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The Life Aquatic

Lush forests, the omnipresent rock of the Canadian Shield that is its very foundation, and its many varied and unique attractions—Muskoka is beloved for all of these things and more.

But the region’s most distinctive attribute is the network of lakes and rivers that weave through the rugged landscape, each one sparkling in the brilliant summer sun, tempting people to dive into its cool embrace.

These waterways are often referred to as the soul of the region, and for good reason. For more than one hundred years, the enchanting waters have lured innumerable vacationers, and most who come—cottagers and tourists alike—spend more time in the water than they do on land during their stay.

The significance of the lakes and rivers runs deep. During the 19th and early 20th century, before paved roads and railways extended throughout the region, water was the fastest, easiest and most comfortable means of transportation. For many years, steamships provided the vital transportation link that bound the disparate parts of Muskoka together both socially and economically.

It’s fair to say that Muskoka has always been defined by water. And it is this enigmatic relationship that inspired the 2006 opening of the historical attraction Grace & Speed: The Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre.

Situated along the shores of Lake Muskoka in the bustling town of Gravenhurst—fittingly enough where the steamer era was born and flourished more than 140 years ago—the uniquely interactive museum is a tribute to how cottage country was truly shaped by its surrounding waters.

Various galleries focus on unique aspects of Muskoka’s love affair with its lakes.

In the wooden boat gallery, peek into a replica boat-builder’s shop, as it would have appeared in the 1930s, when the first motorboats began to roar across the lakes. Learn about the wooden boat industry of yesteryear—including the innovations local craftsmen developed (among them, the disappearing propeller)—and discover the process of restoring these prized relics today.

Of course this is all prelude to visiting the shoreside boathouse, which features 20 fully functioning and beautifully restored antique wooden boats in-water.

Board a replica steamship to experience the inner-workings of these elegant vessels, which symbolized the gilded age of Muskoka tourism. Enter a freight deck and meet its hard-working crew, start a steam engine, become a pilot at the wheel, and meet through soundtrack and images A.P. Cockburn, the man known as the father of Muskoka steamships and tourism.

Disembark at one Muskoka’s grand old hotels, recreated within the museum to allow visitors to witness the elegance of a romantic, bygone era. Through interactive galleries, audiovisual displays and photographs visit a charming turn-of-the-century hotel dining room, experience the finer points of timeless hospitality, and dance to the lively music of the big band era. Since most of these grand old hotels are long-gone or irreversibly altered, this is a cherished opportunity to experience the spirit of an old-time resort.

Swing by the retail shop for a wide assortment of nautical memorabilia. There’s even an archival area in the facility for research.

Finish your day with a cruise aboard one of the operating steamships, the historic RMS Segwun and the new RMS Wenonah II, both of which dock adjacent to the museum. It’s the perfect ending to a day spent touring through Muskoka’s past.

The story of Muskoka is largely that of the lakes that define it. Grace & Speed: The Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre tells this story in a memorable, interactive fashion sure to leave visitors waxing nostalgic for the endless carefree summers of decades past.

The Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre is open Tuesday to Saturday until May, daily from June to August. Admission is $6.50. Visit www.muskokasteamships.com/mbhc for more information.

MARINAS IN MUSKOKA

GORDON BAY MARINA
Sales, rentals, plus year-round showroom.
MacTier, 705-375-5822

NEW ARK MARINA
Full-service, sales, rentals, storage.
Gravenhurst, 705-687-4411

PORT SANDFIELD MARINA
Specializes in sales and rentals.
Port Sandfield, 705-765-3147

PROLINE RENTALS & SALES LTD.
Sales, service, rentals.
Port Carling, 705-765-1390

PRIDE OF MUSKOKA
A one-stop shop for all boating and water-life needs.
Pride of Muskoka (near Bracebridge), 705-645-9151
Pride of Lake of Bays (near Dorset), 705-766-2488
Pride of Rosseau (south of Minett), 705-765-3963

< WOODLAND MARINE
Rentals, sales, and servicing.
Skeleton Lake, Ullswater, 705-769-3346

—Andrew Hind

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