Marvelous Muskoka

cass cottage boathouse

cass cottage boat house

We are finding Toronto relatively quiet. Our roof deck is an amazing place to linger on warm evenings but not many of our friends are around to share a glass. They spend their summer’s cottaging. Most in Muskoka, the stunning lake filled region to our north. With no traffic, it’s about a 2-hour drive. On a Friday or Sunday evening it takes forever.

zhuangzhuang looking outI never got the whole Muskoka thing. And I tried. The last time we lived in Toronto John and I rented a horrible little house and learned a valuable lesson… never rent a place for a whole summer based on photos. No doubt that awful shack has been replaced with a lakeside McCottage. It was perfectly situated for viewing beautiful sunsets.

The owner probably made a fortune. Prices have been soaring. Property along the three main lakes (Joseph, Rosseau and Muskoka) is among the most expensive in the province.

woods150 years ago the government couldn’t give it away. The land had belonged to the First Nations until European loggers arrived. They cut down trees, but had no interest in living here permanently. The Free Grant and Homestead Act of 1868 was supposed to change all that. Settlers were given 200 acres if they cleared 15 of them, planted and built a house. The Province had kept the rights to the profitable natural resources, i.e. lumber. While the soil the farmers found below was rock-studded clay. Nothing grew. Farming was a bust and most gave up.

traditional muskokaSomeone clever had another idea. This could be the perfect place for tourism: beautiful with cool clean air. The logging steamships that plied the lakes were easily converted to passenger boats. The few settlers who had actually built houses started renting out rooms. By 1875 the railroads got people all the way to Gravenhurst and big money soon followed. Posh resorts were built. Wealthy Canadians and Americans would come for months at a time to escape summer city heat. Clarke Gable, Carol Lombard and Ernest Hemingway were among the early wave of stars that found refuge from the paparazzi. Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington headlined.windermere resort

Rather than keep returning to hotels many families decided to build their own cottages; as deceptive a label then as it is now. Mellons, Carnegies, Eatons and Labatts all built along a stretch of lake known as Millionaires Row. These are not sweet little places where you might encounter Snow White. Instead they were and are huge stunning residences with multiple bedrooms, grand living spaces, heavenly bathrooms and accompanying boathouses.

John and I just spent a wonderful weekend in one of these boathouses (the main house is getting ready for a major renovation). We were wined, dined and entertained in glorious style by Leslie White and Ed Cass. They spend as much summer as they can at their place on Lake Rosseau. Touring the lakes we gasped at some of the houses admired others and learned a lot about the who’s who of modern Muskoka. Cindy Crawford has been posting very sexy photos. Tom Hanks has been spotted. Martin Shore has had a place forever. Goldie Hawn recently sold hers and there are tons of hockey players, none of whose names I can remember, buying.

I’ve started to come around on Muskoka. I still don’t want to own a place… huge sigh of relief from John. He got a bit scared when I forwarding the link to a ‘cottage’ listed for $25,000,000! But I am pleased to have fantastic friends who seem willing to invite us up for the odd weekend! Thank you!on the water

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