History of the Norsemen Restaurant & Walker Lake Resort
In 1876, at an advanced age of 55 (in those days anyway) Robert Walker and his family left Scotland. They headed for Pennsylvania but changed course part way through their journey upon hearing of free farm land being offered in Muskoka - somewhere north of Toronto!
The Walkers were granted some 200 acres. Their "Homestead" happened to include an entire lake, and among the many rocky outcrops, some reasonably good farmland. They put down roots and stayed, when many others lasted only a few years before moving on. The Walkers farmed in the summer and cut ice off Walker Lake and worked at lumbering in the winter.
Walker Lake drains on the south-west end, over a small (and sometimes seasonal) waterfall. It was at this natural rocky structure that the Walkers, taking advantage of the terrain like so many others in Muskoka did, built a sawmill sometime in the 1920's. Here, they milled their own as well as their neighbors' logs for quite a few years, providing employment as well as income for the family.
The popularity of Muskoka for fishing, hunting and just "getting away" grew so quickly that residents who opened their doors to the visitors, in the current B&B style, soon ran full-fledged boarding houses which often turned into small hotels and resorts. Big city businessmen too saw the opportunities, and large Resorts sprouted on many lakes. By 1910 there were over 100, large and small, in south Muskoka alone!
The original Walker family farm home was located off the Limberlost Road just south of the Tally Ho Road and it was in the late 20's the Walkers recognized the opportunity of the "spillover" from the big lakes to the south and capitalized on the opportunity of owning a small lake at the end of the road by building the current "Lodge" for guests. They used primarily lumber from their own forest and Sawmill and built a very sturdy grand structure. The foundation was built completely on the solid bedrock of Muskoka granite.
The lodge boasted 13 bedrooms, three "conveniently located" bathrooms, a lounge, games room, and large dining room with massive stone fireplaces. The Walkers served "ample, wholesome, home cooked meals" with "pasteurized dairy products" and "Govt. A-1 rated" drinking water. While the resort was originally called the Royal Oak Lodge, it has been known by different names over the years. Walker House, Walker Lake Lodge, The Norsemen Inn, and now "The Norsemen Restaurant & Walker Lake Resort".
Seven lakeside cottages sporting beds with "inner spring mattresses" and "lighted by hydro" were added in the mid-30's. Today they are the envy of builders facing the current lakefront "set-back rules"! Over the years small kitchens were added, decks and furniture updated while still retaining the charm of a bye-gone era. Two more recent "Viceroy Style" cottages allow the historic property to meet the current guests' choice of "rustic nostalgia" or fully modern!
A succession of owners followed the Walkers. They sold their homestead in the early 60's ... first the lakeshore lots and then the Lodge itself. The availability of relatively cheap Crown Land lots ... as well as these private sales, resulted in a temporary shift away from Resorts with Lodge rooms, shared bathrooms, minimal amenities and serving all meals. Most people wanted their own cottages in Muskoka, and could afford to build them. The Resort's income suffered and it needed some TLC. The "Norsemen" name and acclaimed Restaurant came out of a partnership of two Scandinavian families’ who acquired the gradually declining property in 1971.
A ground-up restoration of the Walker Lake Lodge followed. Spacious living quarters replaced the little rooms upstairs and a re-furbished downstairs, complete with a custom made Axminster wool carpet in a now elegant Dining Room coupled with renowned Chef and Owner Eyvind Peterson in the kitchen, first put The Norsemen on the culinary map - not only in Muskoka, but internationally as well.
Although Eyvind and his wife Angela sold the successful Restaurant and Resort in 1988, the next owner Enno Kerckhoff with chefs of exceptional talents and credentials ... Ursula Uetz and Raymond McGuire maintained and even enhanced its widespread reputation. The Restaurant has been featured and acclaimed in many publications over its amazing 30 years and is the only one in Huntsville written up, with a star, in the exclusive "Where to Eat in Canada".
Furthermore, Enno is proud to boast that the four "little Kerckhoffs" who grew up living the unparalleled Muskoka Dream and helping visitors to enjoy their experience on Walker Lake, are now exploring exciting careers in Canada's far flung corners ... British Columbia, New Brunswick and the North West Territories. Newly married and ready to move on, but keep a foot in the door, Enno recently handed the reigns over to new owner Les Gayne.
Les and his wife Suzi's goal is to maintain the ambience and rustic charm of the Restaurant and Resort, while bringing the culinary excellence to new heights with the new Chef, and enhance but preserve the friendly, relaxing and intimate atmosphere of the cottage experience.
Now, back in Muskoka, resorts with rental cottages are enjoying a revival too, as sale prices for private cottages go through the roof and lots for building new ones are getting out of reach for the average family.
Many of the friends that have made Walker Lake their vacation destination for up to 50 years are being joined by a new wave of Muskoka discoverers. Walker Lake Resort with its famous Norsemen Restaurant is now in midst of this all-season vacation paradise, rather than being at the edge of it. This resort embodies what Muskoka should be about, and is poised to treat visitors royally for many more years to come.