraged
its fullest development. He refused to
compromise on quality in whatever of the
many realms he engaged – tanning leather,
making music, providing transportation
services or creating resort accommodation.
Bigwin Inn appeared in the Canadian
wilderness as North Americas pre-eminent
summer resort and ourished for more than
half a century, then fell silent, its unique
structures haunting remnants of a now lost
epoch. Steamships gave way to motorboats,
resort hotels to cottages, and elegant style to
casual informality.
Today, Captain Fraser’s out-of-print 1942
book, edited by Muskoka steamship historian
Richard Tatley, has been republished with
photos as A Steamboat Captain’s History of
Muskoka. Steamer Wanda III has become
central to a new exhibit hall at Muskoka
Discovery Centre in Gravenhurst and,
converted for present standards, again takes
vacationers on cruises. Bigwin Island, vault of
Indigenous and Bigwin Inn heritage,
continues as a draw with contemporary
mixtures of Muskoka seasonal vacationing.
And vacationland Muskoka retains its unique
cache.
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 43
44 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
Article by Meghan Smith / Photography by Tomasz Szumski
D
og sledding may not be the rst winter sport to come to
mind. However, it is quintessentially Canadian. Before
snowmobiles, dogs aided in the delivery of mail, food,
equipment and other supplies to communities cut o from
traditional modes of transport in the winter months. Across
Canada, northern Canada in particular, winters can be classied as
harsh with signicant snowfalls, icy conditions and frigid
temperatures.
While technology may have reduced the impact of snowstorms
overall, daily functions can quickly come to a halt when winter
weather becomes a factor. e reality of a dicult winter
climate is that individuals and businesses must adapt. No
matter the conditions, there are many services that
continue to be expected by the community. A hardy
team of Siberian Huskies can move quickly,
over long distances and through rugged
terrain.
e Seguin Sled Dog Mail Run is a
tribute to the energy, determination
and hardiness of the breed.
Huskies are a breed known for
their personality, their beauty and
their ability to run. Intelligent
and independent, huskies are
known to develop special bonds
with their people. eir friendly,
outgoing nature, along with their
playful mischievousness, makes them
more than just a pet. Huskies are a
member of the family.
Elsie Chadwick was the archivist for the
Siberian Husky Club of Canada and an
enthusiast about all things Siberian Husky.
Although she was never much into racing herself,
Chadwick took trips to Alaska, visited
museums and kennels, chronicled pedigrees,
wrote articles on the history of the breed and
helped to promote dog rescue and adoption.
“Elsie came up with the idea of the Seguin
Sled Dog Mail Run at her cottage near
Humphrey,” shares Colleen Heibein, musher
and Carling Township resident. “She
wanted to have a recreational Siberian
Husky dogsledding event that
recognized the past tradition of teams
of dogs pulling sleds loaded with the
mail and she wanted to showcase the
Siberian Husky breed.
Heibein is a retired teacher who has
owned huskies of her own since 1982.
She clearly recognized the breed’s need
for activity and thanks Jack Londons
stories and the tales of Sergeant Preston of
the Yukon for even knowing that
dogsledding might be a good option.
“Since I knew nothing about the sport
and had no equipment, I joined e
Siberian Husky Club of Canada,” says
Heibein. “I went to my rst dogsled race,
started talking to more knowledgeable
people, bought my own sled and got hooked
Above: Crowds gather in Humphrey
Village at the starting point of the
annual Seguin Sled Dog Mail Run.
Right: In the tradition of past mail runs,
participants carry a bag of mail
that will be postmarked by
postal ocials in the
Village of Rosseau.
46 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
onthe sport of dogsledding.
Heibeins 13 Siberian Huskies live at their
kennel, Rockrunner, and participate in events,
competitive and recreational, all around the
province. However, the event Heibein most
wanted to attend was by invitation only – the
Seguin Sled Dog Mail Run.
“Finally, in the year 1999, I was invited to
participate,” shares Heibein.
Unfortunately, Heibein was injured just
before the event and had to withdraw. e
event’s pioneer, Chadwick, held Heibeins
spot for the next year, giving Heibein plenty
of time to mend and participate in the famed
mail run as a recovery goal.
“is event is one of the few remaining
mail runs in the world,” explains Heibein.
“e fact that organizers have found a way to
run it continuously for the past 36 years, no
matter the weather, makes it a unique winter
event of any kind.
While it is not the grueling ordeal of the
famed Iditarod, the sights and sounds of the
event harken back to times when humans
relied on their own ingenuity and their
partnership with animals to travel and even
to survive. Dogs have their own well-earned
reputation as mans best friend and a musher’s
connection with his or her dog sled team goes
beyond that.
e mail run is a community fundraising
event, bringing spectators from near and far
to enjoy the pancake breakfast, watch the
spectacle, meet the dogs and mushers, and
even purchase letters. e day includes
activities for children and plenty of photo
opportunities with the friendly teams of
huskies.
