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.
Every year, we curate a special exhibit that explores an aspect or theme of Muskoka’s history through carefully selected artifacts from the museum’s collection. The Featured Exhibit is housed in the Catto Gallery.
2020 Featured Exhibit:
This year's 'Canoeing in Muskoka' exhibit features a new addition to our canoe collection, a Mack Cunningham canoe from Bala. Known as one of Muskoka best boat builders, Mack Cunningham, along with his family, hand-built canvas covered canoes to rent in the 1930s and 1940s out of what is now known as Purk’s Place near the falls in Bala. A favourite of the fishermen and hunters of the day, it is of Mack's 16 ft. models, complete with a paddle and a single seat-back, both stamped WC to keep them with the rental canoes. 'Canoeing in Muskoka' explores the place the canoe has in the region's history, from the First Nations peoples and early explorers to day-tripping by tourists and cottagers to regattas. Come in and experience for yourself the joys of 'Canoeing in Muskoka'. We gratefully acknowledge the generous financial support of PH&N Institutional as this year's Sponsor of our Feature Exhibit, 'Canoeing in Muskoka' Read More
The museum’s art 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, two authentic birchbark canoes, hand-crafted sweetgrass baskets and 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.
Try your hand operating a 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.
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, connected through the switchboard, or the early dial-phones. In this hands-on exhibit, 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.
*Please note: dial phones are currently not available due to COVID-19. Crank phones are available.
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 try on old-fashioned clothes from the dress-up chest.
*Please note: due to COVID-19, only the bottom floor of the cabin is open. The Dressup Chest is not available.