Real estate industry updates & Muskoka events

Amazing Ontario Parks

There are more than 330 parks to choose from in Ontario’s vast provincial park system. Once they open up in summer, choosing which one to visit might be overwhelming. I’ve simplified your choices by categorizing them into four easy chunks:

  1. Parks popular among Artists
  2. Parks popular among Birders and Butterfly Enthusiasts
  3. Parks that are Easy to Find and Use
  4. Parks popular in Winter

 

  1. Parks Popular among Artists

Tom Thompson. A.Y. Jackson. Lawren Harris. These Group of Seven painters found their “scene” in Ontario Parks — so can you.

 ALGONQUIN PARK, HUNTSVILLE

Opening in 1893, Algonquin was Ontario’s first provincial park. It’s known for glassy lakes, fiery autumn leaves, canoe trips, and howling wolves on starry summer nights. Algonquin is also renowned for inspiring a treasure chest of iconic Canadian art.

Highlight: The Algonquin Art Centre pays homage to artists, including Group of Seven painter Tom Thompson, who died on Algonquin’s Canoe Lake in 1917.

 KILLARNEY, GEORGIAN BAY

This rugged, rocky gem captivated more Group of Seven masters, including A.Y. Jackson and Franklin Carmichael. They were inspired by Killarney’s pink granite and white quartzite along the shores of Georgian Bay. Hiking and sea kayaking are the park’s top pursuits.  Bring a sketchbook.

 GRUNDY LAKE, SUDBURY

Bridging the border between Southern and Northern Ontario is photographer-favourite Grundy Lake Provincial Park, a patchwork of pretty lakes whose “backcountry” campsites lie only 20 minutes by canoe from the park’s gateway. Rocky shoreline mixes with sand beaches, evergreens, and spectacular sunsets. Bring your bikes and your cameras.

  1. Parks Popular among Birders & Butterfly Enthusiasts

Birders and butterfly lovers flock to Ontario Parks year after year for rare spottings and magnificent migrations. Three parks in Southern Ontario top the bill.

PRESQU’ILE, LAKE ONTARIO

Lake Ontario’s shores come alive in spring and fall with more than 300 species of birds. Presqu’ile’s marshy boardwalk and pristine 2.5-kilometre beach are the places to be with binoculars in hand.

Bird Bonus: Tens of thousands of swans, geese, and ducks stop by each March for Waterfowl Weekends in Presqu’ile Bay.

RONDEAU, LAKE ERIE

As one of the system’s oldest parks, Rondeau has enjoyed many rounds of monarch butterfly migrations. This Lake Erie park is also home to 11 kilometres of beaches and is popular for windsurfing.

Tag You’re It: Rondeau hosts a Monarch Migration Festival each September with Monarch tagging demos and guided butterfly hikes.

LONG POINT, LAKE ERIE

Situated within a World Biosphere Reserve, Long Point is another lively Lake Erie spot. It’s among North America’s top destinations for birders. But it’s also known for its fishing, boating, and beach-going opps.

Canoeing & Birding: Water is calm for canoeing on Long Point’s sheltered marsh. Bird sightings abound.

  1. Parks that are Easy to Find and Use

Yurts, heated cabins, and entry-level camping courses are popular at parks close to urban centres. Learn To Camp guides provide equipment, firewood, treats, and lots of expert advice.

BRONTE CREEK, OAKVILLE

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is graced with Bronte Creek, a family-friendly park with hiking trails, farm animals, an outdoor pool, and overnight programs that teach beginners how to camp.

Rent-a-Yurt: Bronte also has three yurts for rent featuring bunk beds, electric heat, BBQs, and sunny decks.

SIX MILE LAKE, BARRIE

North of the Greater Toronto Area in cottage country is Six Mile Lake. Located off Highway 400, this park is easy to reach. Its gentle waters are ideal for canoeing. Dock space can be reserved for power boats.

Park Plus: Six Mile Lake Provincial Park offers guided programs in learning to camp and learning to fish.

RIDEAU RIVER, OTTAWA

This historic park lies along the Rideau Waterway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Families love it for its level, well-shaded campsites. For rent at nearby marinas: canoes, kayaks, and power boats.

City Sites: With Ottawa only 40 minutes away, Rideau River Provincial Park is a down-to-earth base for exploring the Nation’s Capital.