Since the events inception in 1985, special
letters are gathered specically for the event,
loaded onto the participating sleds and hauled
by dog teams from Humphrey to the Rosseau
post oce. e run is a beautiful 18-kilometre
trip along the roads, lakes, swamps and bush
trails of Seguin Township. e teams of
Siberian Huskies carry their bags of mail to
the Postmistress or Postmaster in Rosseau,
who later hand stamps all the mail and then
prepares the letters to go to destinations
around the world by regular mail.
e specially designed letters that arrive
via sled, or “sledvelopes” as they’ve come to
Teams of dogs come from across North America
to take part in the Seguin Sled Dog Mail Run.
Hospice Muskoka
A full outline of the topics will be posted on Hospice Muskoka website www.hospicemuskoka.com. Participants must register for any/all sessions.
Tablets are available to loan for participants who do not have internet or equipment for virtual meetings
For more information call 705-646-1697 www.hospicemuskoka.com DONATE TODAY
Source: pixabay
With special thanks to United Way Simcoe Muskoka,
Hospice Muskoka is pleased to offer a ten part ZOOM series
with virtual interactive sessions intended to explore the stress
and anxiety or loss brought on or enhanced by COVID-19
and find tools that will lead to emotional well-being,
building trust and hope, healing and resiliency.
Apart but Not Alone
Facilitated by Elke Scholz, Masters in Expressive Arts Therapy, Coaching,
Consulting and Education; certified EMDR therapist
SESSION DATES: Tuesdays, November 3 – December 1, 2020
Tuesdays, January 12 – February 9, 2021
be known, have become a sought-after
keepsake and collectible for children and
adults alike. In recent years, Canada Post has
even issued specialized stamps to
commemorate the event. People from all
over the world attend and participate in the
annual sled dog run, for the
experience and for their very
own “sledvelope.
“is is a historical event and
we want to continue to honour
the tradition,” explains J.J.
Blower, communications and
program co-ordinator for
Seguin Township. “However,
at this point, we dont know
what that looks like for
2021. ere are a number
of challenges to consider
and the planning group is
working on that.
e COVID-19
pandemic has
signicantly changed
the world and the
annual Seguin Sled
Dog Mail Run is no
exception. Planning
is currently
underway for
the 2021 event,
but those plans
may change as the
event draws closer.
“Public crowds
are certainly one
consideration
and a number
of our usual
mushers are
residents of
the United
States,” says Blower. “ose are factors to
consider. We need to keep everyone safe and
keep the tradition alive.
“Elsie Chadwick had a great idea and I am
so glad the Township of Seguin values the
event enough to run it every year,” shares
Heibein. “And I’m so glad for all the volunteers
that donate their time at the event.
No matter how the event plays out in 2021,
the tradition will continue in a format safe for
everyone involved. Much like the incredible
dog and musher teams of northern Canada,
the annual Seguin Dog Sled Mail Run will
continue on, no matter what obstacles there
are to overcome.
Right: Spectators meet the dogs and their
handlers at the Seguin Sled Dog Mail Run. Below
right: Huskies are a breed known for their
personality, their beauty and their ability to run.
They develop special bonds with their people.
Crowds line the road at the start of the Seguin
Sled Dog Mail Run in Humphrey Village.
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 47
48 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
Whats Happened
Muskoka Regional Centre
talks heating up
e lengthy saga of the former Muskoka
Regional Centre is set for a new chapter.
Located in Gravenhurst, the 74-acre
property sits on a piece of prime real estate
along the Lake Muskoka shoreline.
e property was originally opened as the
Muskoka Cottage Sanatorium in 1897. In
1960, the Province of Ontario transitioned
the site to a housing and care facility for
developmentally challenged individuals
before it ultimately closed in 1994. It has
stood vacant ever since.
Recently, the property was nearly sold to
Maple Leaf Education System but the deal
ultimately broke down in June of 2019.
e property was set to go on the open
market but following meetings between
Premier Doug Ford and Muskoka
representatives, including Gravenhurst
Mayor Paul Kelly, there was a delay in
taking action.
“e wheels have been turning non-stop,
says Kelly. “We had several parties that were
very, very interested pre-COVID and three
or four of those parties are still interested.
In October, the province will put out a
marketing brochure to any interested parties
and Kelly says they hope to have a
proponent identied in the next six months.
According to Kelly, the Town wants the
property used for two primary purposes:
institutional uses such as health care and
education and the creation of permanent
full-time jobs.
