Ontario’s Vacationland: Fabulous Scenery With a Dash of History

Driving north from Toronto along highway 400 is more often than not a challenge particularly on summer weekends when it seems as if the entire population of Canada’s largest city is on the move to vacationland – the rocky Canadian shield with its many lakes and fresh air.

Just past Barrie you will turn onto highway 11 for the short trip to Gravenhurst. Swing into this town which is the gateway to cottage country. Here you can enjoy a traditional Muskoka experience. Go down to the docks and buy a ticket for a cruise on the lake aboard either the 1887 ship RMS Segwun, the oldest operating steamship in North America or the Wenonah II, a reproduction of a turn-of-the-century vessel. On the cruise you will be taken around the shores of Lake Muskoka as early cottagers were as they brought their families, food and in some cases servants to their sumptuous summer homes that in spite of their size were called cottages.

In Gravenhurst you can visit Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site of Canada. It celebrates the life of Dr. Norman Bethune who became a hero of China after serving as a surgeon and teacher there during the revolution.

The next town going north from Gravenhurst is Bracebridge which is a hub of activity in the summer as it is a service centre for Lake Muskoka and Lake Joseph cottagers and tourists. The town is known for its picturesque waterfalls. They are a great favourite with photographers particularly in the fall when the colours are magnificent. One of the falls is right in town, and, just a few minutes outside town is High Falls Park which has 5 separate waterfalls. One of them is popularly known as the Niagara of the North.

From Bracebridge a short drive north will bring you to Huntsville. This large community has many attractions among them is Muskoka Heritage Place. This is a perfect place to bring children. It is a combination of museum and heritage village with costumed guides. What will surely thrill everyone is taking a ride on the steam train, the Portage Flyer. This railway was originally used to transport people over a portage from one steamship to another in the Muskoka lakes so that they could vacation at their cottages or at resorts such as the famous Bigwin Inn, once the most luxurious resort on The Lake of Bays.

Huntsville has a number of beautiful parks and beaches. Try a walk on the Hungers Bay Trail. It is a 2.8 km moderately difficult jaunt. What is unusual about the walk is that it takes you over a very long floating path across Hunters Bay. This trail is, as one would expect, in Ontario’s vacationland, is a perfect place to experience the incredible fall colours.

To complement the variety of outdoors experiences in Huntsville the town has a new theatre. The Algonquin Theatre, part of the Huntsville Civic Centre, offers a program of music, theatre and dance with a something for all tastes.

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