History & Heritage

Gravenhurst is located at south end of Lake Muskoka, 170 km north of Toronto. Incorporated in 1887, the origin of the name is linked to the book " Gravenhurst: Or Thoughts on Good & Evil".  Before being officially incorporated the community was also known as McCabe's Landing after James McCabe and his family who settled in the area and helped lead guiding expeditions on Lake Muskoka. 

In the 19th century, Gravenhurst was home to numerous lumber operations and was known affectionately as Sawdust City as it was the epicentre for sawmilling in Muskoka.  As the logging industry began to decline, the tourism industry started to see a growth with more and more people flocking to the area to see the newly discovered wilderness.  

Being the first incorporated Town in Muskoka and the southern most large settlement, Gravenhurst  became known as the "Gateway to Muskoka Lakes" and in honour of this moniker, built a welcoming arch on the main road into town.  Over the years, this arch changed shape, size and composition, but still stands today welcoming one and all to our community. 

The Muskoka Wharf holds a special place in our story as it was the hub of transportation activities for visitors and residents alike.  As tourism began to grow, boat building grew as an industry and A.P. Cockburn began to build the steamship and hospitality empire to cater to the influx of people. Today Gravenhurst is still the home port to the oldest operating Steamship in North America, the RMS Segwun and our history and heritage can be seen at the Muskoka Discovery Centre through a variety of exhibits and displays. 

If all of these were not enough, our community is also the birthplace of Dr. Norman Bethune, a Canadian Cultural icon.  Dr. Bethune helped patten the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital and critical blood transfusion technology.  In helping the Chinese with their medical needs during the Sino Japanese War and the Spanish during the Spanish Civil War, Dr Bethune is loved by many international visitors and is a iconic location for the Chinese.  The Bethune Memorial House welcomes thousands of visitors each year. 

As Gravenhurst has grown and changed over the years, it has not been immune to tragedy.  Suffering a great fire in 1889 which leveled over 200 businesses and homes.  Despite seeing tragedies like this, the Town has continued to evolve and change and diversify with the times.  Many heritage homes and businesses can be seen along the historic downtown core and throughout the community. 

In the left menu you will find information about our heritage walking tour and other notable locations in Town to explore. 

 Land Acknowledgment Statement  
This statement is read before all municipal ceremonies, events, presentations and gatherings of significance. This would include Council Meetings, commemorative functions, designation ceremonies and significant community events. Acknowledging territory shows recognition of and respect for Indigenous Peoples. It is recognition of their presence both in the past and the present. Recognition and respect are essential elements of establishing healthy, reciprocal relations. These relationships are key to reconciliation, a process to which the Town of Gravenhurst is committed. The following statement has been approved by Council and is to be used for the above noted scenarios. “We would like to begin (name of event) by acknowledging the First Peoples, who, for thousands of years before us, were and are still the keepers and caretakers of this land where we now live and work and in particular the Chippewas of Rama, Wahta Mohawk First Nations and the Moon River Metis. We are dedicated to honouring Indigenous history and culture and committed to moving forward in the spirit of reconciliation and respect with all First Nation, Métis and Inuit people. We recognize all the generations of Indigenous people and their historic connection to this place and we are grateful for the opportunity to gather here at this time.”


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