Mary Storey | Special to MuskokaTODAY.COM

Ed. note: Remarks for opening of Ditchburn Bay Heritage Garden

GRAVENHURST — Today, we have a few less people than were gathered on a cold day of November 13, 1875 to welcome the first train to the Muskoka Wharf.

That day, in 1875, was the occasion of the formal opening of Muskoka Wharf and arrival of the first Northern Railway train.

As the train rolled in, it’s whistle sound, was joined by those of the three steamships: Wenonah (I), Waubamink and Nipissing docked where the boathouses are today.

The train carried 200 people who disembarked and were then taken for a short cruise around Muskoka Bay on one of the steamships.

We remember and salute Alexander Peter Cockburn’s vision of building and running steamships on this lake starting in 1866. It was he who pressured the government to bring train service from Toronto to this site in Gravenhurst.

We marvel at the building of this complete Original Wharf, using horses and oxen to bring rocks and dirt to create this complete peninsula.

Thus began the transportation of people, animals, freight and mail for eight months of year during the shipping season.

This Wharf was a very busy place.  For example in 1904, the Kenozha ship spent overnight at the Wharf and was ready with passengers from the overnight train that arrived early in the morning; and she took passengers 50 mile all the way to Port Cockburn at the northern tip of Lake Joseph making several stops along the way.

The Muskoka Steamship flagship Medora arrived from Port Cockburn, Nipissing arrived from Rosseau and S.S. Muskoka all arrived at 11:50 and all three departed at 3 p.m. for their respective destinations on the lakes.

There would also have been several small privately-owned steamers and work and supply boats loading up at this dock.

Due to the motor car, passenger service on the ships declined greatly and the railway and its two tracks and the Wharf were torn up in 1959.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is one of the most important landmarks in our town and our District of Muskoka.

Without it, tourism and its many aspects would not have commenced in those early years.

I applaud the Ditchburn Bay Property Owners Association for erecting the sign marking the history of this site and creating the gardens.

It shares our proud history for the many people who visit our town.

Mary Storey is a Gravenhurst historian and head archivist at the Muskoka Steamships and Muskoka Discovery Centre. They meet each Thursday at the new Muskoka Wharf.