“We dont want this property on the open
market. We dont want to see it become a
housing subdivision or a resort,” he says. “All
of the parties clearly know what were
looking for...and that includes public access.
Kelly says he isnt sure how much the
asking price will be, but the buyer will need
to set aside somewhere between $4 to 6
million to clear the existing unusable
buildings o the property.
Bala dealing with loss of events
Over the past 35 years, its estimated that
the Bala Cranberry Festival has drawn more
than 500,000 people into the small
community of Bala.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has forced
event organizers to push the pause button
on the 2020 edition. e Trek to
Bethlehem, another hugely popular Bala
event, has also been cancelled out of an
abundance of caution.
After much deliberation and discussions
with our board of directors, it is with a
heavy and sad heart that we inform
everyone that the Bala Cranberry Festival
weekend event will not be held in 2020,
cranberry festival organizers said in a recent
statement.
Nonetheless, the cranberry harvest goes
on and guests are invited to visit Muskoka
Lakes Farm & Winery to check it out for
themselves.
“Weve been working extremely hard to
meet Ontarios public health mandate,” says
Leslie Commandant of the farm and winery.
“Were really looking forward to this harvest
season. Its one of our favourite times of the
year.”
e farm oers wagon tours, wine
tasting, a licensed patio, hiking trails and
the popular cranberry plunge. Commandant
says all of those activities are still a go but its
best to visit their website at cranberry.ca to
view the latest updates. Reservations are
required for some of the activities.
Organizer for the Trek to Bethlehem said
they simply cant accommodate the
provincial guidelines for event size and
safety. ey’re optimistic the trek can return
in 2021.
Blue Green Algae
incidents up in 2020
e Ministry of the Environment,
Conservation and Parks is keeping a close
eye on the blue-green algae situation in
Muskoka
In September, residents near Boyd’s Bay
on Lake Muskoka were cautioned about a
conrmed blue-green algae bloom. e algal
bloom was the seventh of the year reported
in Muskoka.
“e ministry takes reports of potential
blue-green algal blooms very seriously,” says
ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler. “e
number of conrmed blue-green algal
blooms is marginally higher this year. In
2019, there were six conrmed lakes with
blue-green algal blooms in the District of
Muskoka and two lakes in Simcoe County.
Unused since 1994, the former Muskoka Regional Centre property on Lake Muskoka now looks
poised to sell in the upcoming months.
Photograph: Town of Gravenhurst
Both Simcoe and Muskoka are reporting
one additional algal bloom for this year over
2019.
Wheeler said that due to a large number
of variables (annual weather patterns,
temperature, storms, site-specic weather
and physical conditions), it’s impossible to
predict the number of blooms that will
occur in a given year. However, the ministry
typically responds to about 50 to 70
conrmed blue-green algal blooms per year
across Ontario. He says that so far in 2020
there have been 60 conrmed blue-green
algal blooms reported to the ministry.
Blue-green algae (also called
cyanobacteria) are naturally occurring
microscopic organisms that can produce
“blooms” in lakes when environmental
conditions are favourable, including
sucient levels of nutrients such as
phosphorus and nitrogen, warm water
temperatures and calm weather conditions.
Some blooms of blue-green algae produce
toxins, known as cyanotoxins, that have the
potential to harm humans and animals.
Couple donates $2 million
to Bracebridge hospital
An unprecedented show of generosity is
making things a little easier at South
Muskoka Memorial Hospital in
Bracebridge.
In September, the South Muskoka
Hospital Foundation announced they have
received the largest single donation from a
living donor in their history. at gift came
courtesy of a $2 million donation from Bary
and Brenda Gray of Gravenhurst.
“Quality health care and a well-equipped
hospital are so important to a community,
says Brenda. “We feel very fortunate to be in
the position to show our gratitude in this
way.
e donation will be used to renovate
and purchase new ultrasound and radiology
equipment for the diagnostic imaging
department at South Muskoka Memorial
Hospital.
e hospital plans to recognize the Grays
by renaming the imaging department the
Bary and Brenda Gray Imaging
Department.
Bary and Brenda built a home in
Gravenhurst in 2009 and used it seasonally
for 10 years. In 2019, they sold their home
in Aurora and moved to Gravenhurst
year-round.
e convincing factor that inspired them
to make their donation was when Bary twice
required visits to the emergency department.
e Grays say they were overwhelmed by
the excellence of the care and attention he
received.
“I am now under the excellent care of Dr.
Cipriani,” says Bary. “Along with the rest of
the healthcare team at the hospital, we really
feel we couldnt be in better hands.
Swing Sandeld bridge
under repair
e District of Muskoka has doubled
back on plans to close the PortSandeld
bridge for a full two weeks, opting instead
to do the work at night.
