Cottage Living


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About Muskoka

So you have decided to buy a cottage!

There is no better way to enjoy time with family and friends than to spend weekends and vacations away at your special "home away from home."

The Muskoka region, also known as "cottage country", offers all sizes and types of cottages or recreational properties. Waterfront or non-waterfront, big or small, year round or seasonal, they provide a retreat from the city life during the summer.

The Muskoka area spans 2500 square miles, and reaches from Georgian Bay to the west, Lake Couchiching to the south, and Algonquin Park to the east.

Read more below.

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The district is made up of six municipalities: Huntsville, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, Muskoka Lakes, Lake of Bays and Georgian Bay. Throughout the entire region, one can find picturesque and scenic villages and towns, sprawling farms, golf courses and country clubs, marinas and waterfront vacation hotels.

There are approximately 60,000 year round residents across Muskoka, but in the summer the number swells to add another 100,000 cottagers. Some cottages have been passed down from generation to generation in the same family.

Most of the lavish, estate-like and expensive properties can be found along the shores of Lake Muskoka, Lake Joseph and Lake Rosseau. The area is so beautiful, it has attracted a number of the rich and famous, including model Cindy Crawford, who reportedly owns a 7-acre island on Lake Joseph. Shania Twain owns a property on Lake of Bays; Kenny G owns a cottage on Lake Joseph; hockey star Wendel Clark a place on Lake Rosseau; and Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell also own cottages in the area, as does comedian Martin Short.

The Muskoka area is rich in First Nations history, and is named after an Ojibwa chief from the mid-1800's. It was a popular hunting and fishing grounds, and was largely unsettled by European farmers because the huge forests and large rocks of the Canadian Shield made it very difficult and unsuitable for farming.

Those forests, however, gave birth to the local logging industry, and large tracts of forest were cut down. The railroad moved in to help transport the lumber, and roads were built and waterways used for shipping too. Finally, settlements began to spring up, and communities were born, as settlers made their way to the region from Europe. The first maps of the area were drawn in 1837.

Then the steamship era was born and the Wenonah first sailed the Muskoka lakes. The province installed locks in Port Carling between Lake Rosseau and Lake Joseph, and the steamers were able to access the entire Muskoka lake system. The Royal Mail Ship Segwun travelled the waters too, and is still in operation today offering tourists a glimpse into the past steamship area, while taking in the scenery of the Muskoka lakes.

The tourism industry was born almost by accident shortly after the steamship era began, when young vacationers stumbled upon the area in the late 1800's and were drawn to its natural beauty. It wasn't long before grand hotels were built along the waterfronts, some of which still stand today. Clevelands House, Windermere, Beaumaris, Rosseau and Royal Muskoka offered accommodations to these early tourist pioneers. As the number of tourists increased, the beautiful scenery offering respite from busy city life became one of the biggest industries for the area. They came by railway and then transferred their luggage to steamers and smaller ships too, which could take them to any number of the lakes around the Muskoka region.

For some, extended stays at beautiful resorts wasn't enough. Some families began to build their own cottages. The cottage and tourism industry began with the most wealthy folks in the province. However, today, that one time "luxury" is available to anyone who wants it!

More than 2 million visitors flock to the Muskoka district each year! Just a two hour drive from Toronto and the GTA, the Muskoka area boasts 1600 lakes. No wonder it's worth the drive!

The Town motto is "Touch The Past, Embrace The Future!" Located approximately 215 kilometres from Toronto, it is home to Muskoka Airport, offering daily flights to Toronto. Huntsville is home to Arrowhead Provincial Park, and is the gateway to Algonquin Provincial Park. There's world class golfing, shopping and dining, and 52 kilometres of TransCanada Trail for biking or hiking or walking. There's also plenty of boating opportunities with more than 65 kilometres of lakes and water to explore! The Algonquin Theatre offers year round live entertainment, and The Huntsville Festival of the Arts features year round performances that draw thousands to the community. History buffs will want to take in Muskoka Heritage Place, which features a pioneer village, museums and train. The town also offers a regional shopping centre and public library. There's a recreation centre with an Olympic sized double rink. Health care is close by at Huntsville Memorial Hospital.

Bracebridge is the seat of the Muskoka District Municipality, and was originally built around a waterfall on the Muskoka River in the centre of town. It is known for several nearby waterfalls, and was named after a book, Bracebridge Hall by Washington Irving, that the postmaster in charge of naming towns was reading at the time. It's motto is "The Heart of Muskoka", and it is literally the centre of the region. Just two hours north of Toronto via the 400 series highway, the community is the economic, political and technological center of the region. There are new retail shopping areas, business parks and residential subdivisions that have all sprung up to accommodate the town's growth in population. The Town has a population of approximately 16,000 permanent residents which doubles during the summer months. Located on the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole, and is recognized as Santa's summer home, and home to Santa's Village, a play park and resort which is open during the summer months.

