The former wheelhouses of the SS Islander and SS Cherokee have been designated as heritage properties by the Town of Gravenhurst.
The two structures currently sit at the entrance of the Muskoka Discovery Centre.
“We want to acknowledge all the hard work, detail and dedication that’s gone into preserving and restoring and renovating the wheelhouses,” Councillor Sandy Cairns said on behalf of Gravenhurst council. “We know it has been a labour of love and a long journey to finally be here today, in person, and get our first look at the wheelhouses and see how they’ve evolved.”
Councillors Heidi Lorenz, Penny Varney, and Terry Pilger also attended the dedication ceremony.
“Members of the community and visitors alike will gain a better understanding of the wheelhouses significance and the importance to the Gravenhurst history,” Cairns added.
The Islander was in service from 1900 to 1953, while the Cherokee navigated through Muskoka’s waters between 1907 and 1950.
Steamship historian Richard Tatley explained the Cherokee was a smaller version of the Sagamo, which was the famed ship that took people on 100-mile cruises on the lakes in Muskoka for over half a century. The Islander, Tatley added, was a small auxiliary vessel used on the lakes for runs, mostly between Bala and Bracebridge.
“They really, though, should have torn apart of scrapped at the time the steamers went,” he joked.
The Cherokee sat, unused, at the docks in Gravenhurst from 1950 until 1961 when its engines were sold and the structure was “smashed to bits,” Tatley explained. However, the wheelhouse was spared and it ended up at the Gravenhurst Marina for “quite a few years” until the newly formed Gravenhurst Steamship Society tried to acquire it in 1972.
“We learned that it had been given away to a cottager on Lake Joseph and his plan was, apparently, to turn the wheelhouse into part of his new cottage,” Tatley said.
However, the wheelhouse remained on the property of a caretaker throughout the next winter and into the spring. Tatley was able to purchase it after agreeing with the caretaker to pay the money owed to him for allowing the boat to sit on his property.
From there, the boat was restored and was used to store things while volunteers worked to restore the Seguin and, after the work was done, became a ticket office for Muskoka Steamships before reaching its final resting place in front of the discovery centre.
The Islander was condemned for service in 1953 and scrapped in Torrence but Tatley says “for some reason” the wheelhouse was spared. It was kept in a museum for many years. Tatley says the
museum’s owner was preparing to close it, so representatives from Gravenhurst, the Port Carling Museum and the Woodchester Villa in Bracebridge went to see if any items were of interest to them. “We figured some items belong in Port Carling, some in Bracebridge, and some, we thought, belonged in Gravenhurst,” Tatley says.
The wheelhouse was one of those items and was brought back. He explains it ended up being used for a short time by the Gravenhurst Chamber of Commerce as a kiosk outside of the post office on Muskoka Rd. N.
Tatley found out about this and after a short discussion with the chamber, it was agreed the society could take it at the end of the season to spruce it up.
“They are two of the most important historical relics in [the society’s] entire collection,” Tatley said.