Muskoka Falls is a village southeast of Bracebridge just a couple of minutes east off Highway 11.
If you need a break from the Raffi and the kids need a chance to do more than just shake shake shake their sillies out, the small beach strip is a good spot – there is swimming, sand, a couple of picnic tables, and the dull roar of the falls in the air – all in an area small enough to be able to keep an eye on the kids while still relaxing.
If you’re driving from the north, take the second Muskoka Falls/Bracebridge exit (first if you’re driving from the south), turn right, and then take your first left. Don’t be tempted by the signs pointing to a Subway, a McDonald’s and a Harvey’s just a few kilometres away – that’s the sneaky back route that Bracebridge uses to get you on a long, winding trip that often plunks you down not in the fast food drive-through of your choosing, but right into its downtown instead.
Muskoka Falls was one of the first stops on the Ferguson Road, an old gravel precursor to Highway 11 that was built section by section between 1858 and 1927. The site of free government land grants to encourage settlement of the Ontario backcountry, Muskoka Falls was intended to be an important agricultural spot but crap soils meant that it never became one. Lumbering and hydro followed – particularly as sections of Highway 11 were connected and paved – but by and large the area become reforested and overgrown.
Today it’s a tiny village with an elementary school, a boat launch and a small public beach facing Muskoka Falls. The village has a church, Muskoka Falls United Church, and there is a cemetery with some burials from as far back as the 1800s. There’s a Lafarge Cement plant, the Skyway Motel, and small private airfield just west of the village site, off Highway 11.
If you have photos of or info on Muskoka Falls let me know, post below or email me at info (at) highway11 (dot) ca.
I am the great great great grandson of Arthur Irvine. My great great grandmother was Anne Irvine Schnabel. She passed away in 1874 after the birth of my great grandfather in the little red house that still stands on Morrow drive in Muskoka falls. Anne and William are both buried in the little cemetery. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com. I have many pictures and other items. Jim Schnabel
My name is Nathan Robert Somers.. great grandson of Thomas Somers.. any information or pictures would be greatly appreciated. I live in the haliburton area and never knew about the cemetery until recently. Thanks in advance.
Hello Nathan, The cemetery is well kept and still in use. You may be interested in my book and research. The last chapter is about the cemetery. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or do a search on my book Muskoka Falls the Village 1859-2018 there is much to share.I am in Bracebridge.
Great articles about the history of the family
I am in Orillia and and the cousin of Carrie Braidwood and Son of Lois Mumford and my grandmother was Carrie ( Mumford ) Somers .
I have pictures of the house , Maude Somers , Thomas Henry Somers and Margaret Jane Irvine who married Thomas , my great grandfather.
I can scan them and send them to you .
I would be interested in getting a copy of the book
can reach me at email@example.com
They have been dead now. A long time. Many of them buried at the South Falls Cemetery. It is a
difficult place to find if you do not know the way. Directions sound easy enough. The official
address is 3700 East side of Highway 11, just north of Highway 118. With the old farmhouse
demolished, and the highway cutting through the fields, the family cemetery is quietly falling into
disrepair. and the turn off is easily missed. There are no stone gates, no mausoleums, no caretaker.
My maternal great-grandparents, Arthur and Margaret Irvine, lived in a time when the
Canadian landscape was still heavily forested. In the years before confederation, the branches of
ancient trees were said to bear the collective weight of thousands of carrier pigeons. Reportedly,
these flocks when in flight stretched for a mile high for as far as the eye could see. But all this, the
stories of the ancient trees, the carrier pigeons, the Algonquian peoples, and the first settlers after
Confederation, all of these things happened so very long ago that it is now history. As such, the
story of the Somers of Muskoka Falls has been put forth in the name of progress. It is a story
cut from the fabric of adventure and, for some, it is still the stuff of dreams.
What follows is an account of things I witnessed, and things recounted by third parties. My
information comes from a variety of sources; letters, official documents and journals. It was the
Homestead Act of 1868 which brought the family of Arthur Irvine to the Muskoka Region. The
Algonquians had named this part of the country the land of the red earth. With an abundance of small
game, fish, fruit, and edible plants, food was ample. It had never occurred to the Algonquians to
consider farming. To them the concept of private property was totally inconceivable and, when
Arthur Irvine and others like him began to stake out individual allotments of parcelled land, the dye
was cast; the face of the land was changed forever.
