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The Highlands of Canada

January 31, 2022

The Grand Trunk Railway (later amalgamated into CNR) played a huge role in tourism development in the early 20th century. For many regions, if they could persuade people that it was a destination worth visiting, it was very likely that the traveller would have to buy GTR tickets. 

The Highlands of Canada (or sometimes just Ontario) was marketed as a rugged outdoor summer playground. A place where the hunting and fishing was incredible, to go on a challenging canoe trip, or just to see the lakes on one of the beautiful white paddlewheelers that epitomized the era.

Some locals might have thought it was strange that Orillia and Peterborough were part the same tourist destination as Temagami and Cobalt. It may well have been that the marketer who dreamed it up did not really know the regions involved at all. By equating central Ontario to the Scottish Highlands, it would give visitors from afar a reference point. But there was no doubt that it was successful in attracting people—the railway was pivotal in launching tourism locally.

So what happened when people arrived in Peterborough, Orillia or Bobcaygeon expecting a backwoods hunting and shooting adventure?

One tourist wrote to complain that he expected to receive a “simple rustic whole-souled welcome” in a boarding house by the lake, only to find “a saw mill rasping the pass word of commercialism from which I was trying to get away.” He accused the promoters of employing writers who “are incompetent, careless or are misinformed.”

Though the advertising campaigns were not necessarily accurate, many of the visitors enjoyed themselves. Besides, there was nothing socially unacceptable about standing on the river bank in town shooting. Some would come back year after year. But instead of coming to the Highlands of Canada, they came to a place they knew better—the Kawarthas, the Muskokas or the Haliburton Highlands—in some places the name did stick.

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