The History of Port Carling

March 11, 2022

Muskoka’s Port Carling is known for its scenic landscape, immaculate lakes, and peaceful atmosphere. Port Carling, part of the Township of Muskoka Lakes, offers shopping experiences, restaurants, tours, and a museum that showcases the rich history of the Port Carling area.

It is precisely this history that is the topic of today’s blog. The history of Muskoka dates back hundreds of years, and our history of Port Carling, Ontario, begins in 1850.

In the Beginning…

Back in the 1850s, the Ojibwe first settled in the area, naming their settlement Obajewanung (or Obogawanung), roughly translating to “gather place .”As more and more white settlers came to the area around the 1860s, the Ojibwe relocated closer to Parry Sound. Obajewanung became known as Medora Township, as small settlements began to take place, and the land was cleared for incoming crops.

A big part of the expansion in the area was also due to what was known as the Free Grants and Homesteads Act of 1868. This act was created to encourage settlers to migrate to the area, granting them access to land, on the condition they built a home and cleared 15 acres of land from their surrounding area.

The First Use of Port Carling

As for the history of Port Carling and its name, we first look to 1868/1869, when Benjamin Hardcastle Johnston opened a post office in the Medora Township, naming the office Port Carling after the Ontario Minister of Public Works at the time, John Carling. Carling was a big supporter of the locks, which connected Lakes Muskoka and Rosseau. Carling was instrumental in having these locks officially built, which helped to create an economic boom in the area. This boom then leads to the expansion of several sawmills, churches and recreational resorts to form over the following years.

The connection of the lakes meant ships could travel between each other, creating a rise in tourism, and the influx of resorts meant these tourists had a place to stay.

Rapid Growth and Tourism

The next chapter of port carling history begins with its rise in tourism, which rapidly grew by 1880; stores began to emerge, catering to travelling tourists who had to wait in the village for the boats to arrive. From here, more lodges, resorts, businesses, and even a village doctor all emerged in this area.

By 1895-1896, the village had grown to a population of over 100 citizens, and the population officially wished their own impendence, separate to the Medora Township. The village petitioned independence that winter and their wish was granted by the following June, becoming their own village, taking on the namesake of Port Carling.

Following their independence, the village continued to grow. More hotels and resorts were built to accommodate the influx of tourists, and the locks received further installments and a makeover, increasing its size and now able to accommodate more steamships, which were now at their height.

With its population ever-growing, businesses such as tailors, barbers, blacksmiths, and banks began to open within the area, all contributing to its economy. By the early 1900s, the village opened recreational skating rinks, both covered and uncovered. To this day, skating remains one of the staple winter activities of the Muskoka region. The town even had a large enough population for a volunteer fire department to form. This fire department would come to extreme importance in 1931.

A Terrible Fire

At 5:30 AM on October 27, 1931, a fire was discovered in the Port Carling Boat Works plant, igniting the entire building and destroying unfinished work, launches, machinery, and equipment. The flames rapidly spread from the plant across the western section of the village. The fire was finally put under control, but not before substantial losses had taken place to the village. Two days later, the Muskoka Herald reported the fire as the worst in Port Carling history. The village, however, stood tall and strong and slowly began to rebuild its village.

By 1956, the town had grown to over 30 businesses, such as taxi services, electricians, and hardware stores.

The Merging of Townships

Eventually, in 1971, Port Carling amalgamated with other townships, including the Town of Bala, the Village of Windermere, the Township of Cardwell, the Township of Watt, and more.

These merged townships became known as the Township of Muskoka Lakes, which we know today.

Modern Port Carling

To this day, Muskoka Lakes boasts as one of the finest vacation destinations and cottage retreats in Canada, encompassing 80 lakes and home to over 6000 people year-round by those who have decided to move up north. This population soars five-fold by summer as seasonal cottage-goers and tourists flood the area to enjoy all the wonder that Muskoka has to offer in the summer.

Port Carling has been dubbed the “Hub of the Lakes” and features attractions and activities such as boat tours, hockey, curling, golf, and snowmobiling.

Many seasonal events take place during the summer, such as the Music Festival, Corn Roast and Auction, Water Ski Show, and more.

The Port Carling Wall

Affectionately known as “The Wall,” this 111-by-45 foot mosaic piece showcases the history of Port Carling, Ontario, and welcomes those who enter the area. The masterpiece is comprised of over 9000 photographs that form together to create the illustration of the RMS Sagamo, a famous cruise ship in the area that launched in 1906. The mosaic piece showcases the RMS Sagamo passing through the Port Carling locks sometime around 1922. Each individual photo, however, captures different moments of the area between 1860-1960.

Officially unveiled in 2005, the mosaic has since earned the Built Heritage award, granted by the Muskoka Heritage Foundation.

Real Estate in Muskoka

If you’re looking for Port Carling real estate listings or elsewhere in the Township of Muskoka Lakes, we can help!

The Township of Muskoka Lakes has something for everyone, whether it be friendly communities, stunning waterfront views, or secluded country landscapes.

Our experienced team of Muskoka realtors can help you find the property of your dreams. Whether it be a seasonal cottage or a year-round place to live, there is a place for you in this beautiful and historical region.