Algonquin Highlands has an interesting history of people whose tenacity found them waging a hardscrabble battle with Mother Nature. Logging was short-lived, farming was a rocky challenge and tourism is what finally opened up the floodgates. Come and peek into our past and meet some fascinating souls.
This heritage of our township comes from the unique histories of our individual communities: Carnarvon, Stanhope, Dorset and Oxtongue Lake.
Carnarvon today is but a crossroads of two highways straddling Algonquin Highlands and its neighbour to the south, Minden Hills. Yet beyond the stoplight and the handful of businesses is a settlement originally called Brown's Corners where the original "union school", Fry's blacksmith shop and Rogers' Store lie quietly waiting to tell their stories, where creative businesses flourish in these re-purposed buildings and where an entire generation grew up at Medley's Dance n' Dine.
Stanhope remains the "township without a town"; a community of loggers and farmers where the absence of a village forced people to create their own sense of community. Home of the Hawk Lake Log Chute, famed racehorse Guilford Bay and myriad colourful characters, the Stanhope area of Algonquin Highlands is the headwaters of the Trent-Severn Waterway and is a picturesque and storied community of toil, innovation, tenacity and creativity.
Dorset is the township's only real town and has the interesting (and challenging) situation of being split in half by the boundary line between Algonquin Highlands and Lake of Bays townships. Its settlement history goes back to 1859.
Dorset's story is steeped in its waterways where the legendary Royal Mail Ship steamboats of the early 1900s plied their trade to the grand old hotels such as the Bigwin Inn. At its height the town boasted five hotels, three stores, three churches, two sawmills, and one jail. The area's culture was based on a tough and self-sufficient style of people: farmers, loggers, fishers, carpenters, guides and mid-wives. Today its culture is embodied by the Dorset Lookout Tower, the rebirth of the Bigwin Steamship and a deep and multi-generational love of the town by seasonal visitors.
At Oxtongue Lake, people initially settled the area to service the huge lumber companies in the Algonquin region and as a result, a small community sprang up around those services. The rugged hinterland was an attraction to the likes of department store founder Timothy Eaton, the Group of Seven. Oxtongue Lake's long flat surface was the testing ground for Art Asbury's Miss Canadian and the hydroplane speed records he set in the 1950s.Today, older and newer generations embrace a fresh new spirit entrenched in notable beginnings.