16 Apr

Thorel House, Lake Rosseau, then and now

I headed out in the early morning determined to get a photo of this cool boathouse that I knew about on Lake Rosseau. I was aware there were a few cottages around the bay and was very careful not to disturb anyone. Who wants to see and hear the boathouse papparzi while awakening to fresh morning coffee.


I discovered that this is the original site of the Thorel House Hotel. Details are sketchy however I did find someone that passed me an old photo from years gone by. (see below) When I took this shot I was standing just to the left of the old car. The house on the left is still there and it has been beautifully restored. In fact when doing research I discovered it was available for rent.


In: boathouses of muskoka, historic muskoka, in and around muskoka ontario

30 Responses
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  1. Jenn Jilks says:

    I love it! Then and now!

  2. GIL GRANT says:

    have not been in Muskoka, since the 70,s brings back great memories would love to get our 60 Chris cruiser up this summer from FL

  3. Great shots, really enjoy the now/then comparison set up. Love historic photos!

  4. George Rettger says:

    My mother first stayed at Thorel House when she was 16 and I took my first steps on there main dock. We summered there until they closed the resort. Really miss that, it was a great place to grow up.

  5. S. Thorel says:

    Thanks for posting this. I am a Thorel, and spent many Christmas mornings, summer vacations, and other visits in that very house. I am happy that other people are getting to see it, as it is a big part of my heritage. If anyone is interested in any more information on the hotel, the house(before it’s recent sale and renovation), or the property, post here, and I will get you an answer.

  6. Drew Clarke says:

    Happened on this site by chance. Went to Thorel House with my parents every summer it seemed and have great childhood memories. This was back in the 50’s and 60’s. We stayed in the hotel, the house and the boathouse. Always brought an outboard motor and cruised the lake in the cedar lapstrake rowboats every day. Would love to see any pictures you might have.

  7. Anna Kerr says:

    I was a waitress at Thorel House in 1955. 3 1/2 years later married one of the fellows (Ron Kerr) whom I served on my first weekend along with several of his friends. He had been going to Thorel House since he was a child with his parents, Bill and Barbara Kerr. We continued going there every summer with our three children until it closed. Many of the people that vacationed at Thorel House went there year after year.

    George Rettger: You may recall my in-laws or Ron.

  8. Rhonda Lorch says:

    My grandmother, Ida Paisley, worked at Thorel House as a maid/waitress when she was about 15 years old – 1914 or so. She spoke very kindly of Mrs Thorel who taught her to polish glasses and serve at table in the dining room. Lovely to see these photos.

  9. George Rettger says:

    Ann Kerr, The name is very familiar, but I’m not sure if it was because of my parents talking of the Kerr’s or a vague memory of mine. Ron or your in-laws would probably remember my parents as well as S. Thorel. My parents were Kay and Whitey(George) Rettger. My mother is now 87, but started going to Thorel with her Aunt Ruth, when she was in her teens. I took my first steps at 11 months, that would have been in 1953, and went there until they closed. Have great memories of palying with the Thorel kids, Lynn, Glen, Ray, Eric. All great memories.

  10. Ross McEachern says:

    George and Florence Thorel were my aunt and uncle. I spent many Summers and Holidays at Thorel House.
    I stumbled on this site as a result of a discussion I had with another Uncle Robert McMaster this past weekend. We had been talking about the Heather Belle and the fact it was still in existence and in the possession of a gentleman on Lake od Bays. Many fond memories.

    Ross McEachern

  11. John Fortune says:

    Our family used to go to Thorel House 1953 – 54 – 55 ………. I have many wonderful memories of our holidays there !! What do I remember the most? The smell of pine trees, the clinking of dishes in the dining room (and sometimes the odd CRASH too, smiling), the chippies as they scurried about and the Thorel’s used to have a dog at that time – I think his name was Duffer.

    I remember swimming in the little bay down from the boathouse and washing off the ‘tea’ when we came out of the water and often getting leaches on my legs if I went swimming by the ladder part-way down from the boathouse. I always wanted to go down the slide on the dock but wasn’t allowed because I was too young – I was 6 or 7 years old at the time.

