Wawa Hotel

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A view of the Wawa Hotel on Lake of Bays, as seen from the beach. Wawa Hotel.png
A view of the Wawa Hotel on Lake of Bays, as seen from the beach.

The Wawa Hotel was a large summer resort hotel located at Norway Point on Lake of Bays, in Ontario, Canada. Constructed in 1908, it was entirely destroyed by a fire on August 19th, 1923. [1] The name "Wawa" is a native Canadian word for "wild goose". [2]

Hotel Establishment that provides lodging paid on a short-term basis

A hotel is an establishment that provides paid lodging on a short-term basis. Facilities provided may range from a modest-quality mattress in a small room to large suites with bigger, higher-quality beds, a dresser, a refrigerator and other kitchen facilities, upholstered chairs, a flat screen television, and en-suite bathrooms. Small, lower-priced hotels may offer only the most basic guest services and facilities. Larger, higher-priced hotels may provide additional guest facilities such as a swimming pool, business centre, childcare, conference and event facilities, tennis or basketball courts, gymnasium, restaurants, day spa, and social function services. Hotel rooms are usually numbered to allow guests to identify their room. Some boutique, high-end hotels have custom decorated rooms. Some hotels offer meals as part of a room and board arrangement. In the United Kingdom, a hotel is required by law to serve food and drinks to all guests within certain stated hours. In Japan, capsule hotels provide a tiny room suitable only for sleeping and shared bathroom facilities.

Lake of Bays (Muskoka lake) lake in District Municipality of Muskoka, Ontario, Canada

Lake of Bays is a large lake in the District Municipality of Muskoka in Central Ontario, Canada. It is located in the Township of Lake of Bays, which is named after the lake. Ontario Highway 35 runs north and east of the lake.

Ontario Province of Canada

Ontario is one of the 13 provinces and territories of Canada. Located in Central Canada, it is Canada's most populous province accounting for 38.3 percent of the country's population, and is the second-largest province in total area. Ontario is fourth-largest jurisdiction in total area when the territories of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are included. It is home to the nation's capital city, Ottawa, and the nation's most populous city, Toronto, which is also Ontario's provincial capital.



A view of Norway Point on Lake of Bays, taken before the 1908 construction of the Wawa Hotel. The settlement in the area was called Gordon's Corners at the time. Norway Point pre Wawa.png
A view of Norway Point on Lake of Bays, taken before the 1908 construction of the Wawa Hotel. The settlement in the area was called Gordon's Corners at the time.

The land on which the Wawa was later built was originally thickly wooded; First Nations groups knew and likely camped in the area, as evidenced by an arrowhead found on the point itself. [1] In the late 1870s there was already a small community with a church, a schoolhouse and a post office in the area. Around this time, the site of the later Wawa Hotel was cleared and settled by John Wilson Robertson, a coal merchant from Edinburgh, and his family. As other farmers in the region also discovered, the Robertsons found the land to be challenging to work, as the soil consisted primarily of sand with many stones and little humus. [1]

In Canada, the First Nations are the predominant indigenous peoples in Canada south of the Arctic Circle. Those in the Arctic area are distinct and known as Inuit. The Métis, another distinct ethnicity, developed after European contact and relations primarily between First Nations people and Europeans. There are 634 recognized First Nations governments or bands spread across Canada, roughly half of which are in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia.

Arrowhead military payload of an arrow

An arrowhead is a tip, usually sharpened, added to an arrow to make it more deadly or to fulfill some special purpose. The earliest arrowheads were made of stone and of organic materials; as human civilization progressed other materials were used. Arrowheads are important archaeological artifacts; they are a subclass of projectile points. Modern enthusiasts still "produce over one million brand-new spear and arrow points per year". One who manufactures metal arrowheads is an arrowsmith.

Edinburgh Capital city in Scotland

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and one of its 32 council areas. Historically part of the county of Midlothian, it is located in Lothian on the Firth of Forth's southern shore.

By the turn of the 20th century, the main economy of the area had begun to transition from farming to tourism. With steamboats and the Portage Railway of the Huntsville and Lake of Bays Transportation Company connecting Lake of Bays to the Grand Trunk Railway, access from the larger cities of southern Ontario became much easier. [3] As this transition continued, more and more hotels and private cottages continued to spring up. Mrs. Elizabeth Robertson (née Forest) hosted the first guests in her house at the future site of the Wawa around this time, and continued to do so until the land was purchased from her by the Canadian Railway News Company in order to build the Wawa. [1]

Tourism travel for recreational or leisure purposes

Tourism is travel for pleasure or business; also the theory and practice of touring, the business of attracting, accommodating, and entertaining tourists, and the business of operating tours. Tourism may be international or within the traveler's country. The World Tourism Organization defines tourism more generally, in terms which go "beyond the common perception of tourism as being limited to holiday activity only", as people "traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure and not less than 24 hours, business and other purposes".

