Off to the Cottage, in the Past

Tourism has been a part of life in the Kawarthas since the 1800s. Perhaps the area’s first tourists were Royal Navy Captain Basil Hall and his wife Margaret, who visited both Cobourg and Peterborough in 1827. The lakes and woods around Peterborough quickly gained a reputation for great fishing and hunting, drawing hunters and fishermen from around Ontario, other parts of Canada, and even from the United States to the many lodges and camps established in the area.

Gradually, area tourism became family-oriented, especially when the construction of railways and the Trent Canal (now the Trent-Severn Waterway) made the Kawartha Lakes more accessible for non-sporting members of the public. In the early 20th century, daily trains delivered cargo and passengers to Peterborough from all points, and steamboats plied Rice Lake, the Trent and Otonabee rivers, and other lakes, to bring guests and supplies to area hotels, lodges, and cottages.

Extended summer cottaging became popular for upper- and middle-class urban families. Several weeks, a month, or even the entire summer was spent at a rented or owned cottage. What made long summer stays possible was the reliable rail and water transportation links between Peterborough, and such places as Toronto, Montreal, Belleville, Kingston, and Niagara, which allowed whole families to travel, with luggage and sometimes even furniture, from cities and towns to cottage regions. It became common for families to stay at a cottage or lodge, while men commuted from home to the cottage. For example, a man could work in Toronto all week, then on Friday evening catch a train to Peterborough, change trains to Lakefield, then be taken by a steamboat to a cottage; he could reverse the trip on Sunday night and be behind his desk or retail counter by opening time on Monday, rested and refreshed by clean lake air and relaxed cottage time with the family.

Times have changed – automobiles replaced passenger trains and now gasoline or diesel engines drive boats instead of steam – but visiting the Kawarthas in the summer is still very popular, as are many activities of the past.

By: Don Willcock For Peterborough Museum and Archives,
300 Hunter St. E., Peterborough, 705-743-5180