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Outcroppings of pink and gray granite, drumlins of conifer and deciduous forest, and thousands of freshwater lakes formed from glaciers during the Ice Age characterize the rustic Muskoka region north of Toronto. Called Muskoka for Lake Muskoka, the largest of some 1,600 lakes in the area, this region is a favorite playground of those who live in and around Toronto. Place names such as Orillia,
Gravenhurst, Haliburton, Algonquin, and Muskoka reveal the history of the land's inhabitants, from Algonquin tribes to European explorers to fur traders. This huge 4,761-square-km (1,838-square-mile) swath of land and lakes is also referred to colloquially as cottage country. (In Ontario, "cottage" is broadly used to describe any vacation home, from a fishing shack to a near-mansion.) The area became a haven for the summering rich and famous during the mid–19th century, when lumber barons who were harvesting near port towns set up steamship and rail lines, making travel to the area possible. Since then, cottage country has attracted urbanites who make the pilgrimage to hear the call of the loon or swat incessant mosquitoes and black flies. A few modern-day celebrities are reported to have cottages here as well, such as Bill Murray and Steven Spielberg. For the cottageless, overnight seasonal camping in a provincial park is an option, as is a stay in a rustic lodge or posh resort.
Gravenhurst is a town of approximately 10,000 and the birthplace of Norman Bethune, a surgeon, inventor, and political activist who is a Canadian...