Ontario's Richest Waters

Antique boat shows, steamship tours, luxury boat rentals, and accommodations at the Residence Inn Marriot Muskoka Wharf may sound like the makings of a vacation reserved for the lucky few, but it's actually a convenient option for boaters of all stripes.

In the early days of the 20th century, industrial barons from the northeast United States would board passenger trains bound for Toronto. Reaching the city, their voyage would turn north towards the heart of Ontario. The place we refer to today as cottage country.

You know you're doing something right when you see these gates

Arriving at their final destination, the passenger trains would slow to a halt on the pier in Gravenhurst, Ontario. The wealthy passengers would transfer to the steamships lining the dock and enjoy their trip across Muskoka Lake to their summer homes.

A journey into the past on the Wenonah II steamship

This influx of rich businessmen put the Muskoka region on the international map. Today, it's the sweet spot for recreational boating in Ontario and should be on the must-visit list for any serious boater.

Antique boats were a-plenty at the Vintage Boat Show

We arrived in town on a Friday to cover the ACBS Toronto's 37th Annual Vintage Boat Show. While there are plenty of places to stay in this tourist hotspot, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better base camp for your boating adventures than the Residence Inn by Marriott Gravenhurst Muskoka Wharf.

The location of the hotel is its best feature. Built on the same spot that used to be home to the famous Ditchburn boat factory, it occupies a parcel of land that's second to none in the area for visiting boaters.

Unbeatable lakeside location of the Residence Inn Marriot on Muskoka Wharf

Directly in front of the hotel is the town marina with boat launches, a fuel dock, and mooring space. Behind the hotel is the Muskoka Steamships and Discovery Centre. A museum full of rich history, an in-water collection of antique boats and a huge play space to keep the little ones entertained if the weather doesn't cooperate with your plans.

The hotel is branded as a Residence Inn by Marriott, meaning it's designed for extended stay guests, but during a tour with general manager Jon Massey, he explained why this hotel is a step above any other Residence Inn I've visited.

The lobby at our home for the weekend

This particular property offers a timeshare component. Frequent visitors can purchase a package that allows for 35 nights of use thought the year. The suites are outfitted with this long-term visit in mind.

The one-room unit we enjoyed was outfitted with a full kitchen, including a fridge with ice-maker, sink, two-burner stovetop, and a full-size dishwasher. All the necessary utensils and dishware were stocked in the ample cabinet space. 

There's a small dining table, a full-sized office desk, a sofa, recliner, and a gas fireplace with a flat-screen television mounted above. In the bedroom, we were treated to a comfortable king-sized bed, a second flat-screen, and a large ensuite bathroom.

From our balcony, another feature this hotel offers that's not a brand standard, we had a limited view. The few units on this end of the building face the bluff that protects the harbour. While not as spectacular as the view of the water from other suites, this one does offer a hint of solitude that can sometimes be difficult to find right in the heart of Muskoka Wharf.

The hotel backs right onto the water

There's a boardwalk that begins right next to the Discovery Center beside the hotel. It wraps around the entire length of the harbour, past the docks, shops, and restaurants, all the way to the steamships. It's a great way to explore the waterfront.

But to truly appreciate the beauty of this area, you need to be on a boat. We didn't bring one along on this trip, but fortunately for us, Muskoka Wharf is home to the largest boat rental operation in Canada. Muskoka Boat Rentals have everything from watercraft, to pontoon boats to bow riders. They can even set you up with a MasterCraft X46 wakeboard boat.

Some of the Muskoka Boat Rentals fleet

Muskoka Boat Rentals graciously provided us with a tour around the bay on one of their pontoon boats. We cruised through the harbour and got a great view of the boat show festivities. Then we turned towards and headed to the narrows that lead out into Lake Muskoka.

A word of advice for first-time boaters. Approach the narrows with caution. They're called narrows for a reason and the last thing you want is to come ripping around the corner and see the Segwun or the Wenonah coming at you through the channel. It's not a fight you're going to win. Slow down, pull over, and just enjoy these majestic steamships as they cruise past.

The historic Segwun steamship

Out in the open waters of Lake Muskoka, it's easy to understand why the wealthy and affluent have been flocking to this boating paradise for over 100 years. There are 120 square kilometres of water to discover and endless miles of shoreline to explore. 

Cottage on Lake Muskoka

Nothing speaks to the popularity more than the timeshare option at the Marriott. In a hotel that runs well over 90% occupancy throughout the season, they have enough extended-stay, returning guests to justify offering them a more permanent vacation accommodation.

Everything you need for a long-term stay with the family

This is truly a boater's paradise. Why else would the barons of the modern industrial era choose this spot for their summer homes? They had the money to travel anywhere they chose, but ended up in the Muskokas. You should too.

Whether you're an angler looking for a hot spot, a power boater seeking open water or a watersports enthusiast looking for a great place to wakeboard, you'll find it all here in the Muskoka Lakes. 

About Steve Sansford

Steve has spent most of his life in and around boats. His father was a marine mechanic and Steve studied Marine Navigation in college. He currently holds several Transport Canada navigation and safety ratings. His work has been published in Powerboating Canada magazine and various other online outlets. Check out his Instagram feed for updates on his latest adventures.

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