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Tucked away in downtown Huntsville, Ontario is a charming spot where homage is paid to days of yore in Muskoka, and where everyone who visits leaves with an entirely new perspective on life in cottage country.
Located on 90 acres of sprawling woodland, Muskoka Heritage Place is home to two captivating museums, to an interpretive Pioneer Village (featuring 18 historic buildings that originated in the area), and to an historic steam locomotive called the Portage Flyer. A visit to any and all of these sites – just steps away from the Canada Summit Centre – will take you back to a much more simple time in Muskoka, and to an era that is so very fascinating to encounter today.
Ticket To Ride: The Portage Flyer
Get your ticket to ride the Portage Flyer for a one-kilometre jaunt down the rails. Enjoy the clickity-clack of wheels and a gorgeous view of the Muskoka River and then Fairy Lake as you take in this scenic and serene mini-tour. Check out old-fashioned steering in the engineer’s seat, and watch as the train’s crew switch the rails and re-configure the cars before heading back to the Steam & Train Museum.
Experience travel by train – which was so important for the development of Muskoka – pulled by an engine that operated until 1959 between North and South Portage, from Peninsula Lake to Lake of Bays. Also be sure to attend the annual Portage Flyer Christmas event each December, when the train, ablaze with seasonal lights, heads down the track to visit Santa.
Muskoka Pioneer Village
Far from being a stale encounter with history, a visit to the Pioneer Village at Muskoka Heritage Place – with its authentic homes and businesses, with its interpretive (and costumed) guides and interactive programs (and if you’re lucky with its ghostly encounters) – is guaranteed to ignite your curiosity about what daily living was like in Muskoka between 1860 and 1910.
Visit the village blacksmith – arguably the most important person in any olden settlement – and see how tools, horseshoes and gadgets were manufactured by using bellows, intense heat, and true grit.
Enter a homesteader’s first house – quickly constructed when a family arrived in the region to get a roof over their heads for protection against the elements (and the blackflies), and subsequent models that were built for more room and comfort.
Stop at the General Store to dress in pioneer attire or to enjoy a treat, meet the animals at the free range farm (featuring Abigail the donkey and a delightful pig – sorry, we didn’t catch his name), encounter the First Nations installation, and taste homemade scones, baked in a wood stove and dripping with hand-churned butter. The village has fun activities and programs as well, including candle making, and special events like The Great Pumpkin Trail on Hallowe’en annually.