My parents bought our cottage (for next to nothing) in a little known cottage country two hours north of Toronto, the summer that I was born. This year will be our 33rd season on Lake Joseph. For the first ten years or so, we had pristine views, unobstructed by any neighbouring cottages. Muskoka was a hidden gem; quiet, peaceful, and all natural. All of our neighbours respected the woods and the lake, and built their cottages at least 100 feet from shore (a law at the time), and you could barely even tell they were there, because they were shielded by the beautifully majestic hemlocks and cedars. I can remember our regular boat rides to Port Sandfield, a quaint little marina complete with a mom and pop ice cream shop, and afternoon trips to Port Carling to window shop in the characteristic local country boutiques. We slalom-skied first thing in the morning when the water looked like glass, or just before dinner, so our wake didn’t disrupt the others in our bay, and there was an unwritten rule that every cottager knew, that you waved to every boat that passed you by, and they would always return the friendly gesture. We spent quiet mornings fishing with Dad at our usual spots, slowly drifting over abandoned cribs (remains from an old resort dock), and every summer my brother and I practiced intently for our favourite events in the Foote’s Bay Regatta… mine was the ‘hurry scurry’, a two-man canoe race where every time a whistle blew, both partners had to jump out of the canoe and then climb back in (without tipping or flooding your vessel). On clear dark nights, Dad would set up his telescope, and we would gather around the deck with hot chocolate, and marvel at Mars, Jupiter, and the rings on Saturn, as they appeared above us in the southern summer sky.
But sometime during the 90’s, everything changed. A handful of celebrities (including the likes of Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, and a bunch of NHL-ers) bought cottages in the area, and suddenly Muskoka was on ‘the map’. Prices began to steadily climb, and the population grew, and grew, and grew. Today, there is no peace or quiet, and our once quaint cottage hideaway has become a who’s who Hamptons of the North. Where people used to pull up to the marina in their tin fishing boats, they now park their Benz’s and Range Rovers, and it’s a fashion show of high-end ski boats fully loaded with obnoxious sound systems and Prada-clad passengers. Even the mom and pop country shops have now made room for LuluLemon pop-ups, and the once quintessential campy Muskoka resorts like Cleveland’s House, now sit in the shadows of the gargantuan Marriott… because nothing says cottage country like indoor pools, plasma TVs, and lavish spas, right?! Our peaceful afternoons on the dock are now disgraced by the sounds of over-powered jet-skis zipping around aimlessly and dangerously, the water is always too rough to slalom, and nobody waves anymore. The cute log cabins once hidden by humbling 200 year-old trees, have been leveled to make room for 10,000 + square foot mansions complete with wait-staff (the most ridiculous of which was recently listed for a cool $25 million), and a new trend has emerged of boathouses boasting glass garage doors, so everyone can see the luxury whips parked in your boat slips. At night you hear loud music and laughter crisply carried across the lake from one of the many dock parties riddled with the entitled socialite generation that have taken over this former Canadian paradise. A few years ago Dad finally gave up and sold his beloved telescope, because there is far too much light pollution now to see the planets anymore.
Suffice to say, Muskoka will always be my second home, and the backdrop of my most precious childhood memories. I have spent every summer of my life diving into the cool green water of lake Jo, and navigating my way through the scattered islands and inlets from marina to marina. But while I long to hear the sounds of the loon calls as the sun sets over our bay, I reflect on the inevitability of change, and wonder how this new place, it’s evolution, and it’s nuances, will impact my own children growing up… because I know for certain, that my Muskoka will never be the same.