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Muskoka museums: Wooden Boats & an Orr

© By Pat Brennan

  Grace & Speed - it's the theme of a museum in cottage country. And no, it's not the Bobby Orr Hall of Fame in Parry Sound - although that theme certainly fits. We'll come back to the Orr shrine after a stop further down Highway 69 at the Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre, which opened recently in Gravenhurst. This $5-million boathouse is filled with the sleekest, prettiest and fastest wooden boats ever built. And, they're alive.
     They're bobbing slightly on the waters of Sagamo Bay while tied to docks inside the boathouse. The boat and heritage centre is part of Muskoka Wharf, a $100- million resort village being established along Sagamo Bay on the Gravenhurst waterfront. It will include retail shops, restaurants, recreation facilities, dockage and condominium residences priced up to $700,000.
     What you'll see in the museum depends on when you visit. There's a rotating display of boats, as these classics are owned by private individuals or Muskoka resorts. The owners lend them to the museum, but they still like to take their beauties out for a spin now and again and that's part of their display agreement.
     About 20 boats are floating in the boathouse at any time - such as The Traveller, a charming launch built in 1894 to ferry guests over to Bigwin Inn on Bigwin Island in Lake of Bays. It looks like a surrey with a fringe on top. Volunteers patrolling the docks can tell you interesting details about the boats and sometimes their owners, without revealing names.
     Some details, such as who built it and when, are on information cards along the docks. But the info card didn't tell me a sleek 70-year-old speedboat with three cockpits is owned by a guy who has 18 others just like it. One reason it is on display here is the owner has room for only 13 boats in his own boathouse. A volunteer revealed that.
     Another pointed out a snazzy speedboat that Hollywood couple Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell occasionally used to rent when they had a Muskoka cottage.
     There's more than boat nostalgia in this museum. Many of these boats were built before there were roads in Muskoka, but there were dozens of grand summer hotels. The story of those hotels and the lives they accommodated each summer is also told throughout the centre.
     Windermere House, built in 1870, was accidentally burned to the ground in 1996 while a Hollywood crew filmed the movie The Long Kiss Goodnight with Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson. It was rebuilt and is still one of Muskoka's prime resorts.
     The Swastika Hotel was built in Bala in 1910, but Hitler later ruined that name, so it became the Bala Bay Inn.
     The Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre is on Highway 169 where it heads north from Gravenhurst. Admission is $8.50 for adults and $4 for children. Further up that highway is another display of Grace & Speed. The Bobby Orr Hall of Fame tells the story of a young Parry Sound lad who grew up to become what many fans claim is the finest hockey player ever to lace on skates.
     Among the many displays is a horizontal statue of Orr scoring the most famous goal in NHL history. It was his overtime goal on Mother's Day 1970 that won the Stanley Cup for the Boston Bruins against the St. Louis Blues. Orr was tripped as he fired the puck past goalie Glen Hall. Photographer Ray Lussier caught him flying through the air with his arms outstretched in triumph.
     Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk repeated that scene wearing Bobby Orr's sweater while he floated weightless in space during his Space Shuttle mission in 1996. You can watch him do it at the Orr museum.
     This hockey shrine is a wing of the Charles W. Stockey Centre, a new theatre for the performing arts on the shore of Georgian Bay at the mouth of Parry Sound's busy harbour.
     The centre is home to Festival on the Sound, Ontario's oldest festival of classical music, which runs from July 21 to Aug. 13.
     In the Orr wing of the centre you can watch past hockey stars on video marvel at how Orr's grace and speed on skates changed hockey forever. But it's not just Bobby who gets saluted in this museum. Other fine athletes and sports organizers from the Parry Sound area are up on the walls, including the girls' bantam hockey team that won the Ontario championship in 2004. They play their home games, of course, in the Bobby Orr Community Centre.

Patrick Brennan is a veteran travel, business writer/photographer based in Guelph. His credits include writing for a chain of 60 newspapers with 1.6 million readers. He was a staff writer/photographer at the Toronto Star for 32 years.

Photo Credits
Pat Brennan

If you go
This Destination
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The Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre: http://www.muskokasteamships.com/mbhc/
The Bobby Orr Hall of Fame: http://bobbyorrhalloffame.com/about_robertgordonorr.html
Charles W. Stockey Centre: http://stockeycentre.com/
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Muskoka

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