Original plans had called for a full closure
of the roadway from Oct. 26 to Nov. 9 with
a lengthy detour in place. e detour will
still be used during the construction period
from Sept. 30 to Nov. 9 from 9 p.m. to 5:30
a.m. Sundays to ursdays, and 11 p.m. to
6:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. e
closure is part of scheduled maintenance on
the swing bridge.
e structure is actually the fourth
version of the bridge in Port Sandeld,
which was originally built in 1876. e
initial version was built to accommodate the
steamships traversing the canal below and
towered some 40 feet in the air.
A more practical wooden swing bridge
was built in 1897. at was replaced by a
metal swing bridge 1924 which stood for
most of the 20th century until it was
replaced by the current bridge in 1998.
Muskoka experienced its seventh blue-green algae bloom of 2020 recently. The latest bloom
occurred on Boyd's Bay in Lake Muskoka.
Bary and Brenda Gray of Gravenhurst recently
donated $2 million to the South Muskoka
Hospital Foundation.
Photograph: South Muskoka Hospital Foundation
Photograph: Brandon Scott
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 49
50 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
The art of the small gathering
Food and décor for seasonal entertaining
Article by Karen Wehrstein / Photography by Tomasz Szumski
With the future of a world
pandemic still uncertain,
we all might have to scale
back our Christmas
entertaining plans this
year, hosting more
intimate groups of our
nearest and dearest. But
that doesnt mean they
cant be memorable
events. As part of planning
Christmas events, were going
to go outside our purely culinary
bubble to include setting and décor as part
of this feature.
e setting can be at home, of course, or
in your own private cottage at an
establishment such as Patterson Kaye
Resort, which is open year-round and oers
the full range from a two-person hotel-style
cabin to a ve-bedroom
cottage that has its own
kitchen.
Normally, the
resort’s restaurant,
Seasons, oers a big
Christmas buet
dinner, explains
operations assistant
Jessica Moseley – but
not this year, for
obvious reasons.
“Were looking at a family-
style buet for their own table,” she says.
“You get the same vibe, it’s more
communal.” Have it brought to your
Patterson Kaye cottage as if it were take-out,
which the resort is also doing this year –
why not?
As it turned out Patterson Kaye and
Seasons, did not close for the summer. “It
was one of the busiest years for us,” Moseley
said. “People want to do something; they
deserve to do something. You still have to be
a family in these times.
So now, let’s talk food, and the traditional
turkey – nah, you already know how to do
that. How about something a little dierent,
like roast duck, as made by Seasons
executive chef Don Hutchinson?
Hutchinson grew up in Richmond Hill,
got his culinary education at George Brown
College in Toronto and then apprenticed in
CP Hotels from coast to coast, including the
Chateau Frontenac, the Royal York,
Deerhurst Resort, and inns in Ban and
Lake Louise. After a stint in Ontario, he
Executive chef Don Hutchinson’s duck recipe
adds the avours of three species of fruit plus
thyme for a complex and delicious
sweetening of the tender,
juicy meat.
Lena Patten, owner of Hilltop Interiors in
Rosseau, delights in the tradition of decorating
for Christmas celebrating.
travelled to Australia and worked for a New
Zealand caterer for a year, then returned to
Toronto to work for other caterers. In 2000,
he moved to Muskoka with his children,
working rst at Inn on the Falls in
Bracebridge (“you hear footprints up the
stairs, but never see the ghost”). After about
eight years at Shamrock Lodge, he started
his own food truck and catering business,
Muskokas Menu, and has worked at
Seasons for three winters.
Four years ago in Barrie, he met, in his
words, “the girl of my dreams,” Debbie
Urbanski. “I’m going to ask her to marry
me,” he says, “right about now.” (Not to
worry; Ms. Urbanski has been informed in a
timely fashion.)
Hutchinsons duck recipe adds the
avours of three species of fruit plus thyme
for a complex and delicious sweetening of
the tender, juicy meat. “Duck has a lot of
avour to begin with,” he advises, “so you
dont want to overpower it with spices.” Also,
in keeping with his philosophy of sticking to
basics and simplicity, the bird is
accompanied with an assortment of al dente
vegetables seasoned only lightly with salt and
pepper, and melt-in-your-mouth potatoes.
Now let us take an interlude concerning
décor, with the knowledgeable and
delightful Lena Patten, owner of Hilltop
Interiors in Rosseau, now celebrating its
20th anniversary.
“Christmas is my favourite time of year,
Roast Duck
Don Hutchison, Patterson Kaye Resort and Seasons
Ingredients
1 duck, washed inside and out
3-4 tart apples (e.g, Empire or Granny
Smith), cored and quartered
1 medium-size onion, cut into 8 pieces
1 orange, peeled and cut into quarters
Salt and pepper
1 tsp minced garlic
Fresh thyme sprigs (about 5)
2 oz brandy
½ cup apricot jam
2 cups duck or chicken stock
2 Tbsp our
Method
• Poke holes or score the skin of the duck
to render the fat. Season well with salt
and pepper inside and out.
