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.

 

 

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!

Eat Local!

Imagine this: just over 150 years ago early settlers to Muskoka, lured by free land and the promise of a fresh start, arrived to find that the land they had been given was full of rock. A lot of it. Those who tried to clear and ready it for farming found it was back-breaking labour.

Today, some of those properties still remain as farm land, testament to an earlier, harder time and the resilience (or perhaps desperation) of those first European residents. Today, current residents and visitors can still reap the rewards of their efforts—without the work—at local farmers’ markets. Most open for the season this month or next.

At each, you’ll find locally grown produce, meats, preserves, cheeses, and a variety of culinary delights, along with artisans and crafters displaying everything from rustic and fine art to pajamas and quilts.

In addition to supporting local producers and small businesses, shopping at a farmers’ market is good for you and good for the environment. Produce is farm-fresh, often harvested just that morning, and is organic in methods if not in label. It also conserves energy: supermarket produce often travels thousands of kilometres from farm to store. At a farmers’ market, your food was likely produced no more than 100 kilometres away. You also have direct access to the producer, who can tell you exactly how the food was grown, and may surprise you with varieties of fruits and vegetables you didn’t know about before.

And farmers’ markets are just plain fun: you can meet up with friends or make new ones, spend some time people-watching, or just soak up the sun and the atmosphere. There’s a market just about every day of the week somewhere in Muskoka. Check out the list below!

Monday

Bala Farmers’ Market, Jaspen Park on Muskoka Road 38 (1005 Pine Ridge Road). Opens for the season on June 24 and runs every Monday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. until September 2.

Tuesday

Dwight Farmers’ Market, 1009 Dwight Bay Road in Lake of Bays. Opens for the season on Tuesday, June 25 and runs until August 27, every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Wednesday

Gravenhurst Farmers’ Market, in the special events field across from the Muskoka Wharf. Opens for the season on May 15 and runs every Wednesday from 9:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. until October 30.

Thursday

The Huntsville Farmers’ Market has a new location for 2019: the Huntsville Fairgrounds at 407 Ravenscliffe Road. Opens for the season on May 16 and runs every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. until October 10.

Port Carling Farmers’ Market, Hannah Park, 40 Bailey St. Opens June 27 and runs every Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. until August 29.

Friday

Baysville Farmers’ Market has a new location for 2019: the Season2Season Garden Market, 2849 Muskoka Road 117. Opens for the season on June 28, 2019 and runs every Friday until August 30 from 1-5 p.m.

Rosseau Farmers’ Market at the waterfront park. A free shuttle is available – park anywhere in town! Opens for the season on June 28 at 9:00 a.m.

Saturday

Bracebridge Farmers’ Market, Memorial Park on Manitoba Street (next to the Norwood Theatre). Opens for the season on the Victoria Day long weekend and runs Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. until the Thanksgiving long weekend.

Huntsville 100k Farmers’ Market, West Street S next to Pharmasave. Opens for the season in June and runs every Saturday from 9:00 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Every Day is Earth Day in Muskoka

Nature isn’t just the beautiful view we get to enjoy living in Muskoka (and sometimes something to rail against…will this winter ever end?). We are part of it, too, and our actions impact it.

That’s why every day is Earth Day in Muskoka. We officially celebrate—and remind ourselves to do better for—this wonderful planet we call home on April 22 each year. This year’s Earth Day theme is ‘Protect Our Species’.

In Muskoka, there’s lots we can do to support that theme. With lots of aquatic species, and many (including us!) that rely on our abundant water sources, it’s wise to do everything we can to protect our waterways.

And did you know that there are also more than 40 species-at-risk in Muskoka? They include birds like the bank swallow and the Eastern meadowlark, reptiles like Blanding’s turtle and common five-lined skink, insects like the monarch butterfly and yellow-banded bumblebee, fish like the lake sturgeon, and mammals like the Eastern wolf.

You can see full list here: http://www.muskokawaterweb.ca/water-101/watersheds1/species-at-risk/muskoka-sar

How can you make a difference? Here are some helpful tips to help protect both local species and those the world over:

