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Heritage Walking Tour

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The Gravenhurst Heritage Walking Tour takes you back in time and lets you explore 26 of Gravenhurst's heritage sites. Each link below will take you to a page with a description and short video. Rather have a hard copy? You can pick one up today at the following locations:

  • Gravenhurst Town Hall
  • Visitor Information Centre
  • Muskoka Steamships & Discovery Centre

Download the PDF form here!

Music on the Barge

"Barge" concerts are a time honoured tradition dating back to 1959. The roots of this tradition were established at the band shell located at the Gull Lake site. The present, permanent structure was completed just in time for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip to attend its official opening concert on July 4th, 1959. Today, the sounds emerging from "Music on the Barge" range from "big band", Dixieland, jazz, folk, music from the 50's and 60's, as well as today's country.

Between 1940 and 1946 the government operated a prisoner of war camp in Gravenhurst. Known as Camp 20. By the summer of 1940, the camp held 489 prisoners. The prisoners were taken to work on projects around Gravenhurst, notably at Gull Lake Park where a set of stone steps remain of their workmanship. They also built a lighthouse in the park. Today, all that remains of Camp 20 is concrete pillars, a fire hydrant, and the outline of a fence. There is an information kiosk at the end of Lorne Street where visitors can go to get more information on the camp.

Additionally, From 1942 until 1960, Gull Lake was the centre of ice harvesting during the winter months, until the widespread adoption of electric refrigeration replaced its need.

For current information on what is happening with Music on the Barge click here

Gravenhurst Railway Station

Invariably the most important development within a rural community in the late 19th century was the railroad. The railway enabled trade and promoted settlement. In Gravenhurst it was the catalyst for a thriving lumber town and a lively summer resort industry. Northern Railway Canada built Gravenhurst's first station in 1875. In the same year, Northern Railway of Canada built the Muskoka Wharf spur. The plan was to open up the north and offer both rail service and steamship access to the Muskoka water system. The Muskoka Wharf station was built by the Grand Trunk Railway in 1896.

When the original station was destroyed by fire in 1913, Grand Trunk Railway undertook design and construction of the present historic station, which was officially opened in 1919 by Edward, Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VIII. It was used by the Grand Trunk Railway, Canadian National Railway, and finally, Ontario Northland Railway until September 2012 when rail service was withdrawn. Today it serves as a bus station; people continue to wait for buses in the same place that people used to wait for the trains almost a century ago.

The Railway Station was designated a heritage structure by the Town of Gravenhurst in 2012.

Vincent/Fry Residence

The historic Vincent family residence was formerly known as Vincent's Castle. The one-and-a-half storey brown brick cottage-styled residence was constructed circa 1942, and is an architectural twin of St. James Anglican rectory next door.

The Vincent's were active in local business and politics. Cyril Vincent was mayor of Gravenhurst for a term in the 1950's.The family owned and operated a restaurant, a retail store and shipping company. In addition, acclaimed photographer Henry Fry, who married Dorothy Vincent, lived here and worked from his dark room in the basement. Fry was a quality artist who earned the Order of Canada for his work. He was the official photographer at the time of the Queen's visit to Gravenhurst in 1950's. Henry Fry is also known for images of German POWs being paraded under guard down the main street.

Masonic Lodge Building 

The 1850's were a decade of high immigration to Ontario, and a time of extensive railway development which opened up much of the country to settlers. As the available farmland in southern Ontario was taken up, settlers in the 1860's and 1870's turned their attention to the Muskoka and Parry Sound regions. The settlers, mostly from the British Isles, brought with them their cultural background, their social activities, and social connections. Many had Masonic backgrounds and it was inevitable that they would find a facility to provide the privilege of assembly and serve as a local lodge. In 1885, Golden Rule Lodge #409, Gravenhurst, was chartered, with W. Bro. W. B. Irving as their first Master. While the site chosen for the Masonic Lodge was built in the 1890's, it originally was a furniture store. It wasn't until 1920 that the three storey building was purchased by seven leading Masons. Masonic meetings continued until 2014 in the ornately fitted upper storey when the building was put up for sale.

Terence Haight Carnegie Centre

Between 1886 and 1919, Scottish born philanthropist and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie established a foundation which funded the building of public libraries in communities across North America. A library association was begun in 1883 and came under Town jurisdiction in 1895. Gravenhurst first sought funding from this foundation and was granted $7,000 USD on March 24, 1906. Subsequently, the Town Council felt it could not meet the foundation's requirements to underwrite ongoing operational costs and the project was dropped. However, in 1922 Gravenhurst reapplied and was granted special dispensation since it had first applied when grants were still being disbursed. The library was completed in 1923 by contractor Andrew Ferguson. The Gravenhurst library is the last in Ontario to have been funded by the foundation and it is one of only 90 "Carnegies" left in the province.