• Mix the apples, orange, onion, garlic
and thyme (except 1 tsp thyme leaves
nely chopped) with ½ oz brandy. Stu
the ducks cavity with this mixture.
• Place in a preheated oven (350°F) in a
roasting pan. After 20 minutes, reduce
heat to 300°F and continue cooking for
about an hour.
• Mix the rest of the brandy with the jam
and baste the duck with it. Baste about
every 20 minutes. Cook duck until its
internal temperature reaches 165°F.
• Remove from the oven and set on a
plate to rest for 10 minutes.
Strain about 2 Tbsp of fat from the
roasting pan into a pot. Add 2 Tbsp of
our and mix into a toothpaste-like
consistency. Heat on the stove, stirring
constantly until it starts to brown. Slowly
and carefully start adding the stock until it
reaches a velouté consistency: dip a
wooden spoon in the sauce and run a
nger across the back of it; if it slowly
drips back together, it is the right
consistency.
• Season velouté with salt and pepper.
Add the leftover1 tsp of chopped thyme.
• Duck is ready to carve and your velouté
is ready to serve and be enjoyed by your
guests!
Chef ’s tips
“Scoring or poking the ducks skin,
especially around the legs, is very
important because it renders out the fat,
Hutchison advises. Pierce just through
the skin, not into the meat.
For roasting, you may want to put
some sliced apples under the duck to stop
it from sticking to the pan.
If you havent tried frying potatoes in
duck fat with a little salt and pepper, you
must.
When ordering this dish from Seasons,
provide 24 hours’ notice.
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 51
52 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
and I love Christmas Eve,” Patten enthuses.
Of Lithuanian extraction, she recalls her
family sharing a 12-course meal every Dec.
24, when celebrations ocially began. Her
father would place hay under the tablecloth
as a reminder of the manger, a tradition she
continues. “Its the reveal, it’s just magical,
and my family was all about that.” ey still
are; her husband and two grown sons now
revel in it as much as she does.
Patten grew up in Toronto and went to
university in Guelph, from where she and a
friend would prowl the interior-decorating
shops of the region every other weekend,
planning to open such a shop together
someday. However, Patten went into
marketing upon her return to the big city,
before moving with her husband to
Muskoka, where both had enjoyed their
respective family cottages while growing up.
After working for about four years in
another shop, she decided to start her own
business. In a moment of synchronicity, the
antique building in central Rosseau became
available, and Hilltop Interiors was born.
A cherished Christmas is all about the
tasty treats and the timeless décor,” Patten
says. “Its a sensory experience. e beautiful
smells, the evergreens, the candles, having
the re going... great music, good wine and
good friends.
At the heart of it all is the table, making a
beautiful table setting a must. “It doesnt
have to be too elaborate,” she says. “It’s
those little special pieces that create that
warm and inviting atmosphere. And its so
much easier to do when youre doing smaller
gatherings with a smaller table.
Nature is a reliable inspiration for Patten.
“We live in a great area where you can go
outside and clip cedar boughs, hemlock
branches, pinecones,” she says. “Hemlock
has a beautiful silvery green colour on the
underside. I always like white birch branches
to go with it.” Here’s a bit of twist you
might not think of for Christmas: red roses.
“eres nothing like deep red roses with
pine boughs. My mother used to do that.
Another cool idea for the table: create a
winter wilderness or Christmas scene on a
charcuterie board for the initial party reveal.
“en you can easily remove it when you
bring in the food,” Patten explains. “Every
year, change it around, change the colours,
put a snowman on it: thats the beauty of
the board, its whatever.
Speaking of colours: “Traditionally people
like to see the red and green, which is cheery
“A cherished Christmas is all about the tasty treats and the timeless décor. It’s a sensory
experience,” says Lena Patten.
Sausage & Potato
Hand-Held Pie
Randy Spencer, Spencer’s Catering & Culinary
Creations
Ingredients
Use your favourite pie-dough recipe, or
use store-bought 4” pie shells and
homemade dough for pie top cover.
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. sausage meat from butcher
1½ cup sliced onions
1 Tbsp nely-chopped garlic
1 lb. peeled potatoes thinly sliced and
lightly cooked in salted boiling water
(mini potatoes are perfect for
handheld pies)
1 tsp dry thyme leaves
2½ cups beef stock
3 Tbsp our
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten
Method:
• Cook meat in saucepan on medium
heat. Drain all but a few tablespoons
of fat
• Add sliced onions and garlic, brown
for 5-6 minutes on high heat, stirring
so onions do not burn. Turn heat to
medium.
