For as long as people have been visiting Muskoka, this place has been inspiring them to create art. That tradition continues again this summer, when the annual Muskoka Chautauqua festival returns to Windermere from August 4 to 14.
The festival is a whirlwind celebration of all the arts – dance, theatre, music, writing, film, and many forms of visual art. Attendees are invited to create as well as to witness, through a combination of shows and workshops held at several different venues in the village, some of them in partnership with Windermere House.
“We are putting a particular emphasis on literary arts this year,” says Gayle Dempsey, director of development. “We will have four or five literary panels and lectures by authors, as well as some writing workshops, including a poetry workshop we’re really excited about.”
Chautauqua has always emphasized having a strong sense of place, and this year is no exception. There will be workshops on nature journalling and movement through the forest, dance amid the trees, lectures on the scientific secrets of the forest, and meditation and yoga outdoors every morning.
Most performances take place in a stunning wooded property on the shores of Lake Rosseau – a private estate which is opened to the festival each year. The festival also makes use of the charming village itself, with performances on the docks, a pop-up bookshop in the village hall, walking tours through the village, and art hung in the appropriately named Gallery in the Woods.
“Even when a workshop is not explicitly about connecting art and nature, you can’t avoid making that connection,” says CEO Gary Froude. “You may be listening to the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra, or learning to play harmonica with blues legend Po Cholly, or watching a film we’ve curated with Hot Docs, but you’re doing it surrounded by the sights and sounds and smells of Muskoka. It just permeates everything.”
Most events are accessible to all ages, and there are a several specifically kid-friendly events, including a Family Fun Art Party and the SWS waterski show.
Opening day on August 4 is hosted by Terry and Lucia Sahanatien of the Wahta First Nation. “We’ve always had such beautiful teachers from the Indigenous community, and it’s an honour to have them lead us in the opening,” says Gayle.
The festival offers a mix of pay-what-you-wish and ticketed events. Booking in advance is recommended, as there are events that sell out every year.