Steamboat Stories @ Dorset Heritage Museum

Contributor Kim Kerr shares details of the many steamboat stories and cottage memories preserved at one of the top attractions in Lake of Bays Ontario … the Dorset Heritage Museum


For those wanting to get a real taste of the rich heritage tied to the Lake of Bays area, you need look no further than Dorset Heritage Museum.

Tucked away in a corner of the quaint village of Dorset Ontario, the Dorset Heritage Museum serves as a custodian of a history that encompasses everything from the region’s formation to the history of its indigenous peoples in the First Nations Exhibit. Also covered is the rich history of this part of cottage country right up to the relatively recent past – think 150 years ago or so – as one of Muskoka’s leading cottage destinations.


Historic Iriquois photo from the Dorset Heritage Museum
The museum is a superb resource for historic documents and photographs related to Lake of Bays


Along the way you’ll learn of the area’s logging camps (check out the model of the Gilmour Tramway used to move lumber), the first settlers, and landmarks such as Bigwin Island, now a private golf course development but once one of the largest luxury resorts in North America.


Dorset Heritage Museum a Resource for Local Historical Documents


The museum isn’t just one of the top attractions in Lake of Bays. It also serves as a repository for fascinating historical accounts written and recorded by area residents and cottagers.

One such ‘heritage memory’ was shared with us by the museum’s Chair, Kerry Lock. Communicated by the Burk family and written by George Burk (1911-1988), it tells the story of how the first steamships made it onto the lake (remember, there were no roads or even rail connections to the lake back then!).


A model exhibit on display at the Dorset Heritage Museum
The model of the Gilmour Tramway is a must-see at the Dorset Heritage Museum


Here’s an abridged version of George’s memory:

The first steamboat was put on the Lake of Bays in 1879 by a Captain Huckins. This boat was built by a man by the name of Dean and was called the ‘Dean’. It was built near Welland, Ontario, at a place called Cooks Mills. It was then sold to people at Wabashene and was renamed the ‘Wabashene’.

After a few years service in that area it was purchased by Captain Huckins and he started to transport it over to the Muskoka Lakes. He got it to Bracebridge and loaded it on wheels and started to bring it to Baysville. This was in 1878 in the Fall and they got stuck at the Devil’s Gap on the east side of Duck Lake. They couldn’t get it over the hill. In the late Winter or early Spring it was loaded on sleighs, or sloops, and they finally landed it on the Lake of Bays in 1879. It was known on the Lake of Bays as the Wabashene.   

This and many other equally important insights into the history of Lake of Bays, can be enjoyed when you visit the Dorset Heritage Museum.


Special Events and Exhibit Space


Open seasonally, you can visit during spring on weekends from 10am-4pm, and from July to Thanksgiving, Wednesday to Saturday, 10am-4pm.

The museum also hosts many special events, too. Be sure to check out their Facebook page for the latest news and updates including details of their fundraising activities. There is a current drive underway to build an extension to the main museum building to house archives, archival workspace, and extra exhibit space.

You’ll find the Dorset Heritage Museum at 1040 Main Street, Dorset, Ontario, P0A 1E0. Phone 705-766-0323, or email [email protected]

To learn more about other fun things to do at the Dorset Heritage Museum, you can also visit their website at




Contributor Kim Kerr is a Muskoka-based freelance writer.


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