    I once dangled a fishing line between the boards in the boathouse and caught a fish (probably a sunfish) but it was too big to pull back between the boards so I had to cut the line and let it go.

    My brother almost drowned in that swimming area (well we thought so at the time)! We had blow-up toys that we were floating around on, I had a green speckled frog and he had a red and white duck, and my brother’s flipped over and he was caught up-side-down !! There was an older girl standing close to him (I think she was a Thorel) and she flipped him back over. He came up spluttering and coughing and that was the end of our blow-up toys, mom took them away.

    A year or so ago I was able to track down Eric Thorel and he actually came to my house one Sunday afternoon. I was VERY honoured to have him sit in my dining room that day with his boxes of pictures and listen to the fascinating stories he told with those pictures. He gave me a plate from the hotel dining room that I proudly have hanging in a frame in my dining room now.

    Thorel House was an incredible place to go and still is in my mind !!!

  12. Nancy Givan Bose says:

    My family and I vacationed in the old Thorel House in the 50’s and 60’s. A lot of very happy memories So glad to see it alive and well again

  13. alan greenberg says:

    Darcia and I are the proud owners of part of the property that was known as Thorel House.

    We purchased the property in June 2010 and have done extensive renovations to the home of the previous owner, Gord Lang, whom we understand purchased the property in the late ’60’s. We also built the new boathouse which you have shown. You did a great job with that shot.

    The views from the property are fabulous.

    We have heard some stories of the history of Thorel House and George’s granddaughter Kim gave us a few pictures. We would be thrilled to hear from others. We hope our family and friends make their own magic memories in the years to come.

  14. BLAINE MacGruther says:

    I think my grandfather owned the proparty many years ago. His name was G. A. Mortimer and think he tried to farm it. I remember my mother telling me that he once owned property on Lake Rousseau and sold it and it became a resort that later burned down. She had a brother named Ross that she said was named after the lake, another brother had Lake as a middle name. Today I found old family photos of a trip my mother took to Lake Rousseau in the 1960,so with notes on the back showing parts of this story including what looks like Shorel House.
    If this fits the history of the thorel House I would like to know what you could add to my story
    BLaine MacGruther

  15. Drew Clarke says:

    Blaine: The most famous resort on Lake Rosseau that burned down was the Royal Muskoka. I may be wrong, but I don’t recall Thorel House burning down.
    This site references the fires on Lake Rosseau:

  16. BLAINE MacGruther says:

    DREW: Thanks for your response. To add to my story I found that my grandfather George Mortimer (age 10) was in the 1881 census of Simcoe East, (Medora and Wood) and his father James Lake Mortimer was listed as being a clergyman. I now think it was my great grandfather who must have been the land holder in that area.

    I will continue looking for more info and look forward to visiting Lake Rousseau this spring.


  17. John fortune says:

    Is there a way to post photos to this blog? I’m sure we all have pictures that we could share. And as Alan Greenberg stated at the end of his post ” the magic memories” we all have …….. it truly was a magical place

  18. Krista says:

    I am going to view the property tomorrow – so nice to read everyone’s messages – we are considering it as it is for sale – looks like a wonderful place for a family

  19. Betsy Givan Martens says:

    My younger sister Nancy Givan Bose (see her earlier comment) and I used to vacation there with our family. Every summer in the late 1950s and early 1960s we’d pack our car in Dearborn, Michigan, and make the long drive up through Ontario. It was always a milestone and a marker that we were getting close when we got to Gravenhurst and Orillia.

    There were a lot of Detroit-area people who vacationed at Thorel House. They had motorboats and water skis and were generous in their use of gasoline to let all us kids take a turn being pulled up out of the water and over the lake, thrilling all the way. I remember one in particular, an auto worker with blonde hair that everyone knew as “Whitey.” We’d all go the same week each year to hang out with the same families. The dining room had assigned tables, and we loved hearing the summer girls tell us the entree (though we didn’t yet know to call it that!). Their Canadian accents were so charming. “Ham” or “lamb” usually came out “Hom” or “Lom.” I imagine we all probably sounded equally exotic with our Detroiter accents.