  1. Parks Popular in Winter

Skating, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, even camping — there’s a winter full of activities in Ontario Parks.

ARROWHEAD, MUSKOKA

Arrowhead’s 1.3-kilometre ice skating trail snakes through pristine Muskoka woods. Torch-lit skating is scheduled throughout the winter on special Fire & Ice nights. There’s a snowtubing hill at Arrowhead, too. Plus nearly 40 kilometres of groomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails.

Cabin Chronicles: Arrowhead’s one-room log cabins are cozy and quaint, with heaters, kitchenettes, multiple bunk beds, and sleds for transporting goods.

SLEEPING GIANT, THUNDER BAY

Sleeping Giant on Lake Superior is known for a massive rock formation that looks a little like a giant snoozing on its back. The park is also on the map for its annual Sleeping Giant Loppet — a cross-country ski festival for experts, beginners, families… the works. There are more than 50 kilometres of groomed trail for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing inside the park. Winter-friendly cabins (heated and well-equipped) are situated on the shore of a quiet lake and are available for rent.

Wildlife: In Sleeping Giant’s Boreal forest, expect sightings of deer, foxes, wolves, and lynx.

FRONTENAC, KINGSTON

Four-season backcountry camping is Frontenac’s forté, along with snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Trails meander through tall pine forest and across barren granite, a signature of the Canadian Shield.

Country Escape: Frontenac’s proximity to Toronto, Kingston, Montreal, and Ottawa offers accessible winter adventure to city dwellers.

Happiness is Maple Syrup Month in Muskoka

March and April are the yummiest of maple syrup months in Muskoka. There are more than 30 producers situated within Cottage Country—from mom+pop farms and shops to huge makers that ship their liquid gold worldwide—all hard at work in springtime. And while many local sugarbushes may be closed to visitors during this pandemic, it’s still business as usual in the forest. Almost nothing stops a maple tree’s sap from running, not even Covid. Muskoka’s maple syrup yield in 2021 is expected to be a good one.

There are many reasons why maple syrup is so yummy.

*Sweetness. *Richness. *Naturalness. *Friendliness to the environment.

Without much thought, most of us snap a bottle off the grocery store shelf when we’re thinking Sunday brunch with pancakes. But true connoisseurs know that not all maple syrups are made equal. Like wine, there’s a hierarchy. It pays to pay attention.

Colour

First, there’s colour. In fact, there are four colours: Light, Medium, Dark & Very Dark. Each has a taste and a use. Here’s the breakdown:

Light: Pale golden brown syrup is treasured for its delicate flavour. Think: Topping for pancakes, yogurt or ice cream.

Medium: Slightly darker in colour, this rich, sticky liquid is still fabulous for pancakes and ice cream. In fact, some people prefer it. But its sweetness and richness in flavour are also ideal enhancers for side dishes and desserts, including smoothies and salad dressings.

Dark: Chock full of fragrant maple flavour, dark syrups are magical in cooking. Recipes best suited include stews, chilis, and baked treats such as pies and muffins.

Very Dark: Robust flavours make these syrups the line-backers of cooking. They anchor any maple-rich recipe, including glazes and sauces.

Ingredients

And then there are the ingredients. Scratch that… the ingredient. There’s only one ingredient in 100% Canadian maple syrup. Can you guess what that is? Answer: Maple sap, pure and simple. The product is truly organic. It takes 40 litres of sap to produce just one litre of maple syrup. Maybe that’s why they call it liquid gold. Getting it from the tree to our tummies is a major endeavour.

Yet, while there’s only one ingredient, there are many nutrients in maple syrup. According to maplefromcanada.ca: “One 60 ml (1/4 cup) serving of Maple Syrup contains 72% of the daily nutritional requirement of manganese, 27% of riboflavin, 17% of copper, and 6% of calcium.”

Uses

There are at least 101 uses for maple syrup. They range widely and it’d be a lot of work to list each one of them. But here are a few, including some that might surprise you:

Maple Sugar: Granulated sugar sometimes moulded into the shape of a maple leaf and eaten as candy. Some people swear by it as a sweetener for tea or coffee.

Maple Taffy: Boil it up and pour it in a line on clean snow, then quickly roll up with a popsicle stick. Sugar shacks are specialists at passing these lollies out to kids at Spring Break. Seriously, there’s nothing better.

