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

52 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.

  31. John Fortune says:


    Gee, reading these stories certainly “tugs” !!

    I am 74 years old this year and was 6 or 7 when our family was there. So much to remember….. I smiled reading about the tuck shop, I bought a purple Thorel House pennant there one year and when Eric Thorel came to my house a few years ago I gave it to him.

    There was another boat that I remember taking from Torel House to the white church on the rocks, her name was PEERLESS, I have pictures showing her name on the starboard bow.

    Sooooooooooo many wonderful memories, we are all blessed !!

    Thank you for sharing

  32. Ed Boutilier says:

    Hi John, Thanks for leaving a comment. Should you not be aware the Peerless II is still cruising the lakes. Rather than delivering fuel it is now turned into a sightseeing boat that can also be hired for special occasions like weddings.

  33. John says:

    Yes, I’ve seen pictures in the Bracebridge paper about her. I tried to contact the current owners that I have a picture but they must not have believed me because they never replied. I can remember taking tourist rides to the church on the rocks and eating Hostess Potato chips …… seems to me I got in trouble for getting crumbs on the cushions

  34. Ed Boutilier says:

    Hi John, I will send you an email. I have a way to connect with the owners. Thanks

  35. Drew Clarke says:

    Hi John: I too am 74 years and often think about the times at Thorel House and taking the boat with our rented motor over to the Church and then racing others over to Cleveland’s House. Who knows we might have even been there at the same time!

  36. John Fortune says:

    Hello Drew !
    This is a long-shot question …… are you the Drew Clarke who owned Meadow Mills Pontiac Buick in Mississauga?
    And yes, I too wonder about our timing at Thorel House. I remember the first year we went we stayed in the lodge but the following years we roomed in the boathouse (I don’t know why we switched, probably because it was cheaper).
    We sometimes rented one of those double tenders and my dad would row us around the bay. I think I have a picture somewhere of 3 of us in a boat – me my brother and another boy and dad growing. I’ll have to look for it.

    Again Ed, thank you so much for stirring our memories

  37. Drew Clarke says:

    No that was not me. I believe it might have been Clarke Addison. I was a dealer in Southwest Ontario for 30 years but I retired & immigrated to the US.

    We stayed in various rooms in different locations over the years, including the boathouse. I always remember seeing some of the swimmers coming up with leeches on them and pouring salt on them to get them off. At that age, it always scared me to swim from the main dock.
    I remember them ringing the bell at mealtimes. Funny the things that stick with you.

  38. John M Fortune says:

    Were you GM Drew?
    Gee I remeber your name …… and youre right, Addison was his name. Our family is actually related to the Addison’s, very distant though.
    I was a GM parts manager in Toronto all my career.

    Oh how I remember the leeches !! and YESSSSSSSssssss the dinner bell !! I have a picture of the dining room with the bell on a table in the centre of the room. As I type, I can hear the clatter of dishes and cuttlery (and a plate dropped).

    Perhaps memories tug so hard as we get older (hahahahah)

    stay well Drew

  39. John M Fortune says:

    Hi Drew
    your name is awfully familiar, were you GM ?
    And yes, you’re right about Addison
    I was a GM parts manager in Toronto all my career, except a couple of years at a GM store in Bracebridge.

    Oh how I remember the leeches, and YESSSSSSSSsssssss that dinner bell !! I have a picture of the diningroom with the bell on a table in the centre of the room

    Thanks to Ed for this blog, we can all hear the dinner bell

    stay well, be blessed

  40. DougTeeple says:

    April 11 2021

    I spent many summers at the Thorel house. I was related to Carole Thorel. I remember going to the kitchen and having brown sugar sandwiches. I lam now a diabetic l guess that did not work, ha ha.
    Carole lives in Branford Ontario. I lost touch with her this year she changed her land line to a cell phone I guess? I will be trying to get to Thorel house property this year if the covid settles down. I would also like to see Mr Ferguson and the Heather Belle. I went for many rides in the boat.. It was great reading the great stories Of our young past. What a great time it was.

    Doug Teeple,
    Courtice Ontario.

  41. Ed Boutilier says:

    Hello Doug,
    Thanks for checking in. I hope you make it up to Muskoka for a visit and will find some of your old connections. Perhaps there is someone on this post that will know hoe to connect with Carole Thorel

  42. Doug Teeple says:

    April 11 2021

    Thanks for getting back to me. You might be right, maybe someone will still be in contact with Carole.
    There should be some relations still in the area. Carole is a minister in the Branford area now. She lost her husband ( Robert ) in 2017. This information may be helpful for someone…

    Doug Teeple.

