Few businesses have overcome more on the road to opening their doors than the redeveloped Muskoka Foundry.
The market and events centre on Entrance Drive in Bracebridge was originally set to open in May of 2016 but plans were severely delayed and then last summer, one of the driving forces behind the development, Audrey Van Petegem, passed away suddenly at the age of 58. Despite the tragedy, her husband Scott Harkness has carried on the work and now the 10,000 square foot facility is finally bearing the fruits of their years of hard work.
The Muskoka Foundry has already hosted a wedding, and a concert with more than 200 guests last month but if all goes according to plan that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The building has space set aside for 32 vendors, with the idea to host a major local food market.
“It’s modelled after the St. Lawrence Market (in Toronto),” said Harkness while hosting a tour of the facility last week. “That includes access to 450 daytime seats inside for the vendors…and we have a patio on the west sie of the building with space for another 260 seats.”
Harkness says there is already strong interest from potential vendors and he confirmed that Port Sydney’s Gamble Farms and Huntsville’s Smokin’ Hot BBQ will be moving into the facility. To accommodate Smokin’ Hot, the Foundry will soon have an 18’ smoker installed.
“The entire thing is being specially constructed in Texas and weighs nearly 5,000 lbs. We’ll also be creating a unqiue exhaust system to suck the smoke outside,” says Harkness.
The facility has nods to its roots as a working foundry, originally established in 1904. The building originally served as a linen mill and then as a metal fabrication factory for more than 100 years.
Giant steel beams and hoists sit under the 45 foot high ceilings, as the facility embraces its lineage. An old blast furnace is still on display, as is a 1949 flatbed truck (which is now largely used as a backdrop for photos as well as a home for the Foundry’s vintage piano), and a towering wall is comprised of molds that were formerly used in the metal fabrication business.
“That was something that Audrey thought up,” says Harkness, adding that the work of creating the 26’ wall of molds took some three weeks to complete.
Another one of Audrey’s ideas was to create a large metal heart. Couples getting married now fasten locks with their initials to it as part of the celebrations.
“The idea is you take the key and throw it in the direction of the train tracks,” says Harkness.
On the purely practical side of things, the building has required extensive refurbishment to meet standards for heating and insulation, as well the construction of 18 new bathrooms and removal of some 400,000 lbs of concrete from the floor to address drainage issues. Matching the overall theme of preservation, that concrete was sent to Fowler Construction, ground up, and then reused in the parking lot.
To meet fire standards, Harkness built a fire separator wall some 188’ long by 26’ high. The decision to add a 22’ high clock face and a mural and quote by Albert Einstein (painted personally by Harkness on a scissor lift) on the wall was entirely aesthetic.
One of the more eye-catching aspects of the Foundry is the creation of a new building within the building – 1950’s style “Winer Diner.” The throwback diner is actually a bar with its own seating section, and Harkness said they hope to serve wine, and potentially draw in a microbrewery and a roastery. They also have three wood-fired pizza ovens but are still booking for someone to take over the operation of the ovens.
Harkness says while the first concert went quite well, they’re currently working on a more elaborate sound system.
That music to the ears of Frances Balodis, who also attended the tour and is the director of the Muskoka Men of Song.
“I think the Foundry has a very alive acoustic and will be a great place for Muskoka Men of Song to sing,” she says. “There is a big space there – high, high ceiling and plenty of room for social distancing. Concerts in that venue could be fun for everyone – the performers and the audience.”
Harkness says interest in weddings has been “beyond strong,” and the potential to host corporate events, in addition to the traffic looking for dining, shopping and entertainment options could make the Foundry a major economic driver for Bracebridge and Muskoka for many years to come.
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