Normally? Well, normally when people visit Muskoka they’re quite happy to do a whole lot of nothing. Muskoka is ‘cottage country’ for those living within a few hours drive of its classic Canadian outdoor setting and life there is best appreciated sitting in a muskoka chair at the end of a dock.
This is where people come to unwind, chill out, have a BBQ and a beer and go barefoot, everywhere. I spent a week in Muskoka just last month and did all of the above along with trying a few of the popular water sports.
But one day during my week-long stay, I decided to venture off of my little lakeside resort in search of an adventure away from the dock. What I found was (almost) more than I had bargained for and an experience that took me back to one of my favourite childhood books.
Venturing beyond the Dock
I had picked up a glossy brochure for what was described as a natural water park near where I was staying. It boasted multiple natural waterfalls, canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, a beach, water slides, camping, a picnic area and a beach volleyball court. No dock! So off I went, with my 5-year-old in tow, to spend the morning at High Falls Water Park.
When I turned off the highway 45 minutes later, I followed the park signs down a rustic dirt road and through a beautiful old growth forest, stopping a few times to snap some pictures. It was all very picturesque but as we got closer to the park the scenery started to change. We passed garbage heaps, abandoned machinery and broken down sheds along the roadside. Things were looking less and less picturesque with each turn.
Finally, we spotted a sign ahead of us. We must be close.
And then our morning went sideways.
What??? It’s a nudist family water park? I scanned the brochure sitting on the passenger seat. It was filled with images of young children wearing life jackets and playing on water slides and peddle boats. There was even a picture of a grandmother smiling in a canoe – ALL were clothed. I grabbed my smart phone and looked up the parks website – I saw no mention of the fact that clothes were ‘optional’.
I have an open mind and subscribe to the whole “to each his own” philosophy but I wasn’t sure if seeing grown men (Dads or otherwise) in their birthday suites was something my 5-year old daughter needed to see. What does casual nudity mean anyhow?
I parked the car and I scanned the beach. There was no one in sight. My daughter was talking excitedly about the water slides and kayaks in front of her and was already half-way out the car. There was no turning back now. I decided to just play it by ear and see how the morning unfolded. So out of the car we climbed with our towels and bagged lunches. This wasn’t quite the ‘adventure away from the dock’ that I had in mind but it looked like one I was about to experience whether I wanted to or not. Be careful what you wish for.
In front of us was a long sandy beach, recreational boats of every imaginable variety and not 1 but 3 waterfalls in sight (2 more were hidden in the trees). It was a lovely spot really. Everything looked….normal.
My 5-year-old and I hopped in a pedal boat right away and pedalled our way over to the waterfalls, anxious to explore. We had the park to ourselves (for now) and I wanted to enjoy the sights before the park filled up and the ‘sights’ turned risqué.
We had a lovely morning really. My daughter took out every boat they had, jumped on the water trampoline and slid down the slides. Together spent some time on a rocky inlet making rock sculptures and just exploring the shore before lunch.
We didn’t see any nude people during our visit that morning – much to my daughter’s disappointment. In fact, we didn’t really see anyone. There was no one on the beach or in the strange little office shed where we were meant to pay for our entrance. The park never did fill up.
I learned afterwards that the owner is a nudist and lives on site so perhaps the ‘clothing optional’ sign at the park is more for his benefit than anyone else (??). To each his own.
By lunchtime I’d had my fill of the natural setting and was ready to move on. To be honest, as we pulled out of the parking I was a little disappointed that we hadn’t encountered any nakedness. Oh how quickly the tides change :)
Off we went again in search of yet another adventure. There was no risk of nudity where we were headed next. Quite the opposite in fact. Within minutes of arriving at our afternoon destination, my daughter was wearing a wig and dressed head-to-toe in 2 layers of clothing from the late 1880s.
We were at the Bala Museum.
How could I possibly expect to find adventure in a small town museum? Well, the ebay-addict and Anne-of-Green-Gables fanatic that owns and runs the museum made sure of that!
The museum is actually a small home in which well-known author Lucy Maude Montgomery (of the novel series Anne of Green Gables fame) and her family had once vacationed waaaaay back in 1922. Of course, the Anne of Green Gables novels tell the story of a precocious red-headed pig-tailed orphan (Anne) who’s adopted by an elderly brother and sister (Matthew and Marilla) in Prince Edward Island (PEI)….not Bala Ontario….but, I brushed those details aside and took my daughter anyhow. She had just been to PEI a few weeks prior where she saw the widely popular musical production of Anne of Green Gables and was still captivated by the amusing stories and antics of Anne.
The museum owner dressed my daughter in full 1880s attire complete with an Anne wig and freckles and then walked us through each room in the home where she and my daughter then re-enacted various parts of the Anne story.
If you’re familiar with the novel or the popular TV movie series adaptation then you’ll appreciate the opportunity to depict Anne waiting for Matthew at the railway station; her arrival into Avonlea by horse and buggy; the story of the mouse drowning in Marilla’s custard; Anne cracking a slate over Gilbert’s head in school for calling her “Carrots”; the disastrous tea party with Diana and raspberry cordial; and Anne accidentally dying her hair green.
The museum is filled with Anne paraphernalia and the owner is a self-proclaimed ebay addict and lover of all things Anne. Every corner, shelf, nook and cranny was covered in Anne dolls, figurines, pictures and memorabilia from the TV series that she has acquired over the years. They even have a large wooden replica of the green gabled house in PEI that the Anne novels were named after.
It’s the experiences that are brought to life here that really make it an enjoyable and memorable visit which is quite impressive given that the Anne stories take place on an island far, far away from the town of Bala.
When my daughter and I arrived back at our little resort late that afternoon we headed straight to the two muskoka chairs perched on the end of the dock and talked excitedly about all that we had just seen (and not seen!). It was nice to be back on the dock but we were quite pleased with the adventure we’d found away from the dock that day.