  43. Drew Clarke says:

    Hi John: I was with MIC until 1972 when I joined Alex Irvine Chev Olds. I spent 2 years at Parkwood Central then back to Irvine’s as GSM before becoming a Dealer in 1984.

    Small world isn’t it?

  44. Gayle Bonish says:

    Re: Graeme Ferguson’s book about Heather Belle

    Clarifying a Thorel family ownership reference in the book.

    Ross McEachern, Doug Teeple – Perhaps you can help me or anyone else, please jump in. Tight deadline.

    My name is Gayle Bonish, I worked for Graeme Ferguson, co-inventor of IMAX starting in 1981. He was my mentor and friend. Years later, after retirement, he asked me to work on his passion project, a book about Heather Belle and the original inventor of the Naphtha engine. He started it 20 years ago. I’m now finishing for him.

    Graeme passed in May, 2021 before the book The Naphtha Revolution was published. With the exception of a few revisions, the book was complete. He left it in my hands to take it over the finish line.

    So, here I am, July 5, with a July 8 deadline to deliver final files to the printer and I ran into a fact-checking snag.

    Graeme had been in contact with the late George R. (Geordie) Thorel and received information about Heather Belle. He also spoke to Norman Stripp.

    However, I’m looking for clarification in what he wrote in the acknowledgments and text of the book regarding the Thorels.

    Below is the text from the book. I’m wondering if the George references are mixed up.

    Book text
    In 1914, Mrs. Miles sold the boat to George R. Thorel who needed a hotel boat for his new summer resort, Thorel House, on Lake Rosseau. By then the alco-vapor engine had been replaced by an internal combustion engine. Heather Belle must have fulfilled her duties well, for she continued at Thorel House for 54 years. Norman Stripp, who skippered Shirl Evon, another hotel boat, recounted, “The Thorels looked after the boat like a baby. They wouldn’t let you near her.” George R.’s son (George H.S.) was her only skipper. Sometimes he would let other people steer, but never let anyone else dock her.

    Book Acknowledgments
    Many Canadians were more than willing to share their knowledge of antique boats… and a number of members of the Thorel family, particularly the late George R. (Geordie) Thorel, whose father, George H.S. Thorel, operated Heather Belle as a hotel boat for 54 years.

    My email is gbonish@gmail.com. Feel free to contact me. Also, I’m happy to answer any questions you might have. Sounds like we all have some great Heather Belle memories.



  45. Ed Boutilier says:

    Gayle, hopefully someone here can assist you. Especially with such a tight deadline.

  46. Gayle Bonish says:

    Thanks Ed.

    It definitely is tight. Graeme had been working on the book for 20 years. I worked on it for seven.

    We sent advanced copies of the book to some colleagues and friends for comments, one of which, flagged the discrepancy.

    Graeme left me extensive notes for changes before he passed. Unfortunately his note beside the Thorel passage is TBD.

    I think that there might be many George’s in the family.



  47. Betsy Givan Martens says:

    Gayle, I have a photo of my mother sitting by a window in the Heather Belle and waving to people on the dock as the boat pulled away on its trip to … not sure. Another port, perhaps, and a shopping opportunity. It’s somewhere in my vast photo archive, and I’ve even spotted in the last five years or so. I need to pull it out, scan it, and post it here.

    I have another photo of a Saturday morning departure ritual. Everyone staying at Thorel House would gather as a group to wave goodbye to people who were leaving at the end of their stay. It’s with the photo of the Heather Belle.

    I think I can get to it in the next month. I am extremely busy, with too many obligations, and I have a writing deadline which has to take precedence over all else. But after that … I promise!

  48. Gayle Bonish says:

    Hi Betsy.

    Looking forward to seeing the photos.

    If by chance you know any Thorel family members, perhaps you could mention that I’m trying to find out if in the two statements below, the names are correct.

    1. George R.’s son (George H.S.) was her only skipper.

    2. …the late George R. (Geordie) Thorel, whose father, George H.S. Thorel, operated Heather Belle as a hotel boat for 54 years.



  49. Kim Dunbrook (Thorel) says:

    Hi Gayle,
    I’m the daughter of George R. Thorel…grand-daughter of George HS. Thorel and great grand-daughter of George R. Thorel. “George” was a very popular name within our family… regrettably, adding to your confusion.
    May great grandfather George R. Thorel was the one who purchased the Heather Bell and his grandson of the same name, George R. Thorel is the one who shared information on
    the Heather Belle with Graham Ferguson.
    Hope this helps.
    I would love to get a copy of the book😊 …let me know where to order it from.

    Kim Dunbrook (Thorel)

  50. Betsy Givan Martens says:

    Gayle, I’m pretty sure that Ed Boutilier, who runs this site, can answer your questions about the Thorels. Good luck!

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