Maple Butter: There’s actually no butter in maple butter. It’s really just a different form of maple syrup. Cooked in a certain way to make it thick and creamy—ideal as a toast topper.

Maple Wine: Yep, they make wine out of pretty much anything these days, including maple syrup. Érablière du Cap’s L’Avrillon is one of them.

Maple Beer: And where there’s a wine there’s a beer. Coming quickly to mind: Sawdust City’s Maple Butter Tart Ale and the Spring Maple Belgian Blonde by Lake of Bays Brewery.

Happiness

To sum it all up, we turn back to maplefromcanada.ca to remind us why March and April are the yummiest of maple syrup months in Muskoka: because it makes us happy: “Family outings to the sugar shack, that first maple taffy on the snow, Mom’s maple syrup pie, the comfort of maple butter on toast on a winter morning… Happiness is Maple!”

Books by Muskoka Authors

Muskoka is known well for its artists—painters, sculptors, potters—appearing at the annual Summer Show in Bracebridge and displaying their works at studios scattered across cottage country. Lesser known but equally vital are Muskoka’s authors. There’s a growing group of them, many belonging to the Muskoka Authors Association (MAA), which fosters and supports its members through monthly meetings and how-to seminars hosted by some of Canada’s most accomplished writers. This month I’d like to introduce you to three of those MAA authors: Paul Feist, Wendy Truscott, and David Bruce Patterson. All three published new books in late 2020. 

 

Paul Feist: Broken Anchor

You may recognize author Paul Feist as a humorist, writer, and actor. Feist has appeared on stage in multiple theatre and television productions. His weekly humour columns in The Muskoka Sun captured oddball cottage and country living stories from 1993 to 2007. Feist has now turned his talents to writing fiction in the style of Terry Fallis and Stephen Leacock. His latest effort is a novel titled Broken Anchor, a 1950s adventure/romance tracing a year-in-the-life of a cocky kid named Dan Dawson as he toiled on a Great Lakes tanker. And while the there’s plenty of ‘inside reveal’ of life on a gritty ship carrying cargo for the British American Oil Company—brothels and backstreet bars included—at the book’s core is a light-hearted story of friendship, family, and love. It’s the coming-of-age efforts of a boisterous kid trying to do right by his mother, girlfriend(s), and closest ship mate. Broken Anchor is available for sale ($20) in Bracebridge at Majestic Hair Design, Martins Framing Centre, and Worth Repeating, or by contacting Paul directly at feistpaul@hotmail.com

 

Wendy B. Truscott: MacGregor’s Curse

Wendy Truscott is a prolific author and artist living in the Baysville area. MacGregor’s Curse is her second novel in a series of books for young adults (YA), a series that began with Haunted Journey. Both are set in old Muskoka—general stores, dirt roads, horse-drawn buggies—and both books are journeys back in time to the early days of places we love and recognize in Muskoka. Overwhelmed by grief for his dead mother, young Jamie MacGregor of MacGregor’s Curse commits an act of revenge he immediately regrets. Lacking purpose, confidence, and friends, Jamie falls under the spell of a dangerous blackmailer. As others work behind the scenes to help him find his way again, Jamie’s life begins to turn around, but the blackmailer remains determined to bring him down, and falling for a lively girl brings complications. Events come to a head with a spectacular and dangerous theft. During a rescue attempt, Jamie must prove to others he can be trusted. Truscott’s books ($20) are available via her website: wendytruscott.com.

 

David Bruce Patterson: Square Wheels

Author and poet David Bruce Patterson is an avid contributor to Bracebridge life, serving his church, political campaigns, Friends of the Library, and the Muskoka Authors’ Association with verve and dedication. In Square Wheels, his first full-length novel, the author takes us back to Toronto in the Roaring 1920s, a world filled with dance halls, silent-movie cinemas, and jazz music. This is not a fast read, but rather a long, slow, insightful dip into a Toronto lost in time. Fashion, food, transportation, even vacation-friendly Muskoka in the 1920s are revealed through the trials and tribulations of the Conor family. Add a Toronto streetcar disaster that throws the family, their friends, and all of the city into peril and you’ve got a saga that’ll stay with you long after you’ve turned the last pages. Square Wheels ($25) can be purchased by contacting David at david.patterson@alumni.utoronto.ca. Copies can also be purchased at the Heron’s Nest Gallery.

