Historical Plaques of
Muskoka District

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Location: In the parking lot, H-Way 169, Bala

The surrounding rock formation is among the oldest of the Earth's crust. Formed between one and two billion years ago, it is part of the Precambrian Shield, which occupies two-thirds of the surface area of Ontario. Unsuited to agriculture, the Shield impeded early settlement, yet it contained the economic potential from which much of Ontario's wealth is derived. Beneath its surface lies the greater part of the province's mineral resources, while on it grows most of its timber and pulpwood. Thousands of lakes were carved in the Shield by the ice-sheets of the last glacial period and these, with its forests, offer unparalleled facilities for vacationers and sportsmen.

Archaeological and Historic Sites Board of Ontario


Location: Municipal Building, 190 Harvie St., Gravenhurst

The Muskoka Road, constructed to open the district north of Washago for settlement, had reached this point at the head of Lake Muskoka by 1859. A community soon developed and in 1862 a post-office named Gravenhurst was opened here. Four years later Alexander Cockburn launched the "Wenonah", the first steamboat on the Muskoka Lakes, and Gravenhurst was established as the southern terminus of navigation and the centre of a developing tourist industry. Lumbering further accelerated the village's development and the extension of the Toronto Simcoe and Muskoka Junction Railroad to Gravenhurst, its northern terminal, in 1875, consolidated its position as the "Gateway to Muskoka". The community, withover 850 inhabitants, was incorporated as a village by a County by-law of 1877.

Erected by the Ontario Heritage Foundation,
Ministry of Culture and Recreation


Location: Town Hall, 37 Main St. E., Huntsville

During the late 1860s a small agricultural settlement, founded largely through the efforts of Captain George Hunt, developed here. In 1870 a post office called Huntsville was established and the following year the Muskoka Colonization Road was extended to this point. Improvements in transportation including the opening of a navigable water route north from Port Sydney to Huntsville in 1877 and the arrival of the Northern and Pacific Junction Railway eight years later spurred the village's growth. With the erection of a tannery and saw, planing and shingle mills by the 1890s, the community emerged as an important industrial centre for the region. Although lumbering enterprises gradually declined during the early 20th century, Huntsville continued to prosper as one of Muskoka's most popular resort towns.

Erected by the Ontario Heritage Foundation,
Ministry of Citizenship and Culture


Location: Just west of H-Way 11, 6 kms south of Huntsville

This pioneer squared-timber church, one of the few remaining examples of its type in Ontario, was begun in 1872 and completed the next year. Following the surveys of Stephenson Township in 1862 and 1871 and the extension of the Muskoka Road to the site of Huntsville in 1870, many settlers took up land in this area. One of these, John Madill, donated an acre of land for the church and burying ground and the members of the congregation contributed the logs. The first services were conducted by itinerant missionaries of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. Although no longer in regular use, an annual service is still held here by The United Church of Canada.

Erected by the Ontario Archaeological and Historic Sites Board


Location: In the park beside the locks, Port Carling

The first white settlers on the site of this town, then known as Indian Village, arrived about 1865. In 1869 it was named after the Honourable John Carling, Ontario's first Minister of Public Works and Agriculture. Water transportation, so vital to the early farmers and lumbermen, was greatly aided by the construction of these locks, 1869-71, by the provincial government. The village was incorporated in 1896.

Erected by the Ontario Archaeological and Historic Sites Board


Location: Near the Govt. Wharf, H-Way 117, Baysville

Surveyed in 1862 by Robert T. Burns, P.L.S., McLean Township was opened for settlement in 1868 under the Free Grants and Homestead Act of that year. The three lots of which much of Baysville is located were granted in 1871 to William H. Brown (1840-1920), a sawyer from the vicinity of Brantford. Brown, who filed subdivision plans in 1873 and 1875, built a sawmill which became the nucleus of the settlement. He served as postmaster of this community, 1874-1920, as reeve of McLean and Ridout Townships, 1876-85, and as warden of Victoria County in 1855. Baysville, well served by roads and accessible by steamboat, soon became a well-known resort for vacationers and sportsmen.

Archaeological and Historic Sites Board of Ontario


Location: Same location as above plaque



Following the War of 1812 expeditions traversed the wilderness between Lakes Simcoe and Muskoka and the Ottawa River, seeking a route across Upper Canada less open to attack than by the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario. In 1819 Lieut. J.P. Catty, R.E., crossed by way of Balsam and Kashagawigamog Lakes and the York and Madawaska Rivers. Lieut. Henry Briscoe, R.E., and Ensign Durnford, R.E., ascended the Muskoka in 1826, proceeding via Lake of Bays, Lake Opeongo and the Petawawa. Other expeditions through Muskoka were led by Alexander Shirreff, 1829, Lieut. J. Carthew, R.N., and Lieut. F.H. Baddeley, R.E., 1835: and David Thompson, 1837.