The patron of these libraries stands out in the history of philanthropy. Carnegie was exceptional in part because of the scale of his contributions. He gave away $350 million, nearly 90 percent of the fortune he accumulated through the railroad and steel industries.

In 1975 an addition designed by Howard Walker was constructed. It was designated a heritage structure by the Town in 1983 and a plaque was unveiled in 2014. Although it has not served a Gravenhurst's Public Library since 2000 , it is open to the public and sees thousands of visitors every year.

A statue of Norman Bethune just outside the Carnegie Library, in Heritage Square, was unveiled by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson in 2000.

Gravenhurst Opera House

Gravenhurst's Opera House, which dates to 1901, sits on the former site of the first Central Public School. The Central Public School was a two storey frame building which was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1887, leaving an empty lot. A second fire destroyed the then Town Hall and, ironically, Fire Station in 1897. Council decided to construct a replacement Town Hall combined with an Opera House on Muskoka Road, where the building still stands. This time, the multi-purpose building would be a more fire resistant brick structure which cost a bit over $5,000. That amount was deemed by some an extravagance, earning the building the nickname of "Mickle's Folly", after Charles Mickle who was the presiding mayor. The architectural style chosen is somewhat eclectic, with Gothic Revival features such as the tower and dormers in addition to Romanesque features as evidenced by round arched windows. The design of the Opera House is credited to architect J. Francis Brown of Toronto. The building has functioned as administrative offices for the Town, as magistrates' courts, but now it is primarily a venue for cultural events. The likes of Donald Sutherland, Peter Paul and Mary, Michael Burgess and Gordon Lightfoot have graced its stage. It was designated a heritage structure by the Town in 1983. Heritage Square and the cenotaph are located out front.

The doors to the Gravenhurst Opera House officially opened on March 12th, 1901. In the 100 years ensuing, the pricey indulgence has conservatively witnessed over 6 million patrons crossing its threshold; that is more people than the entire population of Canada in 1901. This venerable town jewel has the distinction of being Gravenhurst's most-trod-upon public building, perhaps even Muskoka's. In retrospect, those millions of footsteps would suggest, even to last century's most grizzled sceptics, a demonstrable need for the structure. "Mickle's Folly" has endured to prove itself Mickle's Vision.

Gilmour Hotel

James Sharpe opened the Caledonia Hotel here in 1881, only to see it destroyed in the Great Fire of 1887. In 1888 the hotel was reconstructed as the Empress Hotel, with between 30 to 40 rooms. James Gilmour bought the building in 1906, only to sell it and move away shortly after. Upon his return to Gravenhurst in 1916 he repurchased the hotel, naming it the Gilmour. The hotel and its name continued under various owners until the mid-1980s. In 1987 it was converted into commercial space on the ground floor and residential apartments above.

Clipsham Carriage Works

Clipsham House, built in 1877, is thought to be one of the oldest surviving residences in Gravenhurst. The two storey brick residence reflects the prominence of James Clipsham as a blacksmith who owned the adjacent Carriage Works. Clipsham Carriage Works made wagons and buggies and had evolved from a blacksmith shop and livery. Clipsham was also a town Councillor and school board trustee. In 1887, the Great Fire destroyed Carriage Works, but the house survived. In addition to being constructed of brick (exceptional in a lumber town of the time), the home has a large porch, contrasting brick trim to resemble quoins, gable windows and a single storey annex. Clipsham House was designated a heritage property by the Town in 2014 and a plaque was unveiled in 2015.

St. James Anglican Church

The first St. James Church was a wood framed structure and existed for five years before burning in the Great Fire of 1887, and was on the site of the current Anglican cemetery. F.A. Fowler was contracted as architect of today's church, built in the spring of 1882, which was dedicated at Christmas in 1888. At the time of construction, it cost $2,215 to complete. Built of red brick, this church features a noteworthy belfry housing a 700 pound bell which was funded from money raised by the Ladies' Aid Society. It has vaulted gothic style windows. The bell tower was itself subject to fire but has been restored. The Bishop of Algoma dedicated a commemorative plaque in celebration of the 143rd anniversary of the church in 2010. St James Church was listed on the Municipal Register in 2013.

