Gravenhurst is a town of about 12,000 people (2016) in the Muskoka region of Ontario. Norman Bethune, the Canadian doctor who became famous in China for battlefield surgery, was born here, and is the town's most famous former citizen. The town refers to itself as 'The Gateway to Muskoka' as is indicated on a large archway in the south-end of town. The town is a drawing point for summer cottage season. Many cottagers in the Muskokas use Gravenhurst for groceries and supplies and visit the town once or twice a week during cottage season.
Gravenhurst was first known as McCabes Landing and later as Sawdust City. Gravenhurst was named by a postal official who was reading Gravenhurst or Thoughts on Good and Evil, a treatise by William Smith.
Gravenhurst's economic prosperity stemmed from the construction of a colonization road in the 1850s. Steamboating on the Muskoka lakes began in the 1860s. The town was at the northern terminus of the Toronto, Simcoe and Muskoka Junction Railway.
In 1942 the Royal Norwegian Air Force moved their training camp (Little Norway) from Toronto to Muskoka airfield near Gravenhurst. The Norwegians remained in Gravenhurst almost to the end of World War II in 1945. From 1940 to 1946 Gravenhurst was the site of Camp 20, the Gravenhurst Internment Camp, for Nazi Prisoners of War, known locally as "the Muskoka officers club". It housed up to 489 Nazi POWs. The prisoners of war built a set of stone steps leading down to the waterfront which can still be seen at Gull Lake Park today. They also built a light house in the park. Before the war it was the Calydor Sanitarium. After the war it was turned into a TB sanitarium, again, and later became a kosher resort called The Gateway.
Today, all that remains of Camp 20 is concrete pillars, a fire hydrant, and the outline of a fence. There is an information kiosk at the end of Lorne Street where visitors can go to get more information on the camp.
Gravenhurst is about 170 km north of Toronto. The easiest way to get to Gravenhurst is by automobile, as commercial bus service is limited and there are very few passenger trains to the area. To reach Gravenhurst, take Highway 400 north from Toronto through Barrie to the Highway 11 cutoff (direction North Bay). Proceed up Highway 11 and take Muskoka Road 169 - Bethune Drive (formerly Ontario Highway 169) right in to downtown. Summer travel can be time-consuming, as it is a popular tourist destination and the gateway to the Muskoka Lakes region. The roads in Gravenhurst are well-maintained, so no need to worry about using a sport utility vehicle.
The easiest way in for international travellers to access the region is to fly to Toronto Pearson International Airport, rent a car and proceed north. If you're coming in from other domestic locations, it is possible to fly to Sudbury or North Bay and drive in if Toronto doesn't appeal to you.
Muskoka Airport, near Bracebridge, has flights in the summer from Toronto's Billy Bishop (Island) Airport (as of 2020). Bracebridge is approximately 20 minutes by car away from Gravenhurst.
Gravenhurst is easily seen by foot. There is no public transit.
There are private taxi companies offering local transportation. Intertown/city transport is by private bus companies. Casino Rama transportation provided by PMCL.
Ontario Northland, PMCL, Hammond Transportation ☏. Connections to major airports and Metropolitan Toronto.
- The Muskoka Wharf in Lake Muskoka in Gravenhurst spreads across 89 acres. The wharf is full of retailers and restaurants like Boston Pizza and the Blue Willow Tea Shop. The wharf hosts a number of events in the summer including Pirate Fest and the Gravenhurst farmers’ market. There are also condominiums and a Marriott hotel for those looking to spend some time in Gravenhurst.
- Gravenhurst Opera House, 295 Muskoka Road South, ☏ . One of Muskoka's most significant landmarks is the heart of cultural activities, featuring both local and commercial entertainment year-round. The beautiful heritage theatre features excellent lighting and sound systems, a large stage with offstage storage areas, 338 comfortable upholstered theatre seats and the most up-to-date public safety systems available.
- The World's Largest Muskoka Chair, 397 Muskoka Rd N. In the south end of town, near Sawdust City Brewing Co. A great photo opportunity.
- 1 Bethune Memorial House, 297 John Street North, ☏ . The Victorian church manse where this great Canadian was born in 1890 and where he lived for the first three years of his life. Bethune was a doctor who was an early proponent of universal health care, who played a key role in the development of human rights in China.
- New Heritage Museum, 820 Bay Street, toll-free: . The museum pays tribute to the history of a region that has shared its beauty and nature with generations. A great place to see the old wooden boats that at one time, were a common site on the great Muskoka lakes.
- 2 Grace and Speed - Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre, 275 Steamboat Bay Road, ☏ . Collection of antique wooden speedboats. One of Canada's Top 10 New Attractions of 2006 .
- Ontario Fire College Museum, 1495 Muskoka Road North, ☏ . Training facility for provincial fire fighters. Has a small museum.
- The Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park is a 33,505-hectare park on the edge of the town. It has a non-operating park with no services or facilities. There are rugged canoe routes involving lakes, wetlands, and portages. Over 100 km of the Ganaraska Hiking Trail run through the park, and there are a few backcountry campsites.
- 1 Torrance Barrens Conservation Reserve, Southwood Road (30 km west of Gravenhurst: take Highway 169 west then turn south on District Road 13). The first dark-sky preserve in Canada. It is known for its geological and environmental features. Its trees are stunted, so it is great for star-gazing, and in August to October, the northern lights (aurora borealis) could put in an appearance.
- Winter Carnival: There are events for every age at the carnival including donut-eating contests, sno-yoga, ball hockey, a polar dip, and arm wrestling. The town has several dances for those 19 and older, and fireworks on Sunday for the closing ceremony. The fireworks take place at the Muskoka Wharf.
- Reelpro Fishing Charters, 1217 Muldrew Lake Rd. Gravenhurst, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Daily fishing charters on Lake Muskoka, great family fun.