As middle-class passengers on the upper decks, the journey was reasonably comfortable.
Less fortunate travellers were packed like cordwood in the holds of ships built for the transport of
lumber. Settlers were recruited from England, Ireland, and Scotland. Coming from Ireland, the
collective family of Arthur Irvine had replied to advertisements when the newly formed
Government of Canada offered fifteen acres of land to settlers prepared to clear the dense forests
and bring them under cultivation.
Disembarking from one of the many ships carrying new immigrants, the Irvine family
entered Canada via the United States and so avoided quarantine at the ports of Quebec and
Montreal. From there they made their way North through the wilderness of Southern Ontario to
settle in the Muskoka region. On a stretch of land surrounded by woods, high on the crest of the
hill overlooking the Falls, they began to build. From the top of the hill they looked down on a lake
made up of purest sky-blue water. At times it seemed to have a mystical quality as it appeared to rise
into the mist and meld with cascading waters from the falls. In the heat of the day, it was like a
mirror reflecting images of sky, clouds and overhead branches. For the men, with trees to cut and land to
clear, the work was back breaking. As they began felling trees several hundred years old and removing
enormous slabs of rock, they were soon transformed from youthful boys to men old beyond their years.
Arthur Irvine died at Muskoka Falls in 1881 at the age of seventy-two. His daughter, Margaret Jane,
had been born in 1830 in Belfast. Coming to the New World, the family brought with them their
Irish heritage and would become highly regarded as pioneers in the Muskoka region. Mrs. Irvine
had a quiet manner which set her apart. Her tastes were cultivated and she had a natural charm and
grace. Although it was both her smile, and her easy manner that ran through each generation of the
women, it was her daughter, Margaret Irvine Somers, who became the real beauty of the family.
The Irvine family considered themselves good solid Irish middle-class stock. They had a
sense of being the right kind of people, the kind of people you could rely on to do the right
thing, whatever the personal cost.
The air at Fountaindale had a peculiar quality. It was not unpleasant, though it was markedly
distinctive. At times it seemed seasoned with a sharp metallic smell somewhat suggestive of
minerals for there are quantities of copper, lead, zinc and nickel imbedded in the rocks. Even now,
on a hot summer day when the sun beams like a laser into the great slabs of rock on the Canadian
Shield, the smell is distinctive. It was what Art Somers once theatrically described as “…an
unfamiliar vapour rising to the lungs as though from the prehistoric past.” Fortunately this
distinctive quality was offset with the fragrance of the nearby forests of evergreen, spruce, pine and
fir. And, as time passed for the men working in the fields, it would be a single spiral of wood smoke
rising from the kitchen that announced the aroma of fresh fruit pies baking in the oven.
In the bush behind the house, rabbits and small animals scrambled through wild brambles of
blueberries. Birds chittered back and forth. The land itself was varied. There were patches of
clay where a man could sink in up to his knees in wet weather. If he was unlucky, he could go on
sinking until he hit bottom on the rock surface of the Canadian Shield. Poplar and birch grew along
the waterline of the lakes and, before long, the rhythmic sound of men at work with their axes
broke into the silence of the dark woods. Once the wood was cut down, it was planed into planks of
lumber which then became used in building for the house, the woodshed, the privy and the barn.
With all this work their nails became torn and ingrained with dirt. And, as the months
passed, their hands became calloused, chapped and covered with numerous bites, and blisters.
Once the rain started, their work boots became heavy, weighted as they were with mud. After the bush
was cleared, they ploughed the land, planted seeds and eventually grew hay. It was cut by hand in the
ancient way, with a scythe. Their faces were became sunburned from working in all kinds of weather and,
as their photographs attest, their eyes settled into permanent squints
The women tended the livestock, the back garden, the house, and the children. The second
year at Muskoka Falls, a decorative border of flowers surrounded the garden which kept the family
well supplied. Prayers were said and thanks given for all their blessings.
With the first signs of autumn, the women hiked up their skirts, pulling them high over their
petticoats ,and wrapped heavy work aprons around their waists. Black berries, blue berries,
raspberries, and strawberries, all were carefully washed, separated in jars, and placed in the canner
of boiling water to simmer. Standing in sweltering heat from the wood-stove, children curiously
watched from a safe distance as the mason jars were filled with fruit and placed in a large pan.
