Dated: May 1 2024

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Last year I was fortunate to be invited on two preview tours of the thoroughly impressive expanded Muskoka Steamship & Discovery Centre facilities. But last week, newly installed General Manager, Wendy Fairbairn enticed me back with a promise of … “but wait, Susan - there's so much more!” If you are looking for something that is fun, will spark discussion around the family dinner table, and create an indelible memory of time spent together, Board Chair Gary Getson, President John Miller and new GM Wendy Fairbairn will quickly suggest The Muskoka Story: A Microcosm of Canada.  

My tour with Wendy Fairbairn was an hour and I could easily have spent three or four. I was so impressed with the display details that have been added since my last visit that I renewed my expired membership and will be back many times this season with friends, family and clients. 

Muskoka Discovery Centre Buckskin Dress

Photo: Used with Permission from The Muskoka Discover Centre. Akwesasne Mohawk Buckskin dress.

New Curator, Tom Rose, is rotating museum pieces from a now sizable collection to ensure that there are always many fascinating items on display. A beautifully detailed Buckskin dress from the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory  belonging to Mary (Oke) Kendall (1846-1946) really caught my eye and made me curious to learn more about her. This journey genuinely brings to life the 10,000+ year Indigenous presence in Muskoka, and through the last 250 years of development to the present day. 

It’s hard to pick my favourite areas so I’ll be updating this blog as I return to the Discovery Centre. On this visit, I was especially intrigued by the room where you walk in and “magically” 5 indigenous leaders each provide an account, in their own voice and from their own perspective, of our shared history. I was mesmerised by the timeline presentation showing the evolution of development  in our region - you can visually see the impact of steam, road, rail, and settlement growth areas on the natural landscape. The Kidz Zone was so much fun I did have a quick stop at the Light Peg display.  All ages and stages will find something fun and interesting to see and do together. And just when I thought I couldn’t utter yet another “wow”,  there as I walked toward the exit,  positioned unobtrusively by the elevator, a signed Norval Morrisseau print. Wow. 

Here is a quick recap of the galleries. 

The Galleries of The Muskoka Story: A Microcosm of Canada

Misko-Aki: Confluence of Cultures reveals the 10,000 year presence and culture of the Indigenous peoples in Muskoka.  This gallery was created by a curatorial circle of Indigenous elders, scholars and linguists representing  four indigenous cultures including Huron-Wendat, Anishinaabek, Métis and Haudenosaunee. You can take a symbolic canoe journey through time and across greater Muskoka while absorbing the Indigenous way of life and its traditions along the way.

Evolving Muskoka: Life on the Edge of the Shield tells the story of the last 250 years beginning with the first settlers and the development that has followed in the face of challenges brought on by geography, environment, technologies, conflict and population growth. In this period the Muskoka area changed rapidly from raw landscape to our current collection of towns and rural landscapes with thousands of permanent and vacation homes.

Wanda III: Steam to Green underscores the need for more sustainability in our quest to have Muskoka forever.  Symbolising sustainable heritage, the now electrified 108 year old steam yacht, Wanda III will resume sailing on the Muskoka Lakes this year after a 20 year absence. Steam engine purists and their grandchildren will be happy to know that the original working engine was carefully removed, is being refurbished by an army of volunteers and will be a working display.

KidZone: Ideal for younger kids and kids at heart rounding out this truly family friendly, intergenerational experience.

Membership includes unlimited visits to all three new galleries in addition to existing exhibits. 

One thing is certain, after my return visit to the Muskoka Discovery Centre - I agree wholeheartedly with Getson, Miller and Fairbairn. The Muskoka Story is a must-do family activity that will inspire not only conversation, but an interest in finding out more about our shared history across different parts of the region. Be sure to reach out if you want to accompany me on one of my visits this summer!

For details on membership, admission, Discovery & Cruise Admission, hours of operation, specials and events Muskoka Discovery Centre, Gravenhurst  

Here are a few other highly recommended places to visit this year:

Muskoka Heritage Place, Huntsville

Muskoka Lakes Museum, Port Carling

Huronia Museum & Huron Ouendat Village, Midland

(Temporarily Closed) Bethune Memorial House, Gravenhurst

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Susan Benson

Put competent experience to work for your Muskoka and Ontario Cottage Country real estate investments with Susan & Mark Benson. Susan is a graduate of Havergal College and Queen's University and brin....

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