Issue 70 Summer 2009
Aboard this Issue:
The 100-Mile Cruise
Bala And The Boats
Past & Present
published quarterly by the
& Historical Society
We get it.
Van Patten design, shaped mahogany planks
and Gra venhurst building skills
miraculously came together in 1949.
Look at her, she’s a lot more than simply a boat.
This is our history, our pride. Wha t a stunner.
We understand, we’re boaters too.
Yacht Insurance Ltd.
Boat Insurance Specialists for over 40 years
in Toronto 416 789-7211
Underwritten by Aviva-Elite
In This Issue:
Muskoka Steamship &
tHe 100-Mile CruiSe: a Muskoka Historical Society:
adventure aboard the Sagamo General Manager: John Miller
Amy Sharman-Phasey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Operations Manager: Ann Curley
Bala & tHe BoatS Sales & Marketing Manager:
Richard Tatley . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Comptroller: Molly Rivers
Bala’S unique HiStory Volunteer Coordinator:
Ruth Nishikawa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Louise Boese
MuSkoka Boat BuilDerS: Past & Present Please direct membership emails to:
Rick Terry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Regarding our cruises, kindly email:
PreSiDent’S MeSSaGe Board of Directors:
Blair McMurchy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 275 Steamship Bay Road
General ManaGer’S rePort Gravenhurst, Ontario PIP IZ9
John Miller . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Charity Registration #13261 7770
MeMBerSHiP MatterS President: Blair McMurchy
John Glendinning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Honorary Chairman, Director:
tHe eDitor’S Corner . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6 Dr. Gordon C. Shaw
Junior StokerS’ PaGe Vice President: Rick Terry
Austen McMurchy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Treasurer: Stan Meek
WHat’S HaPPeninG tHiS SuMMer? . . . . . . . .4 Chairman, Secretary:
2009 CorPorate MeMBerS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6 John Glendinning
FeatureD CorPorate MeMBer . . . . . . . . . . . . .8 Paul Dickie, Dunc Hawkins,
FeatureD BoarD MeMBer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Murray Hogarth, John Lee, Jim Lewis,
Ross Siemms, Hank Smith,
PHoenix aWarD Winner . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Mary Storey, Murray Walker
On the cover: The S.S. Cherokee at Lake Joseph Station; General Manager: John Miller
Inset: The S.S. Medora at Bala. Unless otherwise noted, all historical
photos appear courtesy the Archives Department at MBHC. Muskoka Steamships
Muskoka Steamship & Historical Society President: Rick McGraw
The Real Muskoka Experience
Vice President: Blair McMurchy
Muskoka Steamships Secretary: Gordon C. Shaw
185 Cherokee Lane Treasurer: Stan Meek
Gravenhurst, Ontario PIP IZ9 Director: Murray Walker
General Manager: John Miller
Toll Free: 1-866-687-6667
The Real Muskoka Story
Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre Advertising: Mary Jean Cline
275 Steamship Bay Road Editorial & Design: Ellen Carnahan
Gravenhurst, Ontario PIP IZ9 firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: 1-705-687-2115 Submissions are most welcome, but
Fax: 1-705-687-9408 may be edited for clarity and brevity.
The Muskoka Steamship & Historical Society preserves,
educates and promotes the traditions of the steamship,
boat building and resort era in Muskoka.
The Real Muskoka Story Issue 70 Summer 2009 3
this Summer? President’s Message:
Let me first say it has been an interesting first year as your President. It has been
Now until July 31:
one filled with numerous challenges, ranging from interesting weather, interesting
Child’s Play: A Century of Toys,
economy, interesting gas prices and Transport Canada’s interesting interpretation
From 1850–1950: Handmade of "stability."
toys, dolls, tools and tinkertoys.
As I mentioned in one of my President’s Messages in our Real Muskoka
June 23–September 30: Story Newsletter, my esteemed past presidents looked to the future with the
Muskoka Boat Builders: Past and preservation of R.M.S. Segwun, Wanda III, the building of the Wenonah II and the
Present: A large temporary exhibit creation of the Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre. I, too, look to the future, by
at Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre building a strong membership base and preserving the financial well being of
July 11: Antique & Classic the Ships and the Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre. To this end I believe we
Boat Society (ACBS) Boat Show: need to continue building awareness of our Society and all we have to offer,
at Muskoka Wharf through innovative branding, marketing and fundraising.
www.acbs.ca With the economic environment the way it is, this is even more important, for we
Tues. July 21: 7:00 pm: cannot just sit back and rely on past methods. We need to be more creative and
Speaker Series: Maria De Silva and aggressive. We have gotten off to a great start with being featured on CBC’s Rick
Andrew Hind will talk about their Mercer Report and on CTV’s Weekend Cross-Country, as well as being on the
book Ghost Towns of Muskoka cover of the Muskoka Tourism Map and Muskoka Tourism Guide for 2009.
