When the weather is less than ideal, staying inside your cottage doesn’t have to be the only option. Muskoka and the surrounding region are littered with historical sites worth getting up and out for. Hop from building to building in Gravenhurst, Dorset, Huntsville, and Lake of Bays to take in the area’s rich history.
Loyal Orange Lodge – 150 First Street South, Gravenhurst
As one of several Loyal Orange Lodges in Muskoka, members in regalia would assemble here to talk life and religion. Since its inception in 1904, men would secretly congregate for socials, dances, plays, and the annual July 12th parade and picnic celebration. It was also used as a community and township hall for meetings. The lodge has been closed down for decades, due to the decline of Orangeism.
Robinson’s General Store – 1061 Main Street, Dorset
Zachariah Cole, one of the first settlers of Dorset, built this former hotel in 1862. The hotel burned down twice, once in 1886 and again in 1907, due to its construction of wood and other fire-feeding materials. After the second fire, a frame building was added called the Red Onion Hotel and a next-door general store opened shortly after. Today, it’s run by the Robinson family and includes 15,000 square feet of souvenirs, moccasins, a supermarket and a Home Hardware. The Red Onion is still intact upstairs in the form of a clothing and bath items boutique.
Muskoka Heritage Place – 88 Brunel Road, Huntsville
This pioneer village blossomed after two members of the Huntsville Rotary Club decided they needed a bigger space to accommodate their way of life. From 1961, the property grew to incorporate three pioneer buildings, log homes, a board and batten house, log schoolhouse, general store, blacksmith shop, and church among other town features. Finally, the museum as it stands today arrived in 1967, housing historical displays of Muskoka.
Dorset Lookout Tower – 1191 Dorset Scenic Tower Road, Dorset
Located near the Dorset Museum is the Lookout Tower, built in 1922. Originally a fire tower, rangers used this vantage point to spot signs of forest fires. Rangers would have to climb up the external ladder all the way to the top, a total of 82 feet high. The tower was updated in 1967 with a modern staircase, but a visit reveals photos of the original.
Gregory Brand Furniture – 1093 Main Street, Dorset
This is where you’ll find Dorset’s oldest wood frame house. This was the second home of Francis Harvey, tradesman and Dorset’s first European settler. It later became the home of Jack and Annie MacNamara. Jack was the first towerman employed to work the Dorset Fire Tower. Though it’s been a custom furniture store since 1993, it’s still got all the original architectural features.
Huntsville Town Hall Clock Tower – 37 Main Street East, Huntsville
This clock came to Huntsville by way of Toronto. It was originally built in 1871 for the second Union Station. In August 1927, the eight-sided clock tower was presented to the Town of Huntsville by Charles Paget, Chairman of the Parks Commission. The clock officially began ticking at 11 a.m. on October 11, 1927.
Bala’s Museum – 1024 Maple Avenue, Bala
Fans of Anne of Green Gables should delight in this visit. When Lucy Maud Montgomery visited Bala for two weeks in 1922, she dined at this former boarding house owned by Fanny Pike. Her visit later became the setting inspiration for The Blue Castle, her only book not based in Prince Edward Island. Today, the museum is peppered with memories of Montgomery, like her diary excerpts and a miniature Avonlea schoolhouse.
Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site of Canada – 235 John Street North, Gravenhurst
Dr. Henry Norman Bethune was born here. Among the Chinese, he’s known as a hero and medical marvel. Bethune spent the last two years of his life in China working as a surgeon and teacher during the Second Sino-Japanese War. He treated wounded residents and soldiers in rural China, but later died of blood poisoning during his service. Of his many humanitarian efforts, he’s mostly credited for developing a mobile blood transfusion service during the Spanish Civil War.
Brown’s Beverages – 220 Bay Street, Gravenhurst
This bottling plant began supplying spring water for Gravenhurst’s tourist camps and hotels in 1873. Dougald Brown owned a natural spring that he sourced his water from. He’d then bottle them in hand blown glass bottles and ship them via draft horses. Brown’s Beverages is now mostly recognized as Muskoka Springs, which also produces the popular Muskoka Dry Ginger Ale.
SS Bigwin – 1090 Main Street, Dorset
So it’s not technically a building, but this old wooden steamship is packed with historical significance. It once carried stars like Greta Garbo and Clark Gable to the Bigwin Inn, a golf resort on Bigwin Island that operated between 1920 and the 1960s. The old boat has since been restored with historical details in oak and mahogany. Now it’s sailing passengers through the Lake of Bays like it did in its glory days.