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The Peninsular Park Hotel – Innisfil’s long-vanished luxury resort

December 2020

Muskoka has traditionally been the summer vacation destination for Ontarians looking to escape the city for decades. Some headed to luxury resorts, while many more of lesser means headed to more “affordable” destinations.

This was a time period when summer vacations were a luxury that many who worked 10 or more hours a day, 6 days a week with only Sunday off, simply couldn’t afford.

Often fathers had to stay behind to earn the money to pay for the vacation, joining their family on weekends when they were could.

For residents of the Towns of Barrie and Allandale who could afford a summer vacation in the mid-1800s, one of the destinations was a little closer to home: Big Bay Point.

Located at the far east end of Kempenfelt Bay, where it meets Lake Simcoe, the Robinson family began taking in summer boarders at their lakeside farm, a practice done by many in regions that became popular resort areas like Muskoka and the Catskills region of eastern New York State.

This was a step up from the accommodation options available to many, which sometimes involved setting up a small canvas tent in a wooded area or parkland.

As the Robinson’s boarding house grew in popularity, they converted their house into a hotel, variously known as Robinson House or Robinson’s Park, and expanded it to house the increasing number of guests.

Since the roads in the 1800s going to and from Big Bay Point were non-existent to poor, even at the best of times, steamships and railways were often the best method of transportation. The Robinson family arranged for the steamer Enterprise to bring guests from the railway stations in Barrie and Allandale to their hotel, a trip that took around an hour.

Out of town guests could even enjoy a Saturday excursion the other way back to Barrie to visit the local markets and shops.

While Robinson House was pleasant, but rather rustic, a new, more luxurious hotel, Peninsular Park, opened nearby in July 1887.

Built in only four months, the Peninsular Park Hotel was a three-storey hotel that boasted sixty guest rooms, fine dining in the large dining hall, a large rotunda, mansard roof, electric lights, separate buildings for alcoholic beverages, and a maple syrup shack. It would earn the reputation as an aristocratic summer resort.

Guests could relax on the wrap-around porch, or across the hotel’s lawn, seated in chairs or on blankets on the ground.

Staff at the hotel organized dances, games and day picnics. The Peninsular Park Hotel even proved to be quite popular with American visitors looking to vacation in the “Canadian wilderness”.

In 1924, the members-only Big Bay Point Golf Club, a nine-hole golf course that’s still in operation today, opened nearby, providing guests who could afford the club fees with another recreational option. For visitors to the area today, one-week “vacation” memberships are available.

The Peninsular Park Hotel is long-gone, and the area is now primarily a residential community, with publicly accessible boat ramps for pleasure boaters.

However, Big Bay Point is still an attractive resort and vacation destination, with the addition of the sprawling Friday Harbour Resort condominium complex, with both short-term rental and ownership options available.

Friday Harbour Resort boasts a “..stunning waterside community (that) provides a one-of-a-kind experience for Homeowners, Guests and Visitors. While owners enjoy an array of privileges, everyone will reap the benefits of the spectacular design and incredible on-site amenities.” Construction began in 2010, with the first phase opening in 2017.

Amongst the usual resort amenities, Friday Harbour also includes a private marina, golf course and a nature preserve with walking trails.

Future plans include the addition of 17,000 square feet of retail space that will include a pub, espresso bar, bakery, salon, pharmacy and walk-in clinic, pet store, toy and candy shop, clothing store and sushi restaurant.

Although residents can own their condominium units, until recently, Town of Innisfil by-laws prohibited uninterrupted, year-round occupancy of the units. Owners could only occupy their units for a maximum of 10 months a year.

Sources: https://www.barrietoday.com/columns/remember-this/its-cold-so-how-about-we-talk-barrie-summers-of-long-ago-1177898, http://www.ourstoriesinnisfil.ca/islandora/object/ourstories%3A2345, https://www.bigbaypointgolf.com, https://www.fridayharbour.com.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/the-peninsular-park-hotel-innisfils-long-vanished-luxury-resort/

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