Huntsville and Lake of Bays Transportation Company

The Huntsville and Lake of Bays Transportation Company was a company chartered in 1895 to operate steamboats on the Lake of Bays, and a series of lakes connecting to Huntsville in the northern section of the Muskoka Lakes District of Ontario, Canada. The wholly owned Huntsville and Lake of Bays Railway ran a short line narrow gauge railway to connect steamboats operating on Lake of Bays and Peninsula Lake outside Huntsville, Ontario. Covering a vertical distance of 175 feet (53 m) along the hilly 1.125-mile (1.811 km) route, it was known as the "smallest commercially operated railway in the world".

Grand Trunk Railway British-owned railway in Canada and New England

The Grand Trunk Railway was a railway system that operated in the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario and in the American states of Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The railway was operated from headquarters in Montreal, Quebec, with corporate headquarters in London, England. It cost an estimated $160 million to build. The Grand Trunk, its subsidiaries, and the Canadian Government Railways were precursors of today's Canadian National Railways.


The Wawa Hotel under Construction, as seen from the cliff behind Norway Point. Wawa Hotel under Construction.png
The Wawa Hotel under Construction, as seen from the cliff behind Norway Point.

Built in 1908, the Wawa hotel was a wooden structure consisting of a three-story centre block flanked by a pair of two story wings. The centre block was capped by a five-story tower featuring a powerful electric searchlight (a novelty at the time) and housed the main rotunda and a dining room with capacity for 300 people. The wings had rooms on two floors, with the entire hotel having a total 153 rooms. The accommodations were considered luxurious at the time, with hot and cold running water in every room, electric light throughout the hotel, and many rooms featuring en suite bathrooms. The rooms, the majority of which were 4.3 m x 4.9 m (14 feet x 16 feet), were said to be larger than average for similar summer hotels. Numerous activities were available to the guests, such as sailing, canoeing, swimming, tennis, baseball, football, bowls and quoits. [2]

Sailing Propulsion of a vehicle by wind power

Sailing employs the wind—acting on sails, wingsails or kites—to propel a craft on the surface of the water, on ice (iceboat) or on land over a chosen course, which is often part of a larger plan of navigation.

Canoeing paddle sport in which you kneel or sit facing forward in an open or closed-decked canoe, and propel yourself with a single-bladed paddle, under your own power

Canoeing is an activity which involves paddling a canoe with a single-bladed paddle. Common meanings of the term are limited to when the canoeing is the central purpose of the activity. Broader meanings include when it is combined with other activities such as canoe camping, or where canoeing is merely a transportation method used to accomplish other activities. Most present-day canoeing is done as or as a part of a sport or recreational activity. In some parts of Europe canoeing refers to both canoeing and kayaking, with a canoe being called an open canoe.

Tennis Ball sport with racket and net

Tennis is a racket sport that can be played individually against a single opponent (singles) or between two teams of two players each (doubles). Each player uses a tennis racket that is strung with cord to strike a hollow rubber ball covered with felt over or around a net and into the opponent's court. The object of the game is to maneuver the ball in such a way that the opponent is not able to play a valid return. The player who is unable to return the ball will not gain a point, while the opposite player will.


The Wawa Hotel was situated on a piece of property including and extending out to the south of Norway Point, approximately midway between the towns of Baysville and Dorset. [4] The property is flat, with a broad, sandy beach with a western exposure extending along its entire length. A 46 m (150 foot) cliff rises behind the property, [2] upon which foundations for what was likely a water tank can still be found.

Dorset, Ontario human settlement in Ontario, Canada

Dorset is a small community located on the boundary between the Lake of Bays Municipality in Muskoka District and the Algonquin Highlands Township in Haliburton County, Ontario, Canada. Dorset was originally called Cedar Narrows. In 1859 Francis Harvey became the first European settler here. Zachariah Cole mapped out the area for the government around 1860. The community name was chosen by some of the settlers that came from Dorset, England.

Beach Area of loose particles at the edge of the sea or other body of water

A beach is a landform alongside a body of water which consists of loose particles. The particles composing a beach are typically made from rock, such as sand, gravel, shingle, pebbles. The particles can also be biological in origin, such as mollusc shells or coralline algae.

Access to the Wawa was difficult by modern standards, with a trip from Toronto taking 8.5 hours in 1919. The trip involved taking a train to Huntsville, a steamer to the portage railway between Peninsula Lake and Lake of Bays, and then a second steamer from there to the Wawa dock. [5] For comparison, the same trip today takes approximately 2.5 hours by car.