Archaeological and Historic Sites Board of Ontario


Location: Memorial Park, bordered by Manitoba,
Kimberly & Parklane Sts., Bracebridge

In 1862 the Muskoka Road, a colonization route built to open this region for settlement, was completed to the first falls on the north branch of the Muskoka River. A settlement, including a tavern, a lumber mill and a store, soon developed and two years later a post office named Bracebridge was opened. When regular steamship service began on Lake Muskoka in 1866, Bracebridge became the northern terminus and prospered as the distribution centre for the region. A court-house and a registry office for the district were built and by 1871 the village contained four large hotels, several mills and numerous stores. A developing tourist trade further encouraged the growth of the community and in 1875 Bracebridge was incorporated as a Village with over 750 inhabitants.

Erected by the Ontario Heritage Foundation,
Ministry of Culture and Recreation


Location: Muskoka Rd., Bracebridge

One of the finest octagonal houses in Ontario, this impressive building was erected in 1882 by Henry James Bird, a prosperous local woollen manufacturer. In its unusual design it illustrates the architectural theories of Orson Squire Fowler, an American author and lecturer who claimed that many-sided structures provided healthier, more efficient environments for their inhabitants than rectangular buildings. In keeping with Fowler's views, the house was solidly constructed of fieldstone and poured concrete and contained such innovative features as ventilation shafts and a dumb-waiter. It was officially named Woodchester Villa after the owner's birthplace in England, but became known locally as the "Bird Cage". Occupied by family members until 1977, Woodchester Villa has since been restored and is now open to the public.

Erected by the Ontario Heritage Foundation,
Ministry of Citizenship and Culture


Location: In Sagamo Park, H-Way 169, Gravenhurst


1866 - 1959

Steam navigation on the Muskoka Lakes began in 1866, when the paddle vessel "Wenonah" went into service. Built at Gravenhurst, she was owned by A.P. Cockburn (1837-1905), who served as the federal member of parliament for Muskoka, 1872-82, and for North Ontario, 1882-87. The "Wenonah" was the first of a line of ships known after 1872 as the Northern Lakes Navigation Company, and after 1949 as the Muskoka Lakes Line. Its ships were among many which contributed to the early and rapid development of Muskoka as a lumbering and resort region. The steamboat gradually gave way to the automobile, and the last two, "Segwun" (1887) and "Sagamo" (1906) ceased operation in 1958.

Archaeological and Historic Sites Board of Ontario


Location: At the CNR Station, Brock & Second St., Gravenhurst

This company was incorporated by the Government of Ontario in 1869 to build a line to Lake Muskoka from the Northern Railway of Canada, which extended from Toronto to Barrie and Collingwood. Pressure for its construction came from settlers and lumbermen in the Muskoka region and from Toronto businessmen anxious to develop the City's hinterland. Work was begun at Barrie in 1870 but was hampered by the rugged terrain and continual financial difficulties, which forced a reorganization of the Company in 1871 and its absorption by the Northern Railway in 1875. That year the line was finally completed to Gravenhurst and Muskoka Wharf to connect with steamboat service on Lake Muskoka. The line encouraged settlement, lumbering and the development of the Muskoka tourist industry.

Erected by the Ontario Heritage Foundation,
Ministry of Culture and Recreation


Location: Bethune Memorial House-Museum, 235 John St. Gravenhurst

An internationally-famed humanitarian, surgeon and revolutionary, Bethune was born in this house. He graduated from the University of Toronto's medical school during the First World War and saw extensive service in that conflict. While at Montreal's Royal Victoria Hospital 1929-33, he gained widespread recognition as a thoracic surgeon. Increasing concern with social and political issues took him to Spain in 1936 where he organized Canadian medical aid for the Loyalist troops and set up the world's first mobile blood transfusion unit. Two years later he went to China and until his death worked tirelessly as a surgeon and medical adviser with the 8th Route National Revolutionary Army. He is buried in the Mausoleum of Martyrs, Shih Cha Chuang, China.

Erected by the Archaeological and Historic Sites Board,
Archives of Ontario


Location: Bethune Memorial House-Museum, 235 John St. Gravenhurst

Born in Gravenhurst, Bethune studied medicine in Toronto. He made significant contributions to thoracic surgery in Montreal hospitals, and became a strong advocate of socialized medicine. In 1936-37, during the Spanish Civl War, he led a Canadian medical team which, while serving with the Republican forces, pioneered the use of mobile blood transfusion services. He subsequently worked as a battlefield surgeon and medical adviser with the forces of Mao Tse-tung. After his death at the war front, on November 12, 1939, he became a national hero in China.

Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Commission des lieux et monuments historiques du Canada


Location: Bala

This pioneer generating station on the Muskoka River provided electric power to Bala, Port Carling, MacTier and surrounding districts. Completed in 1917, it was built and operated by the Bala Electric Light and Power Company. In the 1880s a timber dam and waterwheel were built at this site to supply motive power for a sawmill which operated until 1910. The electric power plant was purchased by Ontario Hydro in 1929 and designated Bala Generating Station No. 1. The development, with a capacity of 245 kilowatts was retired from service in 1957.



Location: Bracebridge

This building, originally a one-storey hydro generating station has a special place in the history of hydro as a public utility in Ontario. Built by local entrepreneur William S. Shaw in 1892 to supply Bracebridge with electricity, it drew water from the head race on an adjacent woolen mill owned by Henry J. Bird.

Bracebridge took over the Bird Mill Station in 1894, making it the first Ontario municipality to own and operate a hydro-electric generating station. The town has run its own hydro utility ever since.

It built a second generating station (still operational) at the foot of the falls in 1902 and later added plants upstream at Wilson's Falls (1909) and High Falls (1947). In 1904 the Bird Mill plant became a water pumping station and contracts for the installation of water mains throughout the town were awarded.


            1894                              1994

     Alfred Hunt, Mayor                James D. Lang, Mayor
   Singleton Brown, Reeve             Guy B. Waite, Chairman
Issac B. Aulph  Henry S. Bowyer  Steven M. Clement Harold B. Dawson
       David Daniels                      Frank J. Henry
  Moses Dickie   William Ross         Historical Research By
        James D. Shier            Robert J. Boyer  Glen S. Coates
William Simmons  William Webster       Heather G. Coupland
   Bracebridge Hydro Manager        Bracebridge Hydro Manager
      William C. Simmons                  Russel A. Hogg
                                  Bracebridge Water-Works Manager
                                         Donald P. Currie

Erected with the assistance of the Ontario Heritage Foundation

The following plaque was sent in by Debbie Gerow


Location: about 11km south of Gravenhurst on Hwy 11 near Killworth,
just after the Hillbilly camp grounds in a little picnic area

During the 1850's and 1860's the goverment attempted to open up the districts lying north of the settled townships by means of " Colonization Roads". Free land was offered to persons who would settle along the route, clear a stated acreage and help maintain the road. In 1858 construction began on a road from Washago to the interior of Musloka. R. J. Oliver was appointed the government land agent at the Severn Bridge and directed the progress of settlement. The road was completed to the site of Bracebridge by 1861 and the adjacent bushland formed into the townships of Morrison, Muskoka, Draper and Macaulay.

Erected by the Ontario Archaeological and Historic Sites Board

The following plaque was sent in by the McRae Family;
Tom, Cathy, Sarah, Daniel, Matthew, Alexander and Nick


Location: on the grounds of Muskoka Falls United Church,
Vankoughnet Road, Muskoka Falls

Muskoka Falls was the western terminus of the Peterson Road, a colonization road named after surveyor Joseph S. Peterson. Constructed 1858-1863 at a cost of some $39,000, it stretched about 114 miles between the Muskoka and Opeongo Roads and formed part of a system of government colonization routes built to open up the southern region of the Precambrian Shield. Poor soil disappointed hopes of large-scale agricultural settlement along this road both on government "free-grant" lots and on the lands of the Canadian Land and Emigration Company. By the 1870's portions of the route were overgrown, though certain sections aided lumbering and now contribute to the development of an important Ontario vacation area.

Erected by the Archeological and Historic Sites Board,
Department of Public Records and Archives of Ontario


Location: In Bala, in a park north of the north bridge on the west side of County Road 169

Thomas W. Burgess, Bala's first settler, brought his family here to "Musquosh Falls" in 1868, probably aboard the steamer "Wenonah". Burgess opened a sawmill and store to serve the pioneers attracted by Muskoka's free land grants. A post-office named after Bala in Wales and with Burgess as postmaster, was established by 1872. That year the Musquosh Road linked Bala with Gravenhurst and by the 1880's the settlement was benefiting from a growing tourist trade. Railways reached Bala by 1907 and it became one of Muskoka's most accessible tourist resorts. When it was incorporated as a town in 1914, Dr. A.M. Burgess, a son of the community's founder, became the first mayor.

