Toronto and the Muskoka Lakes

Toronto and the Muskoka Lakes


A weekend summer trip to Toronto and a week in the Muskoka Lake region.

Saturday 8/ 5/1995

We started our trip with a short flight to Toronto (ninety minutes from New York City).

It was pouring rain, cloudy and warm when we arrived. We took a cab to our friend's house on Maplewood Avenue, which is a few miles north and slightly west of downtown. We were both exhausted and slept for a few hours.

The rain stopped and we got up and took a bus to the train. Our hosts (who were out of town for the weekend) left us a list of things to do and noted that we should head to an area called the Annex, near Bloor Street. Riding in the subway system is was a pleasure. The stations and trains were clean and seemed to operate very efficiently.

We walked a few blocks past office buildings, a few museums and stores including Armani and Tiffany's. One block north of Bloor we entered the area called Yorkville that was adjacent to the Annex. We found a cafe called the Bellaire on Cumberland Avenue that was in an old brick house, painted yellow, with large open windows. Salsa music was playing and the soft lighting and bright colors looked inviting. We chose the outdoor covered seating area. Our tourbook confirmed that it was a hangout to "see and be seen by the young and upcoming professionals". We sat on a brick patio surrounded by flowers, watching the tourists walk by and the locals (many with their dogs). A public area filled with Wildflowers, directly across the street, made the view even more enjoyable.

We walked to Yorkville Avenue past the fashionable townhouse shops, and walked through one block of the residential area called the Annex.

It was starting to get hot as we headed to the happening Queens Avenue. We headed south through Queens Park and past the University of Toronto. Queens Avenue is the Greenwich Village/ Berkley area of Toronto with funky stores, cafes and people. We stopped for a cappuccino at Second Cup Coffee Company which looks like a local version of Starbucks. We did a lot of browsing on the street and a little buying (everything is a lot less expensive than New York especially with the favorable exchange rate).

After a flash rainstorm stopped, we walked toward the St. Lawrence area, which is just north and east of the Harbourfront , to see the movie Something To Talk About. After the movie we had a good dinner at an Italian restaurant near Yonge and Eglinton called Grazie that was recommended by one of the locals that we met.

Sunday 8/ 6/1995

We slept late and started out on our day. It was overcast but not humid. We took the bus and train to Union Station. Our tourbook and a young couple on the train suggested a restaurant called Movenpick for lunch in BCE Place. This design of this ultra-modern commercial office and retail complex was fascinating. BCE place was built around the original, beautifully restored and preserved, Chamber of Commerce building. As we walked around the city, we noticed several other instances of new developments that were carefully planned to co-exist with historic buildings.

The restaurant, Movenpick, had a large seating area that was flooded by light from the five story arched glass atrium. The restaurant is set up as an attractively styled cafeteria where you can select from a wide variety of freshly prepared cuisines and choose fresh fruit and breads. The food was good, the prices were reasonable and they had a wide selection of items.

After lunch we walked down to the Harborfront area. The lake was filled with sailboats on this hot, beautiful day. We headed past a few residential buildings and hotels to the Craft Studio in the York Quay Center. We watched artists in their studios creating and selling wares such as jewelry, glass and ceramics. We also spent some time browsing in the outdoor flea market and the large indoor antique market and couldn't resist buying some chunky fries from a street vendor.

It was still very hot out so we caught the LRT (an electric powered bus/streetcar) to go back to Union Station. The trip through the tunnels was like a Disney adventure ride. We had done a lot of walking and we decided to take a break to see another movie (Apollo 13).

We took the train to Yorkville in search of a good place to eat dinner. We walked down Cumberland and entered a narrow alley called Old York Lane. We passed few cafes and decided upon Cafe Fritz. Jazz music was playing in this small Italian bistro which had a small bar and countertop seating along the walls. We sat by an open window in the front of the restaurant. The food was good and the people were friendly (the service was a bit slow due to the tiny kitchen).

After dinner, the sun had just begun to set and we decided to explore the Annex, which stretched west from Yorkville. The quiet, tree lined streets were filled with charming, well maintained homes. We decided to walk the few miles home through the neighborhoods beyond the Annex. On the way we were surprised to see what looked like a large castle called Casa Loma. We later found out that Casa Loma was built in the early 1900s as a private residence at a cost of $3,500,000 and was sold ten years later for $130,000 when the owner ran into financial difficulties .

We went to sleep shortly after we arrived at the house.

Monday 8/ 7/1995

We woke up and found that our friends had come in late that evening. We were ready to get in a full morning of activities in Toronto before heading out of the city.

We took a cab to Yorkville and ate breakfast at another Movenpick restaurant (this location had regular table service unlike the one in BCE Place). After breakfast, our walk down Bloor and Yonge and through the University of Toronto was narrated by one of our friends - he had taken some courses at the school several years ago.

