In remembrance of The Great War during this centenary year, this blog will explore the intriguing social history of that tumultuous time. The first two of my Muskoka Novels – "The Summer Before the Storm" and "Elusive Dawn" – take place from 1914-1918. During my four years of research I accumulated a trunkful of notes, and will illuminate some of the more interesting and unusual tidbits, beginning with the Age of Elegance.
Thursday, January 9, 2014
Tourists enchanted by Muskoka often bought land – even
entire islands – and built summer homes ranging from simple cabins to sprawling
mansions. Around Beaumaris on Lake Muskoka there was an influx of wealthy Americans,
especially from Pennsylvania, so this area became known as “Little Pittsburgh”
and Millionaires' Row. A million dollars bought a lot in the days when the
average wage in North America was $490 per year! Women teachers in Canada were
paid only $246 annually, while male teachers earned nearly double that.
Photo copyright Gabriele Wills
This rambling cottage on Buck Island has 14 bedrooms, 8
baths, many of them en suite, and 8 fireplaces, while the entire top floor was
a miniature playhouse for the children. The renowned gardens were maintained by
10 full-time gardeners.
Photo copyright Melanie Wills
The president of a Pittsburgh bank built this spacious and
luxurious cottage in 1902 on nearby Belle Island at a cost of $80,000. It had a
90-foot long veranda across the front, and the generous interior spaces included
a billiard room and several bedrooms with en suite bathrooms and private
balconies. A system of bells throughout would summon one of the 26 staff. It
also had a private tennis court. Unfortunately this beautiful century cottage
burned to the ground during renovations in 2010.