Lisa Roach, Natural Heritage Education Coordinator | Jul 16, 2015
The road to becoming a provincial park actually began way back in 1910 when the Bon Echo Inn and surrounding land was sold to Flora MacDonald Denison. She had been coming to the area for many years with her family and in the early 1900s stayed at the Bon Echo Inn. She loved the surroundings so much that she bought the property including Mazinaw Rock from Dr. and Mrs. Weston Price. She and her son, Merrill, ran the Inn until her death in 1921 when Merrill assumed ownership.
Both Merrill and his mother had a passion for this Ontario landscape as well as a vision for its preservation. Merrill once said he had become a conservationist at age 8, ever since his first sight of the ‘Bald Mountains’ (Mazinaw Lake and area). To him, “Bon Echo was one of the most spectacular natural beauty spots in Ontario - a place to which people are drawn from near and far to feast their eyes in wonderment on its majestic mass and find spiritual refreshment in communion with nature”.
Merrill ran the Inn with his wife, Muriel Goggin Denison, until 1928. The depression set in and few people were going to the Inn for the summer. For several years, Bon Echo became a meeting place for professional foresters, conservationists and other nature lovers. Unfortunately the Inn burned down in 1936. Despite this setback the property was maintained as a private estate by Merrill and his wife.
Merrill thought a lot about what would happen to the Bon Echo property once he was gone. The area should be enjoyed by everyone. For him, “It would be nothing less than a national disgrace were Bon Echo to be divided into real estate parcels and sold piecemeal for summer building lots”.
Merrill announced in 1959 that he was giving 1200 acres as a gift to the Department of Lands and Forest to be protected and used by the people of Ontario. It was the desire of the Denison family that the Bon Echo area be preserved so all could enjoy its wilderness and beauty as they themselves had done for nearly sixty years. Merrill would retain life use of some buildings including Dollywood (now the Visitor Centre) and Greystones (now the Greystones Gift and Book Shop) and approximately 8.5 acres of land immediately surrounding them.
Initial park development occurred in 1961 with the installation of 200 campsites. The park officially opened on Wednesday, July 21, 1965. Opening ceremonies were held at the amphitheatre with over 500 people in attendance. During the ceremonies, a historic plaque was unveiled commemorating Merrill and his family’s gift to the people of Ontario. It reads, “Acquired by the people of Ontario through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Merrill Denison. Bon Echo Provincial Park, dedicated to recreation, conservation and education, in memory of Flora MacDonald Denison and Muriel Goggin Denison.” (Muriel had passed away and Merrill had married Elizabeth (Lisa) Denison in 1957.)
When Merrill died in 1975, use of the remaining land and buildings was transferred to Lisa Denison. Upon her death in 1977, Greystones and Dollywood and the land surrounding around them were added to the park.
Visitors to the Park are encouraged to take time to read the plaque on the rock near the Narrows. It stands as a reminder to look around and be grateful for this special place thanks to Merrill Denison and his family.
Bon Echo Provincial Park will officially celebrate the 50th Anniversary on July 21st at 2:00PM at the Amphitheatre.