  • Avoid the use of pesticides to help protect pollinators like bees.
  • Be mindful of what you put into the water—including what goes down your drain or into your septic tank. Properly dispose of harmful chemicals.
  • Reduce your use of plastic, especially single-use plastics: avoid buying items in plastic packaging whenever possible, say no to plastics like straws and plastic beverage bottles, bring your own reusable shopping bags everywhere, and recycle the plastic you do use.
  • Plant a tree or make a donation to plant a tree: yes, we have lots of them in Muskoka, but trees are one of Earth’s best defenses against climate change and deforestation is a problem the world over.
  • Eat less meat: the meat industry generates about 20 per cent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. You don’t have to give up burgers entirely, but adding more veggies to your diet is good for both you and the planet.
  • Grow your own produce or join a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program and support local farmers. And remember to reuse (mmm…broth!) or compost your scraps. If you have a garden, don’t forget about the District of Muskoka’s annual compost giveaway, too. Details here: https://www.muskoka.on.ca/en/live-and-play/Earth-Day.aspx
  • Buy less, make it last, and repurpose/donate/recycle what you no longer need: the less often you have to replace something, the less stuff that ends up in landfills. When you do need to by, look for sustainably made options.
  • Drive less: that can be hard to do in Muskoka where there can be vast distances to cover and limited transit available. Put your pedals or your paddles to work for you and bike, canoe or walk when you can.
  • Be thankful to live in Muskoka! What we love, we are more likely to protect. Happy Earth Day!

Spanning History: The Port Carling Bridge

From the pages of Muskoka Life magazine

by Andrew Hind

The locks at Port Carling are viewed as something of an engineering marvel. Tourists flock here to admire the spectacle of passenger craft and, several times per year, the Segwun, passing through between Lake Muskoka and Lake Rosseau. Yet few people pay much attention to the bridge that spans the locks. 

This bridge, or rather, the succession of bridges that have stood here over the past century and a half, are considerable engineering feats in and of themselves. After all, they’ve had to be designed to allow for even steamships to pass, either by swinging open or lifting up. 

Most people don’t think about this bridge until they are inconvenienced by construction work or maintenance issues. Well, things were even more difficult when settlers first arrived in Muskoka, as the rapids at Port Carling represented a true obstacle to navigation. Passengers and cargo would have to disembark steamships, portage across to Lake Rosseau, and then re-embark again. It was a time-consuming process. A.P. Cockburn, who owned the majority of these vessels and was a Muskoka representative in provincial government, pressed for a navigational lock at Port Carling. His urgings were successful, and construction began in 1869. Difficulties with high water and the need for extensive blasting slowed work considerably so the lock didn’t opened for navigation until November 1871.

The completion of the locks had serious repercussions that should have been obvious to everyone involved, but which no-one seemed to have planned for: the locks left a gap in the Joseph Road that effectively severed east-west traffic. Incredibly, nothing was done to remedy this until 1874, when lobbying by locals finally spurred the government into action. 

Before the locks, passengers disembarking at Port Carling had an adventure merely getting ashore. Vessels could not get up against the shore, so would have to extend a long gangplank. While crew members held down one end, passengers jumped ashore from the others.

At this time, $3,000 was allocated to fund the construction of two bridges, one across the Indian River and the other over the locks. The former, completed by the end of the year, was a fixed structure, 88 feet in length, with a double span supported by a crib in the centre. The latter wasn’t ready until the following year, and with good reason. As a swing bridge, it was a more complex design. 

Around 1914, council petitioned for a new dam, repairs to the locks and wharves, and new bridges to repair the aging existing ones that were now so rotten they were dangerous. Nothing was done as a result of the onset of the First World War, and indeed it wouldn’t be until the winter of 1921-22 that the desperate need for new bridges was addressed. A pair of steel structures were built, 202 feet in total length and set on concrete abutments at a higher elevation than the original.

Traffic throughout Muskoka had increased steadily during the 1960s, and Port Carling was no exception. Weekend and summer traffic led to maddening congestion and delays in the village. To remedy this, there was talk of a bypass around the community – as Gravenhurst and Bracebridge had been bypassed by the new Highway 11 – that would see traffic diverted south of Port Carling and across a high-level bridge over the Indian River. Much to the relief of locals who feared the economic implications of traffic bypassing their village, such plans were shelved in favour of a less costly renovating of Highway 118. 

The swing bridge over the canal at Port Carling is closed in this picture. One of the improvements in the locks over the years was the installation of electric gates to speed up the locking procedure. Lockages that once took as long as 30 minutes are now done in less than 10.

Government engineers decided that traffic would be improved if the streets through Port Carling were raised and realigned to get rid of some of the curves, which meant the demolition of four historic buildings in town. At the same time, the old one-lane bridge would need to be replaced with a new one accommodating two lanes of traffic. It was time, anyways; the bridge’s foundations were crumbling and the iron had deteriorated from the effects of age, weather and road salt. Work began in spring of 1973 and wasn’t completed for two years. 

