About Us

Muskoka Chautauqua is a not-for-profit organization offering accessible arts, culture and heritage programming throughout the Muskoka region.


To be recognized as a leader in the provision of
inclusive and innovative arts-based programming for enrichment and life-long learning, while contributing to the economic and social vitality and offering a place for
all in the community.


To collaborate with partners, diverse people and
communities to present innovative, multi-disciplinary arts-based programs that inspire lifelong learning, well-being and resiliency by celebrating creativity and Muskoka’s heritage and natural environment.

Meet The Founders

Gary Froude and Gayle Dempsey both shared an incredible dream of creating an arts-based education community when they first met. Since then, they have reconnected Muskoka with its Chautauqua roots, after an 80-year dormancy, and have initiated many arts-based programming throughout the region. Programs include Artist-in-residence programs at two resorts, professional theatre in Minett and Windermere, an annual fundraiser and festival to support the local artisinal culture, painting classes, art exhibitions and more!

Gary and Gayle believe that the arts are an integral part of personal, social, and emotional growth and wellbeing. Gary Froude and Gayle Dempsey have reignited Muskoka’s passion for the arts and continue to develop and promote arts and education based programming for all ages.


The Chautauqua movement has a long history in Muskoka. At the turn of the 20th century, Muskoka was known as Canada’s Literary Summer Capital. In the years 1916 and 1917 conferences were held at Windermere House and Elgin House to provide study, sport and spiritual uplift.

Chautauqua was part of a larger American movement established to bring education, religion and the arts to communities, most often in beautiful outdoor settings. Tobin Island, Lake Rosseau, Muskoka, post World War I, was the location of the first permanent Canadian Chautauqua Institution.

A day at Chautauqua would be divided into education in the morning, recreation in the afternoon and entertainment in the evening. It was an opportunity for rejuvenation in a beautiful natural setting, through intellectual challenge, physical workouts and artistic and spiritual enlightenment.

In Muskoka, an extremely important part of this movement was the Reading Circle, whose intention was to introduce and advance the works of Canadian authors. Chautauqua weeks featured famous authors of the day such as Bliss Carman, Charles G. D. Roberts, E. J. Pratt, and Dorothy Livesay reading from their works and discussing current issues.

The current iteration of Muskoka Chautauqua grew out of the Muskoka Lakes Music Festival, which began in 1997. Out of a need to expand beyond musical offerings, and upon the discovery of the historical Chautauqua in Muskoka, a multidisciplinary arts community was formed.

Today’s Muskoka Chautauqua designs and delivers multi-disciplinary arts-based programs that inspire personal growth and enrichment by creativity. It is part of the international Chautauqua Trail, a network of Chautauqua communities located throughout North America.

Key People

Board of Directors

Glad Bryce (Chair)
Diane Adamson
Maureen Cubberley
Dr. Bernie Gosevitz
Susan Hindle
Cheryl Hollows (Treasurer)
Leah Leslie
Jen Morgan Anderson
Bonnie Newell
Beverlie Robertson (Secretary)


Marsha Skain
Leah Leslie

Executive/Artistic Director

Gary Froude

Director of Development

Gayle Dempsey


Gayle Dempsey
Gary Froude

Founding President
Fraser Fell, C.M., Q.C.

Founding Director
Marie Mahovlich

Annual Reports

Click on a cover to download the full report (opens in a new tab).

Muskoka Chautauqua 2022 Annual Report Cover with an image of a brass band on the dock in Windermere, with audiences watching from the shore and from antique wooden boats
Muskoka Chautauqua Annual Report 2020