A Winter’s Drive In Muskoka

“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words had little to do with a winter’s drive through Muskoka, or maybe they did. Like any great pastime, a driving journey past frozen lakes and parks and villages under blankets of snow may well be about the experience rather than the destination. We’re not trying to reach Port Carling, or Rosseau, or Huntsville, or Bracebridge—though all of those destinations are worthy. The point is the journey.

What we see along these pathways is one of the reasons we choose to live in cottage country. Winter driving routes lead in all directions, twisting through the highlands of Huntsville, the farmlands near Bracebridge, and along the shorelines of Gravenhurst and Port Carling. Here are three winter routes I’ve driven often, both for my work as a realtor and for simple pleasure—passing time during this pandemic. These routes mix highway driving with slow meanders along country roads. You can drive an entire route in a single day, or carve a route into bits, savouring sections one day at a time. The key to a winter’s drive is taking time to look around rather than racing toward the finish line. As Emerson said: “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”

 

Circling Lake Muskoka

At about 95 kilometres from start to finish, this route covers quintessential Muskoka: Gravenhurst, Bala, Port Carling, and Bracebridge. You can begin at any point as it’s a circle route. I’ll start in Gravenhurst, heading through the gates at the south end of town, following the main street past shops, bakeries, and the Gravenhurst Opera House, then dipping down toward the lake to Muskoka Wharf, where you’ll see the RMS Segwun and the Wenonah II often covered in snow and always sleeping peacefully in winter. Picking up Muskoka Road 169, we travel the shoreline of Lake Muskoka to Bala, where we turn into the village to pass by the falls, shops and bakeries, and the Kee to Bala. At Muskoka Road 118 we hang a right, following it to Port Carling. The route funnels through the centre of the village, a hub for shoppers, boaters and ice cream lovers. Next, Muskoka Road 118 tracks toward Bracebridge, its most spectacular point the Huckleberry Rock Cut, a canyon that reveals the majesty of the Canadian Shield. In Bracebridge we deviate off 118 for a brief swing through the main part of town, over the “brace bridge” that spans Bracebridge Falls, then down the hill to 118 once again where we hang a left. At the railway bridge near Muskoka Brewery, we turn right on Muskoka Road 17 and follow this Muskoka Beach Road—perhaps the prettiest piece of the drive—back to the town of Gravenhurst.

 

Huntsville Highlands Tour

This hilly route has many possibilities and is especially pretty in winter. We’ll start on Huntsville’s main street. At the north end of town we head right on Highway 60. Note: this is were the route has many, many options! We can sidestep by turning left onto Limberlost Road, where we follow its path, as twisty as a roller coaster. At Camp Olympia we turn around and retrace our path back to Highway 60. Back on Highway 60 we approach Canal Road. A right turn there leads us toward Deerhurst, then turns sharply right, over a bridge and left again behind Peninsula Lake. North Portage Road is next, which leads to South Portage Road near Dwight. At this junction we have more choice: a left turn will pop us back on Highway 60 where we can head back to Huntsville; a right turn will lead us along another roller coaster called South Portage Road, a lovely fun drive that tracks the north shore of Lake of Bays. At Brunel Road, we can turn right and circle back into Huntsville, or turn left and follow Brunel to Baysville. Steering left onto Highway 117 at Baysville follows the south shoreline of Lake of Bays. We turn left again at Dorset onto Highway 35, which meets up with Highway 60 and leads us (finally!) back to Huntsville.

 

Circling Lake Rosseau

Our last jaunt winds a circular route through some Muskoka classics: Port Carling, Rosseau, and Windermere. We’ll begin in Port Carling, where we’ll stop to gaze at “The Wall”, a mosaic painted on a brick wall in the centre of town to commemorate Port’s 100th anniversary. Heading east, we’ll hang a left onto Muskoka Road 25, also known as Brackenrig Road. This meandering route includes views of the lakes but also offers glimpses of local farm life. We dip left again onto Muskoka Road 24, taking time to veer into Windermere, where the famed hotel commands a grand view of the lake. Next we journey toward Ullswater on Highway 141 until we reach Rosseau, a village that’s sleepy in winter but alive in summer with a Friday farmers’ market, a general store, and a fabulous bakery. A left onto Highway 632 brings us to Minett and Port Sandfield, two of Muskoka’s tiniest, busiest villages in summer. Over the bridge at Port Sandfield, we pop out again onto Highway 118; a left turn leads us back to Port Carling.

