The Ojibway stands today because of the many who, when help was needed, “picked it up and carried it along.” This book is dedicated to them.

THE ESSENCE OF GEORGIAN BAY WAS WITH ME BEFORE I WAS SENTIENT, LONG BEFORE I experienced its beauty or was entranced by its call. Having swum in the wild reaches of the Irish Sea, and ridden horses on the untamed beaches of my homeland, I knew that I had found my place on this continent when I first came to Georgian Bay 20 years ago. I was immediately enraptured by this great inland sea with its rugged beauty and natural splendour. Having been born to an island of“terrible beauty,” I felt at home here, an intense feeling which ultimately inspired me to take up residence on one of Georgian Bay’s outer islands.

     Islands allow one to escape the world, to become absorbed by the pulse of nature in all its wonder. The dichotomy of the island experience is that whilst it ensures privacy, it also breeds isolation. At the same time, it lures us as humans, yet inbues us with a longing for human interaction and a sense of the “wilderness community,” which is so vibrantly epitomized in the history of the Ojibway Hotel.

     Through David Macfarlane’s marvelous abilities as a storyteller, the Ojibway’s rich history comes to life in this book. We become immersed in the stories of the region’s first settlers, the culture of the times, the impact of the railway, the hotel’s founder, sisters and personal tragedy, and the many colourful personalities who passed through the hotel’s doors, both those who visited and those who worked at the Ojibway over the past century. 

     In 1906, as the beauty of Georgian Bay was discovered in tandem with the movement towards early tourism and the beginning of the city dwellers’ love affair with the north woods, a nascent Ojibway was born. In naming the hotel, Hamilton Davis, the hotel’s founder, capitalized on the huge popularity of Longfellow’s poem The Song of Hiawatha, which was based on the Ojibway legends. In doing so, he tapped into a ready market. 

     The pioneering spirit that fuelled the Industrial Revolution in England and conquered the North American frontier had, by the turn of the century, developed an affluent middle class – individuals who now wanted to escape the city rather than build one. 

     And so came the era of the great hotels, and the Ojibway was a great hotel, indeed. It offered the romance of the north woods, a retreat to nature, and the spirit of adventure in a single trip as it lured visitors out of the city into the wilderness. Having been part of this romantic movement, the Ojibway became a beacon for the community that has grown around it. This was always a community-centric hotel where people would go on a daily basis to look up guests, catch up on gossip and pick up their freshly made cherry pie (the President’s Choice of its day, I have no doubt).

     However, this book is not only about how people spent their summers; it also tells the tale of a community with a passion for Georgian Bay – people who live simply and contemplate the past while walking on rocks that were stroked to smoothness by glaciers more than 10,000 years ago. With every chapter, the book eloquently evokes the ephemeral experience of summer – and of life itself.

     The history of the Ojibway Hotel is a history of community. It was, and still is, central to the comings and goings of the area, its deck a virtual weather vane. As William Butler Yeats has put it, “The wind is old and still at play.” 

     Welcome to the history of the Ojibway Hotel, still at play.

Hon. Hilary M. Weston

continue to { Chapter One }