The town centre borders on two lakes: Lake Muskoka, which is the largest lake in the region, and Gull Lake, a smaller cottage-bordered lake. Another lake, Kahshe Lake, is situated 10 kilometres south of the town. Gravenhurst declares itself the "Gateway to the Muskoka Lakes" and is the home port of the RMS Segwun, the oldest vessel powered by a working steam engine in North America. Its population of about 12,000 people swells to about 34,000 in the summer with cottagers and visitors. Born out of the road, railway and steamboat industries in the mid 1800's, its motto is "Wealth and Industry." The Muskoka Wharf located in Lake Muskoka in Gravenhurst was completed in 2005. The $170 million project spans across 89 acres, celebrating Gravenhurst's unique and varied heritage, and offering great dining, shopping, and fun events including the Dockside Festival of the Arts and the Muskoka Boat and Cottage Show. It's home to the Muskoka Steamships and Discovery Centre, where visitors can learn more about the boat building history of the town. The Muskoka Wharf also has 2 Condominium buildings onsite offering unique water side living options, and a Marriott hotel. Since 1949 Gravenhurst has been home to the Ontario Fire College. Run by the Province of Ontario, under the Fire Marshall's Office, it offers training and education programs which are based on the Ontario Fire Service Standards. Courses are available to members of any Ontario municipal fire department, whether full-time or volunteer. The campus also provides a location for Ontario Provincial Police marine and K-9 training. Gravenhurst is the birthplace of the famous Dr. Norman Bethune, who is known for developing mobile blood transfusion and transportation methods. His home now stands as a museum, and a tribute to his service, which included bringing modern medicine to rural China.

This area is home to Lake Muskoka, Lake Rosseau and Lake Joseph, along with many other smaller lakes. Located on the Canadian Shield, rock and evergreens are everywhere. It includes protected areas of Hardy Lake Provincial Park and Torrance Barrens Conservation Area. It is made up of more than 50 smaller communities, including Bala, Port Carling and Windermere.

Known for its famous Bala Falls, Bala is situated where Lake Muskoka empties into the Moon River. It is also known for being the Cranberry Capital of Ontario, home to the province's largest cranberry farms, Johnston's Cranberry Marsh and Wahta Iroquois Growers. Each year, it holds a cranberry festival on the weekend after Thanksgiving, celebrating everything cranberry! Muskoka Lakes Winery in Bala is the region's only winery, specializing in cranberry and other fruit wines. In the 1940s and '50s, Big Bands like Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and Count Basie played at Dunn's Pavilion. Since the 1960s, the KEE to Bala has hosted musicians like Kim Mitchell, Burton Cummings and The Tragically Hip. Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables books, visited Bala in 1922, and the area made a sufficient impression on her that she based the novel The Blue Castle on the area, her only novel not located in PEI. Bala's Museum, a privately run museum featuring Lucy Maud Montgomery, was opened in the 1990's.

Port Carling
This picturesque community is nicknamed Hub of the Lakes, and is easily accessed off Muskoka Road 118. Located on the Indian River, a set of locks located in Port Carling join Lake Muskoka and Lake Rosseau, and much boat traffic passes through. John Carling was the Ontario Minister of Public Works, and supported the locks between the lakes which were completed in 1871. This led to an economic boom fuelled by tourism and logging. Four new resorts were built, along with two sawmills and three churches. Port Carling Boat Works traces its origins to 1868, and went on to develop the disappearing propeller boat. The rich boating history of the area is celebrated every other year with the Muskoka Lakes Association Antique Boat Show. In 2018, it will be celebrating 125 years, and will be featuring some of the area's oldest surviving boats, many over 100 years old. The first boats in Muskoka were rowing skiffs, sail boats and steam powered boats beginning in the 1860’s. Canoes, rowboats and sail boats were built in Muskoka, and larger Muskoka built boats burst on the scene in the early nineteen hundreds with the advent of gasoline engines. Golfers have a choice of four courses: Kirrie Glen Golf Club, Clevelands House Golf Course, Diamond in the Ruff and Windermere Golf and Country Club.

Named after Lake Windermere in the Lake District of England, this beautiful community was once a port of call for the first steamboats on Lake Rosseau. It became an important stopping point between Port Carling and Rosseau. Windermere House resort and hotel was built overlooking Lake Rosseau in 1870. Known as The Lady Of The Lake, the iconic Victorian landmark quickly became one of the most popular tourist resorts of Muskoka. It was completely destroyed by fire in 1996 during the filming of a the Hollywood film The Long Kiss Goodnight. Only the stone verandah survived. It was immediately rebuilt and open for business the next year. The Lady of the Lake evolved to become known as Muskoka's premiere hotel and resort, and in more major renovations in 2008 have created an even more enhanced experience for hotel guests.

