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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Toooot, toooot! Steamboats mark 150 years on Muskoka lakes

   One-Tank Trip for May 21/16
   (c) By Jim Fox

   Steamboat a-comin.'
   American humorist and social observer Mark Twain said it best when he wrote that famous quotation in the book Life on the Mississippi.
   That cry can still be heard in the Muskoka lakes as steamboats have been plying those blue black waters for 150 years this summer.
   It’s the anniversary of the launching of the first Muskoka steamship, Wenonah, in 1866. 
Cruises on the Segwun and sister steamship Wenonah II leave from Muskoka Wharf, Gravenhurst. (Jim Fox photo)
   “This milestone event paved the way for the early settlement of Muskoka and the beginning of the lucrative tourism industry in the region,” said John Miller, president of the Muskoka Steamships and Discovery Centre.
   This year’s sailing season starts June 11, with limited cruises available beginning May 27.
   The mid-1800s to the 1920s were the heyday of the Muskoka steamships as a means of transportation to and from resorts and cottages.
   The Muskoka Lakes Navigation Company was formed in 1866 by A. P. Cockburn as a business to run the Wenonah.

   Then until 1958, the company operated 19 different steamers that sailed the lakes taking people and goods throughout the region.
   In the early 1920s, the primary ships on the lakes were Segwun, Cherokee and the flagship of the fleet, Sagamo.
   Historians say it was the enterprising commodore of Sagamo who conceived the idea of a recreational cruise that would carry passengers from Gravenhurst’s wharf on Lake Muskoka to Natural Park on Lake Joseph.
A flotilla of antique and classic wooden boats follow the Segwun on an earlier 100 Mile Cruise.
   This day-long sailing became known as the 100 Mile Cruise and that nostalgic event will be recreated to mark the anniversary on Aug. 20 from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
   With much pomp and ceremony, the cruise will take place on today’s “grandest of vessels,” the (Royal Mail Ship) Segwun and Wenonah II.
   They will sail on all three of the big lakes – Muskoka, Rosseau and Joseph – escorted by more than 100 wooden gems from the Antique & Classic Boat Society of Toronto.
   The society is well-known in the area as it holds its Summer Boat Show this year on July 9 in Gravenhurst.
   For the special sailing, passengers are encouraged to arrive in period costume, lunch and dinner will be served on board and there will be special live commentary with heritage personalities.
   The Segwun, Wenonah II, Wanda III and the Muskoka Discovery Centre in Gravenhurst are owned and operated by Muskoka Steamships, a registered charity.
The Muskoka Discovery Centre has a collection of antique wooden boats and pays tribute to the boat builders of the area.
   The Grace & Speed Boathouse at the centre has North America’s largest collection of in-water antique wooden boats and pays tribute to the craftsmanship and 11 wooden boat builders of the Muskoka area.
   Exhibits also “capture the glory” of the Muskokan experience, exploring the rich history of steamships, wooden boats and luxury hotels that helped define Muskoka.
   The sailing season of 145 days keeps the Segwun humming as she welcomes passengers on board from around the world, along with backup and special sailings by the two other ships.
   Popular are the scenic lunch and “Millionaires Row” drive-by cottage cruises as well as the Sunset Dinner cruises.
   Segwun, the symbol of Muskoka, was built in 1887 and has coal-fired engines and 99-passenger capacity making regular cruises and private charters.
The Royal Muskoka Salon with its gleaming woodwork and wrap-around windows is the Segwun’s main dining room. (Barbara Fox photo)
   “Many believe that her haunting whistle sounds out as the official ‘heartbeat’ that awakens the region each spring,” Miller said.

   If you sail
   The steamships and heritage centre are based at the Muskoka Wharf in Gravenhurst.
   Limited tickets are available for the 100 Mile Cruise at $190 a person.
   For more information about sailings, reservations and the heritage centre: realmuskoka.com; 1-866-687-6667; Antique & Classic Boat Society show: acbs.ca
   Fox trot
   Take a boat, the Toronto ferry, to the annual Teddy Bear Picnic, on this weekend through Monday, on Centre Island.
   The free event “offers fun and activities for kids and their stuffed toys,” organizers say.
   As well as being a scenic getaway, Centreville Theme Park has more than 30 rides and attractions. (Ontario Tourism)
   For Beasley Bear’s event, kids are encouraged to bring their favourite stuffed toy and enjoy live performances, bouncy castles, face painting, magicians, special appearances and more.
   It takes place at Centreville Theme Park and Far Enough Farm.
   Surrounded by 242 hectares of parkland on the harbour on Lake Ontario, the theme park has more than 30 rides and attractions and some 20 food outlets. centreisland.ca; (416) 203-0405Bottom of Form


Jim Fox can be reached at onetanktrips@hotmail.com
For more One-Tank Trips: http://1tanktrips.blogspot.ca

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