South Muskoka could soon be home to the Canadian Raceboat Hall of Fame, but the proposal has recently hit some rough water.
The museum would be to celebrate Canadian achievements in motorboat racing. The proposed location is on nearly eight acres of land off Muskoka Road 118 between Bracebridge and Port Carling. It would be a dry land display, meaning that there would be no water elements. The organizers recently put a request in front of the Township for a zoning amendment and building permit to build a 16,000 sq. ft. Hall of Fame.
Organizers say the Hall of Fame will preserve and showcase the history of Canadian Power Boat Racing. It will display famous race boats, and will tell the stories of their drivers, and builders not only from Muskoka, but from all of Canada.
Vintage hydroplanes, from seafleas to the Miss Supertest III, will be on display alongside their engines, famous trophies, racing artifacts and model race boats, all staged against a backdrop of boat racing murals. The museum will also incorporate classic boat racing films over the past century and guests will be able to experience hydroplane simulation using Hydro Sim software, which will allow them to virtually sit in a race boat viewing their race on a big screen tv.
The proposal is not being welcomed by everyone in the community. It isn’t the museum itself that is garnering opposition from local residents, it’s the attached events center with capacity for 150 people.
Murray Walker co-founder of the project says that a community center would serve a community need and make the museum more viable.
“The need in the area is for places where people can gather for weddings, receptions and so on. There’s a critical shortage of that, so we incorporated that into our design because what it helps to do is to offset the costs of operating. Museums never make money, they’re a cash drain and this is a way of helping to support the museum,” said Walker.
The May 13 Muskoka Lakes Planning Committee opened up the proposal to comment from several residents in opposition. The main reasons cited for opposition were mostly related to the events center. How increased traffic turning off and on at the point of a very busy road could lead to more car accidents, erecting a building and paving a parking lot, thus reducing the amount of soil that can absorb rain water could lead to increased flooding during the spring melt and times of high rain, potential noise and light pollution with the event hall operating late into the night, the septic capacity not being adequate and that the proposed new development would change the character of the area were the issues raised.
Most of those in opposition said that they were in full support of the racing boat museum, but the event center was a different story.
“Why do you need an event center? I’m totally supportive of a race boat museum I have boats of my own, and I enjoy them. But most people will have issues with an event center,” said one resident who spoke before the committee.
Simply moving to a new location isn’t an option. Walker says that it took five years to find the cite, which was affordable, zoned for commercial use and in a viable location. Murray feels that the organizers have done everything the council has asked of them including work on traffic, noise and environmental concerns. He says that those in opposition simply don’t want change.
“There’s people, opposing, just because they’d like things to stay the way they are,” Walker said.
The Planning Committee deferred any decision on the proposal until a traffic study could be done on the location.
Councillors appeared to be divided about the proposal. Councillor Gordon Roberts said that he was also unsure about how the event center would affect the quiet cottage location. Councillor Peter Kelley said that residents had raised serious concerns that needed to be addressed. But Councillor Kelley also said that the proposal would be a good for Muskoka.
“We’re always looking for opportunities to grow our tourism we’re always looking for economic development opportunities and I think this is a really interesting one good one for Muskoka that celebrates a history here of a boat building and successful boat racing,” Councillor Kelley said.
Walker says that he feels he and his fellow organizers have done all they can and will have to wait for a decision.
“If it passes it passes, it doesn’t it doesn’t. We’ve answered every question and addressed every concern. I guess my point is, what more can I do. It’s not something that I am personally going to be enriched by. It’s something that we’re basically giving to the community and allowing Canadians to learn more about this. I’m not going to make a dime on it,” Walker said.
Walker has had experience in this space before. He was involved in the founding of the Muskoka Discovery Center, a boat museum in Gravenhurst.
“We didn’t just do this blindly. I have some experience with this, I know what it’s like to operate one of these things I know what it’s like to have events there, that helped to subsidize the museums, so I’m not a neophyte in doing this kind of thing. But the opposition is quite incredible,” Walker said.
Walker says that he has received a lot of support from the community and knows that council has as well. If the proposal were to be rejected, he said it would be Canada and Muskoka’s loss.
The museum and event center proposal will be back before Muskoka Lakes Council in August.
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!