Situated in the northeastern corner of Muskoka, The Township of Lake of Bays became known in the early 1900's for several grand resort hotels that opened on the lake, including the Wawa and the Bigwin Inn. The town is made up of more than two dozen communities, including Baysville, Dorset, and Bigwin Island. Lake of Bays once operated the smallest commercial railway line in the world. The Portage Flyer ran a distance of 2 kilometres between 1904 and 1958. It was retired and relocated to an amusement park, however much of the original parts were rebuilt and continue to operate today on the grounds of Muskoka Heritage Place. Current famous residents include Shania Twain, who has a home here. The lake scenes from the Canadian film called Away From Her, starring Gordon Pinsent, were also shot on the south shore of Lake of Bays. Baysville is home to the Lake of Bays Brewing Company, a premium small batch craft brewery whose products are available at the LCBO, Beer Stores and pubs and restaurans across Ontario. Dorset is home to the scenic Lookout Tower, located off Highway 35. Originally built in 1922, it was used as a fire lookout until 1961. The current tower was built in 1967, and is 100 feet tall, offering incredible views of the area especially in the colourful autumn. The dock at Dorset is home to the historical steamship, the SS Bigwin, which was recently restored and now offers hour long cruises and a glimpse into the past for residents and visitors to Lake of Bays. Bigwin was named for a famous Ojibway warrior, Chief Joseph Big Wind. The island is located right in the middle of Lake of Bays, and offers cliffs and golden sand beaches. The island was originally purchased by a wealthy Huntsville businessman, C.O. Shaw, who wanted to build the finest resort on the continent. In 1915, designer John Wilson and began building on the natural curve of the south-east shore of the island. Wilson combined Tudor, Victorian, Classical and Meditarranean elements into the design, and the doors were opened in 1920. In 1922, reknowned golfcourse designer Stanley Thompson created 9 holes of the original Bigwin Island Golf Course, with the back 9 following by 1930. In the 30's the Inn's Pavilion became a popular venue for performances of big bands including Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Guy Lombardo. In the 40's, Bigwin Inn welcomed famous Hollywood couple Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, and writers as Ernest Hemingway and H.G. Wells. It was a favorite haunt of the Rockefellers, and Canadian Prime Ministers including John Diefenbaker often summered there. The golden era of The Bigwin began to fade when Shaw died in 1942, and most of the Inn was closed by 1970. However, today, it is open for business!

Located an hour and a half from Toronto, the Township of Georgian Bay has been described as the essence of cottage country, noted for its extraordinary scenery. Located along the eastern shore of Georgian Bay, it is home to a multitude of inland lakes, and is the gateway to the world-famous 30,000 Islands. It also serves as the access point to Georgian Bay Islands National Park. With a year round population of just over 2100 residents, the population swells to more than 16,000 during the summer months. The township is home to the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve, the largest island archipelago of the North American Great Lakes. Encompassing the 30,000 islands, it consists of a complex group of sheltered bays, inlets, sounds, islands and shoals lying along the edge of the Canadian Shield bedrock. Forests, coastal wetlands and exposed bedrock complete the biodiversity. It is home to more than 100 species of plants and animals considered to be at risk in Canada. The Township maintains close ties to its first nations roots. It is the administrative hub for the Moose Deer Point Ojibway First Nation reserve. The Township itself is made up of more than a dozen smaller communities, including Big Chute, Honey Harbour, MacTier and Port Severn, which is home to its municipal offices. Big Chute features a world-famous marine railway, the only one in operation in North America. It is part of the Trent Severn Canal, and the railway literally makes boats "fly" over a road from one water body to another. Honey Harbour serves as a launching point to the "30,000 Islands" that make up the scenic Georgian Bay geography. It has a small grocery store, general store, gas bar, post office, and schools. It is also home to waterfront trailerpark resorts, several marinas, and the Delawana Resort, formerly known as the Delawana Inn. The Inn was originally opened in 1897 and known as Victoria House. Guests could take a steamer named Odessa from Victoria Harbour to Honey Harbour for the grand sum of 15 cents. All guests and supplies had to be transported by boat since there were no roads. Guests could go boating, have picnics, and go fishing. It was renamed to The Delawana in the 1920's after a great Chief in the area. After much turmoil and re-invention, the Inn became the Delawana Resort in 2015, and continues to host families for their vacations today!

In Summary, the Muskoka region is a great location for a cottage that serves as a getaway from the everyday! No matter what part of Muskoka you choose to have your cottage/home-away-from-home, you will be welcomed by the small communities, and refreshed by the beauty of the natural surroundings that the region has to offer!