By Mike Smith
If you were to ask me what the most popular postcard subject was during the golden age (1900–1914), I would have to say Niagara Falls. Just check out any dealer box at a postcard show and you’ll see what I mean. There’s a long list of publishers who dabbled in Niagara Falls postcards to take advantage of its popularity as a tourist site and honeymoon capital. The most prolific of the publishers was F. H. Leslie, the owner of The Niagara Falls Review. Leslie’s on my list for a future Wayback Times article but in this issue, I’m going to discuss the golden age’s second most popular postcard subject – Muskoka.
I’m only guessing that Muskoka is number two in popularity of course, but it’s an educated guess. I know for a fact that during the golden age the Canadian and Ontario governments, in addition to the railway companies, commissioned thousands of Muskoka and Algonquin Park photographs for use in tourism and immigration literature. Many of these photos were taken by some of the best Canadian photographers of their day. That’s why when you wade into the oodles of Muskoka postcards in dealer boxes, you can’t help but marvel at the quality of so many of the views.
Even though I don’t collect Muskoka postcards as a rule, one of the first Canadian patriotic postcards in my collection was of a Muskoka’s Elgin House (see Figure 1). At the turn of the 20th century Elgin House was a small hotel on Lake Joseph owned by the Love family. As a result of the burgeoning tourist trade, it soon grew to become one of Muskoka’s most luxurious resorts. The image on the Elgin House postcard is from a photo taken by Toronto’s F. W. Micklethwaite (1849–1925). According to Wikipedia, Micklethwaite moved from Toronto to Port Sandfield, Muskoka every summer in order to take photographs of the Muskoka lakes and wealthy cottagers. It seems the tourist business was good for everybody.
One of my favourite Muskoka postcards is another patriotic gem (see Figure 2). I originally thought that the image on this card was by Goderich’s Reuben R. Sallows (1855–1937) but now I think that it’s another Micklethwaite creation. For the record, both the Figure 1 and Figure 2 postcards were published by the Canadian View Card Co., Toronto. The Canadian View Card Co. turned many Micklethwaite photos of Muskoka into postcards much to the delight of today’s collector. Interestingly, if you look closely at the canoeists in the Figure 2 postcard you’ll see that they’re all wearing the same maple leaf sweater. Perhaps Wayback Times readers can shed some more light on our Muskoka canoe team.
Brantford’s Stedman Bros. was responsible for the Figure 3 postcard, which shows young bathers from the Royal Muskoka Hotel. Again, the image on the card looks like it was created from a Micklethwaite photo but I’d have to do some more sleuthing to be sure. For the curious, the Royal Muskoka Hotel was Muskoka’s most famous resort. Completed in 1902, it was owned and operated by the Muskoka Lakes Navigation Company. Like many tourist operations however, it fell on hard times during the Great Depression of the 1930s and sadly burned to the ground in 1952.
The “on the line of the G.T.R.” text on the Figure 4 postcard tells us that the card was either published or commissioned by the Grand Trunk Railway. At one time the British-owned GTR was the world’s largest railway system and by the late 1880s ran track from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic coast. On several occasions, the GTR’s advertising department in Montreal hired renowned photographer Reuben R. Sallows to take photos in Muskoka, Algonquin Park and other tourist-draw areas serviced by its trains. The net result was hundreds of terrific postcards.
Several times in this article I’ve had to make some educated guesses in order to link photographers to a particular postcard. With Midland photographer J. W. Bald (1868–1961), the guesswork all but disappears. You see, J. W. Bald liked to copyright his photographs and thus his name or initials appear prominently on most of the cards that showcase his work. Figure 5 is a classic example. It’s a Stedman Bros. bookmark-style postcard of a steamer at Muskoka Landing with “Photo by J. W. Bald” clearly printed lower left.