Muskoka's Earliest Tourists

April 7, 2018 | lfeesey

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Muskoka is a region in Ontario bounded by Georgian Bay to the west, Haliburton to the east and Simcoe to the south. Its main lakes are Muskoka, Rousseau and Joseph. It was named for Chippewa chief Mesquas Ukee who negotiated the land claim for the territory with the British in the mid-1800s. It is situated on the lower tip of the Canadian Shield, which is the world’s largest area of exposed pre-Cambrian rock. This geological formation is the 4.5-billion-year-old core of the North American continent.

Map of Muskoka

Muskoka illustrated. With descriptive narrative of this picturesque region, Adam, G. Mercer (Graeme Mercer), 1830-1912. ebook, 1888, English

After a survey conducted by John Stoughton Dennis in 1860, the region opened up to lumbering, white settlement and sightseeing. The Muskoka Club guided by T.M. Robinson made its first trek into the area in July 1860, and yearly trips thereafter.

Muskoka club
Muskoka Club. Unknown. Photograph, 1866, English

In the later 1860s, a greater variety of travellers started to explore the lakes, including artists who painted and sketched the pristine landscape. 

Sketching from Canoe 1867
Camping Out No. 2: Alice Killaly Sketching in a Canoe, Sparrow Lake, (Gravenhurst), Ontario. Unknown. Picture, 1867, English
Lake Muskoka sketch
Lake Muskoka (Gravenhurst, Ontario) White, George Harlow, 1817-1887. Picture, 1872, English
Lake Muskoka sketch
Lake Muskoka (Gravenhurst, Ontario) White, George Harlow, 1817-1887. Picture, 1872, English 


The first book about a camping adventure in lower Muskoka, Camping in the Muskoka Region, was published in 1886. Its author, James Dickson (1834-1926), wrote: "The lakes of the Lower Mus – Muskoka Lake, Lakes Joseph and Rosseau – have been explored in every nook and corner; their every bay and inlet, solitary rock, and pine-clad islet have been graphically described." His party arrived by steamer at the "thriving village of Bracebridge" ready to set off into the charted wilderness. (You can also view nine other digitized vintage Muskoka travel books.)

Camping in the Muskoka Region by James Dickson  P.L.S  with image of a lake with two canoes

Explore more images — including postcards — of early Muskoka in the Virtual Reference Library. The Virtual Reference Library contains rare historical items from Toronto Public Library's Digital Archive as well as librarian posts for Ontarians.