The Early Days
Named for the noted Ojibway warrior and hunter, Chief Joseph Big Wind, the island attracted both native hunters and white traders back in the 19th century... both groups drawn by its rising cliffs, beautiful bays and golden sand beaches, located mid-channel in Lake of Bays.
The island's first European settlers appeared in the 1870's. With no soil for farming and limited logging potential because of its rocky terrain, some settlers opened their homes to tourists. These first "wilderness hotels" soon turned into a burgeoning hotel and hospitality industry by the turn of the century heralding, and what soon would become, the glory days of Muskoka.
C.O. Shaw, a wealthy Huntsville tycoon purchased Bigwin Island, and set out to build the finest resort on the continent, realizing the steam boats that brought tourists to the area would continue to tempt vacationers in ever greater numbers.
In 1915 he hired designer John Wilson and began building on the natural curve of the south-east shore of the island. The Inn's design was a uniquely eclectic combination in which Wilson mixed elements of Classical, Mediterranean, Tudor and Victorian architecture.
The Golden Era
Bigwin Inn opened its doors in June of 1920, the decade that "roared" in its prosperity. It quickly became the resort of choice for socialites and the upper class who congregated in the grand hall known as the Indian Head Room and the Rotunda with its huge stone fireplaces and large open verandahs. The temptations were all plainly evident - the fine dining and entertainment... the water sports and summer recreation... all with the rugged beauty of the Muskokas as a backdrop.
In 1922, Stanley Thompson carved out the first 9 holes of the original Bigwin Island Golf Course, with the back 9 following by 1930.
In the 30's the unique octagonal Dining Room was joined by a second, and the Inn's Pavilion became a popular venue for performances of big bands including Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians.
In the 40's, Bigwin Inn welcomed a retinue of stars and celebrities, from famous Hollywood couple Clark Gable and Carole Lombard to such illustrious writers as Ernest Hemingway and H.G. Wells. It was a favorite haunt of the Rockefellers, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands stayed for a visit, and Canadian Prime Ministers including John Diefenbaker often summered there.
The golden era for Bigwin Inn started to fade with C.O. Shaw's death in 1942. The Inn went through an ownership change, some cosmetic improvements were made, and then the property was sold again in 1948.
A succession of owners tried to revitalize the island by adding a 3,000 ft airstrip, housing the newly formed Lake of Bays Sailing Club and converting the East Lodge into a condominium, but economic conditions and changing vacation patterns conspired to doom these efforts. By 1970, the rest of the Inn was closed although the Tea House continued to operate as a privately run restaurant until 1976.
The property languished for a long time. In 1969, the East Lodge was converted to a small enclave of condominiums...
The Renaissance and Rebirth
Fast forward to 1986. Enter a new development team that had recently acquired the land, and began to dream of creating an intimate island community with services and amenities for families who would share the dream of this Muskoka Paradise. This group was soon joined by Jack Wadsworth, an American, who had recently purchased Port Cunnington Lodge. Wadsworth's passion for golf spurred the group to resurrect the course on Bigwin. In 2008 Wadsworth and his company Eagle Landing became the sole investor and developer of Bigwin, setting a clear course and solid foundation for the future.
80 years after the Inn first opened, Bigwin's glory days are back again. Members and guests to the island can play on a sensational new golf course... savor a fine meal in the new restaurant-clubhouse housed in the inn's historic original dining room... and take advantage of a new opportunity to make Bigwin Island their summer home.
The glory days of Bigwin are back... and the future has never looked more exciting!