The grand opening of the new cantilever bridge was set for July 3, 1975. Hundreds of locals and seasonal residents turned out to see the bridge raised for the first time, and Ministry of Transportation officials were on hand to cut the ribbons and bask in the glow of a work well-done – except when the bridge began to rise, the crowd gasped in shock as the asphalt began to slide down like black ooze, right into the pit below containing the machinery. Officials were red-faced, the onlookers a blend of horrified and amused. It would be two more months before the bridge finally opened to traffic. 

This bridge has served Port Carling – indeed, all of Muskoka – ever since. Recent construction work done in spring 2017, while perhaps inconvenient, was important to ensure the continued efficiency of road and marine traffic – the very things that earned the community the title of ‘The Hub of Lakes.’ The bridges and lock have worked together, symbiotic, for almost 150 years to assist in the movement of people and commerce.

Mmmmm…Maple Syrup!

It must have been an inspired moment, one lost to the annals of time, but whoever first decided to boil down sap into a rich, sweet syrup deserves some serious love!

For centuries, people have been gathering the slightly sweet sap from maple trees each spring to make a delicious annual treat. The methods may have changed—many maple syrup producers now use more efficient gathering systems and advanced technology to aid their efforts—but the result is the same: a tasty nectar that graces more than just pancakes.

Maple syrup is produced all over Ontario, right from the province’s most southern reaches up to Thunder Bay. Maples go a bit incognito in the spring and summer—from afar they blend into the forest canopy—but if you’ve ever marveled at the changing fall colours, you’ll know how ubiquitous these magnificent trees are.

It’s a good thing—it takes 40 litres of sap to make one litre of maple syrup, and Ontario produces about a million litres of the golden goodness each year, second only to Quebec for production levels.

If you’ve ever wondered how maple syrup producers get from the clear sap inside the tree to row upon row of bottled syrup, a sugar bush tour is the place to be.

In March and April, Muskoka celebrates all things Maple with the Maple Trail and Festival. From March 8 to April 27, look for sugar bush tours, signature maple experiences and maple-inspired dining across the region.

Some maple syrup producers even create unique treats for the occasion. At Sugarbush Hill Maple Farm just south of Huntsville, you can try Maple Creemees: soft serve ice cream twirled with pure maple syrup. Others have the classic maple taffy, created by drizzling maple syrup on fresh snow or ice.

Or check out some of the creative ways local bakeries and cafés incorporate maple into their delectable delights. At Affogato Café and Gelato in Huntsville, experience maple gelato. Indulge in a gluten-free Muskoka maple butter tart or sip on a Masala Maple Chai at The Past Shoppe Bakery & Fine Foods in Bracebridge. Or how about a maple pecan apple strudel from The Bakery in Gravenhurst? Mmmmm… maple!

And for the beer-lovers out there, there’s even a maple-flavoured brew for you to sample.

Muskoka’s four craft breweries—Clear Lake Brewing Co., Lake of Bays Brewing Company, Muskoka Brewery and Sawdust City Brewery—have collaborated to create the Pancake Breakfast Specialty Maple Ale, a toasted golden brown ale that is inspired by a perfectly flipped pancake with aromas of cinnamon and vanilla. Complimentary samples will be available at each brewery for a limited time beginning March 17.

The Maple Trail culminates in the Muskoka Maple Festival on April 27 in downtown Huntsville, where there will be live music, tasty treats and a Maple Marché. If you love maple syrup, you don’t want to miss this!

And if the only way you’ve ever experience maple syrup is drizzled over waffles or pancakes (a delicious option), check out a list of maple recipes—like Maple Chicken, Maple Syrup Corn Bread, or Creamy Maple Syrup Dressing—from the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers Association at ontariomaple.com/recipes.

Muskoka Cottage Safety During the Fall and Winter Seasons

Protect your cottage – and your sanity over the long months’ of absence – with good quality locks and security system, thorough fall maintenance, and regular winter inspection.

(Muskokaregion.com September 2018)

While we are seeing an increase in four-season cottages, the vast majority of them are closed up tight come November and left vacant and largely unattended until spring. Over the winter, cottage owners will often worry and fret over their beloved summer retreat, now enclosed in a barren landscape of snow, feeling helpless in the event that something goes wrong.

It needn’t be that way. With some effort and modest cost, your cottage can be protected in your absence.

The long absence of property owners and dearth of watchful neighbours over the course of the winter makes cottages tempting targets at this time of year. While you can never completely protect your cottage from theft, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk.