Our new website, www.realmuskoka.com, and our revamped Newsletter are
Sat. July 25: both excellent tools for getting our message out.
11:00 am–3:00 pm:
We also have a couple of great fundraising opportunities coming up. First we have
Ask A Boat Builder: Mike Windsor,
the Celebrity Golf Classic hosted by Kris King, of which half of the proceeds
boat builder and designer will
will be directed to our society. This will be held on July 20 with a cruise the
answer questions about evening before. We also have, on August 10, the first annual Mayor/Segwun
wooden boats Golf Tournament with all the proceeds coming to us. Please come out and
Tues. August 18: 7:00 pm: support our Society by having a great time at these events. On that note I cannot
Harry Wilson will tell family overemphasize: that the strength of the Muskoka Steamship and Historical
stories about his parents, boat Society is and always will be its members. For you all are the ambassadors of
racer Harold Wilson and our mission statement.
mechanic Lorna Wilson Blair A. McMurchy,
Wed. August 19:
Corporate Members Cruise
General Manager’s Report:
Another exciting summer season is underway. Below are some of the events and
Sun. September 20: 2:00 pm: specialty cruises we have planned for 2009:
Speaker Series: Richard Tatley
will show and explain his • Muskoka Boatbuilders Exhibit: All summer long at the Heritage Centre
newly released DVD about • Child’s Play: A century of children’s toys 1850–1950 at the Heritage Centre
Cleveland’s House • PirateFest: August 1 — our 2nd annual! Join us as we plunder and pilfer....!
September 24–27: • Heritage Boatworks: Our new interactive exhibit located in the old museum
ACBS International Annual building opening this summer; more information forthcoming.
Meeting and Show: at Muskoka • Marylin Brooks Art Show: 10 days, coming in August to the Heritage
Wharf www.acbs.org Centre. Check with our office for details.
October 1–December 31: • Nostalgia Cruises: Join us as we return to upper Lake Joseph and Bala Park
The Canoe: A Canadian Cultural with guest commentary and spectacular dining, escorted by Muskoka’s classic
Icon: An exhibit from the Canadian wooden boats.
Canoe Museum at Muskoka Boat • Thursdays in July/August: Rosseau Cocktail Cruises from Clevelands House
& Heritage Centre featuring Jack Hutton • J.W. Marriot lunch cruises • Pirates on Rosseau
Sun. October 18: 2:00 pm: • 100 Mile Cruise returning to Windermere House on Mondays
Speaker Series: Robert Bullen tells • Lunch, Dinner and Millionaire’s Row cruises throughout the season
the story of attempting to find
• Enquire about our Group Specials and Specialty Cruises planned for the Fall!
the gravesites of his Muskoka
relatives killed in World War II Thank you for your continued support! Join us this season as we embark on
See www.realmuskoka.com another summer of Fun, Romance and History! Our staff and crew await your
for up to date event information.
4 The Real Muskoka Story Issue 70 Summer 2009
Hello fellow members! Finally, after such a cool and wet
spring, we are all enjoying a warm and sunny summer.
On May 22, the Society held its Annual General Meeting
at the Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre. There was a
good representation of members this year, and we were
able to hear about how the Society has done over the
past year as well as the plans and expectations for this
The 2009 Members Day Cruises were held on June 13,
and all had a terrific time. Excellent weather was enjoyed
by the over 330 members out to the two cruises on
the Wenonah II. It was very nice to see so many young
people out at the event. In some cases we had 3 and 4
generations of Society members on board.
Molly Rivers, the Society’s intrepid Comptroller, and
Austen McMurchy were on board asking for donations
towards the purchase of a Stokes Basket for the Ships.
Thanks to the generosity of the members aboard, they
were able to gather over $600, which will pay for the
equipment. Great job, Molly and Austen, and thank you
to all who donated! Annual General Meeting
The Membership Committee would like to thank Terry’s
Independent Grocers for their kind contribution
towards the refreshments enjoyed on the cruises.