 

 

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Whether to stay in or get outside is a question Muskokans are going to ask themselves throughout the winter as we await a fix for this pandemic. Fortunately we’re in an area blessed with vast outdoor spaces in which physical distancing is doable. And while safety protocols must be followed, experts are indicating it’s possible to ski and skate safely this winter. I’ve gathered some suggestions on how and where to make it happen in Muskoka.

XC Skiing

Stay six feet apart. That’s the guideline stipulated by XC Ski Ontario, and it’s an easy measure thanks to the equipment on your feet. The organization states the average length of XC skis is about six feet, giving recreational skiers a simple reference.

Cross-Country ski trails in Muskoka are open this winter, including the Bracebridge Resource Management Centre, where there are more than 16 km of trail for all levels and there’s no fee. Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve near Huntsville is also free. Its trails feature fun and informative titles—Turtle Lake Trail and Ski Hill Trail—all lined with varieties of larch, hemlock and massive basswoods.  Offering the motherlode of XC trails near Muskoka, however, is Algonquin Park: 85 km of groomed trails plus 32 kilometres more of ungroomed, wilderness skiing.

Skating Trails

Outdoor ice skating, especially along trails, is widely supported by health officials this season, who cite its benefits and its natural open areas. “There’s a lot of space and a lot of movement, which is good,” says one of Canada’s top epidemiologists. “It means you’re not being exposed to the same people for prolonged periods, and the ventilation is, of course, second to none.”

Listed among the Top 50 Canadian Winter Experiences, the Arrowhead Ice Skating Trail in Arrowhead Park is 1.3 km of fairytale goodness, especially at night when the trailside torches are lit. Winding through dense Muskoka forest, this is a true bucket-list experience. Standard Covid protocols apply, including mask wearing and social distancing. Ontario provincial parks may restrict the number of daily visitors to their parks to ensure safety. Visitors are encouraged to check park rules and limits before arrival.

Alpine Skiing

There are 236 ski areas in Canada and most of them plan to be open this season by adopting the Ski Well, Be Well slogan. Ski resort associations across the country have created Covid safety standards for all resorts, including those situated in or near Muskoka: Hidden Valley, Horseshoe Resort, and Mount St. Louis.

There’s little doubt your favourite ski area will operate much differently than in previous seasons, but don’t let that stop you. Among the protocols: wearing face coverings at all times, changing your boots in the car instead of the lodge, and physical distancing of at least two metres in lift lines. Fortunately, due to lengths of skis and snowboards, distancing within liftlines is achievable.

Singles lines will be eliminated at most resorts; only those within the same party will be permitted to load onto a chairlift. Most chairs are spaced at least 15 metres apart and travel at speeds between eight and 27 km/h, which authorities say ensures directional air flow. At the top of the lifts, skiers will be encouraged to move away from unloading areas as quickly as possible, and will not be permitted to gather.

Again, skiers will be directed to use their cars as baselodges this winter: lunches, snacks, boot changing, and equipment storing will all take place in the parking lot.

And yes, as with all of the above activities, remember to bring your own hot chocolate!

The Women of Winter

Winter has always been a favourite of mine, especially in Muskoka. Snow has a special way of lighting cottage country landscapes by blanketing the evergreens, sparkling the fields, and rendering frozen lakes in smooth, contemplative whites. I’ve been admiring the way Muskoka’s women artists are able to capture this beauty on canvas. Painter Lynda Lynn, for example, a colleague of mine in real estate, is especially talented in catching the feel and colour of a Muskoka winter. Joining her are fellow mixed media artists Wendie Donabie and Janice Feist. This month I’m profiling their winter works. Join me in celebrating these remarkable women.

