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Despite the stereotypical questions I have heard from non-Canadians along the way, I have never believed I would have the opportunity to rnush my own dog sledding team. You know the questions I'm referring to; "Have you ever mushed?", "Have you ever seen a polar bear?", or my own personal favourite, "Do you live in an igloo?"

Fortunately at Deerhurst Resort in Muskoka, Ontario, you can indulge in a true Canadian experience.

Driving up one Friday afternoon from Toronto, I feared my well planned weekend of taking advantage of "Old Man Winter" would not be possible — there was no snow at all in the GTA. (Greater Toronto Area). Deerhurst is located approximately 2.5 hours from Toronto and I was about 30 minutes away. Then suddenly within a turn or two I literally drove into a winter wonderland. It was like I had driven into a secret world around the corner and over the rainbow. Before me was a beautiful landscape of rolling hills, wooded terrain and an incredible partially frozen lake, and situated right in the middle of it all was Deerhurst Resort. My weekend was begging to begin.

Deerhurst is located in Huntsville, Ontario, on Peninsula Lake. in Muskoka. and has been open for business since 1896. The original resort was built by an Englishman, Charles Waterhouse, and the only available access to the resort at that time was by steamboat! Today the resort is reached by road and train;
there is also an on site landing strip for those who choose to travel by plane.

"Best in Canada" by
North American Inns, Bed
& Breakfast and Resorts Magazine.

Deerhurst was passed down through two generations: first to Charlie's son, Maurice, and then on to his son, Bill. One hundred and five years in operation and it is still going strong. It's now owned by Cornerstone Real Estate Advisors. There are 425 guest rooms and suites, with the choice of 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom accommodations located throughout the 800 acres, complete with living room, kitchen, and appropriate dining facilities. Some rooms feature fireplaces and whirlpools! For gatherings there is 30,000 square feet of meeting space and 10,000 square feet of exhibit space, along with two ballrooms and 32 function rooms. Rooms range in price from about CND$99.

Silently, I was welcomed by the large entrance way, gushing fountain and beautiful ice sculptures of a sleigh and the Deerhurst crest, all located outside the main building referred to as the Pavilion. My feet could not move fast enough as I lugged my baggage (although the resort's bellman did offer help) through the front doors to check-in. I was greeted a number of times with warm smiles and polite demeanor. Before going to my room, I thought I would steal a moment and sit in front of the warming and relaxing lobby fireplace.

Listening to the swoosh of the revolving door without fail was accompanied by a cool, crisp breeze, reminding me that outside was still winter. Guests included a mixture of families, couples, and business people queuing to check-in.

I was awed by the expansive three-story lobby. The hearth's surroundings was elegant spaciousness, yet intimate and cozy. The double-sided gas fireplace was grand and majestical, draped in garland and decorations. Above was an elaborate wrought iron chandelier, glowing ambient. The warm tones of burnt red and forest green couches invited me with comfort and I sunk deeply into the stacked, patterned pillows. Huge stony pillers, large area rugs on a slate floor, and a reindeer motif, were the perfect combinations, capturing the natural outdoors setting — indoors. I listened to the voices hum, ringing phones, and soft music and clinking glasses from the nearby lounge — what a great spot to relax after dinner, I thought.

What was I waiting for?

Dogsledding and Skijoring

The most interesting sport I experienced at Deerhurst was the pleasure of dogsledding — and learning about ski-joring! My boyfriend, Stephan, and I, were greeted at the stables by the program director, Sean Ardis, and his assistant. Tara. We played with the friendly huskies, getting to know them before the "mushing" lessons. Unfortunately, due to stormy weather conditions we were unable to ski-jor. I was a little relieved; I am not the best skier! Sean, however, demonstrated this unique man and dog winter sport. With two beautiful huskies pulling him, he harnessed himself up, gliding along on cross-country skis three times faster than normal skiing, all with the powerful assistance of his dogs. We were told not to be entirely fooled by the slight man-power that is used in the sport. When pulling up hill the dogs turn around, looking, questioning your lack of help, wondering why you are not doing your part (and rightfully so!). Ski-joring can be enjoyed by everyone who is comfortable on a pair of skis. The orientation takes about an hour. The cost is CND$50 per person.

Ski-joring originated in Scandinavia and became popular in North America. Sean first discovered the sport at his home in B.C. years ago when picking up his mail. The snow was too much to tackle so he harnessed up his dogs and skied out. The rest, as they say, is history. Sean practiced the sport on a recreational level and then went professional. He has raised three generations of ski-joring dogs. There are presently 16 huskies in his fleet (with a mix of Irish Wolfhound and Malamute). Each dog has a chance to run every two to three days and then gets two days off. I watched as the dogs were fed chicken and soup as a reward for their hard day at work. The rest of their diet consists of beef fat and premium performance kibble.

After the ski-joring demonstration Stephan and I eagerly squeezed into the dog sled. I snickered to myself as I thought about the mushing comments I had once heard from my American friends. I guess now I have no right to laugh at their inquisitions of a traditional Canadian activity. Suddenly, we were off like a shot, and in about six strides the dog team was pushing 40 kph. The dogs can travel up to 100km with out a serious rest stop. The wind tore against my face. I pulled my scarf up. I really enjoyed what was happening. Kindly, Sean warned us to put our hats on for this crisp windy ride. At one point we got some height going over a hill and the sled left the ground. We laughed the entire way and were sad to see the ride come to an end. Dog sledding is for people of all ages. It really brought the "big kid" out in us. The ride costs CND$50 per person, or CND$75 per couple.