In this issue you will find a list of the Society’s Corporate
Members for 2009. Through their sponsorships and
donations, these organizations have shown that they
are committed to the goals of the Society and to the
preservation of Muskoka’s heritage for the generations
to come. Please try to support them if you can. In this
and future issues, we will introduce you to our corporate
supporters through a brief profile. We have chosen
to begin these profiles with our very first Corporate
Member — Scott’s of Muskoka.
As always, we value your feedback and we are interested Members Day Cruise
in hearing from you. Please feel free to contact us aboard the Wenonah II
through the Heritage Centre at 705-687-2115, or via
email at email@example.com.
Membership Committee Co-Chair
Molly Rivers, aboard the
Wenonah II on Members
Day. Molly and Austen
towards a Stokes Basket Top to bottom:
for the Ships.
Members await boarding
A special Thank You to Approaching the Narrows out of Gravenhurst
all who donated! Bay [photo courtesy Rob McFarlane]
Blair McMurchy and Murray Walker pass the
time outside the ticket office
The Real Muskoka Story Issue 70 Summer 2009 5
2009’s The Editor’s Corner:
Corporate By now many of us are spending our weekends happily
ensconced at the cottage — and for once, the weather seems
Members: to be cooperating! Along with Summer arrives this latest
edition of The Real Muskoka Story to guide your cruising.
Never mind for a moment this issue’s fantastic feature
our Corporate articles. Forget the fun I had with the map below — or the 100-Mile Cruise passengers
Sponsors four extra pages to play with! We have all kinds of new at Natural Park, Mirror Lake:
& Major things to show you, and we’re quite pleased with our latest 1941
findings and creations. We hope you enjoy it all as much as we have!
We received some wonderful feedback on our Spring issue, and our new feature, the “Mystery
Bracebridge Hydraulic Ltd.
Photo,” prompted a number of correct responses — our “winner” is mentioned on the Jr. Stokers’
Braecon Northern Ltd
Page. We love hearing what you think, including suggestions for improvements! If you have an
Canadian Tire Associate
idea for a story or wish to contribute an article, please feel free to drop me a line at the editor’s
desk: firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy!
Chamberlain Tim-Br Mart
Church & Trought Inc.
David Barkey Painting Rosseau
& Decorating Natural Park,
Ditchburn House Antiques Mirror Lake 100-Mile Cruise:
Hair Energy Main Route
Hammond Transport Ltd. Lake Joseph
Products Ltd. Lake Rosseau
Furniture Port Sandfield
Larry Boese, REMAX Lake Milford Bay
Country Realty Inc.
and Catering Bala
Northern Building Services
Osler Business W E Lake Muskoka
Prop Doc Incorporated
Remax Lake Country
Robertson & Robertson Gravenhurst
Yacht Insurance ltd.
Scott’s of Muskoka 2009 nostalgia Cruises:
Stevenson Plumbing revisiting a time-Honoured tradition
& Electric Our Nostalgia Cruises for the 2009 sailing season include a nod to the 100 Mile Cruise
Sublime Graphics of yesteryear. We will depart Gravenhurst and sail all the way through the Locks at Port
Terry’s Indpendent Grocer Carling. Passengers will enjoy a stop at luxurious Windermere House Resort for lunch before
The Artstract Co. returning to Gravenhurst just in time for dinner.
Total Cleaning & We invite anyone with antique and classic boats to trail the ships during these Nostalgia
Restoration Cruises. Should you desire to join us for lunch at Windermere House, please give the office
Waite Fuels a call and we can certainly arrange that for you!
Water’s Edge Landscaping
Dates for the 100 Mile Cruise tribute are July 6, 27 and August 17 2009.
6 The Real Muskoka Story Issue 70 Summer 2009
The 100-Mile Cruise:
a Muskoka adventure aboard the Sagamo
The Segwun’s twilight cruise reliably sails past our cottage during the
fleeting summer months. The old steamship’s quiet presence and twinkling
lights are a joy to behold and a welcome reprieve from the now ubiquitous
harangue of noisy motorboats. The Segwun’s allure is in its reminder of a
quieter time on our beloved lakes, an era when personal watercraft were
powered by paddles or a set of oars. We need not to have lived during that
era to glimpse the sense of peace the Segwun leaves in her wake.
In the heyday of the Muskoka steamships, from the mid-1800s to the early
1920s, these boats were not the symbols of tranquility that they are today; A cruise brochure from 1931
rather they were a means of transportation to and from lodges or private
cottages. In the early 1920s, the main ships on the Muskoka lakes were
the Segwun, the Cherokee and the flagship of the fleet, the Sagamo. It was
the enterprising commodore of the Sagamo who conceived the idea of a
recreational cruise that would carry passengers from Gravenhurst Wharf on
Lake Muskoka to Natural Park on Lake Joseph. This day long cruise became
known as the 100 Mile Cruise. In truth, the journey was closer to eighty-six
miles, but the more romantic ‘100 Mile’ tagline trumped practicality—after
all, steamship usage was in decline.
