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By Cameron Taylor
More About Enchanted Summers...
During the research, Lynx Images uncovered magnificent archival footage from the 1920s revealing a number of popular hotels, old steamships, as well as footage capturing the spirit of recreation÷the pageants, the regattas, and athletics.
Words from the creators: "The old footage is a time capsule," says Barbara Chisholm. "The clothing, the crowds converging at the steamer docks, the spirit of the times... it all evokes a romantic side of Muskoka that has faded. The footage made going back to these mostly deserted places during the film-shoot all the more eerie. What was once a lively hub of activity may now only conceal cracked, moss-covered steps under a cover of forest or brush." Adds producer/cinematographer, Russell Floren, "Creating something that shows people what once was there, putting past and present together÷making that connection÷thatâs what this project is trying to do."
172-Page Pictorial Book
The companion book captures the spirit of Muskokaâs hotels as they evolved from settler cabins in a remote Ontario backwater to opulent resorts and a vacationerâs Mecca. Humorous anecdotes and poignant reminiscences accompany photos and memorabilia highlighting life from the early days of the "wilderness resort" through the regionâs heyday at the turn of the century, to the often fiery demise of so many of these magnificent hotels.
Author Cameron Taylor: "In the book we hear from many people who worked at the hotels or were children of the owners -- all who offer that rare behind the scenes perspective," says writer/director, Cameron Taylor. "Projects like this are richer for the audience because, at the heart of it, an authentic voice is speaking." Between their reminiscences and the archival material, the mood of this forgotten era has been captured÷a passionate reminder that the grand hotels are the foundation to Muskokaâs history.
The Enchanted Story
Though Lynx Images has traditionally focused on the stories of the Great Lakes, this project still continues with their trademark interest in abandoned and forgotten places. Producer Barbara Chisholm elaborates, "We have always been fascinated by the era of the grand hotels, and because Muskoka had some of the most beautiful and renowned resorts, it was natural to centre the project there." Discovering how profoundly the evolution of the hotels influenced the development of Muskoka was a revelation. Writer and director Cameron Taylor remarks, "Most people who summer in Muskoka are unaware that the first cottages developed around the hotels, and that the first cottage owners were former hotel patrons. The hotels were the true centres of the community."
In the Beginning....
Settlement of Muskoka gained momentum in the 1860s following the introduction of the Free Grants and Homestead Act. Thousands of hopeful immigrants from the British Isles took up the governmentâs offer of free 100 and 200 acre blocks. They arrived determined to farm the land. Unfortunately, no one told them the land, for the most part was unyielding rock.
Desperate to make a living, some turned to lumbering even though the industry was in decline. Not until groups of adventurous hunters and fisherman, many of them American, began to "discover" Muskoka did the settlers did any glimmer of hope. They were in the right place at the right time for the impact of industrialism in North America during the latter quarter of the 19th century had an unsettling effect upon the general populace. To regain "fortitude," from the ill-effects of overwork and pollution some men turned to hunting and fishing in the wilderness.
The Three Hotel Stages
Stage One: Settler Cabins
When settlers opened their homes to sportsmen in was a simple affair. A guestâs only requirement was a mattress and few square meals-- settlers had just discovered the basics of running a hotel.
Stage Two: Expanded Homes and Wilderness Resorts
When the profitability of running a hotel became apparent settlers began expanding their homes to accommodate more guests. At the same time the first "wilderness resort" appeared at the head of Lake Rosseau in 1870. There was no turning back now. As more and more services were demanded, local villages that had previously been no more than a sawmill and general store enjoyed a new prosperity. Through the 1880s as the pace of development quickened, no longer did just sportsmen come; now the whole family wanted to enjoy the Muskoka Lakes.
Enchanted Summers examines the first (predominately American) tourists into the region and looks the effects of industrialization in creating new diseases such as "Brain Fag." Fascinating archival footage of Pittsburgh shows the city during this period when it was described as "hell with the lid off."
Stage Three: The Golden Era of Hotels
By the late 1890s Muskoka had become one of the premiere holiday destinations in North America. As its hotels entered there Golden Era between 1896 and 1914, the expectations of their clientele shifted. The focus became comfort, cuisine, athletics, games and relaxation in style. One guest, a violinist, had a Hientzman grand piano shipped from Toronto, and hired a pianist to accompany her in her daily practice. Nature and its simple enjoyment had receded into the background.
Enchanted Summers Book and Video Highlights
Some of the highlights of the film include: footage of the fire that roared through Windermere House in 1996; some touching material from the recently-demolished Woodington House; archival footage from the 1920s revealing many of the diversions vacationers enjoyed including pageants, regattas, and athletics; clips of the steamships that plied the lakes through the years; and stunning aerial footage of the few hotels that remain. Blended with the music of such greats as Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Tommy Dorsey the film recaptures the heady days when people descended upon Muskoka to revel in the gracious comfort of these magnificent hotels.
Lynx Images is a unique company that combines filmmaking and book publishing to explore and document vanishing pieces of Canadian history. The companyâs Great Lakes focus has produced several best-selling titles including, Ghosts of the Bay: The Forgotten History of Georgian Bay; and Alone in the Night: Lighthouses of Georgian Bay, Manitoulin Island, and the North Channel.
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