HUNTSVILLE – Huntsville’s history is living again in the written word.
The Night the Mice Danced the Quadrille has so much reality about what it was like in our district of Muskoka in the early days, as well as a lot of boys-will-be-boys great fun
“Books are the carriers of civilization,” said Patrick Boyer, president of Muskoka Books. “Without books, history is silent.”
Boyer spoke to a crowd of about 40 people packed into the Huntsville Train Station on Dec. 6 as part of the first public meeting of the Huntsville and Area Historical Society. He spoke about the important role both historical societies and books can play in preserving the history, heritage and knowledge of the region.
Boyer said his company publishes both new books connected to Muskoka, Georgian Bay, Parry Sound, and Algonquin Park, as well as out-of-print books about the region.
An example of an out-of-print book republished by Muskoka Books is Huntsville: With Spirit and Resolve. Author Susan Pryke’s non-fiction work details the founding of Huntsville in the 1860s and follows its evolution through industry booms, the great fire of 1894, two world wars and the battle for the tourism trade into the mid-1900s.
“No community could have a better book about its history, characters, accomplishments, setbacks, trials and tribulations,” said Boyer. “But it was out of print.”
By republishing the book, the information it contains can be preserved for future generations.
Muskoka’s Main Street: 150 Years of Courage and Adventure Along the Muskoka Colonization Road is an example of a new book published by the company.
“Lee Ann (Eckhardt) Smith was fascinated by the colonization road,” said Boyer.
He explained that when the first Muskokan colonialists came to the region in the mid-1800s the colonization road took them to Huntsville and ended.
“This was the furthest north you could get,” he said. “Muskoka, Parry Sound and Nipissing districts were just being opened for settlement.”
Boyer said travellers could come as far as Barrie by train before taking a steamboat to Simcoe, stagecoach as far as Gravenhurst on a very rough colonization road, then a boat up Lake Muskoka and up the river to Bracebridge, then by stagecoach again through Utterson, Port Sydney and Huntsville.
“Beyond that, there weren’t any roads,” said Boyer. “This was the very northern frontier.”
But no books had been written about the colonization road despite it being an integral component to the development of the region. The book includes historic and present photographs of the road.
Boyer talked about how the road still exists, though parts have changed. Highway 11 runs along parts of it, while other parts are now snowmobile trails or walking paths.
“And it’s all in this book,” he said.
Other books almost lost to obscurity include The Night the Mice Danced the Quadrille by Thomas Osborne.
Boyer said he was turned off by the title thinking it was a children’s book. It turned out it wasn’t.
“In here is Tom Sawyer meets the north,” he said.
The book deals with serious subject matter while describing the life of early pioneers in the region.
“This book has so much reality about what it was like in our district of Muskoka in the early days, as well as a lot of boys-will-be-boys great fun, like illegal fishing,” said Boyer.
He said his company plans to republish the book, but without the “camouflage and distraction” of the old title.
And the list goes on. Books by local authors about hockey, justice in the 1890s, politics and a variety of other topics are described in brief on the Muskoka Books website.
Boyer mentioned several other books during the meeting including his book Raw Life, Gordon Aiken’s No Return and The Last Season by Roy MacGregor.
He noted books about local history such as these could be found at various bookstores.
And, he said, his company is working closely with retail stores to stock the books as well.
Boyer noted that Muskoka Books in partnership with a large, independent Canadian publisher will continue to promote and print books about the region.