It’s early afternoon, and the sky is overcast with intermittent drizzle filling the air. I’m in the little town of Severn Bridge, ON, about 60 miles north of Toronto preparing to “Ride the Edge.” Up here, the locals still don’t think they’re that far north, citing the fact that the Hudson Bay is almost 1,000 miles away. For a southern boy from North Carolina, however, we might as well be looking for Santa’s workshop.
I’m here with a group of motojournalists to ride Explorers’ Edge, a series of picturesque motorcycling roads that arch northward from Toronto through the heart of Ontario. It’s early October and the trees are brilliantly dressed in orange and red while gray skies foretell the coming winter. I set off astride a 2014 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic ready to experience Canada on some American iron.
The Muskoka Officer’s Club
From Severn Bridge, Southwood Road weaves a northwest trajectory across the province. Tight twists and abrupt elevation changes leave little time to take in the view. The big Harley requires my full attention over the blind hillcrests and curvy, wet asphalt. Still, it’s an exhilarating ride and on the few straightaways, the landscape reveals itself resplendent in autumn. As we thunder past, small lakes and ponds can be seen through the thinning leaves hinting at the diversity of these northern forests.
At 169 we start to loop back around, heading southeast toward Gravenhurst. The town is situated on Lake Muskoka, which has been a thriving tourist destination for more than a century. Alexander Cockburn first opened the lake to navigation by steamships in the 1860s. Today, Gravenhurst is the homeport for the RMS Segwun, the oldest steam-powered vessel in North America still in operation. We stop for lunch along the waterfront. The Wolff’s Den Cafe offers traditional German fare, an unexpected treat on this Canadian tour.
During World War II, Gravenhurst was home to Camp 20, a detainment center for German prisoners of war (POWs). The camp was jokingly referred to as the Muskoka Officer’s Club for the vacation-like atmosphere that was apparently in place to keep prisoners from attempting to escape. POWs had a designated swimming area on Lake Muskoka, were able to build their own aquarium, and even got paid for their work projects. Canadian hospitality at its finest.