Lynda Lynn

Perhaps the most recognizable painting by Lynda Lynn is a depiction of downtown Bracebridge during the annual festival titled Fire and Ice. Lynn uses soft watercolours, oils and acrylics in her representationals to put you right there in the scene. In the Fire and Ice painting, you’re walking the store-lined hill on Manitoba Street alongside the artist, sensing the cold and the wind, but also the joy of children as they slide on snow. A profile of the artist in Unique Muskoka explained it this way: “Using this style captures the overall picture but allows the artist to manipulate specific parts to create a more balanced composition for the art piece.” Lynn is a fifth generation Muskokan, her family first arriving to homestead in the 1800s. The place is in her soul. “I love the feel of the soft breezes on my face,” she explains, “the rainbows in the dewdrops, the smell of the land after a summer rain, (and the) softly falling snowflakes as big as feathers.” You can view more of Lynda Lynn’s work at www.muskokaartist-lyndalynn.com

Wendie Donabie

Paintings by Wendie Donabie start with a walk and a camera. Alongside her husband Hugh Nichols, a commercial realtor, Donabie hikes the trails of Muskoka in both winter and summer, seeking what she calls her next muse. “When I witness a scene that causes my heart to flutter and goose pimples to rise on my skin,” she says, “I’m moved to capture the moment with a photo.” Back in her Bracebridge studio, a light sketch comes next, then the painting begins. “I know a painting is finished,” she says, “when I experience the same emotional response that inspired its creation.” In her Heron’s Nest Gallery (95 Muskoka Road), Donabie exhibits a range of her work, from realistic to abstract and impressionistic. Many feature creatures of Muskoka’s streams and woodlands—birds, deer, fish—and many are mystical. Among my favourites: Winter Solstice, an acrylic that captures the sun as it lights a snowy trail in the heart of a Muskoka forest. Wendie Donabie’s work can be seen at www.wendiedonabie.com

Janice Feist

Being surrounded by the lush landscape of Muskoka is Janice Feist’s “idea of heaven”. Living and working here for more than 30 years, the painter and sculptor is inspired by the beauty and ruggedness of the Canadian Shield. “It’s a magical place,” she says, “an artist’s treasure.” Feist has always been drawn to colour and texture. Her paintings capture what it’s like to view a stormy sky in winter, or encounter a wolf or a bear as he roams the leafless woodlands. In sculpture, Feist holds a place in her heart for horses. Hand-built in papier mache, these silent beauties are stoic and majestic, some with snow blanketing their backs and faces. To view Janice Feist’s work, see www.janicefeist.com

Turkeys and Cranberries: Happy Thanksgiving!

There are some sure signs that Thanksgiving is just around the corner: wild turkeys are on the move, often visible at roadside (or on the road) at this time of year; the cranberry harvest has begun; and fall colours are almost at their peak.

In honour of that belly-busting holiday, here are a few fun facts that you might not know about Muskoka’s turkeys or its cranberries.

Gobble, gobble

Did you know that turkeys were extirpated from Ontario in the early 1900s thanks to unregulated hunting and forests that were cleared for agriculture? You wouldn’t know it today—a reintroduction program that began in 1984 was hugely successful and the 4,400 wild turkeys released then has grown into a population of more than 70,000 birds across the province.

Turkeys can run at speeds up to 40 kilometres per hour, although you’re more likely to find them sauntering. They seem to particularly enjoy a leisurely stroll when they are in front of your car.

Turkeys sleep in trees…

…which means that despite their large size they can fly short distances.

Some people do still hunt turkeys, although most of us buy ready-to-cook domesticated birds from the grocery store, or maybe some tofurkey for the vegetarians and vegans among us.

Hello, sweet-tart

Cranberries are a classic side dish for roast turkey, loved by some, reviled by others. (If you’re in the latter category, ditch the gelatinous canned stuff and try the recipe below. If it doesn’t convert you, nothing will!)

Did you know that Muskoka has its very own cranberry bog, or that cranberries are native only to North America?

In commercial cranberry operations, the berries are harvested in water to make picking easier: cranberries float.

Indigenous peoples used cranberries not only for food—pemmican is a mixture of dried meat and mashed cranberries—but they also used its juice as a natural dye.

Muskoka’s cranberries are celebrated every year during the Bala Cranberry Festival, which is held on the weekend following Thanksgiving.

And if you want to include some fresh, local cranberries in your Thanksgiving feast, try this recipe. It’s super easy and delicious, with just the right balance of sweet and tart. (Add more sugar to taste if you like it on the sweeter side.)

Killer Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ c. sugar
  • 1 navel orange
  • ½ tsp. grated ginger
  • 4 c. cranberries
  • ½ c. toasted pecans (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Grate the orange peel and add to a pot with the sugar and ginger. Squeeze the juice from the orange and add that to the pot, too. Simmer over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Add the cranberries and cook until most of them have popped (about five minutes).
  3. Add the pecans if desired.
  4. Cool sauce and serve. Can be made the night before and refrigerated.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Looking for some of the best places to see fall colours? Look here!

