Micklethwaite's Muskoka

They say Muskoka, once discovered, is never forgotten. This was certainly true for Micklethwaite. He first ventured to the district in 1887 and immediately began a love affair with our blue lakes and rocky shorelines that lasted the rest of his life.

For more than 20 years Frank journeyed each summer to his Port Sandfield photography shop, using it as his base of operations. Now like his itinerant photographer father, he travelled Muskoka's lakes, lugging his cumbersome camera equipment and heavy glass plates on which images in those days were recorded, shooting scenery and events as he came upon them: towns, resorts, cottages, regattas, steamboats, swimmers, workers, and settlers.

Today these black-and-white images endure as the single best photographic source of what it was really like here. The inimitable Micklethwaite style that had first catapulted Frank to fame is seen in every picture which clearly and artistically captures the reality, elegance, and adventure of a bygone Muskoka era.

What also makes these pictures rare, and hence Micklethwaite's Muskoka such a treasure, is that virtually all his Toronto negatives were destroyed. No one even realized that evidence of his photographic talents remained until John Denison twigged on a couple clues and began to investigate the holdings of the National Archives in Ottawa. To his astonished delight, there were dozens of wooden boxes filled with the heavy glass plates on which Micklethwaite's negatives of Muskoka scenes had been exposed. Few had been seen before, and they had never been published.

A great deal more sleuthing by Denison in Toronto and Muskoka newspaper files and other archival records gradually filled in the story that rounds out this landmark book. When speaking at the Gravenhurst Opera House during the Muskoka Book Festival on May 8 this year, Denison touched many in his audience when he described his half year spent researching and writing Micklethwaite's Muskoka as "the happiest six months of my life."

In addition to the stark realism and documentary-like authenticity of the photographs in this book, the text is a rich blending by Denison of quoted passages from relevant published accounts of the period and the breezy directness of his own writing style.

This remarkable volume qualifies as one of Muskoka's "vanished treasures" because it is out of print, although a few copies can still be found here and there. If you can snap up a copy, do so: it is an investment.

— Review by J. Patrick Boyer

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