We returned to the house and our host arrived to take us to the Muskoka Lakes. We had picked up a Greek lunch for the car which consisted of spanikopita, feta cheese, crackers and olives. As we started eating we found out that it was against the law to eat while driving (one woman was stopped with a bowl of cereal on her lap) - luckily we weren't caught.

Since we were headed to an island, we had to stock up on supplies to avoid any unecessary trips. We stopped at a farmers market, a bakery, and a Baskin Robbins ice cream store.

We arrived at Skeleton Lake and loaded our luggage and groceries onto the boat. The area where we entered the lake was narrow, but surrounded by tightly packed pine trees on both sides of the shore. As we sped through the water and the lake opened wide, we were immediately overwhelmed by the vast and magnificent surroundings. We whizzed past the beautiful homes and small cottages that dot the coastline, passed a few other boaters and we almost crashed into a few young girls riding jet bikes.

We approached a few islands, including the small one where we would spend the next seven days. Our friends were waiting on the dock, sitting in wooden lounge chairs, enjoying the view, from Anderson Island.

We stayed in a house built by our friends' grandfather more than forty years ago. There was one other home on this small island and an area of Crown Land ( a public area of land) used regularily by two camps on the lake. We unloaded everything from the boat into the small cabin which sat upon the steep hill across from the main house.

We went down to the dock and swam in the refreshing, clear water. After a short time, we took the boat out with a large purple inner tube. We took turns being pulled quickly and whipped back and forth through the water (this was a lot of fun) until we couldn't hold on any longer. A few of us went water skiing. Watching our friends move through the water on skis, with the picture postcard vista of the lake behind them, was surreal.

We came back in, dried off and took a short walk to the Crown Land area. We walked over fallen trees, through bushes and on the soft mix of pine needles, sticks and earth until we reached the cliffs which overlooked the landing used for camping. A boat was tied to the shore and we heard the a few voices.

After our walk we returned to have a great dinner and enjoy the view. We watched the sun go down from the dock and the magnificent colors lighting up the lake. The sky was beautiful with an almost full moon and the only sounds came from the bubbling and churning of the water hitting the shore. We lit a few candles and sat for a while talking. We came inside to enjoy some of the desserts that we brought from Toronto and played a game called Taboo before going to sleep.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK FOLLOW (we won't bore you with every detail)

Tuesday 8/ 8/1995 to Sunday 8/13/95

........ we tried on the snorkels, masks and fins that we found in a closet. We saw some small fish, lots of rocks and fallen trees. We were able to truly appreciate the amount of work that was involved in building the beautiful deck and boathouses by observing the support system. The water was so clear that the visibility must have been more than fifty feet.

........ I took a swim around the island (about 3/4 of a mile). The lake was perfectly still and it seemed like I was alone. The only sounds that I heard were the wind,a few birds and the water splashing around me. Almost every time that I looked down into the water I could not see bottom. I passed some sheer rock cliffs and a spot where someone had placed a small ladder which led to a rope for swinging onto the water. As I approached the other house on the island, it seemed empty as the boats were covered and no one was in sight. I finally saw someone doing some work although I don't think that he saw me. As I made my final turn around the island, a motorboat sped by and within minutes I was back at the dock.

.........we took out the canoes for a tour around the lake. There are not many cottages nearby so we passed by only a few other people. Recently, an effort to subdivide an adjacent private island into five lots which would result in an increase in the population failed (we weren't too upset about it).

......we took the boat out one morning because we were running low on some food items and wanted to buy enough to last through the weekend. The pleasure of our ride was enhanced by the absence of other boats on the lake. The sun shone brightly on the water as we moved speedily across the lake towards our launch.

We drove to Bracebridge which is four miles from the lake. We walked on the main street of this small town which is filled with craft/gift shops, book stores, a movie theater and an ice cream parlor. A modern tourism center, built on the edge of a park at the end of town, was the starting point of an historic walking tour by waterfalls.

The town has grown substantially over the years and has extended to include a new two lane road with major supermarkets, fast food restaurants and wholesale discount club stores. We bought a truckload of groceries and headed back to the lake. Shortly after we returned, a few of us went out in the motor boat to ski and fill up the gas. Just as we began to bring the boat back in, the engine died. We thought that we figured out the problem and went to the dock for dinner. We spent the next few hours outside, enjoying a wonderful view of an orange colored moon through the clouds, above the lake.

...... our friends from Toronto were due to arrive early in the afternoon. Just as we started to eat our lunch, the phone rang and we set out to pick them up. Unfortunately, the boat wouldn't start and none of us city slickers could figure it out. We called some lake neighbors but they had a problem starting their boat. We phoned the marina and, with their advice, were finally able to get things going - it was a bad boat day.

We relaxed in and out of the house after the new arrivals were settled. The time flew by and we fired up the barbeque to make a delicious dinner of grilled vegetables and the fish that we caught the other day.

The water became smooth as glass and the sky was beautiful as the sun began to set. A few of us went out to ski and returned for our moonlit dinner. We watched the full moon rise quickly, lighting up the lake and sky.

Jonathan Singer


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