Let’s go to Huntsville

11 May 2017

My twisted body clock woke me at quarter to five this morning. It was quarter to two in Vancouver and quarter to ten in England so goodness only knows what time zone my brain was in. The merest hint of pink was just beginning to show above the tree line outside. I took a quick photo and then tried to go back to sleep. Half an hour later I gave up. My body was determined it was morning so I might as well listen. The sky was a little lighter now, the line of pink rising up to meet the midnight blue sky. 

Commando was still sleeping so I put on my jumper and my wrap and went out onto the balcony and tried to read for a while. The glorious sunrise kept drawing me back. This time I took my phone. A little chipmunk dashed across the dimly lit grass below but it was gone before I could react and take a picture, besides it was too dark still. By six o’clock the sky was ablaze and the fire spread out across Gull Lake in a shimmering reflection. The Canada geese and their goslings were gathered on the grassy bank but it was still too dark for decent pictures.

When Commando woke his hands were swollen and painful again but we were both confident they would ease as the day went on as they had every day so far. On the plus side his leg was much better, it still hurt but he could almost walk without limping. Oddly he woke with a horrible pain in the side of his jaw where the abscess had been and he could hardly open and shut his mouth. This was not good news and we were both worried it might be coming back. Breakfast took a long time but slowly the pain in his jaw seemed to ease and there was no sign of any swelling. Even so, all these weird aches and pains coming and going were a worry. It seemed as if something more sinister might be going on.

We sat on the balcony for a while coming up with theories. Maybe it was something to do with the stomach virus we both had a while back? Some kind of post viral thing going on. Maybe it was something to do with the abscess that appeared so suddenly? Whatever it was it seemed as if his immune system was going wild since the antibiotics had finished. No matter what was causing it, there was little we could do here in the wilds of Gravenhurst but make the most of things.

The Canada geese and their goslings had been on the grass below while we talked. Now they took to the water. As the little family glided across the lake I finally got a photo.
“It’s no good sitting here all day, lovely as it is,” Commando said. “Let’s go to Huntsville.”
“It would be good to see it without the rain,” I agreed, remembering our visit in 2015 when it poured down.”
So we got into the giant car and set off.

Our biggest problem was finding somewhere to park but, after a bit of driving around, we spotted a car park near the Civic Centre. If nothing else it was a handy landmark to find our way back to later. Last time we almost lost Maggie’s car. It also took us past four beautiful paintings displayed on the outside of the building.  These were part of the forty or so murals making up the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery. The idea was inspired by a group of famed Canadian landscape painters from the 1920’s and 1930’s known as the Group of Seven or the Algonquin School. The group is best known for paintings inspired by the Canadian landscape and their ethos was to develop art through direct contact with nature.

Our walk to the town centre also took us past St Andrews Presbyterian Church, another useful landmark and a rather beautiful red brick building. From the stone on the front I gather it was built in 1898. This was about the only historical information I was able to find about it. Almost right away we passed another church Trinity United Church. It had an eye catching floral display in a conical woven basket by the side door. This church was built a year before St Andrews, which made me wonder why they chose to build the two so close together?

Huntsville is the largest town in the Muskoka Region. It was founded by George Hunt in 1869. He built a small agricultural centre. A year later, when the post office was built and George became postmaster, the town was named Huntsville after him. The town grew when a navigable water route from Port Sydney to Huntsville was engineered in 1877.  When the railway route from Gravenhurst was built in 1885 the town was officially incorporated.

Right beside the second church was the front of the Civic Centre we’d parked next to. The red brick facade with its porticoed door and clock tower was a complete contrast to the ultra modern rear. Beside it was the Algonquin Theatre, which is actually part of the Civic Centre. What really caught my eye was the display of tulips. Sadly they were still in bud but I later discovered these were part of a display of red and white tulips planted to celebrate Canada’s hundred and fiftieth birthday. Yesterday Maggie showed me the tulips she planted in her own front garden for the same reason but hers were already in flower.

Overlooking the tulips was a bronze statue of a man with a pipe in his mouth and an open paintbox on his lap. This, I discovered, was Tom Thompson, a woodsman, guide and artist who was the primary influence on the Group of Seven, although he died before they formally formed. He disappeared during a canoeing trip on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park in July 1917. Eight days later his body was found in the lake. The official cause of death was given as drowning. Even so, his death has given rise to many conspiracy theories including suicide and murder.

The statue of Tom, created by Brenda Wainman-Goulet, was unveiled in May 2005 by Huntsville’s Mayor, Hugh Mackenzie, as part of a week of celebrations to mark the opening of the Algonquin Theatre. Beside Tom’s statue is a twelve foot bronze canoe, the first bronze canoe in Canada. Given the circumstances of his death the canoe seems a little macarbre.