For many, the cottage is a rustic place where one goes to immerse in nature and escape modern technology, but modern technology is vital in protecting your investment, as well. Two technologies in particular – locks and cameras – have seen advances in recent years that help secure your cottage while you’re away in ways that just weren’t possible before.

A lock and key is just the beginning for advanced lock systems of today. There are a variety of more advanced options available. “There are a lot of people coming and going at the cottage – contractors, service people, delivery people, guests – so it’s about providing assurance for the property owner,” Jayne McCaw of Jayne’s Cottages says of investing in a good lock system. McCaw specializes in renting out higher-end cottages and is a cottage concierge, providing information and facilitating anything a vacationer might need, from boat rentals to private chefs. As such, she firmly has the pulse of what makes for a care-free cottage experience. “At the very minimum,” she continues, “get a standard lock box.”

Today’s hi-tech locks can be monitored and controlled remotely from an app on your phone, which allows you to check your cottage remotely from anywhere. Also available are deadbolt lock systems that require the entry of a code on a keypad, which allows you to give guests or caretakers their own access codes and later delete them – no more giving out keys that may be lost, stolen or copied. There are even locks that allow you to have codes that are only good for certain days and times – ideal if you need to give access for service calls.

Another technology that’s come far in recent years, thanks in large part to the advancements in connectivity and apps, is that of cameras and security systems. “People lock up their cottage and leave it unattended for months on end. Having a camera security system gives them a sense of comfort when they are gone because they can actually see what’s going on and know that all is well,” says Louis Liadis, owner of Muskoka Cottage Sitters. Being around cottages is Liadis’s passion, so his customers know their seasonal homes are in good hands.

Today’s security systems don’t just alert us to break-ins. Many also monitor temperature drops, which can help prevent frozen pipes or loss of power. Some systems directly alert law enforcement, heating and plumbing pros, or caretakers in the event of emergency. Infrared cameras that take crystal clear nighttime photos without the give-away of a flash ensure that burglars can be easily identified later without them even knowing they’d first been caught on camera. This naturally makes would-be thieves more cautious, so even the presence of a security company’s logo on a sticker or sign displayed outside a cottage proves a deterrent.

It’s ideal to find a local business that can help you choose the right setup for your cottage and who can be there to make adjustments and ensure the system is operating properly at all times.

“Apps and electronic security systems are great, but you still need someone to respond to them. If you’re in Toronto and you get an alarm at 3 a.m., what are you going to do? What can you do? That’s where a property management company provides real peace of mind. We’re hooked into our clients’ alarm systems and respond immediately when they go off,” explains Liadis. “We’re much closer and have the contacts to immediately address the issue.”

Sure, it’s amazing how today’s technology allows for remote control of cameras and locks, enabling you to secure your cottage or see what’s going on by pulling out a phone in your pocket. But there are still plenty of low-tech steps you can – and probably should – take to discourage any security breach.

The most important is to make the cottage look occupied. “One of the reasons so few of the cottages I tend to have been broken into is probably partially because it looks like people are around,” Liadis suggests. Keeping the yard tended, leaving a magazine open or a scarf or jacket on the couch, indoor lights on timers, and outdoor lights triggered by motion do wonders to make it appear as if people are around.

“The most important thing is to keep the driveway and walkway plowed,” explains McCaw. “This makes it look as if people are regularly using the cottage. In fact, some fire codes and property insurance policies demand it to allow fire departments to make it in should a fire break out.”

“Let neighbours know when you are coming and going, and ask them to check on the property in your absence,” she continues. “Their presence may deter thieves and they act as an additional set of eyes watching over your property.”

Alcohol and firearms are preferred targets for burglars, so take them home with you at the end of the season. Pull curtains and blinds over windows so prying eyes cant peak in and see whatever valuables – particularly electronics – are in the cottage.

Security isn’t just about preventing break-and-enters, according to Liadis. “In 20 years, I’ve only had two of the properties I watch over broken into. The more common threat to a cottage over the winter is natural in origin – pipes bursting, damage from falling trees or snow load, and so on,” he says.

Most of the vital preventative work intended to protect the cottage from natural mishap is done during that final, frenzied autumn weekend when we close up the property for the year. You need a thorough plan of action.

Closing the cottage begins with cleaning up the yard, something every homeowner already does, but is more extensive when it comes to a seasonal property. Leaves and other debris left on your yard can redirect the flow of runoff towards landscaping or the cottage, or cause runoff water to pool which, if it freezes over the winter, can crack and shift concrete and other stonework. Leaves that pile up around the sides of the cottage encourage rodents looking for a place to nest, which may eventually find their way inside. Also, wet leaves become slick and pose a risk.

