Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Best “Room” in the House

Photo by Frank Micklethwaite

Welcome to the most important space at the cottage. When we’re not in or on the water, we’re relaxing on the expansive veranda, reading, writing letters, playing games, dining, and entertaining.  Like many others, our outdoor “room” encircles the main building, separating the kitchen and servants’ wing so that the rest of the cottage isn’t affected by the heat of the wood stove that has to be kept burning to boil water and cook meals. So there’s always a dry and breezy place to sit, even on wet days. We don’t spend much time indoors, except for evenings, especially when part of the veranda is screened against bothersome mosquitoes. The uniformed maid will be serving tea shortly. Won’t you join us?

Photo by Frank Micklethwaite
This is a quintessential picture of Edwardian Muskoka summer life, typical of the ethos of the era.

The following passage from The Summer Before the Storm takes place just weeks before this idyllic world is shattered by the outbreak of war:
“They lounged with practiced ease on white wicker chairs and rockers and chaise lounges on the broad, pine-boarded veranda that wrapped around the cottage. The youngest children, sitting side by side, swung lazily in the hammock that hung in the band-shell on the southwest corner. A silver tea service and plates of small sandwiches, thick scones, and rich cakes were set before them. To nourish the soul there was the stunning panorama of the lake - rocky islands adrift along miles of shimmering blue water. A few sailboats and the distant smoke from a steamship wafted across the horizon.” 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Floating General Stores

So you’ve arrived at your Muskoka cottage for the summer with trunks of supplies for the two or three months you‘ll spend there. Clothes for all activities and weathers, the latest gramophone records, tennis and golfing gear, a collection of books to enlighten and entertain, sacks of flour and other staples were deposited - along with your family and servants - at your dock by a steamship. But how do you obtain fresh foods or sundries when you’re on an island or far from a community?

Supply boats like the Newminko were floating general stores that came by two or three times a week to the cottagers’ docks.  The kids delighted in choosing their candy bars or other treats when Mother or Cook had finished their purchases. Local farmers might also deliver milk and eggs daily, while Indians encamped for the summer at Port Carling brought freshly caught fish.

Blocks of ice cut by the locals from the lake in winter were stored in your icehouse – one of the essential outbuildings - and used as needed to keep food from spoiling, and to make ice-cream or cool your drinks on a sweltering summer day.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lakeside Gems

Millionaires' Row boathouse - photo copyright Gabriele Wills

Muskoka boathouses are so much more than shelters for watercraft. They are architectural gems, often reflecting the style of the cottage, some whimsical and ornate, never two the same, all with stories to tell. The spacious second floor – sometimes 60 or more feet long - was used as a ballroom or servants’ quarters, guest suites or the children’s domain.

Photo copyright Gabriele Wills
Some were purposely built as boathouse cottages, as was this lovely century one. For those who crave being near water, there is surely nothing more delightful than feeling like you’re adrift on the lake, serenaded by the lapping waves, and surrounded by the magical light reflected off the water.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Messing About in Boats

Photo by Frank Micklethwaite
One of the pleasures of summering in lake-land is being out on the water, perhaps gliding silently through the morning mist in a canoe, sitting patiently in a rowboat as you hope to catch a fish for your supper, or wafting across the lake with a breeze filling your sails. But when the affluent wanted to take their friends for a scenic tour or picnic, a steam launch was surely the way to go.

Wanda III
One of the grandest on the Muskoka lakes was Mrs. Timothy Eaton’s 94 ft. long Wanda III, built in 1915 at a cost of $34,000. Licensed to carry 44  people, she was the fastest steamer on the lakes, reaching speeds of 24 miles per hour. On board were special “Wanda III” dishes for elegant teas and picnics. The Wanda III is now owned by Muskoka Steamships, and can be rented for private functions.

Photo copyright Gabriele Wills
Because the steam yachts required licensed pilots, people began buying the new motorboats, which they could drive themselves. Boat building became important in Muskoka, with legendary builders like Ditchurn, Minett-Shields, Greavette, Duke, and others, whose beautiful, sleek craft still provide a sense of elegance on the lakes today. Many of them can be seen at the annual Antique and Classic Boat Show in Gravenhurst in July, where the above photo was taken. The Muskoka Boat and Heritage Museum there is also well worth a visit!