Wednesday, 10 September 2008
History of Muskoka
The history of the development of our area is quite an interesting one. I have found several sources, including books specifically about Muskoka. Wahta Mohawks in Bala, (originally the Gibson reserve, 1881) published a book based on the memories of Protestant aboriginal people sent away from Oka & Kanesetake communities in Quebec: "A History of the Wahta Mohawk Community" It is a difficult story of Catholic/Protestant conflict over land. There were no roads between the reservation and the town, and getting supplies was difficult.
James Bartleman's Raisin Wine describes the hardship of living on this land in his Port Carling chronicle. These lands were prime locations for aboriginal peoples, the original land settlers: Algonquin and Hurons. They learned to settle and grew the three sisters (corn, squash & beans), and could cut a decent life out of the woods. Once white settlers arrived, however, and began to worm them out of their previous territory, things began to go wrong. It describes the poverty, racism, living and working conditions, and living off the land in winter.
Overseas, you see, there were those that encouraged immigration to Canada. The Free Grants and Homestead Act of 1868 promised 100 - 200 acres if settlers cleared the land and farmed. This story is well-told in the DVD about Susannah Moodie and Catherine Parr, Sisters of the Wilderness, by CBC. Ontario territory, formerly loved by many Native bands, welcomed these ignorant white settlers and prevented them from starving in the harsh winters. Unfortunately this land, with its bogs and shallow soils on Precambrian Shield, were less than adequate for such types of farming. Before the railway transportation was a difficult issue. Steamships brought tourists for the summer. With only seasonal employment life was difficult as white people encroached on their territory.
Eventually, the lumber industry and the raping of the huge pines off the land, meant more work. Local residents learned to exploit and create a living by meeting the needs of summer visitors, many of whom remained oblivious to the dignity of the full-timers. The very rich bought and sold land and made a profit exploiting prospective new and current land owners, desperate to seek solace in the peace, quiet and tranquility of Muskoka. They built large resorts, many of which burned down and had to be rebuilt. With their arrival, however, they reinforced racism, intolerance of Catholics, Jews, the poor, and the economic differences between 'locals', as we are so often named, and summer residents.
The quiet of the land, disrupted by transportation technology: motor boats evolved from the canoe, to the sleek, mahogony Ditchburn boats, boats with disappearing propellors (Dippies),
and now the incredibly large, powerful, noisy boats and PWCs of the new millenium.