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Tuesday Tales from the Archives – The Rules have changed

December 5, 2017

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The Way It Was: Drinking parties, carousing and objectionable noise not permitted!

Pratt's hotel

Growing from 30 resorts, in 1896, to resorts capable of welcoming 5,500 as of 1913, Muskoka lodging was for the wealthy, and for those on limited budgets.

Each resort hotel had its own distinctive style or culture. Some had house rules that would not be permitted or popular today. Social decorum, along with proper attire was expected. 

Religion appeared in early literature discouraging Jewish travelers from visiting most area resorts. Ever prominent in advertisements were the rejuvenating properties of the clear Muskoka air. While guests, suffering from tuberculosis, a widespread disease at the time, were rejected.

Woodington House: Lake Rosseau

In 1886, Michael Woods first built a two storey log home in Rosseau. In 1894, he then built a large three storey rambling structure complete with large dining room and lounge making it one of the nicest hotels in the area .Guests enjoyed a grand view from verandahs stretching along the front, with gazebos built onto the ends of the verandah at each side. With the hotel built on a rocky hilltop and health concerns at the forefront, promotional material noted ”no consumptives taken” as well as assurances that “hay fever patients find speedy relief”.

Elgin House: Lake Joseph – “a first class summer resort”

Owned by Lambert Love and built 1895, this resort catered to upper income Methodists. The resort was strictly tea totaling with no drinking, dancing or even card playing. While Elgin House was not alone in its discrimination, a 1941 advertised “Our Clientele is Strictly Gentile.” One story indicates that Love forced one ‘sweet thing’ to leave after she appeared in a bathing suit on a Sunday.

By 1919, Elgin House could boast electric lights (then rare for a Muskoka resort) plus steam heat, tennis courts, beach and boat livery. Sunday church services were held for staff and visitors in a private chapel on the grounds. The chapel, still standing, was always filled to capacity.

 Clevelands House: Minett, Lake Rosseau

 In 1869, Charles and Fanny Minett arrived at their land grant on Lake Rosseau. In 1883, they opened their home as a summer hotel, christened after the village in England where Charles was born, “Cleeve Lands”. An error at the time of the printing of the first register resulted in the name appearing as Clevelands House and was never corrected.

Fun was the rule of the day. However, dinner did require men to wear jackets and the ladies to wear dresses. Waitresses wore green uniforms with white collars, cuffs and white hat. They were expected to wear stockings. On one occasion some of the girls, as they got a tan, would get an eyebrow pencil and put a line down the back of their legs to make it look like they were wearing stockings.

The Royal Muskoka: Lake Rosseau

Opened in 1901 as a division of The Muskoka Navigation and Hotel Company, it was the largest and grandest summer hotel in Muskoka, with two, three-storey wings. The Royal was equipped with private baths in every room, electric lights, and steam heat, with both hot and cold running water. Catering to an upscale market, every comfort was available- barbers, manicurists and hair stylists, even a resident nurse.

An advertising brochure from 1905 stated: “The grounds cover an area of one hundred and thirty acres. The formation is rocky and there is no low land. Perfect immunity from hay fever is assured.”

Ernescliffe House: Juddhaven, Lake Rosseau

In 1877, this post office served by steamers, opened in the family home of Francis and Ann Judd, and was given the name Juddhaven.

In 1890, a small resort was built high above Lake Rosseau. This soon grew to an impressive four storey wooden structure, with a five storey tower and wonderful views of the lake and surrounding area. In the last century it was not uncommon for visitors to spend two or three months in the Muskoka area, taking full advantage of much promoted healthy environment. In an early advertisement, it was noted that malaria breeding swamps were unknown.

Milford Bay Temperance House; Milford Bay, Lake Muskoka

Milford Bay House was operated by Robert Stroud, a strict Methodist, who would not permit any rowdiness or alcoholic beverages on his premises. The hotel was quiet, respectable and popular with visiting clergymen. It soon offered extra features such as tennis, quoits, and croquet.

Scarcliff House: Point Kaye, Lake Muskoka.

This very small resort on northern Lake Muskoka was originally a private residence built by family of Charles Kaye who arrived in the 1860’s. It was later named Scarcliff by Charles Riley after an estate in the old country .He created a resort to accommodate 30 guests. As other resorts of the time, an early 1900’s ad notes there were ” no consumptives taken”,  illustrating the fear and misunderstanding of tuberculosis.

Monteith House: Rosseau

This resort was known as one of Muskoka’s liveliest summer resort hotels and also one of the oldest. It grew out of a tiny Rosseau hotel, a log tavern built by John Beal in 1867. It was renamed Monteith House by sportsman John Monteith.

In the late 1930’s, a Jewish couple Harry and Jenny Shopsowitz, owners of a popular Toronto delicatessen bought the resort, changing the name to Monteith Inn. At a time when Jews were unwelcome at most resorts in the area, the hotel became a vacation destination for Jewish travelers. Visitors included friends, family and business associates in the Toronto Jewish community. This hotel was the first Jewish-run resort in the area. It also offered “perfect immunity from hay fever”.

Author: Diane Purchas, Archives Volunteer