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History and Heritage

Gravenhurst humbly recognizes our deep connections to the past and has a strong commitment to acknowledging the first peoples and their land stewardship for centuries.  As part of our commitment to reconciliation, we read our land acknowledgement statement before all major events, council meetings and special celebrations to remind ourselves that the first nations peoples are integral to our community. 

"We begin today 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.”

Gravenhurst is located at the 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 wife, who settled in the area, helped lead guiding expeditions on Lake Muskoka. 

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; however, it 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. A.P. Cockburn began to build steamships long before tourism or the boat building industry were ever thought of. In 1865, he built the first steamship in Muskoka, the Wenonah; it was launched in 1866. He went on to build many more steamers for use on our lakes. Currently, 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. 

Our community is also the birthplace of Dr. Norman Bethune, a Canadian Cultural icon.  Dr. Bethune helped create the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital and critical blood transfusion technology. Dr. Bethune helped address medical needs to the Spanish during the Spanish Civil War, and the Chinese during the Sino Japanese War. Dr. Bethune is loved by many international visitors, and the Bethune Memorial House is an iconic location for the Chinese; welcoming thousands of visitors each year. 

As Gravenhurst has grown and changed over the years, it has not been immune to tragedy. On September 21, 1887, a great fire was responsible for the loss of almost 100 businesses and homes. Despite tragedies, 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. 

We encourage you to explore more of our past through our heritage walking tour to learn more about the people and how our community was shaped. 

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