The cruise was operational from 1922 to 1958. Although the Wenonah was
the first inland lake vessel in Canada, the Sagamo was close behind, and was
the main ship of the 100 Mile Cruise — proudly wearing the phrase “100 Mile
Cruiser” on her bow. Other ships, including the Cherokee, the Segwun and
the Medora provided connections from other towns to meet the Sagamo at
various stops along the way. During these cruises the hard-working Sagamo
continued her day job of carrying mail, goods and other passengers not all
destined for Natural Park.
The one-day cruises departed the Gravenhurst wharf at 7:00 a.m. for
Beaumaris, where the ship occasionally called at Glen Echo Lodge, then on to
Port Carling, through the locks to Lake Rosseau, then through Port Sandfield
to Lake Joseph. While aboard the ship, passengers were entertained with
live music and three meals, and the ever-important reserved deck chair.
The arrival at Natural Park on Lake Joseph (a parcel of land purchased by
the steamship company as a point of interest for the cruise) would have
provided an opportunity for passengers to walk the trails and enjoy lunch
outdoors. The Sagamo left Natural Park at 13:30, retracing her route for
arrival at Gravenhurst at 19:30 for direct train connection to Toronto.
Over the years, the cruise steadily gained popularity throughout Canada
and the United States, eventually becoming the imperative for the operation
of the Sagamo.
Although the Sagamo perished in a fire in 1969, never having the opportunity
to be fully restored, since 1981 visitors, cottagers and local citizens have
embraced the Segwun as an iconic attraction with its nod to a quieter era.
This summer, the Segwun is slipping into the Sagamo’s watery path and
offering passengers a Nostalgia Cruise from Gravenhurst through the locks Top to bottom:
at Port Carling and into Lake Rosseau for lunch at Windermere House. It S.S. Cherokee at Lake Rosseau
will then return to Gravenhurst in time for dinner. But I want to know: will a
R.M.S. Segwun at Port Carling
reserved deck chair be included in the package!
[note the shutterbugs!]
This article was written with assistance from Richard Tatley, in person and his
S.S. Sagamo on the Indian River
book The Steamboat Era in the Muskokas, Volume II (pages 164 and 165).
The Sagamo, circa the 1950s
The Real Muskoka Story Issue 70 Summer 2009 7
Bala And The Boats
Richard Tatley, Historian, Muskoka Steamship & Historical Society
Bala has always been a natural magnet for boating traffic, as surely as the
gentle but relentless currents of Lake Muskoka carry its waters to the churning
cataract of Bala Falls, from which they begin their uneven flow downwards
to Georgian Bay, the Great Lakes, and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean.
No one knows when or for how long men have trekked to the site of Bala:
they may have done so for over 8,000 years, but almost certainly they must
have come by boat. The earliest bands of Indian hunter-gatherers probably
came in dugouts. Later, as the climate warmed up and birch trees became
commoner, the birchbark canoe was invented. By Champlain’s day, groups
of Algonkian-speaking peoples periodically journeyed southwards from Lake
Nipissing: no doubt they often camped at Bala. By the 1640s there may
have been the occasional visit by French coureurs-de-bois from Fort Ste.
Marie, near Midland, since there are reports of early French axe-heads being
Top to bottom: discovered around some of the portage-sites along the Moon River, but it is
The S.S. Ahmic graces the just as likely that these tools were carried by the Indians themselves.
Regatta at Bala, circa 1910 All of the earliest European explorers and surveyors known to have come
S.S. Cherokee prepares to pass to Muskoka came by boat: usually canoes, occasionally made of tin. Some,
through the open swing bridge including Alexander Shirreff of Fitzroy Harbour, who passed by in 1829, and
David Thompson, who mapped the Muskoka Lakes in 1837, both stopped
at the site of Bala. And undoubtedly the lumbermen who first began logging
Featured on the Moon River, and built a camp near Chebawintagounk Falls during the
1860s, arrived by punt and pointer.
Corporate As a settlement, Bala owes its foundation to boats, as it was water-craft that
Member: first put the settlement of Bala in tenuous contact with “civilization.” As early
as 1867 the pioneer steamboat Wenonah, which was built by A.P Cockburn
Scott’s of at Gravenhurst in 1866, began towing booms of logs to the falls, to be fed
downriver to the Cockburn Company sawmill on the lower Musquash River.
