When we arrived in Huntsville, Ontario on Saturday the traffic was bumper to bumper along the main street. Just when we thought we could get into the stream of cars, a motorcycle policeman, lights flashing, appeared and held up all traffic while a column of perhaps a hundred motorcycles streamed through town. Logging Museum bunkhouse
This part of Ontario, stretching eastward from Georgian Bay to Algonquin Park, is a well-established resort and holiday area. Around Bracebridge and Gravenhurst are several long-armed lakes which abound with lovely waterfront property. We figured this out by looking at a big topo map of the region which identified each structure with a small black dot. The outlines of all the lakes seemed to consist of a chain of black dots, each one standing for a waterfront "cottage." When we went to a new coffee pub restaurant in the town of Rosseau, we found one part fitted out with sofas and easy chairs and a coffee table covered with coffee table books, featuring the "Cottages of Muskoka." These "cottages" are the kind that get featured in Architectural Digest. It turns out that Toronto's wealthy families started building their summer homes around the shores of Lake Muskoka about a hundred years ago. There are plenty of exclusive clubs and camps, too.
None of the black dots were along the other roads or highways through the region -- just along the waterfront. And that is indeed the way it is; the summer cottagers appear to be the only community in the Muskoka, except for here and there a gas station or an interior decorator. The few year-round towns are tiny. The connecting roads go through relatively uninhabited woodland, with few crossroads and virtually no farms. Then when one nears the shores of a lake (and there are many lakes) one finds resorts and summer cottages, with a few boats on the lakes and here and there a child braving the frigid waters.
Huntsville is on the eastern edge of the Muskoka region, and the Western edge of the Algonquin Park wilderness. We took some walks in and out of town, did the laundry, used the internet cafe, browsed around the four bookstores, and kept plugging away on our backlog of genealogy data entry. One enterprising shop sold Only In Muskoka items of furniture, including a bench constructed of slabs of granite. It looked as though it had been for sale for some time. Old Logging locomotive
We didn't figure out what Algonquin Park was all about until we saw the logging musem near the eastern gate. This heavily wooded area was a lumberman's paradise. The crews would cut trees all winter, and drag them down to the shores of the lakes and rivers. At night the men slept two to a bunk in a large log cabin with a central fire, while the horses had a log stable to protect them from the elements. In the spring the ice would melt and the lumberjacks would ride and guide the rampaging log jams downstream to the mills. Many would be seriously injured or die in this dangerous work. It was interesting to think about the French logging crews squaring away the timbers to be packed into British vessels and sailed to England where they were made into warships to fight the French. History is full of ironies.
When the railroads arrived the rivers and lakes were less often used for transporting logs, and a move developed to set aside the Algonquin region as a wilderness park. The logging companies enthusiastically agreed, because they didn't want settlers moving in and interfering with the logging operation. The Park was closed to settlement, but open to loggers. It became quite a fashionable summer resort, and the home of a number of children's summer camps.
Today the Park has changed character, but only a little. To begin with, logging operations continue on 70% of the Park area, only now conducted by an arm of the provincial government. But the lakes and rivers are reserved for tourists. This time, if you look at a topo map of the Park, instead of black dots you'll see a network of pink lines, solid and dotted, stretching all through the Park. These are canoe trails and canoe portages. Logging operations are prohibited within 100 meters (roughly) of the canoe trails, so the canoeist enjoys the experience of wilderness paddling, with opportunities to spot bear, moose, deer, beaver, and otter. Finally, along the southwestern edge of the huge wilderness Algonquin water lilies area is a single provinical highway, Ontario 60, along which can be found many campgrounds, a few resorts, and some recreational lakes.
Algonquin Provincial Park thus has three distinct faces: camping and boating along the highway corridor; canoeing through the wilderness interior; and logging the untraveled interior woodland forests. The logging operations are kept carefully separated from the areas used by recreational visitors, and apparently both environmentalists and foresters are happy with the outcome. We'd recommend a trip through the park if only to view the logging museum, which is laid out along an outdoor trail, after a short film which features some really splendid old logging footage.
One interesting wildlife fact we learned was that the moose population varies inversely with the deer population, because the deer carry a brain parasite which can prove fatal to the moose. These days we are neither canoeists nor outdoorsmen, but we appreciated the scenery and enjoyed learning about the history of the region. We did not spot any interesting wildlife, and gather that it is relatively uncommon along the highway corridor. One thing that interests us is that despite all the lakes in Ontario, there are relatively few waterfowl. We saw many more birds in the Canadian West and in the Maritime Provinces. Here we see mostly gulls, ravens, a few herons, some Mallards and Canada geese.