Enough space was allowed so that each jar, set a half inch from the bottom of the pan, had several
inches of water bubbling over the rack. The heat of the air carried all the mouth-watering sweet
smells of winter preparations. Jars of vegetables and fruits were sealed with hot wax and lovingly
labeled with fine penmanship. Decorated with sketches of flowers, petals and leaves, the preserves
would then be taken down to the cellar and placed on shelves in the cold room. Summer tastes in
winter mouths with no guarantee all the bacteria would be destroyed.
After canning, the women often decided to change into bathing costumes. Photographs of Margaret
Irvine show her wearing a swimsuit she had cut and stitched by hand. While the white trim and a sailor
collar and tie allowed the pattern to be worn by both girls and boys, the ‘modesty’ bib was designed to
hide the sight of developing breasts. Margaret, her hair tied in braids, is the epitome of a well brought up
seventeen year old. Her mother is now a little overweight in her bathing costume and tries, in her
bare feet, to find her balance on the pebbles of the lakeshore.
Horseflies bite at Muskoka Falls. They arrive like huge buzzing aliens to plague both men and
dogs as they return from early morning fishing. Depending on the preferences of the day, the
family will have their choice of fish—bass, trout or pike. In the evening after a day of work, some
of them decide to swim in the lake, and later in the evening, they play board-games or sit quietly
talking. After having a cup of hot tea and eating a handful of sugar cookies on the verandah, the
whole family might decide to stroll down to the gazebo where they watch for jumping fish in the
lake below. Once the lake trout have performed their aerial acrobatics and the sun sinks below the
horizon, all the fish will have disappeared from sight lost in the dark depths of water. It is dusk
when the family returns to the house in preparation for bed.
Fences have been built to contain domestic animals. Some escape, but only periodically when they
take the opportunity to browse amongst unprotected plants and vegetables. Cows and horses are
sheltered in the barn which is distanced from the house. Beside the barn in the chicken coup, a half
dozen birds produce morning fresh eggs. Just outside the house in the clearing, black bears sometimes
tramp through the garden foraging for food. They can be seen standing up on their hind legs as they look
around. Short-sighted and sniffing the air with their snouts, they attract the attention of the dogs
who begin a frenzied barking. Next will come the banging of pots and pans as the women urge one
of the boys to go and pick up a rifle. Within minutes, a loud retort echoes through the still, hot,
shimmering, summer air.
Here, living their days in the house christened Fountaindale, the family poses for the camera in a
series of yellowing black and white photographs. Taken with a Brownie pinhole camera, all the
images have that peculiar quality of a fragment of time narrowed down to a nanosecond.
Sometimes the portraits are more formal requiring the talents of the photographic studio.
Straight backed, rigid, inflexible and devoid of expression, members of the family stand in front of the
backdrop where they are preserved like fossils from another time. These photographs offer the barest
suggestion of something almost indefinable. But what exactly? The slow minute by minute ticking
of the clock? They offer such a tantalizing glimpse into the mysteries of the past. What ever were they
thinking ? Hardworking though they were, they seem to have had more time than we. Is it
possible that they seem, somehow, to have lived life more fully?
Whatever the case, Thomas and Margaret Irvine Somers glued these photographs into their
albums depicting their life at Fountaindale. I rather think there are now few, if any apart from myself,
who remember the names of the people who once lived there.
In a faded photograph taken at the turn of the 20th century, the house is not yet at it’s
worst. In another seventy years all that will remain is the photograph, and the memories.
Arthur Irvine had been one of the upwardly mobile Irish middle-class. In Ireland, his wife had left
behind a comfortable large two story stone house to become the wife of a real hand to the plough
farmer in Canada. It is Arthur Irvine’s daughter Margaret Irvine who married Thomas Somers
Together they had four sons and two daughters. My grandfather was Art Somers.
