Editor’s Letter: The powerful pull of a lakeside summer

Editor’s Letter: The powerful pull of a lakeside summer

Even in a cooling market, most of us are priced out of Muskoka, Georgian Bay and the Kawarthas, but there’s hope for dispirited cottage hunters

Photo by Daniel Ehrenworth

A lot of real-estate zaniness has transpired these past two-plus years, but nowhere was witness to more transactional madness than cottage country. The culprits, we now know, were the droves of stressed-out Torontonians roaming the region, pre-approvals in hand, eyes bulging. They wanted space, serenity and nature, and they were willing to pay whatever to make it happen. While I wasn’t part of that horde, I understood the impulse entirely.

I was lucky enough to spend many of my adolescent summers lakeside. I rowed, water-skied, kayaked, refined my J-stroke. I learned to make sap boats, loon calls, s’mores. It was at a friend’s cottage that I drank my first beer—an unholy lemon-lime malted mixture called Boomerang—and then buried the evidence before my parents could find out.

To me, cottages were pure magic, and I would have done just about anything to spend a summer at one. And so I did: I entered the workforce as a camp counsellor on a lake in the Laurentians and later slogged it out as a dishwasher (“dish pig,” in local parlance) on Stoney Lake. I worked as a server at a fish-and-chips restaurant on Georgian Bay, and after I got fired (a story for another time), I painted cottages near Parry Sound.

Years later, my wife and I got married in a lakeside ceremony, and today, we rent out a cottage every August so that our kids can enjoy the same experiences I did: predawn fishing, roasted marshmallows, twilight swims, stargazing on the dock.

Cottages, whether owned, Airbnb’d or politely mooched, are as Canadian as lining up for stuff. In fact, the idea of the cottage is so vaunted in the public imagination that we say the cottage—not a cottage—even when it’s not ours.

Of course, the manic market we saw last summer has calmed somewhat lately, thanks to inflation and rising interest rates, but as one real estate agent put it to us this month, “Things went from total insanity to just very hot.” Which means that the most popular regions, like Muskoka, the Kawarthas and Georgian Bay, remain wildly out of reach and will most certainly stay that way. In May, the median price for a waterfront property in Muskoka was $1.7 million. Even if that number comes down in the coming months, the prices will still be exorbitant.

Yet, for Torontonians, the yearning for the cottage experience persists. And, as Covid-19 continues to overstay its welcome, we’re all in constant need of a hammock nap, a yoga session by the water, or a sauna and a cold plunge to slough off the stress and reset.

That’s why we at Toronto Life chose to devote this month’s cover story to the new cottage country. These are places that lie just beyond the well-known, well-trod regions, where the lakes are pristine and deals can be found. We drew the limit at 300 kilometres from the city because, if you’re too stressed from the interminable drive to relax, the entire point is lost.

We didn’t expect to find rock-bottom prices—these days, anything near water comes attached to a hefty price tag. But, after surveying, sorting, interviewing and assessing, we came away with three regions that represent hope for dispirited cottage hunters. These areas, which you’ll find outlined in “Here’s the Deal,” are gorgeous, idyllic, a teensy bit more affordable and, with some extra time spent on the highway, a little more attainable.

Oh, and if you are among the lucky few who buy a lakeside retreat and you happen upon a buried stash of Boomerang bottles, please get in touch.

Malcolm Johnston is the editor of Toronto Life. He can be found on Twitter at @malcjohnston