Thoroughly clean out eaves, otherwise water might back up and find its way into the cottage. While you’re up on the roof, inspect for any damage that might create a leak. Also, examine over-reaching trees for signs of weakness and trim any dead or dangerous branches. Inspect the cottage exterior for any entrances where mice, squirrels, bats and other animals might get in and seal any openings that are found.

Plumbing has traditionally been a source of anxiety for cottagers. Who wants to open the cottage next spring only to find that pipes froze and cracked over the winter months? Damage caused by such accidents can be severe. During closing, it’s important to make sure all pipes and drains are completely free of water. Open all valves and, using a Shop-Vac, blow the water out. There may still be water and moisture in the pipes, so pour some anti-freeze down the pipes. Some people go so far as to wrap pipes with insulation to give them added protection against the cold. If your cottage is older, you may have copper pipes and it’s recommended that all such pipes be replaced with plastic ones.

Ultimately, whether it’s protecting the cottage from natural mishap or human theft, nothing beats having a property caretaker. Just make sure the person doing the work is insured with CGL (Commercial General Liability).

“Using a qualified cottage care team takes the pressure off closing down the cottage, offers peace of mind that the property is being taken care of during the seven months from Thanksgiving until the May when you’re not around, and our presence helps deter theft,” explains Liatis. “We come in weekly throughout the winter and spring, and fill out a checklist of about 25 items, looking for everything from snow load to tree damage, fuel levels to temperature. You can sleep easy at night.”

Saying goodbye to your cottage in the autumn need not leave you full of dread for the winter to follow. Protect your cottage – and your sanity over the long months of absence – with good quality locks and security system, thorough fall maintenance, and regular winter inspection. A small price to pay for securing your beloved vacation property.

Embrace the Snow at Muskoka’s Winter Carnivals

Muskokans don’t just endure winter, they revel in it! With so many different outdoor activities to partake in, it’s no wonder that we embrace winter so enthusiastically. Add in a party atmosphere and we’re all over it. Because winter time is carnival time.

From tube runs right down the main street of town to bed races and polar bear dips to good old-fashioned winter fun, we know how to celebrate the snowy season. There’s a festival in just about every town—attend one or attend them all!

Here’s what kind of carnival fun you’ll find across Muskoka. Check back to their websites or Facebook pages for more details closer to each event.

Jan 26 Fire and Ice Festival, Bracebridge

There’s a dizzying array of events at this popular one-day festival. Highlights include the tube run through downtown, crokacurl (a combination of curling and crokinole, invented in Canada, of course!), disc golf (the only four-season golf game in Muskoka), lumberjack and ice sculpting shows, and that favourite pastime any time of year…roasting marshmallows.

Feb 1-3 Port Carling Winterfest 

For 52 years, the Port Carling Winterfest has been delighting winter fans and this year will be no different. There’s a variety of children’s entertainment, face painting, horse and wagon rides, log sawing contests, a birds of prey demonstration, a chili cook-off contest, and more!

Feb 1-3 Port Sydney Winter Carnival

Port Sydney is a little village with a lot of heart. You’ll find simple, old-fashioned winter fun at this annual carnival, including skating and tubing by tiki-lights, horse and wagon rides, and snow games.

February 2, Muskoka Winter Bike Fest, Deerhurst Resort, Huntsville

If you love cycling, don’t let winter stop you. This event features an 11-kilometre race course with heats for experienced riders, newbies and kids. Plus there’s a bonfire, beer tasting, chili and live entertainment, and more trails to ride if you just can’t get enough.

Feb 8-9 Dwight Winter Carnival 

There’s a whole lot of excitement packed into this little carnival, including a pancake breakfast and chili cook-off, horse-drawn wagon rides, science and nature activities with Science North and Find Your Wild, and tons of carnival and snow games for kids of all ages.

Feb 14-18 Gravenhurst Winter Carnival 

Gravenhurst wins the award for most-unique carnival around. With five days of fun full of activities like bed races, a polar bear dip, a demolition derby, a donut eating contest, a puddle jump, and a doggie dash, it’s entertaining from start to finish!

Feb 15-16 Dorset Snowball 

The Dorset Snowball parade kicks off the fun and festivities at this annual event, in its 29th year in 2019. Follow that up with horse-drawn wagon rides, snow snake games, skating, and other winter activities.

Feb 18 Baysville Winterfest 

This fun Family Day event features a free pancake breakfast and BBQ courtesy of the Lions Club, donut and pie eating contests (as fun to watch as they are to participate in!), and a variety of winter activities. It’s family fun for everyone!

 

 

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