Many of the photographs were taken in the late 1800s. It will be thirty-five years before my
mother is born. But for now, as I study the photographs, I can see that the children of Margaret
Irvine Somers are growing up. Maudie Somers (Great Aunt Maude) stands at the far corner of the
verandah where she is dressed in a skirt and a middy-blouse with a sailor’s collar. It is a common
pattern worn by women and children of that time. Heavy brown hair is tied back from her face and
she is speaking to her sister Carrie (my dear Great-Aunt Carrie) who swings back and forth with her
legs crossed demurely together. Carrie holds a straw hat with long ribbons that trail across the floor.
A disgruntled pre-teen age boy slouches on the steps, sulking with his face hidden by a dark hat.
Behind them all, in the background, framed in the parlour window, sits a black and white kitten
looking out at the scene. The white frame house is painted with red trim as are the verandah
floors. Flowers hang from a window box in the second storey bedroom. On top of the house, at
the apex, a lightening rod reaches into the summer sky. On the ground floor, a vine heavy with
leaves climbs the verandah and white clumps of hydrangea take a stand in the freshly scythed grass
around the house. In 1923, when Thomas and Margaret Somers move to Ashtabula on Lake Erie,
Arthur and his wife Lucy Somers take up residence at Fountaindale.
This seems to be a forgotten blog just as the small village of Muskoka Falls has been forgotten. It was to be a town and was mapped out as one in 1866. I blogged here on Dec 2017 that iwas writing the history of MUSKOKA FALLS: THE VILLAGE 1859-2018. It is now completed and ready for sale. firstname.lastname@example.org I will soon be setting up my own blog. It was and still is vaery interesting gathering information and reconnecting with some people I have not seen in many years.
Patricia, I’m interested in your book.
Did you know about Arthur Irvine? He was the first white man in the area.
Hi Michele, Yes, I do know of the Irvines, including Arthur. You can email me at email@example.com or do a search on my book Muskoka Falls the Village 1859-2018 there is much to share.
My great Uncle Art owned the large white farm house across the road from the falls until the Hwy bought him out. I will have to dig through my photos but I have some of the white house on the hill and the falls, I went their a few times as a girl. My Name is Carrie, my maiden name was Braidwood my Mother was Madeline, my Aunt was Lois and My Grandmothers name was Carrie Mumford Ne Somers, any chance you chance there is some Somers relatives still in the area ? Thanks Carrie
Carrie, would love to make contact with you. I grew up in “the Falls”. I am writing a book. MUSKOKA FALLS: THE VILLAGE. I remember the Somers and their white house. We would swim at the beach. If you have pictures I would love to see them. I have some of your family history you may not have. Your relatives are in the South Falls cemetery. Braidwood and Somers Patricia
Carrie, I own the little red house in Muskoka Falls. It was built by my great great grand father in 1872. I remember your great uncle Art’s home before the highway was built. I knew your uncle Art ! He would come by the little red house and visit with my grandparents when we came up from Buffalo. He told us scary stories at night by the kerosene lamps. He was quite elderly at the time. I was at his funeral in the little church up the road in 1971. We are related in some distant way. I have photos and post cards from Carrie Mumford in my possession. Jim Schnabel
Carrie seems to have gone away, but please contact me if you will. My father built the store there.. I have written to book about Muskoka Falls firstname.lastname@example.org love to hear from you. I have tried to contact Schanbels before the book was published but was not able to. Your family is in it,of course.
that is email@example.com I remember a Johnny Schnabel. My maiden name was McClelland 1940’s- 50’s
I will have to dig through my old albums but my great uncle Art Somers he had a big old house on the hill opposite the falls before the town bought him out to put in the highway. I was there a few times with my mom Madeline, if you have any info on my family that might still be in the area I would be interested.
David, your memory is alosmt perfect! In fact you were mere metres away from Ecclestone Drive, on Entrance Drive. The Bracebridge Chamber of Commerce and local Tourism Information centre was to your immediate left, a small building wedged between the tracks and the intersection of Ecclestone and Entrance that started life as a Mill. You might recall the roar of the falls could be heard from where you were standing — the restaurant that is downstairs from the Chamber of Commerce has a magnificent view of the falls and the imposing CNR rail bridge and Bracebridge’s signature “Silver Bridge” (Ecclestone) over waters below.You really must come back and pay a visit to the big man. He spends his summers here on the 45th Parallel halfway between the North Pole and the equator. He’s long gone back home, now though. He has a busy few weeks ahead in preparation for Christmas Eve…Allan Cook