The museum’s collections cover important aspects of Muskoka’s past, including First Nations history, technology and innovation, boating and boat building, resorts and tourism, and pioneer life.
We want to share with you some objects that are not part of our main display, so through the winter months while we are closed we will feature an Online Exhibit. This year’s series of online exhibits were designed by University of Waterloo student Tamara Steeves.
This gallery is named in honour of Marion Catto, whose vision inspired the founding of the museum. Along with her husband Lt. Colonel Douglas E. Catto, the couple were longtime and generous supporters of the museum. This space hosts the feature exhibit for the season.
First Nations Gallery
Muskoka is located on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg (Chippewa or Ojibway) people and is also home to the Wahta Mohawk people. This territory is covered by the Williams Treaty of 1923.
The First Nations Gallery focuses on the history of the Indigenous People who lived, and still live, in the Muskoka area. Displays include a replica wigwam, an authentic birchbark canoe, hand-crafted sweetgrass baskets, quill boxes and maps showing traditional hunting territories and current First Nations reserves. Early First Nations artifacts, some dating to 6000 B.C.E., are also featured.
Technology Then & Now
Technology is constantly changing. Discover how much things have changed since the late 19th and early 20th century in the Technology Then & Now gallery. The museum’s old technology section features an array of domestic appliances and tools, including washing machines, clothes mangles and wringers, carpet beaters, vacuums, mousetraps, clothes irons, and more. It’s always fun comparing what was a modern convenience back then to what we have now.
Muskoka’s heritage owes much to the history of boat building and boating culture in the area. Tour this rich history in the Marine Room where you can admire the craftsmanship of the wooden canoes and rowboats that were built for vacationers staying at the region’s early resorts.
Admire our Disappearing Propeller Motorboat, an ingenious invention born right here in Muskoka, and view the restored 1922 ‘Dippy’ on display. Learn about world-famous Port Carling boat builders, reminisce over the collection of restored outboard motors dating from 1916 to the 1950s, and inspect a scale model of the RMS Sagamo, the largest steamship in the fleet of the Muskoka Lakes Navigation Company.
Agriculture and Resort Room
See some of the tools and techniques used by early settlers in some of the first agriculture, logging, and ice harvesting that happened in Muskoka.
Muskoka’s first resorts started appearing in the early 1870s and have been a mainstay of the local economy ever since. Get a feel for what those early resorts were like in the museum’s replica of an early 20th century Muskoka resort lobby. Make a call on the working old-style magneto telephone and learn about early activities offered at these resorts.
You’ll also learn about the early resorts like Beaumaris on Lake Muskoka, Shamrock Lodge on Lake Rosseau, and Elgin House on Lake Joseph which established Muskoka’s reputation as a wilderness playground for tourists visiting from Toronto, the United States and elsewhere.
Pioneer Log Cabin
In this square timber log home you can actually touch and feel the history. The cabin was built near Glen Orchard in 1875 by George and Jane Hall, with the help of their two oldest sons. Constructed from the giant white pines that grow locally, it is typical of the first homes built by settlers who moved to Muskoka under the Free Grants and Homestead Act of 1868. Relocated to the Muskoka Lakes Museum site in 1983, the log cabin contains 19th century artifacts and household items that give insight into early pioneer life and tell the Hall family story. View pioneer kitchen tools and appliances, and smell the dried herbs hanging from the ceiling.