Story and modern day photos by Chris Bullen, Toronto Chapter

I have boated all over North America, and one thing that is very noticeable to someone who grew up in Muskoka is that other lakes allow very few boathouses to be built. Boathouses have been on Muskoka since 1868, about as long as we have been building cottages. As with most northern lakes, crowds would come by train and stay at the cottage all summer.

Today, many of those original boathouses are still standing, often inspiring the new builds that keep the style of the old. These boathouses are grand and wonderful, showing a diversity of architectural ideas.

I took a tour of the Muskoka Lakes to admire boathouses and the old boats in them. Here are some of my favorites.

Chinook Lodge.

Chinook Lodge

One of our most famous islands, Keewaydin, is part of the Seven Sisters group and was purchased by William Ross, a clergyman from Hamilton, Ontario. The cottage was originally called Lake View but is now known as Chinook Lodge. It’s dock, however, was known as Port Keewaydin and it became a post office in 1909. Mr. Hugill, the postmaster, worked there for 54 years. Port Keewaydin’s dock is 75-feet long because, as a post office, plenty of room was needed to dock the steamship that delivered the mail. Naturally, a longer dock gave space for a larger boathouse. Though floods and ice destroyed the boathouse in recent years, it has since been rebuilt.

Miss Canada V, a 1954 22-foot Greavette mahogany streamliner.

The current owner is Jeff Mitchell, grandson of Ernest Albert (E.A.) Wilson of Ingersoll, Ontario who had purchased the property in 1930. The family got into boats and their son, Harold, won a race at a local regatta. The family then became immersed in boat racing and E.A. and Harold used their engineering knowledge, along with the companies they controlled, to bring fame not only to Muskoka with their unlimited hydroplane speed boats, but to all of Canada. Ahead of their time, Harold’s riding mechanic was his wife, Lorna. In 1939, they made history when Harold became the first non-American to win the President’s cup in Miss Canada III and the first Canadian to win the 7.0-liter class world championship. President Franklin Roosevelt presented the trophy at the White House. The boathouse today holds Miss Canada V, a 22-foot Greavette mahogany streamliner. Built-in 1954, it is the last of a series made famous by the Canadian powerboat racing team of Harold and Lorna Wilson.

Tondern Island and the Cragg boathouse.

Tondern Island

Just to the south of Keewaydin is the area of Beaumaris and it was the first to be settled with cottages. Chris and Louise Cragg, also members of the ACBS Toronto Chapter, live in a home that has been in their family since it was purchased in 1926. Louis and Edith Hays of Pittsburgh met on Belle Island in the Seven Sisters group and soon married. With Muskoka in their blood, they purchased a cottage on Tondern Island and routinely traveled by train to Gravenhurst and then steamer to the cottage.

Built in 1904, originally Tondern Island’s boathouse was one wet slip (on water) and one dry slip (on land). Shortly after the family purchased the property, the boathouse was expanded to the size it is now with two front slips and three back slips. The second floor configuration was changed in the1960s with insulation and electric heat now allowing for year-round use. The family enjoys not only boating, but snowmobiling and snow skiing.


Chris’s slips were filled with boats when I visited. At the back was a disappearing propeller boat, a SeaBird, and a replica of Little Miss Canada. The front slips have the daily-driver fiberglass and the family’s pride and joy: a 1927 32-foot Ditchburn Commodore named Robin Adair purchased by Louis and Edith Hays and christened in honor of Edith whose maiden name was Adair with the nickname Robin. 

Robin is used regularly with sunset cruises being the norm. She is 90% original, apart from Louis Hays changing her engine many decades ago from the original Sterling to a straight eight Buchanan. Over 94 years old, she’s had only four drivers – Louis Hays, his son Howard Hays, Louis’ son-in-law Peter Cragg and Peter’s son Chris Cragg.

Cinderwood Island, Rita’s boathouse, is on the right

Cinderwood Island

A little south towards Gravenhurst lies Cinderwood Island, in the Beaumaris area. Developed by a family from Pittsburg, Carl Borntraeger needed a boat to not only get to the island, but a boat-of-size to comfortably pick up his guests from the train. After purchasing a 50-foot boat built by Bert Minett, he names her Rita and in 1914 he built a luxurious place to keep her. The 60-foot long boathouse, island, and boat have been a package deal to only three owners over the life of the property. Interestingly, due to Rita’s large size, back in 1970, it was lifted up in the boathouse and workers from Greavette Boats put in a floor to close in the slip beneath her, allowing for a complete restoration over the winter months.

Rita, a 50-foot Minett.