Albert Hill Building

Built in 1887, this building was home to former Mayor Albert Hill. The present building was erected after the Great Fire of 1887. Albert Hill was a noted blacksmith who operated a major livery stable in town. His ironwork is still evidenced by the wrought iron fence around the property. He was also Mayor of Gravenhurst from 1913-1914. The house is currently an antique store known as Gadsby's. The building received a Muskoka Heritage Foundation Stewardship Award in 2001 and it was added to the Municipal Register in 2012.

Brown's Beverages

The bottling plant originally on Hotchkiss Street was established in 1873 utilizing a nearby spring of crystal clear water. It was later relocated to nearby Bay Street in two storey brown brick building. The owner, Dugald Brown was a popular entrepreneur and hotelier. Brown's Beverages Ltd. operated on the same site that Muskoka Springs still occupies today. It is one of the few remaining and operating industrial buildings in the Town Centre. The site bottled pure spring water in hand blown glass bottles packed in wooden crates. These were delivered on wooden buckboards pulled by big draft horses, and supplied the growing tourist camps and hotels. As soft drinks became popular in the early 1900s, Brown's devised its ginger ale recipe. The factory became a Coca-Cola bottler and distributor in 1926. The brown brick section of the current large complex was added to the Municipal Register as a listed property in 2012. The building next door at 230 Bay Street was Mr. Brown's one time residence and from here he operated a liquor store.

Rosehurst Celebrations

Rosehurst Manor, also known as Mickle House and later as Garner Lodge, was built in 1884 and was the home of Charles Mickle, a highly successful lumberman. Mickle was twice elected Mayor of Gravenhurst from 1894-1895 and from 1898-1900. Rosehurst became the social hub of Gravenhurst with Emma Mickle hosting countless community celebrations and amateur theatricals. Following the death of their parents and younger brother Charlie, daughters Bertha and Grace Mickle sold the stately home to Michael and Viola Garner in the 1940's. It was renamed Garner Lodge and provided tourist accommodations and long-term lodgings under the management of ten subsequent owners over the next sixty years. Surviving original features include the mansard roof (although now modified), the bay window, the series of three garden arches to the west of the house, the carriage steps at the edge of Bay Street, and one garden urn on the front lawn. Rosehurst was completely renovated in 2013-2014 and has been designated a heritage property by the Town.

Mowry Residence

This two storey Victorian red brick residence dates to circa 1886. Bradley Roe Mowry was the original owner and built the house on the lot which was once the property of Dugald Brown. Mowry also owned the iron foundry, which was the source of the Great Fire of 1887. It wiped out a total of 83 buildings, devastating the heart of Gravenhurst. In 1908 the house was owned by the Link sisters, Annie and Greta. The home subsequently was acquired by the East's who also owned Muskoka Sands, which later became Taboo Resort. In the early 2000's, the house was restored by the Lorenz family and then purchased by current owners Fred and Susan Westover who operate it as a Bed and Breakfast. They added an imposing portico in 2012. It was placed on the Gravenhurst Municipal Register with in 2012. It received a Muskoka Heritage Foundation built heritage plaque in 2002.

Finch House

Finch House resembles (#16) Bethune Memorial House nearby and represents stately accommodation of a bygone era. It was built around 1880 in a 'StickStyle' architecture developed in New England. A one-time resident was a Mr. Thibault, who was once a patient at the local tuberculosis sanatorium. The property was originally part of Dugald Brown's land grant. In 1926, Archdeacon Linsdell purchased the house and passed it along to his daughter May, a local newspaper columnist. Following her passing, the Griffiths purchased the property and held it as a Bed and Breakfast until 1997. The wood frame house with large bay windows was listed on the Municipal Register in 2012.

Lafranier House

LaFranier House, also known as both Blaincroft and Maple Hall, was built circa 1887 on a lot originally owned by beverage merchant Dugald Brown. It is situated in the historic precinct encompassing Bethune Memorial House (#16), just over the fence, and Finch House (#14) across the street. It is a one and a half storey Victorian cottage of restrained Gothic Revival style. Entrepreneur David LaFranier paid $1,100 for the property in 1896 after his hotel Fraser House was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1887. In 1912, J.J. McNabb, an accountant for the Mickle Dyment Lumber Company, acquired the residence. Frederick Freeman, a barber who had fought with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in World War I, bought the property in 1939 and renamed it Maple Hall. This coincided with his appointment as postmaster of Gravenhurst, a position he held until 1962. It remained in the Freeman family until 1991 when it was bought by Andrew Griffith who with his wife operated it as a Bed and Breakfast. LaFranier House continues to operate as such under owners Marsha and Bryan Blain, who acquired it in 2002.