Deerhurst Resort offers a wide range of other activities, inside and outside, such as: Snow-tubing, iceskating, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing (13km of set trails throughout the golf course), sleigh rides, a Maple Syrup Festival (mid-March to mid-April), and downhill skiing at Hidden Valley Highlands, near the resort.

Indoor activites include: Swimming in a beautiful heated pool, tennis, squash, mini-putt, ping-pong, arcade room, fitness room, as well as an Aveda-concept spa! All equipment is accessible to guests free of charge.

Summer activities include: Outdoor tennis, mountain-biking, horseback riding, boat tours, fishing, waterskiing, sailing, windsurfing, pedal boating, kayaking, canoeing, and golf (with a choice of two spectacular 18-hole courses).

Although the cross-country ski trail looked fabulous at Deerhurst, the resort allowed us to take skis off-site to the nearby Arrow Head Conservation Area. We cross-country skied 4km through snow-covered, wooded surroundings that nature spread before us like a linen tablecloth for a magnificent banquet. We skied across incredible park lookout points, discovering a hidden waterfall. It was beautful. Peacful. Quiet. So quiet that we heard the sound of the falls long after. we schussed in another direction.

Later, after a well deserved àpres skiing soak in the whirlpool (and then a nap!) the two of us felt invigorated, refreshed, ready for dinner. There are three restaurants at Deerhurst: Steamers (cozy log cabin-style steak house, open for dinner); the Pub (casual pub atmosphere with a view of the grounds); and Eclipse, the newest restaurant, and site of our feast. (Open for breakfast and dinner.) On the way to Eclipse we passed an art gallery filled with pieces from Canadian artists. Of course, most of the paintings and sculptures were nature inspired.

Dining At The Eclipse

Eclipse is a beautiful and spacious open-beam ceiling spruce and Douglas fir room, replete with that same cozy, backwoods, Canadian feel. Eclipse's motif is a rich, warm tone, with cheery wood furniture, with the ambiance lit for romance with wrought iron chandeliers. Elegant drapery dresses the floor to ceiling windows overlooking spectacular grounds and Peninsula Lake.

Our waiter, Johnny. was helpful with menu suggestions. For starters, I enjoyed the smoked Atlantic Salmon, dressed with tasty dill sauce. It was a hard decision between the Herb Crusted Ontario Lamb Chops, or the Filet Mignon (Alberta Beef Tenderloin brushed with White Wine Mustard). I was swayed by Johnny to go for the authentic, provincial steak. Delicious Merlot Sauce and Beet Horseradish garnished my tender filet, flamed to perfection. My tastebuds were ecstatic with the correct decision. To compliment our meal we ordered a bottle of 1998 Beringer Merlot (again on the wise tip from our waiter). Outside, the snow fell light and soft, a fitting romantic addition to our wintery Ontario evening. To view the entire evening menu of the Eclipse, CLICK HERE.

The resort's Food and Beverage Manager, Hans Becker, came by and informed us of the vast Deerhurst wine cellar selection, an international collection of three hundred and eleven vintages. There is a fabulous pressing of Ontario wines, including Thirty Bench, a 1998 Niagara Peninsula Merlot reserve. Deerhurst's list has won the 'Award of Excellence' for two consecutive years from the "Wine Spectator". .

And what is a wonderful evening without my favourite part of any dinner? The served dessert? — light and fluffy Strawberry Shortcake, topped with whipped cream and sliced, fresh strawberries. My compliments to Rory Gloden, the resort's Executive Chef of the five kitchens, and a staff of 50. Rory not only creates the fabulous menus, but encourages his staff's participation, welcoming their thoughts and ideas. Rory is also the accomplished sculpturer of ice that I admired on arrival.

SING, A Musical Odyssey

After dinner, a dinner never to be 'Eclipsed', we rushed to catch the shuttle bus for the resort's live entertainment at the lodge. The show, Sing: A Musical Odyssey, has delighted guests for nearly two decades with a musical tribute to some of the most popular songs and performers of the past five decades. Eager guests piled into the theatre. I learned that Shania Twain had performed in the Deerburst stage show from 1988-1990  She ventures back about once a year to see the latest production.

The 90 minute show features a remarkable cast of singers, dancers, musicians, and a colourful costume extravaganza. I was captured with laughing and singing, along with wide ranges of musical interludes, and I was impressed with the dancing. At one point Stephan was forced on stage for a performance leaving me laughing for the rest of the night. Interactive stage shows are always a good time. Enthralled and happy guests sang pieces from the show on the shuttle bus return to the Pavilion.

The show runs nightly year around, Tuesday through Friday, with two shows on Saturday. During July and August, "Sing" adds a Monday night show. To include "Sing" in your accommodation package, take advantage of Deerhurst Resort's Great Escape Package. Single show tickets are CND$32.95 per person and half price for children under 12.

Thinking back to my action-packed weekend, I was sad to see it end. I will return to Deerhurst next year to again indulge in the warm hospitality and the spectacular winter season. Now, when asked by non-Canadians if I have ever mushed, I have a Far North story to share about the delightful Deerhurst Resort.

By Joanna Niebler, Toronto Correspondent.

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