Gravenhurst

If you’re coming up Yonge Street / Highway 11 from the south, Gravenhurst is the first real town north of Orillia.

And Gravenhurst is one of the first towns to truly straddle the northern-southern divide.Being in cottage country, Gravenhurst is home to all sorts of little things you’d not find in a northern town – a tea shop, two independent cafés, an upscale pub, a resort restaurant.  There is a small arts community – the downtown is littered with murals – and there is even the Gravenhurst Opera House, built in 1901.  The Muskoka Gallery By the Bay displays art near Gravenhurst’s cute waterfront.  The town hosts an annual Music on the Barge festival at Gull Lake Park, with many musicians playing in a picturesque setting.

But you can tell that there’s a bit of north in this town too.  It’s evident in the nature statues and the goofy motels and that one of its best-rated restaurants is a truck-stop.  It’s in the tacky miniputts and the ageing tourist traps and the way a community that essentially hugs a single main road tries to brand itself into two distinct districts (Downtown vs. Uptown).

And it is in the local restaurant rivalries that split long-time residents – the stone hearth knotty-pine rustic welcome of the China House versus the more run-down but all-day dim sum of the Rickshaw, and the Greek-Canadian combo at the Uptown Diner pitted against the Greek-Canadian-Italian of Rombo’s Family Restaurant.

Gravenhurst on Yonge St, Highway 11 Ontario

I’m a little bit country – Fish-and-bear statues, strange motel-restaurant combos, big weird cottage chairs (watch out Callander and Fort Frances), and more bear sculptures…Gravenhurst has touches of northern Ontario

It's not every Muskoka town that has an Opera House and a statue of a communist doctor

And I’m a little bit rock and roll – It’s not every Highway 11 town that has an Opera House and a statue of a communist doctor – Gravenhurst is still a bit southern, too.

Gravenhurst was named after a village in England which is mentioned in Washington Irving’s book Bracebridge Hall.  Between 1940 and 1943 it was known as “Little Norway” due to its proximity to the Norwegian Air Force’s temporary training base in Canada.  Today Gravenhurst is a retirement and cottage community.

With a permanent population of 10 000, Gravenhurst is the smallest of the towns that make up the cottage country triangle (Bracebridge and Huntsville being larger) but it is still big enough and touristy enough to have the main food and lodging franchises, as well as other tourist amenities.   Muskoka steamships operate three different ships that give tours of the many picturesque lakes in the area, with dinner and music cruises available.

But what struck me most about Gravenhurst was the pace.

Cars sauntering down the road, none hitting more than maybe 30 kilometres an hour.

Moms chatting along the main street, enjoying a sundrenched May weekday before their kids get released from school in six weeks.

A young family resting in the shadow of the statue of Dr. Norman Bethune, likely oblivious to the fact that he’s the only westerner to have a statue in China (and probably the only communist to have a statue on Yonge Street) taking in the fresh air whilst retrieving the shoes that their toddler had kicked off.

Local kids out for lunch, meandering in their flip flops having jumped at the chance to wear summer clothing in the decidedly spring weather, full of the listlessness of near-freedom in the face of limited opportunity brings after a tiring, cold winter.

Everyone enjoying the space that becomes so competed-for once the cottagers come in, yet likely all-too-aware that none of this would be possible without the annual invasion of busy and bustling out-of-towners that trample this vibe for twelve weeks each and every year.

Gravenhurst Ontario chinese food

Even after all of these years eating at northern Ontario Chinese food restaurants, I have never ordered the “Canadian” food

Downtown Gravenhurst on a warm and sunny May morning

Downtown Gravenhurst on a warm and sunny May morning

More AdirondackoopsImeanMuskoka chairs on Highway 11

More Adirondack oops I mean Muskoka chairs on Highway 11…and another inexplicable Yonge Street / Highway 11 dinosaur sighting.

One thought on “Gravenhurst

  1. Gravenhurst has the Grace and Speed Heritage Centre, there is also a boat show – the Annual Antique and Classic Boat Show.

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