Cottage Wars

The pandemic has turned cottage hunting into a blood sport as Torontonians duke it out for a little piece of lake. An inside look at the bidding wars, property battles, big winners and buying adventures

It began not with a bang but with a groan. In March 2020, during that first lockdown, as the cold spring winds swirled outside and stressed-out students and parents clacked away at keyboards inside, you could almost hear the mental gears turning: Why are we here when we could be at a cottage? Sure enough, the moment the lockdown lifted, the rush was on. Empty-nesters, one per centers with cash to burn, claustrophobic condo dwellers, dispirited house hunters, savvy speculators and others programmed their GPSes for points north. Muskoka, that shimmering crown jewel, was the locus, but Georgian Bay, the Kawarthas, Haliburton and Lake Simcoe surged too.

Illustration by Jenn Liv

The frenzy was a win-win-win: buyers found the tranquility they so desperately sought; sellers cashed in big time; realtors turned an extremely tidy profit. But with a hot market often comes bizarre behaviour—and cottage country was no exception. Below, the good, bad and ugly (plus the puzzling, outrageous and regrettable) from the exodus to the lake.

Real Estate Adventures in Cottage Country

The big sale: A Burlington waitress won the lottery in 1996 and bought this Muskoka cottage for $335,000

“I got 71 bids”: This agent listed her cottage for $399,000 on a whim—and it sold for $777,777

The cottage country commuters: This family ditched city life for a $900,000 house on Lake Simcoe

“We bought sight unseen”: Two generations pooled their money to score a $1-million cottage near North Bay

“I canoe to work in five minutes”: He went up to the Kawarthas early in the pandemic, and he’s not coming back

Serenity now: When the pandemic hit, this family snapped up a fixer-upper cottage on the Crowe River for $525,000

Big business: These cottage country operations are having the busiest year of their careers

Dockside delivery: These Toronto food purveyors are following their customers north

The trades: There’s never been a better time to work in cottage country

Confessions of a cottage country realtor: “I’ve worked in real estate for decades and I’ve never seen anything like this”

Free Wi-Fi in the parking lot: Cathryn Rodney, chief librarian at the Bracebridge library, on the sudden demand for broadband

Air quotes: This guy flies Torontonians to cottage country in 40 minutes

Dear Rural Diplomat: Is it fair to ask our cottage guests for proof of vaccination before they visit?