Toronto Provincial capital city in Ontario, Canada

Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the most populous city in Canada, with a population of 2,731,571 in 2016. Current to 2016, the Toronto census metropolitan area (CMA), of which the majority is within the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), held a population of 5,928,040, making it Canada's most populous CMA. The city is the anchor of the Golden Horseshoe, an urban agglomeration of 9,245,438 people surrounding the western end of Lake Ontario. Toronto is an international centre of business, finance, arts, and culture, and is recognized as one of the most multicultural and cosmopolitan cities in the world.

Huntsville, Ontario Town in Ontario, Canada

Huntsville is the largest town in the Muskoka Region of Ontario, Canada. It is located 215 kilometres (134 mi) north of Toronto and 130 kilometres (81 mi) south of North Bay.

Peninsula Lake lake in Ontario, Canada

Peninsula Lake in the District Municipality of Muskoka, is one of the (North) Muskoka Lakes.


On the night of August 19th, 1923, fire broke out in the centre block, originating either in the elevator shaft or the adjacent baggage room. [6] It quickly spread throughout the wooden structure, and reduced it to ashes in under half an hour. 8 people, all women, were killed in the immediate course of the blaze, [7] with a 9th woman dying four days later as a result of her injuries, [8] Several of the women who died were maids, sleeping in the bedrooms in the central tower, directly above where the flames originated. [1] [6] Inquiries and investigations held after the fire revealed that there had been no fire alarm installed in the building, no signed escape routes and only inadequate fire-fighting equipment. In addition to this, the fire hydrants in the building were rendered useless because the water supply had been shut off at the main valve in the kitchen. Fire escapes from upper floor rooms mainly consisted of ropes, and even these were not provided in the rooms of the centre tower. [9]


The destruction of the Wawa by fire, like many similar hotels of the era, [10] led to an increased emphasis being placed on fire safety in newer establishments. The next large hotel to be built on Lake of Bays, the Bigwin Inn, advertised itself as being fireproof, [11] with many of its buildings being built of stone and concrete, instead of the otherwise ubiquitous wood. In addition to this, the Bigwin Inn comprised several separate buildings in order to prevent the spread of fire, a measure which was also recommended by a jury in the wake of the Wawa fire. [12]

A view of Lake of Bays as seen from the former property of the Wawa Hotel in 2009 Lake of Bays, from the old Wawa property.jpg
A view of Lake of Bays as seen from the former property of the Wawa Hotel in 2009

After the fire, C.O. Shaw, owner of the Bigwin Inn, purchased the land and then sold it to private individuals, including Frank Leslie (later owner of the Bigwin Inn) [11] and James Watson Bain, son of James Bain, the first chief librarian of the Toronto Public Library. The Leslie cottage is now owned by Graeme Ferguson. One of only two surviving Wawa structures still stands on this property, a white gazebo set on Norway Point. [6] The other structure which survived the fire is the purser's cabin from the end of the Wawa dock, which now serves as a railway station on the restored portage railway. [3] [6] The cribs from the original Wawa dock are still in place, but now present a slight navigational hazard as they are entirely underwater.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Curtis, Daphne (2008). The Life of Norway Point (PDF). Baysville, Canada: Lake of Bays Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 2016-01-24.
  2. 1 2 3 Lake of Bays, Highlands of Ontario. Grand Trunk Railway. 1915. Retrieved 2016-01-24.
  3. 1 2 History. The Huntsville and Lake of Bays Railway Society. Retrieved 2016-01-24.
  4. Google Maps satellite view of the Wawa site
  5. "Excursion to the Wawa Hotel, Lake of Bays". The Toronto World. 1919-06-24. Retrieved 2016-01-24.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Hind, Andrew; Da Silva, Maria (2011). Muskoka Resorts: Then and Now. Toronto: Dundurn Press. pp. 27–38. ISBN   978-1-55488-857-3 . Retrieved 2016-01-24.
  7. "Recovers 8 Bodies from Wawa Ruins". Schenectady Gazette. 1923-08-21. Retrieved 2016-01-24.
  8. "One More Victim of Wawa Fire". The Quebec Daily Telegraph. 1923-08-24. Retrieved 2016-01-24.
  9. "Hotel Management at Wawa Severely Blamed in Report". The Montreal Gazette. 1923-10-05. Retrieved 2016-01-24.
  10. "Up in Flames: The History of Fire in Muskoka Region". Virtualmuseum.ca. Canadian Museum of History. Retrieved 2016-01-24.
  11. 1 2 "Bigwin History". The Library of the Collective Human Record. Retrieved 2016-01-24.
  12. "Jury Gives Verdict in Wawa Disaster". The Smith's Falls Record News. 1923-09-11. Retrieved 2016-01-24.