Muskoka The following year the little wooden sidewheeler also brought in the first
Located in the centre of settlers: the Burgess family from Bruce County. For many years the Wenonah
downtown Bracebridge on Manitoba Street, and other steamers provided the only dependable link between Bala and
Scott’s of Muskoka has been in operation the “front” settlements, and brought in all the commodities sold at Thomas
for over 40 years. Jim and Loretta Dwyer Burgess’ store. No roads were built to the Bala region until the 1880s, and
took over the store 12 years ago and have even after the Old Bala Road was opened to Gravenhurst the local people
been running it ever since. Scott’s is very ignored it and did their transporting by steamboat. Only in the wintertimes
well known for their excellent selection of did the “road” (which was little better than a trail) attract much traffic.
prints and artwork, in particular those fea-
For many years the water-levels of Lake Muskoka were known to fluctuate
turing Muskoka, as well as their selection
eight or nine feet every season, between the spring runoffs and the late fall.
of maps and books on Muskoka — some of
This created endless navigating headaches, sometimes rendering various
which are not available anywhere else.
channels impassable for half the year, and was also a nuisance to settlers
Scott’s was the Society’s first Corporate whose lands fronted on the lake. Strangely enough, nothing was done about
Member when Corporate Memberships were this problem beyond a little dredging until 1873, but then the authorities
introduced. Jim says that they enjoy their consented to build a control-dam at Bala Falls. Unluckily, the dam worked too
membership very much and appreciate the well, and soon portions of the lake began to flood in 1875 and 1876. This
information and stories about Muskoka and forced the government to spend even more money to dig an extra channel
the Ships which they find in the newsletters at Bala to allow surplus waters to flow down the river.
and at the Heritage Centre. Although they
Until about 1882, Bala was known only as a minor sawmill centre, when
cannot attend as often as they would like
H.C. Guy and Thomas Currie built the first tourist-hotel, the River View
due to their busy schedules with the store,
Temperance House. By the turn of the century Bala had five or six resort-
they particularly like to go on the Member’s
hotels — not bad for a community of about fifty people! Once again, it was
the lake steamers (mainly the Muskoka and the Oriole during the 1890s) that
8 The Real Muskoka Story Issue 70 Summer 2009
made all this possible. They not only brought in all the guests and clientele, they also
handled all the baggage and most of the provisions too.
In 1897 the Burgess family decided to go into the supply-boat business themselves. This
was a way of reaching parties of campers and cottagers by boat, at a time when roads
were few, railways non-existent, and very few people could afford a private steam or
motor-boat — which made it difficult to go to town and shop! Hence Donald Burgess,
a son of Thomas, imported a 68-foot steam-yacht called the Gypsy to peddle groceries
and other provisions around the West Arm. The Gypsy served for four seasons, but soon
proved too small and cramped for her duties. Even after she was sold, she continued to
serve the tourist community, running down the Moon River below the falls.
The Burgesses replaced her with a much larger, double-decked vessel built explicitly as a
floating food-store. Called the City of Bala, she was launched at Bala in 1901 — although
it took a little help from the Navigation Company steamer Islander to drag her into the
water! A handsome vessel, with a length of 76 feet, she was then the largest supplyboat
on the Muskoka Lakes. Although business was good, she in fact served only for three
years, until Donald Burgess decided to pull up stakes and go out West. The City then
became a scow-boat for the tannery at Bracebridge, until she rotted out by 1911.
In 1906–07, the scene at Bala was radically transformed by the arrival of the Canadian
Pacific Railway from Toronto, which immediately built two stations there. One was
the wharfside station, where summertime trains could connect with the Navigation
Company’s steamers. We are told that the Islander was on hand to meet the first
passenger train at Bala on June 30, 1907. The coming of the railway caused no
diminution in the boat-services — quite the contrary! By 1908 the Navigation Company
had the Cherokee in service, plying mostly to and from Bala and the resorts and
communities around Lake Muskoka, and connecting with the Gravenhurst steamers
at Beaumaris and Port Carling. Frequently the small auxiliary steamer Ahmic or the
Charlie M. lent a hand, calling at Torrance and other local stops. During the 1920s and
afterwards, it was often the Segwun or the Islander that handled the Bala route. Top to bottom:
Bala was soon flooded with canoes and motorboats, and numerous regattas were held S.S. Kenozha, docked near
there. Some of these small boats were actually built at Bala, at Tait’s Marina, which usually the New Windsor Hotel
completed one launch every winter. Cottagers flocked into town to buy ice cream and Rail passengers from the
other treats, or to dance to the music of Guy Lombardo, “Duke” Ellington or the Dorsey Cherokee, mid 1920s
Brothers at Gerry Dunn’s pavilion: many would come by boat. The passenger-ships A gentleman passenger
continued to call as late as 1950, and during her last few seasons the Segwun resumed watches the upcoming
meeting the trains from Toronto as in earlier times. It was a sad day for Bala when the swing bridge
Canadian National ordered the swingbridge at Bala Park Island welded shut in 1964,
The S.S. Islander in dock
preventing large excursion vessels from calling any more.
