The Classic and Antique Boat Society – Vintage Boat Festival

Article and Photography by Tim Du Vernet

Summer in Muskoka is synonymous with boating. Usually, that also means an in-water boat show at the wharf in Gravenhurst to marvel at the many stunning watercrafts that ply Muskoka’s lakes.

However, this year, due to significant road closures and construction at the wharf, the show, as it usually proceeds, had to be cancelled. The cancellation gave the Antique and Classic Boat Society, Toronto Chapter (ACBS-Toronto) the ability to get creative. The result? ACBS-Toronto has organized a Vintage Boat Festival to run from July 4 to 7 to ensure the celebration of wooden watercrafts continues.

Instead of seeing upwards of 100 boats congregated in one spot for a glorious concentration and celebration of historic wooden boats, vintage fibreglass and even aluminum craft, the ACBS has organized a series of events. Spanning four days, the festival includes cruises, a nautical flea market and boat sale, wine and cheese event, dinner cruise and more.

The change to the format is bringing new life to the typical show setup and increases the opportunity for members to socialize. Antique and classic boats were never meant to be static pieces and getting out on the water with family or friends is what vintage boating is all about. While many of the events require registration, some do have public viewing opportunities as well.

Events begin with a cruise in Gloucester Pool, which will take participants past historic sites and hotels. Participants will also have the chance to visit the Dunsmoor boathouse, which is home to several historic boats, including the Traveller.

Also along the cruise route is the Kennedy Marine Motor Museum. Sandy Kennedy began collecting outboard memorabilia around 2001 and has managed to collect a wide assortment of models, more than 100 engines, brochures, dealer signs, vintage photos, race trophies and more. Any boating enthusiast will find something at which to marvel.

The Gloucester Pool trip even involves a ride on the marine railway at Big Chute. The railway is fascinating to see with some boats lying on their bottoms and other boats on a large platform while they ride the rails to continue into the Trent-Severn system.

Two cruises have been organized for Lake Muskoka on July 5 with participants choosing between a “slow” route or “fast” route. The routes provide an inclusive opportunity for the wide range of boat styles and speeds involved. The Port Carling locks will be the lunch stop for the event.

The next cruise is moves to Lake Rosseau on July 6 and is a poker run. Participants will attend four special cottages around the lake where they will pick up cards and hopefully form a winning hand. Departure starts at the docks below the Muskoka Lakes Museum. Winners will be announced at the Port Carling locks at the end of the event.

Also on July 6 is the official opening of the new Canadian Raceboat Hall of Fame (CRHF), just west of Bracebridge on Highway 118. The museum celebrates and displays the artifacts, boats and memorabilia related to the rich Canadian legacy of racing boats. The CRHF tells the story of Canada’s success, past and present, in national and international boat racing. The opening plans to include a flea market and boat sale yard among the festivities.

The quiet lakes of Muskoka that occasionally offer serene experiences in paddling or sailing, are also home to record breaking race boat achievements as well. Beginning with the boats built for Harry Greening by Ditchburn, which faced international challengers in Gold Cup races, the legacy spans over a century and continues. Motorboats such as Harold Wilson’s Miss Canada series, including Miss Canada III and IV will be recognized along with record holding Miss Supertest. While these are recognizable names, there are many other race boat legacies to acknowledge from Muskoka and across Canada.

The Canadian Raceboat Hall of Fame is also home to the Muskoka Seaflea Club. There is nothing quite like a small boat, close to the water going at “speed” to give a thrill and to capture the imagination. Many a trophy winning race boat driver started their career in a Seaflea.

While the Gravenhurst wharf site will be unavailable for the boat show as usual, Muskoka Steamships and Discovery Centre has organized special events in co-ordination with the Vintage Boat Festival for the afternoon and evening of Friday, July 5. Of particular interest to those focused on wooden boats, the Discovery Centre features North America’s largest collection of in-water classic antique wooden boats. While admission is free to ACBS members for the afternoon tour, registration is required.

Come aboard the jewel of Muskoka’s floating heritage, Segwun, North America’s oldest operating coal-fired steamship, which was built in 1887, for a tour and cocktails on July 5. Following the tour of Segwun, another cruise, this time aboard the Wenonah II is available. The event has a limited capacity and will give participants a taste of what it would have been like to travel aboard the vessels that steamed the lakes of Muskoka in the early 1900s.

On July 7, the final day of the festival members of ACBS-Toronto, Trent-Severn Antique Boat Association and Maple Leaf Antique Outboard Club will be able to tour the Canadian Raceboat Hall of Fame from 10:00 a.m. until noon for free.

While most of the events are for ACBS members or affiliates, viewing the boats on their cruises is possible for anyone. Boats will likely congregate at Port Carling and the Marine Railway as well as being visible through narrows and from bridges or your dock. More information and registration can be found at