Monday, October 10, 2011

All Aboard!

If you’ve ever visited Muskoka Heritage Place, you’ve probably taken a ride on the Portage Flyer but you may not know that this little train originally carried passengers from our very own Pen Lake over to Lake of Bays.

Completed in 1904, the track traveled a mere 1 1/8 mile but what a trip it was. Passengers from the steamship Algonquin got off at the northeastern edge of Pen Lake and boarded the Portage Flyer for a hair-raising ride.

Lake of Bays stands 170 feet higher than Peninsula Lake and the area between is a mix of steep bluffs and rolling hills. From Pen Lake, the little train had to first traverse a steep switchback, followed by a 120 foot climb to the summit in only ¾ mile. The trip down the other side was no better: after following a narrow pass through the hills, the Portage Flyer had to navigate around steep bluffs and a hairpin bend along the shore of Osborne Lake.

When the Flyer arrived at Lake of Bays, passengers then boarded another steamship, the Iroquois, headed for the grand resorts of the lake: the Britannia Inn, the Wa Wa Hotel and Bigwin Inn.

The Portage Flyer transported more than just people. In addition to its two passenger coaches, which were converted, open-side streetcars, the train also had two box cars and three flat cars to carry freight, mail, lumber and tanbark.

With increased use of cars and trucks, the Portage Flyer ceased operations in 1959. But thanks to the efforts of local volunteers and train enthusiasts, you can still experience the Portage Flyer on a scenic ¾ mile route along the Muskoka River to where it empties into Fairy Lake. The train runs from mid-May through mid-October (contact Muskoka Heritage Place for rates and schedule). The Portage Flyer also does a special night-time run in December, carrying children to the end of the line to meet Santa.

Fall is a fantastic time to stay in our waterfront Muskoka cottages . You can see our availability and make reservations on the Colonial Bay website. Imagine if you had to travel by steamship and train to visit us. We still think it would be worth the trip, don’t you?

We hope to see you soon!
The Howell Family

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