But the Segwun still runs occasionally as far as Bala Park Island. Though the bridge
no longer swings open in response to her whistle, her plaintive toots are still heard in
Bala, and this fall she will sail into the West Arm three times to help the town — from
a distance — celebrate its first 125 years. No doubt as long as people live in Muskoka,
there will always be plenty of boats at Bala.
An unabridged version of this article will soon be up on www.realmuskoka.com.
Bala’s Unique Heritage
Ruth Nishikawa, President ACO Muskoka — www.arconserv.ca
In the area by the Bala Falls there are many cultural heritage resources: The Burgess
Church, Bala Bay Inn, Dunn’s Pavilion, Trinity St. Albans Church, Bala United Church,
Former Bala Post Office, Bala Hydro Plant, and Purks Place. Two Ontario Heritage
plaques; a war memorial, gardens and commemorative trees, docking, portages and
paths, memorial benches and viewing spots, as well as interpretive plaques which High water at Bala Falls
outline the history of the area. The falls themselves are the main feature of the cultural — yesteryear, and today
heritage landscape. As one walks around the area of the falls, one is struck by the many [Permission is granted
examples of how this natural beauty has shaped the community. from the photographer]
The Real Muskoka Story Issue 70 Summer 2009 9
This Season at the Muskoka Boat
& Heritage Centre:
Muskoka Boat Builders: Past and Present
On June 25, the Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre will unveil a new exhibit which
tells the story of the Boat Builders of Muskoka: Past and Present. In this exhibit, you
will see examples of each of Muskoka’s boat builders as part of our Grace and Speed
in-water exhibit. You will also see the phases of boatbuilding, designs, parts, tools,
hardware, woods used, bending of ribs, and varnishing.
The story of boat building in Muskoka begins in 1868 with the Free Grants and
Homestead Act, which gave land to Canadians and Europeans who wanted to start
a new life in a new land. The land grants were conditional on building a permanent
residence and the clearing of land for farming. Although there are many examples
of successful farms in Muskoka, for the most part what the new settlers drew from
the hat were rocks and swamp. The lucky ones who were granted lands on water
quickly turned their attention to accommodating tourists. They built hotels, and they
Three of the first families to receive land grants were the Johnstons of Port Carling,
Top to bottom: the Ditchburns of Rosseau and the Minetts — after whom the Village of Minett was
Welcoming gantry named. Henry Ditchburn and William Johnston, Sr. quickly saw the opportunity to build
sailboats and rowboats to serve the new hotels and their guests, and an increasing
Boat hardware: past and number of seasonal cottage owners. Ditchburn came from a long line of shipwrights
present and served in the Royal Navy. Johnston by contrast was seemingly self-taught. Having
Steambox & wood bending started with dugout canoes, he built his first rowboat in the early 1870s. By 1900,
the two had built over 300 boats, each of which they rented out from Liveries in Port
Carling, Rosseau, Windermere, Port Sandfield, Beaumaris and Gravenhurst.
The early 1900s were a spectacular period for boat building in Muskoka and something
unique in the world. Tourism was booming, skilled labour was abundant, especially in
the winter, and gasoline engines were quickly becoming reliable. Ditchburn’s business
was taken over by his nephew Herbert in 1904. Johnston invested his business assets
into the Disappearing Propeller Boat Company in 1916, a partnership between his
nephew Billy and J.R. Hodgson. Meanwhile, Hubert Minett began building boats at his
parent’s hotel, Clevelands House. Each of these young men built significant businesses
which exported boats all over the world. The quality of their work and the sophisti-
cated and demanding market for their boats attracted the attention of America’s top
Naval Architects such as George Crouch, John Hacker, Bert Hawker and Douglas Van
Patten, who added further refinement of their products. Soon many more boat builders
were setting up to satisfy the demand of wealthy cottage owners. Greavette, Matheson,
Duke, SeaBirD, Brown, Barnes and McNeil Norse are some of the best known.
