Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Lakeside Resorts - Then and Now
If you wanted to escape from the hot and hectic city a hundred years ago, you could board a train, whether from Toronto or Pittsburgh or beyond, and head towards the pristine beauty of the Muskoka Lakes, where you could frolic in and on the sparkling waters and breathe the pine-scented, ragweed-free air. If you didn’t have a summer home there, you could choose from nearly a hundred resorts, hotels, and inns that catered to over 5500 tourists on the three main, connected lakes. They offered dances, concerts, and even roller skating rinks to augment the many outdoor activities. Arriving at one of the railways terminals, you’d board an elegant steamship and sail to your destination, perhaps another three or four hours away. If you could afford to pay $18 or more per week, you could stay at the grandest one of all, the Royal Muskoka Hotel on Lake Rosseau.
When the Royal was built in 1901, it was touted as being the finest hotel in Canada, with all the amenities and luxuries of any city hotel, including en suite bathrooms, barber shop and hair stylist, bakery, an orchestra, and twice daily mail delivery. See a picture of the Royal here. It burned down in 1952, fire being the fate of many of these summer resorts. Others decayed or were unable to keep up with modern demands. Only a couple of the original hotels remain.
But a new one has arisen quite close to where the Royal once stood, and harkens back in style and opulence to that era. Pictured above is “The Rosseau”, a J.W. Marriott hotel, which is open all year. What surprised me was hearing cottagers opposing its development, complaining of “increased traffic” on the lake. Considering that there are only a handful of hotels that can accommodate tourists these days, that smacks of elitism - that the lakes belong only to those who can afford the overpriced cottages. They would do well to remember that it was the many hotels that helped turn Muskoka into a renowned tourist area, and undoubtedly influenced vacationers to buy property in the days when an island could cost as little as $1. We would be delighted on our non-Muskoka lake to have a hotel to which we could boat for a decent meal, or perhaps a dance, as people did in days gone by.
In the meantime, I will enjoy occasional visits to The Rosseau, since the “Grand Muskoka Hotel” in my novels is heavily based on the Royal. There’s nothing like soaking up the ambiance for inspiration!