The “Gateway to Muskoka” has been deemed a historical property by the Town of Gravenhurst’s Heritage Advisory Committee.
“The memories are absolutely incredible and I know how important it is to maintain the history of Gravenhurst,” Mayor Paul Kelly said during a ceremony Wednesday afternoon.
He credited the committee for their diligent work over the past decades to ensure the history of Gravenhurst is not forgotten.
Hank Smith, a local historian affectionately known as “Heritage Hank,” explained the arch was first built in 1874 ahead of then-Governor-General Lord Dufferin visiting the town. It was made of pine boughs and flowers and was mounted with a crown. It was located at the corner of Muskoka St. S. and Hotchkiss St.
He continued that the arch has gone through seven redesigns over the years as well as being moved to a different location multiple times.
In 1925, it was rebuilt with cement pillars and a superstructure of timber. Atop the arch “Gateway to Muskoka” was written. “It was a
destination for the automobile, which was just beginning in the 1920s before coming to its heydey in the 1950s when tourists were leaving the greater Toronto area and coming up to Muskoka by car,” Colin Old, a member of the heritage committee, explains. “This was the first thing that welcomed them and hence the term ‘Gateway to Muskoka.'”
The design was changed two times after that in 1946 and 1977 but, in 1990, David Dawson and his family helped reimagine the arch that he says was in a state of “disrepair.” He put together a proposal with a newly formed committee with options to create a new arch in the style of one of its previous incarnations. “I thought the committee should choose which way they wanted to go,” he said.
They settled on the 1925 design, which was Dawson’s pick as well.
Through community fundraising and in-kind donations from businesses, the arch as Gravenhurst knows it today was built.
Dawson says it was moved “a few feet” down Muskoka St. S. to its current location in the mid-2000s when town council agreed to widen the road. “There was talk about taking [the arch] down and putting it in a park,” Dawson says, adding he had none of that and petitioned council to keep it on the street.
The original sketch of the arch that was submitted to council was also entered by Dawson into the American Society of Architectural Perspective international competition that sees renderings and sketches from around the world judged. Dawson says his sketch was named one of the 30 best and was displayed at major galleries in the United States in the late 1990s.
“We don’t get the opportunity to have events like this very often and quite frankly we should do it more often,” says John Klinck, the current Chair of the District of Muskoka and former mayor of Gravenhurst. He adds that celebrating what makes our towns special is important. “It’s the momentum of the community to remind the members of the council that something is important to the community,” he says.