Muskoka-built boats also showed up on the international racing scene. Between 1920
and 1927 Ditchburn built a series of “Rainbow” racers for Harry Greening of Hamilton.
They competed successfully in London, England and in APBA-sanctioned Gold Cup
races in Detroit and Buffalo. The Rainbow IV won the 1924 British International Trophy,
better known as the “Harmsworth” in Detroit, only to be disqualified as the design
Top to bottom: was “too advanced.” Greavette built the Miss Canada and Little Miss Canada series
racers for Harold Wilson of Ingersoll. Miss Canada III and IV, which also raced as Miss
How many ways can you Supertest, were very successful, winning awards in Detroit, Lake George and Toronto.
move a boat to water? Miss Canada III raced in Washington in 1939, winning the President’s Cup, which was
Model of partially built boat presented by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Children [and the curious] Some special parts of the exhibit show the role of women in boating, racing boats built
can play with in Muskoka, and the many ways that boats are moved. Don’t miss this exhibit!
lifting a boat
10 The Real Muskoka Story Issue 70 Summer 2009
Ahoy, Junior Stokers!
Antique classic boats! How cool are they. They come in all shapes and
sizes, just like modern boats. Some were designed for speed, like the
gentleman racers, other for hauling groceries and people across to
their family cottages, while others were designed for nice long lei-
surely cruises on the lake. For me the ultimate antique classic boat is
the Segwun. So next time you see an antique classic boat on the lake,
wave at it!
And come into the Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre to see the great A drawing of the R.M.S. Segwun
display of in-water antique classic boats. Learn about their history, for sent in by one of our readers
they all have a story to tell. Maybe you have a story to tell about your
favourite antique classic boat. We’d love to hear it!
Your fellow Junior Stoker,
Austen B. McMurchy
Word Search Puzzle
Find the words from the list hidden in
the puzzle below:
Check out www.wordle.net !
W M B O Y T H O M S E Y S S F Word List:
T P A S S E N G E R N Y B O C
B G H F D G T Y D V F
R C M H
M C O F G O D D O B D E R A M DRAFT
H C R F E Y H F R M S D C H K RESTORATION
F N G H Z R U R A H S N T O I BEAM Be the first to email us with the
F M W E J E T A G E S A G G U MAST correct identity of this photo,
D L S U Q S T G R H G L L A Y PROMENADE and we will publish your
W K L R W T G B O G T S I N E KNOTS name in the Fall newsletter.
S N E R W O B D G R E I U Y R
PURSER Find the photo in this issue!
V Y U H D R Y S E A K H U G F
N T W F A A H E N S L Q K K D
R Q M K S T T R F F K S F G S MEDORA
U D E C K I E T U X G C V S Z ISLANDER
B R O H S O D R A F T B V E X MAHOGANY
H F N Y E N Y S M V N M G E S
C W A R T F H E T N X J F X E
T Q H E Y N A P U R S E R O N
B E A M A D V I O O S J S S D
D X I A V J R K Y Y R D F E K
L H Y S P J E K Y S S H D T N
H G J I E S R F T Y F F U
Email your answer to
G M T S K Y K A Y L I V J J T
F P R O M E N A D E J I U P S The first reader to correctly
D F R W A D X A Z A G J R T I identify last issue’s Mystery
Photo was Mr. Jack McIrvine.
puzzle by Austen McMurchy
The Real Muskoka Story Issue 70 Summer 2009 11
Featured Board Member
Murray Walker has long been one of the foremost champions of Muskoka wooden
boats. A champion is an informed advocate, a patron, and a protector, and Murray is
all of those things for the wooden boats of Muskoka.
For well over three decades, he has invested in and assembled a collection that exem-
plifies the best work of many Muskoka boatbuilders. Murray believes that the best
work of many boatbuilders is more than a beautiful craft — it is art.
Blair McMurchy and To ensure that the art of the era of Muskoka’s wooden boats is understood, docu-
Murray Walker mented and accessible to all, Murray championed the establishment of the Muskoka
Boat & Heritage Centre. In recognition of his vision and ongoing support,
the Centre’s Boat House shall henceforth be designated: “The Murray
Walker Grace & Speed Boat House.”
Thank you, Murray!