With respect to its architecture, the brick building is sheathed in vinyl and has witnessed additions on its north and east sides. Its gable windows bring to mind the Ontario vernacular central gable cottage, which became popular in the 19th century owing to property tax breaks which accompanied the style. The wrap around verandah is another notable feature. The wooden ceilings in the living and dining rooms are also exceptional. LaFranier House is significant because it is representative of the brick buildings which sprung up in town as a response to heightened awareness of the vulnerability of wooden construction after the Great Fire, and because it is an integral component of its historic neighbourhood and of its association with some of Gravenhurst's most prominent past citizens.

Bethune Memorial House

This former Presbyterian Church manse, built in 1880, is the birthplace of Dr. Norman Bethune (1890-1939), arguably the best known Canadian abroad given his status as a national hero in China. In 1936-37, Dr. Bethune implemented mobile blood transfusion units at the battlefront during the Spanish Civil War. In 1939 he died performing surgery in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. He was a non-conformist surgeon of note, a humanitarian, and an advocate of socialized medicine in Canada, even before Tommy Douglas. This National Historic Site of Canada has been operated by Parks Canada since 1976. In 2015 it received over 15,000 visitors, in part owing to its new Visitor Centre which offers many interactive displays. More than half the visitors come expressly from the People's Republic of China.

For more information on the Bethune Memorial House click here

Gravenhurst Curling Club

The Gravenhurst Skating, Curling and Hockey Association was formed in 1900. Part of this endeavour was the building of what is thought to be the Town's first arena. Records show that Lot 59 & the north half of Lot 63 fronting on First Street was purchased on December 20th, 1900 from Joseph Brock for $200. The Ice Palace was built that year on the site, about where the 'garden centre' parking area of the Independent Grocery Store on First Street is today. This rink was taken over by James Scott, and the club would move to the skating rink that James Scott had built on John Street. The Gravenhurst Curling Club was established in 1901, using a three sheet rink until 1958. In that year the old shed like structure was torn down and the current six sheet facility was built.

The Gravenhurst Curling Club became the only club in Muskoka to boast a six sheet facility. Only four sheets were fed by ice-making equipment and two were natural ice. The facility is now complete with a heated arena, and ice equipment was extended to the other two sheets and the floor concreted a few short years later. The design is similar to many other curling rinks across Ontario, consisting of preformed wooden roof and wall trusses with cement block curtain walls between the supports. As many as 10,000 cement blocks were used in the project. It was decided before the foundation started that a two storey lounge/viewing area with kitchen and washrooms would be included in the structure.

Knox Presbyterian Church

Knox Presbyterian is the oldest church in Gravenhurst. The congregation was formed in 1875 and initially held services in the North Ward School. The current building dates to 1877, but it was a year later before it was dedicated by Reverend McDonnell of St Andrew's, Toronto. It is a fine example of Carpenter Gothic style using board-and-batten wall construction. The one time steeple housed an 800-pound bell to summon churchgoers,, and also raise the alarm for firefighters. The bell was removed in 1932. Reverend Malcolm Bethune was minister from 1889 to 1893. His son, Dr. Norman Bethune, became famous for his dedication to social causes in Canada and for his medical care to victims of war in Spain and China. In 1922 the Presbyterians merged with the Methodists and the church was out of Presbyterian hands until 1937. Knox was designated a heritage property by the Town in 2014 when a plaque was erected.

Trinity United Church

Trinity United Church was built in 1926 and expanded in 1959. It replaced the Methodist Church originally built on this site in 1877. When the church was rebuilt, help was offered from many different sources. A pulpit was brought in from Wesley Church in Fergus, and Leslie Cain worked as a contractor on the building helping to fit pews and seats. The pipe organ was donated by Dr. W.B. Kendall who was the chief physician of the Muskoka Cottage Sanatorium. The aluminium sculpture and flower beds which adorn the lawn and contribute to Communities in Bloom were created by local community members. The dark brick is highlighted by colourful floral displays each summer.

Cruickshank and MacLennan Building

Constructed in 1973, the building brought an architectural design award to the firm of Howard Walker and Anthony Campfens of Toronto. The look of this modern architecture is so appealing that weddings have been performed in the courtyard. This is arguably Gravenhurst's most recently constructed heritage building. Mr. Walker also designed additions to St. James Anglican Church and the Opera House. The Built Urban Heritage Award was awarded to the property in 2011 from Muskoka Conservancy.

