Bala is a small community located where Lake Muskoka empties into the Moon River, within the Muskoka District of Ontario. Bala is well known for the beautiful Bala Falls, The Kee to Bala, and the Bala Cranberry Festival.
Thomas Burgess came to the area in 1868 and settled on land around the falls which fed the Musquash River from the Muskoka Lakes. He built a sawmill and store to serve the local settlers and named the new settlement after the town of Bala in Wales.
In 1914, the community of Bala was incorporated into a town and Dr. Burgess, a descendant of Thomas Burgess, became the first mayor. In 1971, the town was amalgamated with other townships and municipalities to form the Township of Muskoka Lakes.
Bala Falls is the only outlet for the dispersal of water from Lake Muskoka. This allows water to empty from the Muskoka River watershed into the Moon River and eventually Georgian Bay. In 1873 a control dam was built at Bala Falls, which still exists to this day and is known as the North Falls. The dam led to flooding, which forced the construction of a large flood control dam and channel, known today as the South Falls.
Many of the early settlers found farming extremely difficult. The rocky terrain and the shorter growing season forced many settlers to resort to logging. When steamship travel arrived on the Muskoka Lakes affluent Torontonians such as the Eaton family began to take up summer residences at Lake Muskoka and Rosseau. These earliest of tourists travelled by train to Gravenhurst and then by steamship to summer resorts along the shores of Lake Muskoka, Lake Joseph and Lake Rosseau.
Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables books, visited Bala in 1922 and based the novel The Blue Castle on the area. The Blue Castle is considered one of her few adult works of fiction and her only novel not located in PEI.
Just outside the village of Bala is the Wahta Mohawk Territory, founded in 1881 when a group of Mohawks moved from the community of Kanesatake, on the shore of the Lake of Two Mountains in south-western Quebec because of political and religious strife.
The Mohawks had lived peacefully at Kanesatake, having been converted to Catholicism by the Jesuit missionaries many years before. Part of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Mohawks became unhappy with their Roman Catholic counterparts, who were constantly making their lives more difficult.
The Chief of the Mohawks, Fleecy Cloud (Chief Fleecy Lowi Sahanatien), joined the Methodists, as did many others in his tribe. In a show of solidarity the group decided to build a new Methodist church which was quickly torn down. Dismayed, the Chief called a council meeting and twenty-nine families decided to move away to a place where they would be free to build a church.
They were offered several choices by the government in Ottawa and decided to settle in Gibson Township, near Bala, Ontario. On October 31, 1881 they came to Bala, arriving at Indian Chute by boat. Some of the names of these Mohawk settlers were Commandant, Decaire, Dewasha, LaForce, Montour, News, Sahanatien, Stock, Strength, Rivers, and White.
Bala Harbour, c1910
Courtesy of the Toronto Public Library
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