• Add thyme, Worcestershire sauce and
our, mix in.
• Stir in beef stock. Cook for 5 minutes.
Fold in potatoes, season with salt and
pepper to taste.
• Let cool in fridge for 45 minutes.
• Fill pie shell and cover, crimp and
brush with beaten egg.
• Bake for 20-30 minutes at 375°F till
golden-brown.
Makes 20 four-inch or 32 mun-sized
handheld pies.
Chef ’s tips:
Try them with HP Sauce.
Enjoy reheated pie with fried eggs and
HP Sauce at breakfast.
Bonus Appetizer Recipe: Bacon-Wrapped Dates
Soak dates in spiced rum overnight. Wrap them in slices of bacon (if they’re small,
squish two together), skewer them and bake for about 8 minutes at 350°F convection.
PK_Muskoka Patterson Kaye R esort
P a t t e r s o n K a y e
w w w . P a t t e r s o n K a y e R e s o r t . c o m
- Resort & Restaurant on Lake Muskoka -
Studio to Five Bedroom Cottages
Seasons Restaurant Open to Public
“Don’t be afraid to try something dierent,” is part of Randy Spencer’s food philosophy. The longtime
restaurateur and now caterer shares some of his recipes for Christmas entertaining.
and bright and fun. Its easy to pull from
your own in-house items,” Patten says. “But
nothing is mandatory.Well, maybe one
thing: “e underlying colour that you
always have is some sort of green, whether
light or dark. Green is what really pulls it all
together, helps bridge all the colours.
Perhaps in the dead of winter we want to be
reminded of foliage, same as we want to be
reminded of light during the longest nights.
Every late November, Patten and her sta
decorate the store to the nines for its
weekend-long Christmas Open House, and
people come from all over for decorative
inspiration, not to mention to buy frosted
glasses, reindeer candle-holders, Christmas-
themed placemats, napkins and rings,
pinecone-themed cutlery, unscented candles
(“they dont interfere with the lovely smells of
the food”) and much more. Because grey was
trending last year, she featured Ellen
DeGeneres dishware by Royal Doulton, in
warm greys. Grey or taupe works well with
metallic accents whether they be silver or
gold-themed.
e key: be creative! Like plaid? Make it
the theme.
“ink about your favourite colour, and
build your table around it. Or, what colour is
trending? Blue seems to be popular this year.
Watch for a blue-themed...
Lena Patten cuts herself o there, segueing
deftly into an invitation to this years Open
House, happening Nov. 20-22. “We have a
sale, we serve appetizers, we have a rae for
cool prizes donated by our suppliers.” If you
are one of her diehard Christmas followers,
or at least like-minded, you’ll start preparing
right after Remembrance Day.
To add appetizers and dessert to our
delicious entrée, lets consult with Randy
Spencer, best known as the former owner, for
19 years, of Spencer’s Tall Trees restaurant in
Huntsville, and now owner of Spencers
Catering & Culinary Creations. Born near
Noranda, Quebec, he grew up in Toronto,
received his culinary education at George
Brown College, worked at a restaurant in
Hamilton for a while, then travelled the
world including Europe, Jamaica and the
Bahamas, where he met his wife Karen. In
Muskoka, he worked at Hidden Valley
Resort and Grandview before purchasing Tall
Trees in 2000.
As a restauranteur rather than purely a
chef, Spencer says, “you have to check your
ego at the door; if something isnt working,
dont kick a dead horse.” Friendliness is
crucial, too; clients of Tall Trees still greet
him on the street.
Now, Spencer says, “Were in the next
phase of our life. is year, weve done 10 per
cent of what we normally do in catering.
Often, he will go masked into a cottage
kitchen, set up the food and leave. “Even in
forced semi-retirement now, I cook every day
anyway.
One exercise of his craft he has resolutely
not quit is volunteering one day at the
Huntsville food bank, e Table, and
providing quality food for Hospice
Huntsville, after being deeply moved by the
quality of treatment provided there for a
dying friend. Just hearing, for instance, “My
father smiled” is satisfaction enough for
Spencer.
122 Kimberley Avenue, Suite 2
Bracebridge ON P1L 1Z8
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Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 53
Conserving Nature in Muskoka. Join us today.
A registered charity.
We are proud to announce our 43rd conservation property,
The Silver Doe Nature Reserve. This complex of beaver ponds,
rock barrens and mixed forest is quintessential Muskoka wilderness.
Thank you to The Kenneth M Molson Foundation for funding
this project and for supporting nature conservation in Muskoka!