Eleven years ago, Ron Sclater began
working on the Wanda III as a bar-
‘Sharing in your Muskoka Fine Dining Experience.' tender/deckhand — entertaining
the passengers with informative
705-687-8618 commentary about the lakes and
530 Muskoka Road North, Gravenhurst, ON surrounding areas. Ron became
Captain of Wanda five years later Blair McMurchy with
and sailed Wanda to various destin- Ron Sclater
ations on the lakes before she was removed her from service for a hull
restoration in 2004. Ron also became the “Guest Commentator” during
the very popular overnight cruises — delighting passengers with enter-
taining stories about days gone by on the Muskoka Lakes.
Come around to the Back
Door of our Muskoka Road
Around the time Ron began captaining Wanda, the Muskoka Boat &
location and take home Heritage Centre was in the planning stages of development, and the
what has been voted the
best Fish with Chips in
Society needed a committee to supply the contractor with the correct
Muskoka! historical information as well as assist in the interior design. Ron volun-
teered for what would prove to be a three-year commitment — many
weeks, stretching well beyond the forty-four-hour work week.
Despite Ron’s passion for Wanda and his tireless efforts at the Heritage
Centre — both through the planning committee and the present day
Archive committee — Ron’s lasting legacy to many will be the role he
played on Wenonah II Pirate Cruises as Captain Hook. These cruises
began five years ago and they have been a wonderful success — mainly
705-687-8907 due to Ron’s ability to entertain the thousands of Pirates of all ages that
530 Muskoka Road North, Gravenhurst, ON
have dared to raise the black flag on Sunday mornings.
Come around to the Back Door of our
Muskoka Road location and take home It is with great pleasure that the Society presents Ron Sclater with
the best Fish with Chips in Muskoka. the Award of the Phoenix in appreciation of his outstanding support
Haddock, Cod, Halibut towards our organization as volunteer, historian, storyteller, bartender,
Sweet Potato and Hand-Cut French Fries deckhand, Captain — and of course: Hook!
Starting at $6.99 * take out only
12 The Real Muskoka Story Issue 70 Summer 2009
Interior Painting and Wallpapering
Reliable, Hand Brushed Finishes...Preserving Your Heritage
Prompt, Patricia Ross
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Bracebridge, ON (705) 645-8377
687-0080 P1L 1T1 email@example.com
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“Getting There Is Half The Fun!”
450 Ecclestone Drive
P.O. Box 441
Bracebridge, ON P1L 1T7
(705) 645 5431 ext 29
Business card ad:Layout 1 09/07/09 9:28 AM Page 1
1950 Duke 19 ft. Mahogany Smoothskin:
75 hp Grey Marine engine, fully restored in 2007,
including new 12V system, rebuilt transmission,
new bilge pump. Rebuild records available. Hull
and deck varnish in excellent condition. Always
stored in boathouse. Surveyed April 2009.
Contact John Rooney at: 800.465.1662 705.687.6691
1 Langford Dr. Box 1018, Bracebridge, Ontario P1L 1V2
firstname.lastname@example.org or 705 326 9677.
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135 Muskoka Rd. S. email@example.com
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The Real Muskoka Story Issue 70 Summer 2009 13
SIMMONS Sleep Centre
Lake Country Realty, Inc., REALTOR®
Independently Owned and Operated BOAT TOPS & INTERIORS
CLASSIC & ANTIQUE
Larry Boese LAUNCHES
23 Balls Drive
Bracebridge, ON P1L 1T1 6 MONICA LANE, UNIT 5
(705) 645-5281 Fax: (705) 645-3662 BRACEBRIDGE, ON
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YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD WINE MAKING email@example.com n 705.329.3843
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14 The Real Muskoka Story Issue 70 Summer 2009
Some might say you’re living in the past.
We know your greatest concern is for the future.
Understanding the insurance needs of Antique and Classic boat owners for 48 years.
Founding Member of The Antique and Classic Boat Society, Toronto Chapter
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How many different
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Centre this Summer
and find out!
Reservations & Information
Resort Lunch Cruise: The Rosseau - JW Marriott Resort & Spa
Thursdays until September 3rd - 12pm to 3:30pm (From Port Carling)
Nostalgia Cruises - Aboard the R.M.S. Segwun
Bala Park - July 20
100 Mile Tribute - July 27, August 17
10% off cruises and
Upper Lake Joseph - August 3 (From Port Carling)
FREE admission to
Muskoka Boat &
Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre: New Exhibit!
Muskoka Boat Builders: Past & Present
The story of the Muskoka Wooden Boat, the design to the finished product.