Post Office

Gravenhurst Post Office stands on the most prominent intersection of town, at Bay St. and Muskoka Road. It was opened in 1926, more than three decades after the spurt of Thomas Fuller designed postal outlets which had appeared across the country. The choice lot had been purchased by the federal government in 1913. Originally the post office was a one storey building. Care was taken to match the colour and detailing of the dark brick and stone work of the floor below when a second storey, featuring a clock tower angled to the intersection, was added in 1931. The tower is topped by a metal cupola. All four faces of the clock were restored to full functionality in late 2015. The second storey handled customs and served as accommodation for the caretaker. Further additions were made to the building in 1934 and 1951, and the retail lobby was upgraded in the early 2000's. The Post Office was designated a heritage property by the Town in 2015.

Albion Hotel

Situated at the main intersection downtown, the Albion has been part of the life and heritage of Gravenhurst since the lumber and steamship era. The original Albion Hotel was a frame building built by George Washington Taylor in 1879. It perished in the Great Fire of 1887. The present red brick hotel of Gothic Revival style rose the following year. It was known for its pleasant parlours, spacious dining room and well-equipped bar. In the late 1980's the exterior was restored and the interior converted to apartments and business premises. It has received a new lease on life under new ownership since 2011. The ground floor now operates as "Arts at the Albion", and has been popular with the artistic community. The historic balcony was removed as a safety precaution, and new windows were installed and repainted. It was designated a heritage structure by the Town in 1983.

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Orange Lodge

Loyal Orange Lodge No. 1301 was built on a lot in the historic precinct next to the town hall and fire station of the day. The lodge was built and the latter complex burned, coincidentally, in 1897. The original inscription on the upper part of the two storey brick building can be read from the street to this day.

Long a focus of social life in rural communities and a religious and political power in Ontario, The Orange Lodge declined after World War II. Some of the most popular public Lodge activities were the July 12 parades down Muskoka Road. These continued into the 1960's even after the virtual demise of the organization; however, no longer are secret passwords whispered through 1897 peepholes.

The Orange Order is an international Protestant fraternal organization based primarily in Northern Ireland, with a significant presence in the Scottish Lowlands and lodges throughout the Commonwealth. The Orange Institution was founded in 1795, during a period of Protestant-Catholic sectarian conflict, as a Masonic-style brotherhood sworn to uphold the Protestant faith and a Protestant King.

Founded by Ogle Gowan, in Brockville Ontario, the Orange Order played an important role in the history of Canada when it was established in 1830. Most early members were from Ireland, but later many English, Scots, Italians and other Protestant Europeans joined the Order, as well as Mohawk Native Americans. The Orange Lodges were community cultural centres, as they hosted numerous dances, events, parades, and even the teaching of step dancing.

Gateway Arch

An archway has welcomed visitors from the south to Muskoka since 1874. The first arch, made from pine bows and flowers, was erected to mark the visit of Governor-General the Marquis of Dufferin. This first arch was at the intersection of Hotchkiss Street and Muskoka Road. The second arch, called "Lumbermen's Arch", welcomed train passengers to the Muskoka Wharf. It was erected in 1885 by the Mickle Dyment sawmill company. Since then thousands of tourists, initially arriving by train but the advent of the age of the automobile in the 1920's and 30's subsequently by car, have passed under one or another of the five subsequent arches to be erected in Gravenhurst. The Gateway Arch advertised Gravenhurst as the Gateway to Muskoka Lakes. The current arch at the southern end of town was erected in 2009 after the roadway was widened requiring its predecessor to be removed. It is one of a few civic archways to survive in Ontario. Wording from an earlier version has been faithfully reproduced on it. The Gateway Arch was designated a heritage structure by the Town that same year.

Fire Station #1

A single level building was built in 1969 on historic Harvie Street to house the Town's fire station and police station. In 1993 a two storey addition was made to the structure, which could accommodate the municipal offices that previously had been located in the Opera House. The fire station had been manned on a volunteer basis for most of the 20th century. The municipal office moved to its present location on Pineridge Gate in 2010. Today the former town hall continues as Gravenhurst Fire Station No. 1, as well as the OPP's Community Policing Office. A provincial plaque commemorating the founding of Gravenhurst is on the street corner and an exterior wall hosts one of the Town's heritage murals. The Mayor's Garden blooms outside in the summer.

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