The Age of Elegance

Age of Elegance

By Rick Terry with Ian Turnbull

Old photographs of life in Muskoka are irresistible. Whether you see them at the Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre in Gravenhurst or are lucky enough to have peaked into to a friend’s old family album, the images take you back to a dreamy time – graceful old cottages, beautiful mahogany launches, sporty little gentlemen’s racers, and men and women dressed in their finery. What was it like to live in the “Age of Elegance”?

A few of the cottages in those photos have been maintained and can be seen today on parts of the Muskoka Lakes. Not so visible are many wooden boats, several approaching their centennial, hidden away in boathouses around the lakes. Mostly they were built right here in Muskoka for Muskoka cottagers. They may have been bought and sold, but they stayed in Muskoka accumulating history as integral parts of summer life for the generations that interacted with them.

Even better than a cherished photograph is the real thing. On August 9, 2014 the Muskoka Lakes Association will be hosting their biennial Antique Boat Show in Port Carling. Boats from the “Age of Elegance” from 18’ to 72’ long will be on display for you on both sides of the locks.  Their “stewards” have lovingly cared for these boats and committed their history to memory.  Just ask and they will share the story with passion.      

You will soon see a poster for this year’s show featuring just one of these special boats. The Marmilwood, is a 32’ Minett-Shields boat built in Bracebridge in 1927. The boat started its life at a grand cottage near Milford Bay. It has a fascinating history including doing service at a children’s camp in Algonquin Park, being abandoned, rediscovered, and subsequently restored by the Stafford Smythe family.    

The golden era in Muskoka boatbuilding spans World War I, the Roaring Twenties, the Dirty Thirties and World War II. Just sixty years ago a majority of the boats on Muskoka’s lakes were wood. Now they are in the minority, yet cared for and maintained as never before. The MLA Boat Show brings together fine surviving examples of the boats that witnessed the “Age of Elegance”.  With luck and love, they will continue to represent that age to our descendants.

Come out and enjoy a day with these fine craft and their owners along with displays including vintage outboard motors. The Show is on Saturday, August 9 and runs from 10 AM until 4 PM. Admission is free.     

The Antique Boat Show is a biennial event held in Port Carling and sponsored by the Muskoka Lakes Association. It was started in 1971 by the late Bob Purves to honour boats that have been built in Muskoka or have spent most of their life in Muskoka Waters.