    One summer, when I was fifteen, I applied for a summer job at Thorel House. I really had no experience at all, but Mrs. George Thorel kindly accommodated me by offering me a job in the tuck shop, which was run by Mrs. Thring, Ruth Thring. It paid $170 for the summer, plus room and board. Betty Lou Thorel (an older teen) and someone named Paul picked me up at the train and drove me back to Thorel House, where I lived in a house with my roommate Dawn and some other girls, one of whom was named Speedy. (I have photos of all these people somewhere.)

    The tuck shop was a favorite gathering spot in the evenings, when the adults came down to socialize. I remember when my parents taught everyone how to dance the cha-cha, which they’d learned from me! What fun. My job was to pry apart the flat, frozen hamburger patties and throw them on the grill. I sold gum, candy, ice cream bars, all the usual things you’d expect to find in a little resort shop. In the evenings we summer workers would stay up late, hanging out in the kitchen and eating pie (!), just being teenagers. This of course made it very hard to get up in the morning. One night we all went skinny-dipping off the fishing dock, near where the rowboats were kept.

    I remember as well the huge boulders that characterized that part of middle Ontario. You could follow a narrow trail up past the main building, looking out over the beautiful Lake Rousseau. You had to be careful not to slip, because it was quite a drop down to the water, with only a few more boulders to break your fall.

    These are such vivid memories, even now, almost 60 years later. Thorel House was a big part of my growing up, not simply a place we vacationed. When I heard that the old hotel had burned down, I was quite sad, but I’m glad to see these collective memories being gathered here.

  20. George Rettger says:

    Betty GivanMartens, My name is George Rettger. The man you knew as Whitey was my father. My mother first started going to Thorel House when she was 16. Her Aunt, Ruth Was the Ruth Thring you worked with. I remembe the tuck shop well. We used to come up there usually the last two weeks of July and always had our water skis with us. Dad was always taking people water skiing. I remember several different families from the Detroit area being up at the same time. Unfortunately the only name I can remember was a retired police officer named Moose DeSchmidt. He was there for the lake trout fishing. He and my mother would fish together along with our Aunt Ruth Thring. I am still friends with most of George and Shirley Thorel’s kids. The girl BettyLou was the elder George Thorel’s youngest and the last of George Sr’s children still living. I hope I was able to jog your memory some .

  21. Ed says:

    Thank you to everyone who has shared their beautiful memories here.

  22. Betsy Givan Martens says:

    George Rettger: WOW! Thanks for connecting a few of the dots. Isn’t it incredible what a strong and wonderful experience Thorel House was for so many of us. After I posted my recollection, I realized that I probably got some of the details a little fuzzy, but the gist of the memory was there. One of the things I found myself wondering: was Whitey from Detroit? I know Mrs. Thring, as I of course called her when I was 15, was definitely Canadian.

    Another Detroit family was Italian-American. Three daughters as I recall: Maureen (Mo) and her sister were often in the water with the skis, and their sister was a little quieter, more into tennis (remember that court?). She was planning on becoming a nun. The family (wish I could remember their names) always drove up with a boat hitched to the car.

    Do you remember that great dock you could dive off of into the cold, deep water. What a thrill that was! Talk about taking the plunge.

    Somewhere … somewhere in a storage locker two miles from where I live in Chicago: my entire photo collection, my life project (as a photographer) with photos of all kinds. I was always taking pictures, and somewhere I have a shot of everyone who was there one week. Remember how everyone used to gather in a group to say goodbye when a family was leaving? What a community. FWIW, this week I travel to Dearborn for my 55th high school reunion. Pure Michigan will always have a place in my heart, but Thorel House gets the prize for best summer memories.