Hand-held pies are all the rage in
Australia and New Zealand, he says,
available everywhere in stores, food trucks,
etc. rough use of sausage meat, the recipe
becomes versatile, lending itself to spicy,
farmers’, Mennonite, or what-have-you. He
ran the sausage and potato version past Keely
Schierl, former owner of e Butchers
Daughter in Huntsville, to perfect it. It is a
rich, juicy, meaty treat inside aky pastry,
combining the heartiest of tastes and
textures.
Our bonus appetizer is – are you ready for
this? – bacon-wrapped dates. Dates were on
sale and Karen had bought too many. ey
had already tried bacon-wrapped water
chestnuts, scallops and chicken livers, so why
not? “Dont be afraid to try something
dierent,” is part of Spencer’s food
philosophy. I cant quite describe the
combination of these avours, though “rich
as heck” goes without saying; you just have
to try them.
Spencers dessert, the chocolate bombe, is,
well, the bomb. Right away I tasted the
secret ingredient that tangs up the sweetness
in both the crunchy edges and the
deliciously gooey inside, wondered what it
was and couldnt quite place it.
Some nal wisdom from one of
Huntsville’s legendary restauranteurs: “Food
isnt always about taste. Its about the
company, the ambience, the thrill of the
moment and where you are…
youre there.” Now that the Fall
Winter issue of
Unique Muskoka has
arrived, it is time for
Cottage Country
Cuisine to go into
hibernation until
spring 2021. Have a
wonderful holiday
season, stay healthy and
happy and, as always:
bon appétit!
Chocolate Bombes with
Eggnog Crème Anglaise
Bombes:
Ingredients:
¾ cup butter
9 oz. chocolate (good quality, e.g.
Coco Barry or Callebaut)
1 tsp orange zest*
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup all-purpose our
Method:
• Melt butter and chocolate in double
boiler (so as not to scorch).
• Whisk in brown sugar.
• Remove from heat. Whisk in eggs, zest
and vanilla. Fold in our.
• Portion into greased non-stick 6 x 4oz.
mun pan.
• Bake at 350° F convection for 10-12
minutes.
• Let cool 5 minutes, then turn out from
pan gently onto wire rack.
*e secret ingredient - Crème Anglaise
Ingredients:
3 cups eggnog
10 egg yolks
1 cup white sugar
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp cornstarch
Method:
• Heat eggnog (do not boil).
• Create cornstarch slurry by adding a
maximum of 1 Tbsp water to the 2 Tbsp
cornstarch until it liquees.
• In a stainless-steel bowl, mix the sugar
with yolks, vanilla and cinnamon.
• Place bowl over a pot of simmering water.
Whisk the mixture as it slowly warms. Add
the eggnog as you are whisking. When the
mixture starts to thicken, whisk in the
cornstarch slurry slowly. Once mixture
thickens, remove from stove.
• Cool in fridge, lightly covered with plastic
wrap, or serve warm. Both ways are great.
Chef ’s Tip:
You can add a bright red drizzle for
holiday pizzazz by mixing and cooking
macerated cranberries with sugar and
cornstarch, or thinning some cranberry
jelly. Apply artistically with a squeeze
bottle to crème anglaise spread on plate
with chocolate bombes.
Conserving Nature in Muskoka. Join us today.
A registered charity.
We are proud to announce our 43rd conservation property,
The Silver Doe Nature Reserve. This complex of beaver ponds,
rock barrens and mixed forest is quintessential Muskoka wilderness.
Thank you to The Kenneth M Molson Foundation for funding
this project and for supporting nature conservation in Muskoka!
Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 55
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REAL ESTATE BROKER
705-205-2726
www.muskokaluxuryproperties.ca
WWW.MUSKOKALUXURYPROPERTIES.CA
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CHELSEY@MUSKOKALUXURYPROPERTIES.CA
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REAL ESTATE BROKER
705-205-2726
www.muskokaluxuryproperties.ca
WWW.MUSKOKALUXURYPROPERTIES.CA
CHELSEY PENRICE
HARVEY KALLES MUSKOKA REAL ESTATE
IF YOU’RE SEARCHING FOR A COTTAGE IN BEAUTIFUL MUSKOKA
YOU’VE COME TO THE RIGHT PLACE , CALL ME FOR A FREE OPINION OF VALUE.
Lake Muskoka $3,495,000
4 BED, CUSTOM MODERN COTTAGE
ALL-DAY SUN, SOUTH EXPOSURE
ALMOST 2 ACRES WITH 259 FT OF FRONTAGE
Peninsula Lake / Contact for price
DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITY ON A HIGHLY SOUGHT AFTER CHAIN LAKE
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LARGE SPACIOUS LOT, WELL TREED
DID YOU BENEFIT FROM THE 2020 MARKET SPIKE?
