By Bobby Genovese
My love of boats began in childhood when every summer our family made the two-hour trek from Toronto to Muskoka’s iconic lakefront cottage country.
With more than 1,000 lakes, its turquoise waters, rocky shores and windswept pines have been an irresistible draw for seasonal residents since the late 1800s. Today, the district is known as Malibu North and home to generations of permanent residents including Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.
For my mother, it was love at first sight when she made the journey as a teenager with her family. They had been invited to a friend’s cottage for a much-needed reprieve from the city. Albeit rustic and lacking electricity and other creature comforts, the lake experience cast an indelible impression on her. The freedom and exhilaration of swimming in the lake, the intoxicating aroma of pine scented air. It was the stuff of lifelong dreams.
My first trip there was in the late 1960s over the May 24th holiday weekend when we piled into the family’s red 1967 Mustang for the painfully long drive on Highway 11. I was five or six years old and the anticipation was excruciating.
But, all that changed the instant the first iconic landmark came into view: Webers Restaurant, home of their famous hamburgers. The lake experience had officially begun. With our cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes on board, the next landmark was the enormous sign for the town of Gravenhurst flanked by two massive black bear statues, which meant we were almost there.
Making that first cannonball plunge into the lake made it official as did the early morning boat ride to the Bala Bakery for fresh butter tarts and bread. The Muskoka experience had me hooked forever.
There wasn’t a lot of boat traffic in those days, which meant we were free to explore the lake in our old wooden Greavette boat without our parents worrying. Learning how to water-ski behind it however, was another matter. With wakes the size of mountains, it was no easy task. After hours of being thrown from one mountain of water into another I got the hang of it.
I was in kid-heaven and utterly captivated by these elegant yet powerful wooden speedboats passing by. The pride and care that went into these prized icons of Muskoka’s maritime history was made famous by Greavette Boats Limited, a name synonymous with Muskoka boat building led by visionary founder, Tom Greavette.
This fascination and appreciation never left me. In fact, it’s what inspired me years later to acquire and restore several of Muskoka’s most famous race boats and launch the BG Vintage Race Boat and Antique Boat Museum. It features the iconic Rambler, a 73-foot, 1903 Polson Iron Works Yacht; Pistoff, the 970-horsepower Vic Carpenter custom runabout that had been commissioned by Doug Bassett; Miss Miami; Miss Canada III; and Miss Canada IV, which underwent an arduous 23-month restoration, including the installation of a 3000 horsepower Rolls-Royce Griffon engine. She was moved for display at the Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre, across the bay from Gravette Boat Works where she first launched in 1949.
We also debuted the BG Vintage Racing Team’s official entry into the North American Vintage Race boat circuit. Two of Greavette’s boats, Little Miss Canada and Miss Canada IV, built for Muskoka racing legend Harold Wilson, captured national and international attention during the 1930s.
Miss Canada IV was then the fastest boat on water, achieving speeds of over 200 mph. I was honored to have Harry Wilson on hand for the ceremony — the son of Miss Canada III and Miss Canada IV’s original race team of Harold and Lorna Wilson.
Childhood always end too soon and I was devastated when my parents sold the Muskoka cottage. Life was marching on, calling everyone in different directions.
But I, like my brothers, vowed to return and build cottages of our own. The long May 24th weekend continues as a Genovese family ritual celebrated with our children and grandchildren in side-by-side cottages encompassing over a mile of shoreline.
Our annual trek always brings us back to those childhood days. In fact, we count our kids’ pleading to take them to Port Sandfield Marina’s Silver Stream Farms general store for butter tarts and their world-famous fresh blueberry donuts. It usually starts right after breakfast and progresses to flat out begging until we relent. Little do they realize, that we can’t wait to get there ourselves!
That’s the amazing feature of a Muskoka childhood. If you’re lucky, you get to do it twice: First, as a kid, and then, as a parent. It’s a joy and cherished family tradition that I would not trade for the world. Mom was right. Muskoka is the stuff of lifelong dreams.