Nothing says Muskoka like discovery. Hop aboard the amazing RMS Segwun, North America’s oldest operating steamship. Launch your curiosity on Wenonah II with all its modern conveniences. Muskoka Steamships is the one-of-a-kind way to experience Muskoka!
The History of THE MUSKOKA LAKES NAVIGATION COMPANY
The Muskoka Lakes Navigation Company (a.k.a. NAVCO), from its founding in 1866 until its demise as a common carrier in September 1958, operated the largest and finest fleet of inland lake steamships in North America. Its only rivals on inland waterways (that is not including the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway and the British Columbia and Atlantic Coasts) were the Canadian Pacific Railway fleet on four inland lakes in British Columbia and the British Yukon Navigation fleet on the Yukon River in the Yukon Territory. These latter fleets, of shallow draft sternwheel steamers with overnight passenger accommodation, provided a quite different service from NAVCO on the Muskoka Lakes.
The Company has operated under several corporate names since starting service in 1886.
- 1866: Small, primitive steamer Wenonah, built and owned by J.P. Cockburn, commenced service on the Muskoka Lakes. As far as is known, this early operation was not incorporated.
- 1881: Company incorporated as “Muskoka and Nipissing Navigation Company” and built steamer Inter-Ocean for service on Lake Nipissing. (See Tatley, Volume I, page 103)
- 1889: following withdrawal of Lake Nipissing service account railway competition, Company started service between Midland and Parry Sound and was renamed “The Muskoka and Georgian Bay Navigation Company” (See Tatley, Volume I, page 149)
- 1903: following withdrawal of the Georgian Bay service, Company built the Royal Muskoka Hotel on Lake Rosseau. It then became “The Muskoka Lakes Navigation and Hotel Company Limited”. This Company dissolved in the 1950’s, following the burning of the Royal Muskoka Hotel and after selling the remaining steamers. (See Tatley, Volume I, page 265)
- 1981: The name and charter of the Muskoka Lakes Navigation and Hotel Company Limited was revived to operate the restored steamer Segwun.
Thus, there are two distinct NAVCO histories. The first is the traditional steam era history where the Company served as a common carrier extension of the steam railways. It started with the one pioneer steamboat serving the earliest Muskoka settlers, grew as the territory developed as a prime tourist area and then declined after 1930 as both freight and passengers moved to the highways. This story ends with the withdrawal of the last steamers, Sagamo and Segwun, in September 1958, with the expectation that neither would run again.
The second NAVCO story starts with the idea of refurbishing R.M.S. Segwun in 1969 and its resuming service in June 1981. This re-born NAVCO is a story in itself with the Segwun restoration being the only successful steamboat restoration in North America. This success story continues with the Company taking on the operation of the heritage steam yacht Wanda III in 1993 and the entirely new cruise vessel, Wenonah II in 2002. The Company is now wholly owned by the Muskoka Steamship & Historical Society, a registered charity and the owner of the three ships. As such, this revived NAVCO is not a common carrier but operates public cruises to preserve knowledge of the steam era and to let the public experience “the fun, romance and history” of the Muskoka Lakes.
With thanks to Dr. Gordon Shaw