Clear Lake Property Owners Association Clear Lake Property Owners Association
History of Clear Lake

Geological History

Some 45,000 years ago Clear Lake was formed by one of the bottom-dragging retreating and melting glaciers. Glaciers formed lakes by cutting holes in loose soil or soft bedrock, depositing material, or leaving buried chunks of ice. These chucks of ice melted to leave lake basins. When these gaps or holes filled with water, they became lakes.

The primary role of these glaciers, in lake formation, was simply to act as large dump trucks, bringing in enormous volumes of clastic sediment (rocks from other areas where it was then redistributed by 'normal' sedimentary processes). The result was the large scours with a sand bottom with a few large rock dumps; we call the largest "the shoals".

First settlers to the area

The story of the first settlers around today's village of Torrance in Wood Township was told in "The Early History of Torrance", a booklet by Mrs. G. R. Jestin, dated December 1938 published by the WI (Womens Institute).

Wood township was opened for settlement in 1869, and Mrs. Jestin tells about three men from Eramosa, a village near Guelph in southern Ontario, who travelled to Muskoka that summer to investigate the government offer of free land. They were a hardware merchant, William Torrance, and two farmers, Joseph Coulter and George Jestin, who took the train to Orillia and then a stagecoach to Gravenhurst. From Gravenhurst the steamer "Wenonah" took them part way up Lake Muskoka and they disembarked on the west shore. The country was rough and rocky, full of lakes and streams, the trees untouched by the lumberman s axe. Old Indian trapping trails through the woods guided them from lake to lake. Two locations were chosen on Lake Muskoka and one on Clear Lake.

Before returning south to Eramosa, Torrance and Coulter stayed long enough that summer to build their own log houses. Jestin's house on Clear Lake was to be built by the only other man the three settlers had found in the area, a French-Canadian lumberman named Jannack, who had a log house on an island later named Bala Park. (The narrows at the south end of Bala Park Island are shown on today's maps as "Jeannette" but local people use the name "Jannack Narrows", which appears to be historically correct.)

The three men returned a year later with their families and supplies and each bought 100 acres of land for 75 cents.

Torrance

In 1875 when the settlers petitioned for a post office, William Torrance was appointed Postmaster and the hamlet took his name. The mail was then brought from Gravenhurst by steamer in the summer and by stagecoach in winter, for by this time the Musquosh Road from Gravenhurst (the "old Gravenhurst" road) to Port Carling up the west side of Lake Muskoka was well under way.

The first settlers on Clear Lake

Although hunters and natives likely camped on our shores, the first settler we know of was George (Geo) Jestin who bought the southern bay.

William George Jestin and Mary Ann Jestin and sons, William, Richard, daughters Jane and Rebecca settled in 1869. When the history was written (sometime in the 1960s) the book said Mrs. W.H. Bailey still lived on Clear Lake near the homestead, but it isn't clear if any remains of the homestead are still there.

Map of Original Land Grants for Clear Lake
Map of Original Land Grants for Clear Lake

The next Clear Lake settler family was that of Jno. Pearce (as written on the original documents).

In 1878 Oalf Willison came from Sweden and started a Swedish settlement around Gull and Clear Lakes. He was followed by the Charles Stromberg family, and Oalf's son Peter.

Musquash road was built past Clear, Gull and Long Lakes over the burnt rocks as far south as Gravenhurst and around Muskoka Lake to Port Carling.

The rail service to Gravenhurst arrived in 1875, however rail service didn't come to this area until 1906. "Queens Walk Road", as the community calls it, is the only stop that Queen Elizabeth II made in West Muskoka when she visited in 1959.

More people arrived in this area by train and until the 1970's there was a small station on Queen's Walk road just beside the tracks. Trains used to stop there on a twice daily basis with and additional stop on weekends.

When people began to use cars they used what is now known as the "Old Gravenhurst" road which ran down Clear Lake Road, split to the left at the YMCA camp junction and went beside Gullwing, then Skunk (or Stink) Lakes. That road is now blocked by a beaver dam and has been impassable to cars for quite a few years.

First cottages

Cottages started to appear on the lake around the turn of the 20th century along the shore of southern Bay. The first "cottager" was likely a WG Rook, who bought a portion of land and build a stone cottage which he designed as a "club house" for a Clear Lake golf course. He may have built a 3 hole course include scan of golf course and photo of cottages but the club wasn't successful. He also constructed the sidewalk that runs through Torrance parallel with the highway, covering it with cinders, which was no fun to walk on hot summer days. Rook's old cottage burnt down in the 1980's and the Meadows currently own and live on the property.

Sketch of Golf Course
Sketch of Golf Course

Clear Lake From The Golf Course, Torrance, Lake Muskoka, Ont, Canada
Clear Lake From The Golf Course, Torrance, Lake Muskoka, Ont, Canada

The next earliest was likely the Maitland/Squire/Pell/McClennan cottage now owned by Mina and Mike McClennan at 1026-1 Clear Lake Road built in 1902. This was closely followed by the Lithgow's, the Ramsay's, the Lennie's, the other McClennan cottage (Charlie Keane's), the Watson's and the Algate's.

Mike McClennan has volunteered to be our 'official' Clear Lake historian and to gather a composite of stories and pictures of our lake history. If you know when your cottage was built, have some old pictures or some interesting stories, please pass them on to Mike (history@clearlakemuskoka.ca). We will scan the pictures and return them to you. Mike will also be around the lake this summer looking for your input so please help him archive our past.