Norm Elder's Cottage

Norm Elder’s Cottage

The Norm Elder Cottage was an amazing abandoned cottage in Muskoka. It contained a life’s worth of travel souvenirs and some unusual

Norman Sam Elder (born August 12, 1939) was the son of Robert James Elder, the founder of Elder Carriage Works. Elder Carriage Works was a very successful company that built delivery vans for furniture movers, bakeries and retailers such as Eaton’s. 

In 1945 the business made a profit of what would today be $5.5 million by supplying vehicles to the federal government for the war.

Norman was a world traveler who might have been considered eccentric by those who knew him. The main floor of his home located at 140 Bedford Rd. in Toronto served as the Norm Elder Museum. The museum (founded in 1967) showcased the many creatures that he collected during his world travels. The upper floor of the museum served as housing for ten tenants.

Visitors to the Elder museum could meet ‘Tony’, a Galapagos Islands tortoise who’d walk over to meet people and enjoyed having his neck scratched. Tony eventually became ill and was transported to Guelph University Hospital where he died. Tony was frozen until he could be taken to a taxidermist and was then returned to the museum stuffed.

Tony the tortoise
Tony the tortoise
Norm Elder in his home
A photo of a younger Norm Elder

Two large pythons lived in the museum along with a boa constrictor that lived in the basement. The boa constrictor was known to escape to different parts of the house. The tenants must have slept well at night knowing this. 

Norm Elder
Norm Elder 1975 (Source: Toronto Star Archives)

The museum also contained a fruit bat, three lemurs, chinchillas and ferrets. Artifacts included a panther skeleton, malachite eggs, fossilized elephant bird eggs, dried elephant dung balls, a stuffed dingo and human skulls from the Ganges River.

The front garden of the museum was surrounded by an 8 foot high iron fence that had been used to contain polar bears and was purchased from the Riverdale Zoo. The back garden contained an underground granite-walled tunnel which led to a room known as the ‘tomb’, The way into the tunnel was through a secret doorway under Norm’s bed.

Besides operating the museum, Norm was a world traveler who visited remote areas such as Papua New Guinea, Namibia, the Amazon, Congo, the Arctic and Madagascar.
Norm was an accomplished equestrian who competed in the 1960 Rome Olympics and 1968 Mexico City Olympics. (Source

The Cottage

Norm Elder Cottage
Steeple-like structure

Norm had a summer cottage located in Muskoka, Ontario. The property contained three buildings and what appeared to be a chapel. The first building with the fridge outside was his living quarters. The second and third connected buildings appeared to be where Norm worked on his sketches and paintings. 

The cottage was located at the end of a country road with few surrounding homes. 


Norm’s workshop consisted of two buildings connected in an L-shape. The first part of the workshop (third photo above) contained old National Geographic magazines, a treasure trove of reel to reel films and photo albums of Norm’s world travels. 

Norm Elder Cottage old video reels
Photo albums of Norm’s world travels (1980’s to 1990’s)

Norm Elder Cottage

Norm Elder animal specimens
Norm Elder 1975 (Source: Toronto Star Archives)

Norm Elder self portrait
Norm Elder 1975 (Source: Toronto Star Archives)

Norm Elder Cottage

World travels (Credit: Motleykiwi) 

National Geographics
wood stove
norm elder cottage interior
norm elder cottage interior
norm elder cottage interior
norm elder cottage interior
norm elder cottage
This would have been where Norm painted

To the left of the entrance were numerous photo albums and reel to reel canisters. Making your way through the hallway you’d pass the wood stove and enter the area where Norm’s paintings were displayed. 

Norm Elder Cottage

It was particularly dark in this section of the workshop so flash photography had to be used. Some of the paintings had been left outside where the elements were slowing destroying them. The unwritten rule is not to take items home with you (which would escalate exploring into a criminal act). 

I reluctantly left the art behind to be consumed by Mother Nature. We could have spent hours pouring through the photo albums and documenting Norm’s life. 

Just beyond the main area where the paintings were displayed was a small kitchen (shown above, 4th photo down).

Norm Elder Cottage

Several paintings of Norm were hung throughout the camp. In the picture above he is shown wearing a pendant and riding a horse. 

Norm Elder Cottage

The story of the Norm Elder Cottage could end like this… it was slowly reclaimed by nature and Norm lived out the rest of his days in his Toronto museum. 

The End.
This wasn’t the case. 

Mr. Elder was charged with 12 counts of indecent assault which took places between 1972 to 1989. Some of the youths were between the ages of 15 and 19. After the charges were filed, Norm stayed at his cottage as he wasn’t permitted back in the house. 

On March 12, 1998 he was sentenced to two years less a day in jail. Many of the young men were between the ages of 18 and 20 which at the time of the incident was considered to be younger than the age of consent. 

There’s no evidence to suggest that any of the incidents took place at the cottage. 

Looking through the photo albums though you’ll see photos of young men drinking beer and a laughing young man bound with ropes. A video camera mounted outside a window also has an ominous feel. 

video camera mounted outside window
norm elder cottage interior
norm elder cottage interior
drinking beer

The story of the Norm Elder Cottage ends like this: Norm passed away by suicide on October 15, 2003. 

His cottage remained unused and forgotten about for several years. 

 A few explorers heard rumors of the cottage’s existence and in the summer of 2015 succeeded in finding it. The cottage had no vandalism, the only damages inflicted were from exposure to the elements. 

By the fall of that same year, all of the buildings on the property were bulldozed. The cottage along with all of the paintings, sketches and photos of Norm’s world travels are gone – forever. 

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