Bracebridge is a town and the seat of the Muskoka District Municipality in Ontario. The town was built around a waterfall on the Muskoka River in the centre of town, and is known for its other nearby waterfalls (Wilson’s Falls, High Falls, etc.). It was first incorporated in 1875. It was named after a book, Bracebridge Hall by Washington Irving, which the postmaster in charge of naming towns was reading at the time. The same novel also provided the name for nearby Gravenhurst.
The town is the seat of the district government, a centre of tourism for the Muskoka area, and home to several historical sites, such as the Inn at the Falls, Woodchester Villa, and the Silver Bridge, which joins Manitoba Street with Ecclestone Drive. The Silver Bridge was repaired in 2002. Bracebridge is also the home of the Muskoka Cottage Brewery.
The character of the town of Bracebridge is shaped by its proximity to Lake Muskoka to which it is connected by 6 miles of the Muskoka River, and by the promise of abundant water power afforded by the great waterfall at the foot of the town. Early growth of the town occurred in proximity to the falls which powered the first factory. The arrival of the Grand Trunk Railway cemented the town’s role as a transportation hub for the area.
Modern settlement of the town began in the 1860s, beginning at first with a few log huts. The Muskoka colonization road had been completed to the first falls on the north branch of the Muskoka River by 1862. Entrepreneurs began to take advantage of the area’s water power. With the advent of steamship service on Lake Muskoka a few years later, Bracebridge prospered as the main distribution centre for the region.
By 1870 the village had a population of about 400, growing to reach a total of about 2,000 by the turn of the 20th century. The village was incorporated in 1875 and became a town under an Act of Parliament in 1889. In 1894 Bracebridge became the first town in Ontario to have its own hydro generating station.
The municipal boundaries of Bracebridge also encompass the smaller communities of Clear Lake, Falkenburg (ghost town), Falkenburg Station, Fraserburg, Germania, Lakewood, Matthiasville, Monsell (ghost town), Purbrook, Rocksborough, Springdale Park, Stoneleigh, Uffington and Vankoughnet.
The Bracebridge railway station receives service six times per week by the Ontario Northland Northlander line. Bracebridge also receives coach bus service departing from the Riverside Inn that takes passengers as far south as Toronto and as far North as North Bay. Bracebridge is the home and main hub of Muskoka Transport, a successful shipping and receiving company owned and operated by the Hammond family.
Bracebridge is served by several elementary schools and two high schools: Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School, and Saint Dominic Catholic Secondary School. Public education is administered by the Trillium Lakelands District School Board, and Catholic education is administered by the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board.
Nipissing University and Georgian College have a shared satellite campus in the town. Both Georgian College and Nipissing University expanded their campuses in 2008. Georgian has moved into the town’s former swimming pool/recreation centre, the “Centennial Centre” on Wellington Street. Georgian’s grand opening date was September 11, 2007. Nipissing University opened its doors next to Georgian the following year for the 2008 semester. Nipissing University has also completed a multi-million dollar, on-campus expansion of its facilities by adding a 52-bed residence building. The residence also doubles as a hotel during the tourist busy summer months while school is out.
The town of Bracebridge built a state of the art Sportsplex in 2006 which contains a rock climbing wall, indoor track, eight-lane swimming pool and fitness studio. The town partnered with the Muskoka Limberettes Gymnastics Club to create a gymnastics facility in the same building. The Sportsplex is part of the same complex including the Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School and Rene M. Caisse Memorial Theatre. Bracebridge also opened a new 3.75 Million dollar softball venue called Peake Fields at Verena Acres. This facility supports a Mens League, Women’s League, and Minor Ball, as well as slow pitch. It was opened this summer on August 15. The Mens fastball League has been running for some 35 years, and has produced 4 Ontario Intermediate Fastball Championships, and 3 Canadian Championships, with all local players.
Bracebridge is the home of Santa’s Village, a Christmas theme park, established in 1955. It was inspired by the town’s location at 45 degrees latitude, halfway between the equator and the North Pole. Bracebridge also contains Woodchester Villa, an unusual octagonal house.