Monday, January 6, 2014

Diamonds in the Wilderness

photo by Frank Micklethwaite

“It was the whisper that started their war.” So begins The Summer Before the Storm in June of 1914, in this dining room of The Royal Muskoka Hotel, which I call The Grand Muskoka.

When The Royal was built on Lake Rosseau in 1901, it was considered to be the largest and most splendid summer resort in Canada, perhaps even in the British Empire.  It boasted electric lighting, central heating, hot and cold running water, en suite bathrooms, telephones, a doctor on duty, a barber, twice-daily mail, a “first-class orchestra”, tennis courts, a golf course, riding stables, and boat livery with canoes, sailboats, and “motor yachts”.

These luxuries were perhaps surprising amid the wilderness of the Muskoka Lakes District, 100 miles north of Toronto. In the early days, the only way to get there was by train and steamship, a journey that took most of the day from Toronto. Below we see a photo of the SS Sagamo at The Royal Muskoka dock.
photo by Frank Micklethwaite

 People with time and money often spent a month or more at the resort, some bringing their own servants. They dressed formally for dinner, arrayed in their finest silks and diamonds. They might have come to Muskoka to breathe the ragweed-free, pine-scented air and play in the pristine waters of the island-dotted lakes, but guests at The Royal also brought high-society life and expectations with them.

Over the years, the hotel had many illustrious visitors, like the Duke of Devonshire, Canada’s Governor General, who opened the expanded golf course in 1918. In July of 1914, Canada’s Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, was vacationing at The Royal, but was hastily recalled to Ottawa just days before war with Germany was declared. Obviously, those enjoying the Age of Elegance in Canada had little warning that their world was about to change dramatically.

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