CHELSEY PENRICE
1A LEE VALLEY DRIVE, PORT CARLING, ONTARIO P0B 1J0
705-205-2726
CHELSEY@MUSKOKALUXURYPROPERTIES.CA
WWW.MUSKOKALUXURYPROPERTIES.CA
1A LEE VALLEY DRIVE, PORT CARLING, ONTARIO P0B 1J0
705-205-2726
CHELSEY@MUSKOKALUXURYPROPERTIES.CA
$450,000,000
2018 2019 2020
0
$300,000,000
$350,000,000
$400,000,000
Lakes Muskoka, Rosseau & Joseph
Lakes Mary, Fairy, Vernon, Peninsula & Lake of Bays
$200,000,000
$250,000,000
DOLLAR AMOUNT OF TOTAL SALES
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BRACEBRIDGE | 705-637-0204
58 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
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Fall/Winter 2020 UNIQUE MUSKOKA 59
60 UNIQUE MUSKOKA Fall/Winter 2020
Muskoka Moments
By Heather Douglas
Shooting beautiful Muskoka
For 30 years now, I have been traipsing
all around Muskoka in search of the
ultimate photographic background.
On one hand, that should be a pretty
easy search, as almost every location in
Muskoka provides an ultimate vista of rocks,
trees and water. However, you may be
surprised to realize how many factors need
to be taken into account. Especially if you
are going to add people into the mix in
order to create a treasured family portrait.
I have many favourites for a variety of
reasons – Wilsons Fall in Bracebridge for
one. I have used the falls and river as a
backdrop for years. It is a fantastic location
because you can shoot there in the morning
on one side and in the afternoon on the
other.
e drawback I discovered this summer
is that Wilsons Falls is no longer
Bracebridges best kept secret. In the past I
have suggested that location to local
families, who were puzzled as to its
whereabouts. But this summer, when I
strode condently into my typical shooting
area, I was shocked at the number of people
lounging on the rocks and swimming in the
rapids.
Just below the falls is another treasured
location, Bass Rock. With its smooth bare
rock and the river behind, it is a gorgeous
setting. It is also deceiving. I was once
photographing a couple for their
engagement session in early May. I had
them set up on one point and I just needed
to change my angle a little. I stepped onto
what I believed was a sand covered rock,
which in fact turned out to be a slime
covered rock. My couple stared wide eyed as
I slid into waist deep water with my camera
held over my head. e gentleman
graciously tried to help but stepped on the
same slime covered rock and slid past me.
We both stood in the chilly water laughing
until the tears rolled down our cheeks.
ankfully, my bride-to-be had more sense
than to step on the oending rock and she
took my camera as her ancé and I
struggled out of the water.
Another favourite is the Port Sydney
rapids. Now, the challenge there is that
location has never been a secret and there
are often crowds of people. It is also only
ideal to photograph in the morning or the
evening.
Just to the south of the Port Sydney Falls
is Indian Landing with the famous most
photographed tree in the world, the Giving
Tree. Drawbacks, again, include shooting
around people and getting the lighting just
right.
High Falls is an absolutely spectacular
backdrop, but only for the nimble and
fearless! It does provide a bit of a challenge
to access. And again, it is only good lighting
in the morning. Hidden in the woods beside
High Falls is what I have always called Little
High Falls. Again, a bit of a challenge to
access and a bridge was built over the top
portion, which is good for access, bad for
disturbing the pristine wilderness.
Ragged Falls just outside of Algonquin
Park is a wonderful place to visit, but very
hard to photograph a family, as there is no
really clear access to pose people and get the
waterfalls in the background.
e Oxtongue Rapids is another fabulous
location but poses the challenge of getting
there. It is along Highway 60 and then
down a rugged back road. Spectacular upon
arrival though.
I would like to include the Bala Falls, but
the creation of the dam has altered that
location forever. On one hand, the many
brides and families I captured there really
will have an irreplaceable image.
e locks in Port Carling have been
among my backdrops as has the wharf in
Gravenhurst with the iconic Segwun and
Wenonah in the background.
I also have the privilege of photographing
on my clients property throughout
Muskoka and there are some incredible
private locations. I have also parked on the
side of the road and photographed in a
ditch as the view has taken my breath away.
As the leaves change colour presenting us
with one of the most incredible displays in
the world, wherever you are, take a photo
and cherish the incredible home we call
Muskoka.
Heather Douglas has been photographing in
Muskoka for 30 years. Her career began in
1990 working as a photojournalist for e
Muskoka Sun. In 1996, she began her career
as a portrait photographer specializing in
wedding and family portraiture.
She resides in Huntsville with her husband
and their two teenage children.
Her career now focuses primarily on family
portraiture and she is a familiar face behind
the camera at many sporting leagues, dance
schools and events in Muskoka.
Photographs: Heather Douglas
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