Hwy-11, the main route from Toronto and Barrie to Algonquin Provincial Park, zips past Orillia, the one-time home of Stephen Leacock, before slicing through the Muskoka Lakes, a region of more than 1500 lakes and hundreds of cottage retreats – for this is cottage country. The Muskoka Lakes were named after an Ojibwa chief, Mesqua-Ukee, who settled here with his people after aiding the British during the War of 1812. Thereafter, the area was opened to tourism in 1860, when two hikers made the two-day trek from Toronto to a small Ojibwa settlement at what is now the town of Gravenhurst. By the 1890s, the lakes had become the haunt of wealthy families from southern Ontario and although things are more democratic today, this is still primarily the preserve of the well heeled. The main access towns to the Muskoka Lakes – Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Huntsville – are strung out along Hwy-11. None has much to offer the passing visitor, with the notable exception of the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary near Huntsville, and you’re much better off either heading for one of the area’s deluxe hotel resorts or befriending a cottage-owning Canadian, who can show you the local ropes.
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