There are certain landmarks that signal your arrival in Muskoka: the Severn River, the sudden proliferation of granite rock cuts, and the iconic Muskoka Store on Highway 11.
It was that iconic location that first drew the eye of Bruce Clark back in 1979. More specifically it caught the eye of Bruce’s mother Barb who spotted a small gourmet food shop for rent on Highway 11 and told her son Bruce it would be the ideal location for his fledgling windsurfing business.
“I had been running the business out of my cottage, and my mom saw the for rent sign and told me about it because she thought it was such a great location,” said Bruce Clark. “At the time it was just a cheese shop which took up about 10% of the square footage and the Ministry of the Environment rented out the rest.”
A self-admitted windsurfing fanatic, Clark set up shop at the Highway 11 north location and Muskoka Windsurfing was born.
After two or three years the owners decided to sell the building and Clark jumped at the chance to buy with the MOE staying on as his tenants. However the next year the MOE informed Clark that they were switching locations and he was left with a dilemma, and an opportunity.
“I began thinking about how I planned to fill the store and I got the idea to make it a location for people to purchase everything and anything for the cottage,” says Clark. “We changed the name to the Muskoka Store and began adding all kinds of new products.”
Clark said he immediately set about transforming the venue into more than just another retail outlet.
“I bought 60, 28-in consoles and I lined them up underneath the overhang at the front of the store facing the highway,” he says. “We were primarily running windsurfing videos and things like that and people couldn’t help but see it as they drove by. Sometimes we had people pulling in just to watch the TVs.”
The Muskoka Store was once home to a popular restaurant – Boathouse Burgers – which served up peameal bacon on Don’s scones (from Don’s Bakery in Bala) topped with cranberry chutney from the Bala cranberry marsh.
“Our whole MO is that we weren’t there to sell, we were there to entertain,” he says. “We would do things like have fashion shows out front on Friday nights, and make sure we had the best washrooms in Muskoka so even if people just needed a place to stop and use the washroom on their way to the cottage they’d stop at the Muskoka Store.”
Over the years the store expanded from 10,000 square ft to its current capacity of 45,000 square ft.
They have continually been adding new products including their renowned Walter Page collection, which holds a special place in the owner’s heart. Walter Page was actually Bruce’s great-grandfather, a British immigrant who fell in love with the Canadian wilderness.
A well-known builder in Toronto (Page helped build the University of Toronto’s Heart House, and portions of Casa Loma) he embarked on a canoe journey from Georgian Bay to Muskoka in 1899 and found himself in a lifelong love affair with the region.
He went on to purchase a 54-acre parcel of land in East Bay on Lake Muskoka which is still known today as Page’s Point.
Now Bruce Clark is set to hand over the reins of his acclaimed location to a new owner.
“If anything, the location sees more traffic than I did when I started,” he says. “Now we’re drawing more traffic headed for Lake of Bays, Huntsville, north Haliburton, Sundridge and all of the smaller lakes north of Huntsville”
It’s estimated that an average of nearly 25,000 vehicles pass the store every day.
The 9.5 + acre property has been divided into four parcels which can be purchased together or individually. You can find out more about the property including its many permitted uses by viewing the brochure here.
While it’s slightly bittersweet for Clark to part with something that he grew from a seedling, he’s optimistic that the new owners will find as much joy in the store and in serving the people of Muskoka as he did
“This place is truly a landmark and I’m excited to see what the future holds for it,” he says. “I’m really hoping we can find someone who’s enthusiastic about Muskoka and I’m going to be there for them to help with the transition and offer any insights and knowledge that might help them along the way.”
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