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Muskoka’s Irish Connection: A St. Patrick’s Day Recollection

March 17, 2017


Settler with cabinOn a day when everyone is Irish, regardless of their DNA, we proudly state that the mother of Muskoka tourism was Irish. Letitia Symington- aka Mother McCabe – emigrated from Ireland to the St. Catherine’s area of Canada West.  Canada wasn’t yet a country.

In the tiny community of Caistor, she met another Irish immigrant,  James “Mickey” McCabe. In 1859, with 17 others settlers, they moved north to Severn Bridge. The Severn River is the southern border of Muskoka District.

The McCabes were dissatisfied with the farming conditions near Severn Bridge, so the couple moved north once again. Settling in the area we now call Gravenhurst, they built a one room log cabin, and began to dispense Irish hospitality to visitors from the south.

In 1865, 3 of the visitors she welcomed were young men from Toronto exploring the wilderness by canoe and on foot. Among that trio was A. P. Cockburn.  Mother McCabe – Letitia who never had children of her own, liked to be called Mother – loaned her canoe to A. P. and suggested he explore the Big Lake.  When he returned from his reconnaissance, he told his host, “I’ll be back.”  He returned the next year to begin the steamship era for which Muskoka was known for nearly a century.

A. P. wasn’t the only person Mother McCabe encouraged to explore the region. Some of the families that still return every summer to islands in the big lake, can trace their Muskoka connection to Mother McCabe’s enthusiastic promotion.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Muskoka Steamships and Discovery Centre.