Erected by the Archeological and Historic Sites Board,
Department of Public Records and Archives of Ontario


Location: In Vankoughnet, in a park on the north side at 1193 Vankoughnet Road

Private Richardson won the Victoria Cross while fighting with the Border Regiment of the British Army in northern India during the Indian Mutiny of 1857-59. As part of an attachment sent to dislodge rebels in the hills of the Kewarie Trans-Gogra district on April 27, 1859, he displayed "determined courage in having, though severely wounded... closed with and secured a rebel Sepoy (Indian soldier) armed with a broad revolver". An Irishman by birth, Richardson came to Canada in the early 1860s. During the 1880s and 1890s he lived on a farm one kilometre southwest of here. He held numerous township offices, including Reeve of Oakley Township (1895-96).

Ontario Heritage Foundation, Ministry of Culture and Communications


Location: On the NE corner of Dominion Street and Ontario Street, Bracebridge



Bracebridge has been a centre for the administration of justice in Muskoka since it held the first court sessions in the region in 1868. The province built this court house after Bracebridge became the District Town of the new District of Muskoka in 1898. It is an early example of a style of court house built by Frank R. Heakes, who became chief architect in Ontario's Department of Public Works in 1896. Its classical form and red-brick, two-storey design also distinguished Heakes' later court houses in Kenora, Fort Frances, Haileybury, and Sault Ste. Marie. These prominent public buildings proclaimed the significance of the justice system in the civil administration of the province.

Ontario Heritage Foundation, an agency of the Government of Ontario


Location: On Sadler Drive north of Maple Street west of Taylor Road, across from Palmer Crescent, Bracebridge

The Society of Saint John the Evangelist was founded by an Anglican priest at Cowley, England in 1866. Bound by vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, members of the order devote their lives to prayer and community service. The Society began its ministry in Canada in 1927 when three Cowley Fathers arrived in Emsdale to take charge of the scattered Anglican missions in Muskoka. They established a monastery in Bracebridge the following year. At a time when government social programs were limited, the Cowley Fathers provided essential humanitarian services as well as spiritual enrichment to Muskoka communities. Declining membership led to their withdrawal from the region in 1983.

Ontario Heritage Foundation, Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Recreation


Location: In Windermere, at the SW corner of Windermere Road and Golf Avenue Road

In the early 1860s, the government promoted agricultural settlement in Muskoka. Newcomers, including the Fife, Aitken and Forge families, settled near Lake Rosseau, working at farming and lumbering. In 1868, Windermere post office opened at the mouth of the Dee River to the north, but shortly afterwards moved nearby to the house of Thomas Aitken. Like others, Aitken boarded tourists in his home, at first informally. Once the railway reached the steamboat port of Gravenhurst in 1875, people poured into the Muskoka lakes for restorative wilderness holidays. In response, Aitken developed his famous Windermere House in the 1880s. That resort, representative of the region's lakeside hotels, served as the focal point for Windermere's evolution into a well-loved vacation destination.

Ontario Heritage Foundation, an agency of the Government of Ontario


Location: Next to the passenger terminal at Muskoka Airport at the end of Airport Road, off Gravenhurst
Parkway (Road 1) 3.4 km south of Highway 118 just east of its interchange with Highway 11

Located near here, Little Norway, one of the Norwegian armed forces training centres in Canada during the Second World War, was officially opened by Crown Prince Olav in May 1942. It embodies for Canadians the importance of the alliance of nations fighting for freedom. Between 1940 and 1945 more than 3,000 Norwegian airmen, sailors and soldiers and up to 3,000 merchant seamen and civilians trained in Canada for the struggle to liberate their occupied homeland. The strong bond between the two countries, forged in the experience of those years, has become a symbol of Canada's continuing friendship with its wartime allies.

Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Commission des lieux et monuments historiques du Canada


Location: At the boat launch on Lake of Bays close to the intersection of
South Portage Road (Road 9) and Deerhurst Canal Road (Road 23)

When completed in 1905, the Huntsville and Lake of Bays Railway, or Portage Railway, provided a crucial 1.8 km link connecting steamboats on Peninsula Lake to Lake of Bays and opened up North Muskoka to tourism and increased development. The railway was part of a larger navigation company owned by George F. Marsh and later sold to C.O. Shaw, owner of the Anglo-Canadian Leather Company in Huntsville and Bigwin Inn that opened on Lake of Bays in 1920. A narrow-gauge train fondly named the "Portage Flyer" plied the steep grade between the lakes carrying mail, tanbark and tourists for 55 years. By 1959, a decline in steamship travel led to the end of what was once promoted as the "smallest commercially operated railway in the world."

Ontario Heritage Trust, an agency of the Government of Ontario