The summer of 2018 was arguably one of the best ever with plenty of sunny days to get out and enjoy Muskoka’s lakes, trails and towns. Autumn 2018 is shaping up to be equally good—no need to put away the water toys just yet!

With autumn comes fall fairs, pumpkin spice everything, and a stunning show of colour as Muskoka’s deciduous trees bid farewell to summer.

There are many places to view those colours—I’ve shared some below—but first a bit about the science behind that brilliant shift from green to fiery gold, orange and red.

Just as some of the local wildlife (like those adorable chipmunks) build a stash of goodies to get them through the winter, trees need to stockpile some energy to help them survive the coldest months.

In the spring and summer, chlorophyll (a chemical in the leaves that gives them their green colour) produces nutrients for the tree through photosynthesis, a reaction that uses sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide into glucose and oxygen. But as the days get shorter, nutrients are moved to the trunk, the chlorophyll starts to break down, and the bright colours of the leaves (which were there all along, hidden beneath the green) are revealed.

A dry summer and an autumn with sunny days and cool nights produce the brightest fall colours—2018 could be spectacular!

Roads a bit off the beaten path provide some of the best fall viewing opportunities. A wonderful driving tour, that also incorporates some local arts and culture, is the Muskoka Autumn Studio Tour. It’s Canada’s original studio tour—celebrating its 40th anniversary this year—and one of the few studio tours where you do actually visit the place that each artist works. Learn more and find a map at muskokaautumnstudiotour.com.

Algonquin and Arrowhead Provincial Parks are another beautiful option, each providing a different experience. Be aware that traffic can be congested in Algonquin Park in the fall with thousands of people driving Hwy 60 through the park—a mid-week visit is best to avoid the crowds. At Arrowhead, you can take to the trails to see the colours up close—Big Bend Lookout offers a unique vantage point for both fall colours and the Big East River.

You’ll find plenty more suggestions for driving tours courtesy of Muskoka Tourism and Explorers’ Edge at the links below:

discovermuskoka.ca/top-fall-driving-roads-muskoka

explorersedge.ca/muskoka-tourisms-fall-driving-tours

And don’t forget about the view from the water! Rent a canoe, kayak or paddleboard from a local outfitter if you don’t have your own, or take a cruise on the Lady Muskoka, Muskoka Steamships, or the SS Bigwin to see how the fall colours reflect along the shoreline.

For other recommendations on where to see fall colours in Muskoka, and when they’ll be at their peak, visit discovermuskoka.ca/ontario-fall-colour-report. Happy autumn!

Arts and Culture: A Natural Cure for the Winter Blahs

If you love winter, there are plenty of ways to spend a day outdoors in Muskoka. But what if you don’t love winter? Our fair-weather friends (and those who just want a break from the cold and snow) need not despair-while you anxiously await the day when you can once again step outside in flip-flops, there are lots of options for indoor joy to be found in Muskoka’s arts and culture scene.

Live Shows
There’s nothing like a little music or an entertaining play to help drive the winter doldrums away. Muskoka’s music and theatre scene hums all year-round, with performances to suit just about any taste. If music soothes your soul, check out what’s on offer from Huntsville’s Algonquin TheatreHuntsville Festival of the Arts, the Rene M Caisse Memorial Theatre in Bracebridge, the Gravenhurst Opera House, and Peter’s Players. Many local pubs also have live music on weekends (and sometimes weekdays), too.  If live theatre is your thing, the Huntsville Theatre Company and the Dragonfly Theatre Company both offer fun community theatre. Watch for the Rotary spring musicals in both Huntsville and Bracebridge, too!