- 2 RMS Segwun and Wanda III, 185 Cherokee Lane, ☏ . Fully operational restored steamships, cruises on these small vessels are a wonderful throwback to a simpler time. At one point in time, the Segwun (built 1887) was used to transport vacationers to their cottages and deliver cargo and mail; it offers tourists a chance to take a boat ride in to the past. $43 for 2-hour tour.
- Gravenhurst Farmers Market (Wednesday) (Muskoka Wharf), ☏ . Showcases over 70 vendors with high quality fruits and vegetables, plants, organic produce, homemade goods, fresh honey, maple syrup, preserves, meat, fish, cheese more. Local artisans sell carefully handcrafted jewellery, sewing, knitting, carvings, woodworking, soap and fine art. Shop at the market and enjoy a freshly-made crepe, sausage on a bun.
- 1 Blue Willow Tea Shop, 900 Bay Street Unit #1, ☏ . M-Sa 11AM-4PM, Su 11AM-3PM. Traditional British lunches and sandwiches, and baking.
- The Bakery, 141 Brock Street, ☏ . Daily 8AM-5PM. A from-scratch bakery where the doughnuts are made daily. Come early because once they’re gone, they’re gone. Pies, breads, cinnamon rolls, and so on.
- Skyways Restaurant, 3560 Highway 11 N, ☏ . Family restaurant/diner.
- 2 Muskobilly’s Lakeside Tap & Grill, ☏ . Solid pub food and good beers at the wharf. $15 mains.
- Wolffs Den Cafe, 1130 Bay St, ☏ . German cafe offering home-baked pastries, homemade lunches, espresso-based coffees (all certified fair trade organic), wines and beers. And a Biergarten.
- Silver Pines Restaurant, 1613 Kilworthy Road, ☏ . May-Jun: Th-F 4PM-9PM, Sa noon-10PM, Su noon-8PM, holiday Mondays 4PM-8PM; Jul-Sep: Tu-Sa noon-9PM, Su noon-8PM, holiday Mondays noon-8PM. Pizza, pasta, burgers, wings.
- The Creative Plate Eatery, 2194 Muskoka District Road 169 (on the Villas Marina Property), ☏ . Year round: Su W Th noon-8PM, F Sa noon-9PM. Organic produce, herbs, and grain-fed, non-GMO proteins, fresh seasonal produce, quality ingredients, and creative food artistry. Lactose-free, gluten-free and vegetarian meals are always on the menu. Mains $17-34.
- Frosty Pint Pub, 110 Ferguson Road, ☏ . M-Sa 11AM-11PM, Su 11AM-8PM. Pub with TVs, and quieter restaurant. :Canadian comfort food": sandwiches, wraps, wings, salads, pastas.
- Arundel Lodge, Highway 169 - Walker's Point Road, ☏ . July and August only. $1035-1210/week.
- Star Motel, 469 Bethune Drive North, ☏ .
- Skyways Motel, 3566 Hwy 11 North (across from Muskoka Airport, 10 km from downtown), ☏ . Outdoor pool, smoking or non-smoking rooms, pet-friendly. From $109.
- Camp Hillbilly Estates, 1633 Highway 11 South, Kilworthy, ☏ . Heated salt water pool, 75 forested acres,choking trails. Tents $40, electric & water sites $50-60, cabins (2-5 people) $60-75, cottages $85-95.
- Howard Johnson, 1165 Muskoka Road South, ☏ . Fitness centre, free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, pet friendly. From $130.
- The Inn on Bay, 291 Bay Street, ☏ . A boutique inn in the heart of Gravenhurst offering luxury & relaxed Muskoka comfort. From $139.
- Oakwood Motel/Muskoka Adventure, 1060 Muskoka Road South, ☏ . Smoke-free, reasonably priced rooms with one or two double beds, air conditioning, shower and/or bathtub, a fridge and microwave. $90-180.
- Trenanthia Cottage, Sparrow Lake, ☏ . A beautiful lakeside 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom cottage available to rent year-round in the Muskokas. Built-in Hot Tub open throughout the seasons. Surrounded by forest on 3 sides - a nature lovers paradise. $1400-2900/weekend, $3000-6000/week, depending on the season.
- Residence Inn by Marriott Gravenhurst Muskoka Wharf, 285 Steamship Bay Rd, Gravenhurst (on Lake Muskoka), ☏ , toll-free: .
- Taboo Resort Golf and Spa, 1209 Muskoka Beach Road, ☏ . Par 71 championship golf course, 3 swimming pools, the longest private sandy beach in Muskoka, canoe or kayak on Lake Muskoka, fitness centre, three clay courts, two hard-surfaced tennis courts, nature trails. From $200/nght.
- Pine Lake Cottages, 1383 Highway 169 North, ☏ . Paddle boats, canoes and kayaks are provided at no extra charge for guest use. Explore the six mile long lake or fish for small and large mouth bass. Late May to mid-Oct. $800-1400/week.
The wonderful thing about visiting Muskoka is that there are plenty of small towns in the area to visit. Port Carling, Bracebridge, Parry Sound, Huntsville, Sudbury and North Bay are all within a few minutes or 1–2 hours driving distance. Toronto is close by if you're a visitor to the province coming in from Highway 17 to the north. The region is rich with museums, shopping, and attractions. For those who like to gamble, there is Casino Rama (located near the small town of Rama) near Orillia. Webers Burgers (go south 25–30 minutes drive on Highway 11) is an attraction unto itself with its rail-car dining area and unique (to the region) overpass walkway. And in Muskoka, one can always find a secluded lake to just sit and admire the scenery.
|Routes through Gravenhurst|
|North Bay ← Bracebridge ←||N S||→ Washago → Barrie|