Inglewood Lodge

The last boathouse we saw on Lake Muskoka was a little dryland boathouse. This is the boathouse for Inglewood Lodge, on the mainland in Milford Bay, just behind Tondern Island. This little lodge with ten rooms was used from 1909 to 1960. It was then sold and made into a private cottage. I have a special connection to this boathouse, as it was built and run by my family. My grandparents, Doris, and Vern Bullen were the proprietors, and my father lived at the lodge full-time. The boathouse stored rowboats and canoes used by guests.

Inglewood Lodge.

Llanlar Estate

North up to Port Carling, and through the locks to Lake Rosseau, we find Llanlar Estate, owned by the Miller family of Indiana. The boathouses of Llanlar are more traditional and house a few wooden boats, all re-powered with diesel engines.

Llanar Lodge.

Pinehurst Cottage

The Osler family has been on the land, where Pinehurst Cottage stands since early 1900s. The cottage is now owned by Lawton and Martha Osler and Pinehurst’s unique boathouse was designed by Lawton’s grandfather. Rock was blasted out so the boathouse could be tucked back into the shore, though the doors were a challenge as they slope with the roof. Counterweights, with cables on the outside, help pull open the doors and keep them in place.

Sail boathouses at Pinehurst built by Henry Longhurst and sons in 1937.

The boathouse was built for the 30-foot sloop-style sailboat, Aleuta. She is a Lake St. Louis skimming dish built by Lawton’s grandfather. The family also had a sailing dingy. Today, the boathouse contains two wooden runabouts, a newly restored 1934 17-foot SeaBird Avesta II and a 1953 Delcraft named Achieva II.


Cliff Island, a fifth generation home on Muskoka.

Cliff Island

Cliff Island was purchased in 1898 by George Van Sickle Foreman from Buffalo, New York. The family is fifth generation, and the property has been kept pretty much the same as it was originally built. That’s a great tribute to the harmony the island must bring. Cliff Island is featured in a fun little movie showing a mix of old and new clips, giving a good look at the Muskoka landscape which can be found at


  1. Great historical presentation of some of the magnificent boat houses on beautiful Lake Muskoka. I have had the pleasure of cruising Muskoka with a group of Michigan chapter boats a few times. The best one was led by Chris Bullen in Riot!

  2. Thanks for the virtual tour! I’ve always been enchanted with the concept and architecture of boat houses. The Pinehurst boathouses for sailboats are very unique.

  3. In June of 2023 Chris kindly gave four of us a tour of the Lake Muskoka boathouses, including the idyllic island he and Julie call home. To ALL members, Lake Muskoka needs to be on your bucket list and give it at least a week on the water. Amazing lakes and boathouses with incredible boats. But the best is the people like Chris and Julie and the dozens of others we met who opened their hearts and homes to fellow wood boat enthusiasts. Gravenhurst and Port Carling were and are home to builders of some of the iconic boats of the past and present. Between Lake Muskoka, Lake Rosseau, and Lake Joseph (all accessible via the Port Carling lock), there are several thousand unique boathouses and a nearly limitless shoreline. Lots of places to stop along the way for food, drink and shopping.

  4. I agree that there are some of the nicest structures in this area. I have a copy of ‘At the Waters Edge’ by John deVisser and Judy Ross which was published in 1993. We can only dream of such things in the Pacific Northwest It took my wife Linda and I 18 months to get a permit for a replacement dock that is a maximum of 400 SF. If the National Marine Fisheries folks had their way there would be zero waterway docks and associated ramps and pilings in our river!

  5. Thank you for the wonderful article. My wife and I went to Gravenhurst several years ago. What a beautiful area full of rich history. We did the lunch tour on the Seguin and thoroughly enjoyed it. Subsequently I purchased several books about the boathouses of Muskoka. It is a wonderful area for boaters to visit.

  6. Thanks for the wonderful stories and pictures. I love these unique pieces of utility architecture. We mostly use our 1954 Wagemaker up on Squam Lake, NH, where a large number of boat houses can be enjoyed.

  7. Chris, this was a fabulous write up and photo essay. You give it a personal touch which is great. It’s on my bucket list to visit these boat houses. I have to confess sometimes when I’m in church and my mind wanders, I dream about “boat houses“ 🙂

    Joyce and I enjoyed meeting you at Bay Harbor. Hope our paths cross again.

  8. Beautifully done Chris, no surprise in that! It is hard not to notice the extent to which Americans shaped the look of the Muskoka we love to visit. I’ve never had more than a rental footprint in Muskoka but I still feel very attached to the lakes. I married an American but unfortunately she didn’t come with a piece of

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