Before long we’d reached Town Dock Park where we walked in the rain last time we were here. Our aim for today was to see what it looked like in the dry. With three large lakes, countless smaller lakes, lots of parks and trails including the gateway to the Algonquin Provincial Park, Huntsville has a lot more to offer than this little park. While it would have been wonderful to explore further we didn’t want to push our luck with Commando’s leg.

It may not have been as exciting as a walk in the Algonquin Provincial Park but Town Dock Park was well worth visiting, if only for the view of the Main Street Bridge. The three main lakes, Mary Lake, Lake Vernon and Fairy Lake are all connected by ribbons of water, making this the longest man made waterway in Muskoka. The bridge and the park are on the section connecting Fairy Lake and Lake Vernon and the beautiful teal green bridge is one of only eleven remaining swing bridges in Ontario.

Built in 1938, the bridge no longer opens to let boats through but it has been preserved as a heritage bridge and an iconic landmark. For Commando it was an interesting piece of engineering, while I liked it aesthetically, especially the little grey Bridge Tender House in the middle. Another thing I liked was the artwork hung on the concrete wall beside the bridge. Whether the monochrome painting was part of the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery or something else I couldn’t tell but I loved the way the couple in the canoe on the lake were reflected in the real water.

The little park seemed very different to the one I remembered, although I knew we were in the same place. In part this was down to the lack of rain. Back in 2015 the rain was teeming down and the decking was wet and puddle filled. Today, there were a few boggy areas of grass but the wooden boards were dry. The other big difference was down to the season. Last time we were here it was October, the trees on the banks were all in shades of red and gold. Now most still had bare wintry branches or a few fresh green leaves beginning to unfurl. There were no barrels of bright flowers now either. It may have been more subdued but little patches of blue sky reflected in the water were colour enough for me and  I couldn’t help being glad for the lack of rain.

Another new thing since our last visit, or things to be precise, were the  rightly coloured wooded chairs at the end of the decking near the bridge. They might not have added as much colour as the autumn leaves had but I liked them. Later I discovered they were called Muskoka chairs, although this seems to depend upon where you see them and who you ask.

Apparently the first chairs of this kind were designed and patented by Harry C Bunnell in Westport New York in 1905. They were for use in porches, lawns and at camps and were durable enough to be exposed to the elements. They were called Westport chairs. The Adirondack Museum sees thing a little differntly. They say the chairs were the idea of Thomas Lee in 1903, who called his chair the West Plank Chair but showed his design to Bunnell before he thought to patent it. They say the first chairs were used in a convalescent home for TB patients in the Adirondack Mountains and were called Adirondack Chairs.

Whatever they were called the chairs became popular locally and, over time, improvements were made, including making the seats from slats rather than a single slab of wood. In the 1940’s someone had the idea of turning them into mail order kits and their popularity increased. At some point someone brought one to Muskoka, probably a New Yorker with a cottage on one of the lakes. Before long everyone had them and several local companies began making variations, including a rocking version. Generally they were a little lover and a little narrower than the originals and had a curved yoke at the back of the seat rather than a straight one. Soon people began to call them Muskoka Chairs. There may be very little difference, if any, between the different types of chair but I would be more than happy to have one of these Art Deco masterpieces in my garden.

Muskoka covers around two and a half thousand square miles and has one thousand six hundred lakes, making it a popular destination for people to spend holidays by the water. Most of the lakes are surrounded by cottages, many of which are used by seasonal visitors, earning the region the nickname Cottage Country. In fact there was a row of little cottages on the opposite side of the water and, when I looked closely, they all seemed to have a Muskoka Chair in the garden.

Beautiful as it was in the park we were now beginning to get a little hungry. There were plenty of places to eat but we thought we’d try to find the little cafe we ate in when we were last here. It was called Schat and we were pretty sure we knew where it was. After quite a bit of walking up and down Main Street we’d found another of the Group of Seven paintings but not the cafe. It was all very odd.

The third time we walked up Main Street I pointed out a cafe called Whimsical Bakery.
“If I didn’t know better I’d say this was where the other cafe was,” I said. “Maybe the name has changed?”
“I think you’re right,” Commando peered through the window, “it looks just like it inside.”
So we went in and discovered it was the same cafe, just under new management with a new name. Even the menu was much as it had been. This time we avoided the cakes and went for coffee and a sandwich.

After we’d eaten and had a little browse in the shop windows it was time to go back to the car. Luckily, this time the two churches made finding it a lot easier and we were soon on the road heading back towards Gravenhurst. We might not have managed to walk the trails of the Algonquin Provincial Park, or any trails come to that, but we’d had a lovely time in Huntsville.

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Writer, walker, coffee drinker, chocolate eater, lover of nature, history and the little things that make me smile

7 thoughts on “Let’s go to Huntsville”

    1. The canoe looks like it would probably float. Maybe next time we get garden chairs I’ll look for some like those, although I’ve never seen them here.

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