Click on the markers in the map above to see images and descriptions from our favourite stops along the route.
When picturing Muskoka, you can be forgiven if Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn come to mind. After all, a lot of attention is paid to the who’s who of the Millionaire’s Row in “Malibu North.”
There’s another side to Muskoka, however, you likely haven’t experienced, and fall is the most beautiful time of year to check it out. This tour takes place in Ryde, the 136-year-old former township that was one of the first parts of Muskoka to be settled by the Free Methodist pioneers.
Back in the day, Free Methodist women were not allowed to be idle, so they socialized by making quilts together. Last year, a group of locals organized a driving tour called the Ryde Barn Quilt Trail that highlights 24 areas of historical significance, each featuring a quilt pattern in colours that nod at the community’s rural roots – John Deere Green, Massey Ferguson Red and New Holland Blue, for example.
I took the tour with one of those locals, my mother-in-law, Jennie Nice, who has cottaged in the area for decades and now calls it home. We started at the north end of the route on Doe Lake Road, where the first quilt had to be relocated from the nearby Donkey Shack and Feed Store (the horses kept knocking it down).
At site No. 10 in Barkway Township, if you look carefully, you’ll spot the old hall that housed meetings of the secretive Loyal Orange Order, a group of Irish Protestants loyal to the British monarchy. The Orange hall was also the place for square dances and parties, much to the chagrin of the rival Methodists. Their Holy Manger Church (site No. 11), now an Anglican church, was my favourite part of the tour.
Of course, being a local, my tour guide was full of stories not found in the booklet, including the tale of the murderous Black Bill Ruttan. In 1914, furious that his daughter, Mina, had married without his permission, Black Bill went on a shooting rampage that left Mina and her brother-in-law dead. He then burned the barns of three enemies before leading police on a five-day manhunt through the wilderness. It’s the stuff of Hollywood movies, and it happened near site No. 24.
There’s lots to learn about pioneer life while driving the quilt trail. Tell the kids candy cost a penny back then and watch their eyes grow wide in disbelief.
Or maybe they’ll ask, “What’s a penny?”
Speaking of candy, if you want some treats or refreshments, the Summerland store at site No. 21 is the only place along the tour to get some. It’s bright blue, so you can’t miss it.
If barns and churches aren’t really the kids’ thing, perhaps a scavenger hunt would capture their interest. The Muskoka Area Geocachers have placed a series of caches in secret locations along the route. To take part, register at geocaching.com, then follow the instructions for downloading the app to your phone.
You probably won’t find any celebrities along the Ryde Barn Quilt Trail, but you will see some gorgeous fall colours and learn a lot about the unsung heroes who made Ontario’s famous cottage country what it is today.
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