By Gayle Dempsey and Gary Froude
Who would have known that almost three decades ago, when we put our first proposal in to the provincial government regarding best use of the Muskoka Regional Centre (the first sanitorium in Canada), that the story would have unfolded in such a way.
Who could have imaged that Gary would become paralyzed by a mysterious virus that would require him to breathe with the assistance of a ventilator and that he would spend two years in ICU and end up at West Park Health Centre (the second sanitorium in Canada). And that Gary would spend almost a year there in a facility that was connected with the one in Gravenhurst as it was also funded by the Gage family. It was the forward thinking of the Gravenhurst council at the time that gave Muskoka national recognition for innovation in healthcare.
And who would have thought that we would end up in a pandemic caused by a respiratory virus in this millennium.
In those days, we were focused on the arts and healing – especially the healing qualities of the arts.
That was the essence of that first proposal and the essence of what later saved Gary’s life, and the essence that sustains us during these lockdowns and stay-at-home orders today as we plan for another summer, pivoting to a hybrid model of presenting Muskoka Chautauqua programs on the shores of Lake Rosseau.
And who would have guessed that as we championed the arts together through the first couple of decades of our relationship, that we would end up also advocates for equitable health care for all during this latest decade and involved in reshaping the delivery model.
We suspected that there was a strong relationship between the arts and well-being. Now we know how powerful that relationship can be.
It comes as no surprise that Canada’s first sanitorium was so popular and successful at the time when tuberculosis was the leading cause of death as Muskoka has always been known as a place of healing and restoration. In fact, during the beginning of the industrial revolution, doctors actually prescribed Muskoka as ‘the cure’ for not only tuberculosis but for many stress-related ailments.
There was something about the water, the air and the pines that was beneficial in the treatment of TB and other illnesses. Lofty spaces and lots of fresh air and the beauty of the area contributed to improved health. And the arts were very often incorporated into the activities and rituals of those early get-aways. In fact, before the turn of the last century when the area was first visited by hunters, fishermen and surveyors, city-dwellers would arrive with paints and pens and even created skits to soothe their souls and enhance their time on the shores of these lakes.
The area has always had strong appeal to creatives of all types. Artists such as the Group of Seven came to immerse themselves in this healing environment as they painted away the effects from wartime stresses.
And writers and poets were equally drawn to what became known as Canada’s Literary Summer Capital one hundred years ago.
Gayle Dempsey is an artist and fourth-generation Muskokan. Gary Froude, whose background is in the entertainment industry, is ‘from away’. They are passionate change-makers in Muskoka and care deeply about its past, present and future. Their work reflects their passion for life-long learning and community development and for the past 25 years they have been resurrecting Muskoka Chautauqua on Lake Rosseau.
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