Galleries
Winter is a great time for contemplation, and art is one of the best ways to contemplate both your inner and outer worlds. Fortunately, Muskoka is a hotspot for artists so there’s no lack of inspiration!Arts at the Albion in Gravenhurst is a co-operative gallery that showcases the work of 20 local artists and craftspeople. Its heritage home has a pretty cool vibe, too. The Chapel Gallery in Bracebridge hosts exhibitions primarily by members of Muskoka Arts and Crafts. In Huntsville, the galleries in Partners Hall at the Algonquin Theatreand the Canada Summit Centre highlight the works of members of the Huntsville Art Society and also occasionally host travelling exhibitions. Eclipse Art Gallery at Deerhurst Resort (just east of Huntsville) curates artworks from both Muskoka and across Canada for a one-of-a-kind collection.Many local artists also have gallery space at their studios. See the listings by the Huntsville Art Society and Muskoka Arts and Crafts for details.Once spring is here, you’ll also want to make a stop at the Oxtongue Craft Cabin and Gallery in Dwight. It’s a playful place to view art and has been delighting visitors to its out-of-the-way location for 40 years. And although not in Muskoka, the Algonquin Art Centre is always worth the drive to Algonquin Provincial Park in the summer months for some truly stunning works set in an equally stunning location.

Museums
Kids of all ages will love the Muskoka Discovery Centre at the Gravenhurst Wharf. Packed with both historical exhibits and interactive displays, it’s a great place to while away a winter day. Be sure to check out the new Watershed Wonders which includes, among other fun activities, a 96-inch virtual aquarium.Although its pioneer village is closed in the winter, the Muskoka Museum at Muskoka Heritage Place remains open year-round and offers an intriguing look into Huntsville’s past. Its current feature exhibit, Healthy Huntsville, provides a peek at early healthcare in the region (and visitors can see for themselves just how far we’ve come!). Note that the museum’s already inexpensive admission will be free on Family Day, February 17, 2020. Visit MHP again in the summer months to see the Steam Museum at the Rotary Village Station for an overview of steam and steamship history in North Muskoka.Once summer arrives, don’t forget to check out Bala’s Museum and its memories of Lucy Maud Montgomery, the Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site in Gravenhurst (the birthplace of medical pioneer Dr. Norman Bethune), the Muskoka Lakes Museum in Port Carling, and the Dorset Heritage Museum which are all closed during the winter months.

Embrace Winter in Muskoka

It arrived in fits and starts this year, but it appears that winter is finally here to stay. There are plenty of ways to get out and enjoy the season, from winter festivals to outdoor activities like skating, snowshoeing and skiing. Even if you have your favourites, why not try something new this year? 

Winter Festivals
Just about every community in Muskoka has a winter festival, enough to take you through almost until spring!February 14-15 – Dorset SnowballFebruary 14-17 – Gravenhurst Winter CarnivalFebruary 17 – Baysville WinterfestFebruary 22 – Huntsville Snowfest – watch for details about this new event here!February 28-29 – Dwight Winter Carnival

Skating Trails
Arrowhead Provincial Park made it uber-popular, and now skating trails are popping up all over Muskoka. Be sure to check these ones out. (Check the links for conditions and closures due to weather)Arrowhead Provincial Park, north of HuntsvilleJohnston’s Cranberry Marsh in BalaMemorial Park Winter Village in BracebridgeHanna Park Skating Trail in Port Carling 

Snowshoe by Day or by Night
One of the easiest ways to get active outside. Just strap on your snowshoes and go. And you can go just about anywhere, but you’ll find some official trails at the links below.Arrowhead Provincial ParkLimberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve, east of HuntsvilleFor a nighttime treat, head to the Torrance Barrens Conservation Area, an official Dark Sky Reserve 

Cross-Country Skiing
It’s been practiced for thousands of years, but cross-country skiing didn’t make its way to Canada until the late 1800s. In those days skis were long. Really long-sometimes up to four metres in length. Skiers carried just a single pole. Today’s options are more user-friendly and equally fun. You’ll find trails across Muskoka, including those at the links below.Arrowhead Provincial Park – 46km of trails, some track-set and some skate-set. (Be sure to check out what the Arrowhead Nordic Ski Club has to offer as well.)Bracebridge Resource Management Centre – 16.5km of groomed cross-country ski trails)Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve – more than 35km of cross-country ski trails to explore. Note that none of the trails are track-set.

Downhill Skiing
If you have a need for speed, there’s just one place to go. Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Areaoffers the only official downhill skiing in Muskoka.

Yoga in the Snow
Who says you need to practice yoga indoors? Head into the great outdoors, with or without snowshoes (leave them on for an added challenge), for a few asanas. You could even add a snow angel to your repertoire!There are many other ways to enjoy the snow, of course-build a snowperson, go tobogganing, have a snowball fight, build a fort or try your hand at an igloo, or just watch the white stuff gently drift down. However you choose to enjoy winter, here’s to having fun!

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