  23. George Rettger says:

    Betsy, As I said, Whitey was my father and we are from Cleveland. My Great Aunt Ruth, Mrs. Thring as you knew her was a retired surgical nurse from one of the largest hospitals in Toronto. She had a sister that had been a missionary doctor in India. I somewhat remember the three sisters that you mentioned but I can’t remember their names. Summering at Thorel is the main reason I play the lottery. Hope to win enough to buy a place on Lake Rosseau. I’m fortunate to still be friends with the Thorel children and still fondly remember my summers at Thorel House.

  24. Karen Meus says:

    Thorel House was a major part of my family’s (Campanelli, 3 girls) life. We vacationed there in the 1950’s -60 with our cousins ( the DeSmet family, also 3 girls) From reading some of Besty Gavin Martens comments, I believe we are the Italian/American families you remember. Maybe since both families always arrived together the parent, siblings or cousins relationships were often confusing to the other guests. Our families would form a two car caravan for the long journey from Detroit to the beautiful north country. It was my Uncle, Maurice and Aunt Florence DeSmet who towed the fully packed boat. Their daughters were Joanne, Maureen (mo) and Donna. My parents were Sal (brother of Florence) and Sue Campanell. Their daughters, Marilyn, Carol and (me) Karen, the tennis player as you recall. Siblings and cousin pairing usually followed thusly, Joanne & Marilyn, Donna & Carol and Maureen & Karen creating complete confusing as to who was a DeSmet or a Campanelli. There were many things to love about those peaceful days at Thorel. I especially remember the fun evenings playing cards. Or bingo nights with the McRobbs father (Rob?) and son (Paul) calling plays. Prizes were always something from Proctor & Gamble, the company were Mr McRobb worked. One fact correction, Maurice (moose) DeSmet wasn’t a police officer. He owned a bar in Detroit. Mi. We all share such wonderful memories of our days at Thorel House. It’s great to see that others also feel the same as we do. Thank you to everyone for sharing.

  25. Betsy Givan Martens says:

    Yes, the Campanellis!! Thank you, Karen, for filling in this wonderful part of the Thorel House story. Wow!

  26. Betsy Givan Martens says:

    Does anyone remember the Heather Belle? I don’t know if it was owned by the Thorels or just commissioned, but it would take off on short trips around the lake, going past the fancy spots like the Windemere. I have a photo of my mom sitting in the Heather Belle and waving to us who remained on the dock as the boat pulled away.

  27. Ross McEachern says:

    My Uncle George (Thorel) maintained the Heather Belle so immaculately. It was one of a kind. I do have some history about it but it is at my cottage so I am unable to refresh my memory.
    The Heather Belle the last I heard was owned by a gentleman by the name of Ferguson on Lake of Bays. He has a collection of Boats and was featured in a book” Boathouses of Muskoka.”

  28. George Rettger says:

    Karen Meus, I have very strong memories of your Dad and especially your Uncle., his nickname was Moose. Your dad,Uncle and my mom used to fish together and good naturedly compete with each other when it came to lake trout. There was also a good natured rivalry between Sal, Moose and my dad because of the sports teams. We were from Cleveland and your families from the Detroit area. I also remember your uncle kidding my dad because we had smaller boat than he did, but dad was able to even things out a bit when Moose ran out of gas and my dad towed him in. I will always remember our summers at Thorel and your families are a good part of why. I still vacation near Lake Rosseau but can’t quite find the same ambiance. When you are able to go through your pictures and come across pictures of Kay and Whitey , I hope you can remember the good times we all had. George Rettger

  29. Karen Meus says:

    George thanks for your comments. I’m sure we have pictures stored somewhere of our vacations at Thorel House. Hope we can find them. I do know there were lots of home movies, the old 8 mm type, of all the waterskiing but they are certainly gone by now but the fond memories still remain. Thorel house was a special place. It’s nice to hear that others feel the same.

  30. Karen, Meus, I was going through old pictures and found a picture of you and your family from 1956. If you can send me your address I’ll send you the picture. My email is grettger@sbcglobal.net.

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