All posts by Lenore Inniss

Wearied Buyers, Your Time Has Arrived – Muskoka Spring Real Estate Report

We are starting to see the Muskoka real estate market shift. From the frantic 2021 cottage market season right up until recently, holding offers until a specific date has been a popular strategy for sellers to drive up competition for listings. Listings were seeing a large number of offers and disappearing from the market quickly. Now we’re seeing more of a mix – some listings are seeing multiple offers, and some are quietly removing their request for offers when the day comes and passes with nothing.

One factor in the shifting market we’re experiencing is the Bank of Canada raising policy interest rates by 0.5% in April, one of the major goals of which was to bring inflation levels back to their target 2% (vs. the 6.7% reported in March). This is the first time it has raised rates by more than 25 basis points in more than two decades. Higher interest rates mean higher borrowing costs, which lowers demand. We expect interest rates will continue to be increased until borrowing costs are back to pre-pandemic levels of 3%. The next announcement is on June 1, 2022.

The 2022 Federal Budget also puts a few factors into play that could effect Muskoka’s real estate market moving forward. It focused heavily on housing initiatives, including (among others):

  • A foreign ban on buyers for two years
  • An anti-flipping tax that removes the principal residence exemption for properties that were purchased and sold within the same 12-month period (with some exceptions). The proposed anti-flipping measure would apply to residential properties sold on or after January 1, 2023.
  • Sales tax on all assignment sales. Starting May 7, 2022, anyone selling their agreement of purchase and sale to a new buyer will be subject to a tax of up to 26%

Does this mean the bottom will fall out and prices will go way down? Highly unlikely. Historically, we still have quite low inventory. It’s gone up from 2021, but properties are limited – especially waterfront. Plus, the already strong desirability of living in Muskoka has only increased after the pandemic. On top of that, there is still a large portion of the population approaching retirement age, who are looking to relocate to somewhere like Muskoka for their golden years.

If you’re a buyer, it’s time to shake off the fatigue of last season and get back to your cottage search – with less competition.

I have posted the relevant stats for overall waterfront market activity and waterfront market activity by location below, for our more analytically minded friends.

If you’re looking for non-waterfront stats or anything else that I haven’t included please email me at len@cottageinmuskoka.ca. I’d be happy to send it to you!

Overall MLS Waterfront Market Activity

Muskoka Real Estate Market information on waterfront properties for all of Lakelands North, which includes Muskoka and surrounding areas. Real estate sales activity, dollar volume, months of inventory both actual and year-to-date.
Source: The Lakelands Association of Realtors
Source: The Lakelands Association of Realtors
Source: The Lakelands Association of Realtors

Muskoka Waterfront Market Activity by Location

Muskoka Lakes

Source: The Lakelands Association of Realtors
Source: The Lakelands Association of Realtors
Source: The Lakelands Association of Realtors

Huntsville

Source: The Lakelands Association of Realtors
Source: The Lakelands Association of Realtors
Source: The Lakelands Association of Realtors

Bracebridge

Source: The Lakelands Association of Realtors
Source: The Lakelands Association of Realtors
Source: The Lakelands Association of Realtors

Gravenhurst

Source: The Lakelands Association of Realtors
Source: The Lakelands Association of Realtors
Source: The Lakelands Association of Realtors

Muskoka Lakes History – Moving Heart’s Content by Barge

My parents live in Port Carling, in an old house now known as ‘Caledonia House’ (formerly Heart’s Content). It has spent portions of it’s life as a: private home, resort, music venue (more on that soon), and who knows what else. But the coolest part? It didn’t start out where it lives today – it was moved across Indian River and Mirror Lake by barge! Here is an excerpt from the 1995 book Indian River Tales by Ann Duke Judd.

The Vedette and Heart’s Content, Indian River and Mirror Lake, Port Carling. From Indian River Tales by Anne Duke Judd.
The Moving of Heart’s Content

“The old Heart’s Content was built around 1916 at Indian Point. In early spring, around 1928 it was put onto two scows, using horses and the high water to help.

Cribwork on the scows kept it level at the old elevation; the scows were borrowed from one of the lumber companies, and Allan Dixon was in charge of the operation. One scow sprang a leak, and since there was no electrical power at the point, it had to be hand-pumped all night. Art Duke and others took turns keeping the pump going.

The next day, they set off across the river, but about half way across Mirror Lake, the steering mechanism on the Vedette broke, and she had to be taken up to Port for repairs. The wind blew the scows and house down to Arcadia point. The centre timber caught on trees along the riverbank and pulled out – fortunately, the two outside timbers stayed secure and the house remained level.

A second time, the men attached the scows to the Vedette, and pulled their cargo close to its new site on the eastern shore – but because the boat could not tow it in from the front, the lines had to be untied while the Vedette manoeuvred to the stern to push it in.

Again, the house got away, the wind blowing it ashore at the Schreibers’. By the time it was securely tied at the proper place on the shore, daylight was gone. There was electricity on this side, but it was not very reliable then, so an electric pump was left running overnight.

The next morning, Heart’s Content was moved ashore, and lowered – one crib timber at a time – onto its site at the bottom of Silver Creek Hill.

Here it remained the home of Arthur and ‘Did’ Duke (née Elizabeth McCulley) and their sons Thomas and Reay until 1948, when the couple’s retirement home was built. The sign still identifies that home, now the residence of Rev. Tom Duke and his wife Charlotte. Tom’s main memory of the house moving is the disappointment he felt at having to go to school, and miss the excitement of the move.”

Modern day Caledonia House on Mirror Lake, Port Carling, Muskoka Lakes, ON.
Modern day Caledonia House, Mirror Lake, Port Carling, Muskoka Lakes, ON.
Caledonia House sign – located on Mirror Lake in Port Carling, Muskoka Lakes, ON.

Ontario Real Estate Regulations Changing to Offer Alternative to Blind Bidding

Under the current blind bidding system, potential buyers submit offers without knowing the contents of competing offers. The seller’s agent must disclose the number of offers received to all other parties who have submitted an offer, but none of the details – whether price or conditions.

The new regulations coming into effect April 1, 2023 would allow sellers the option of an open bidding process. Blind bidding will still be allowed, but it will depend on what the seller wants. Should they chose to opt for open bidding, the brokerages who represent them would disclose details of competing offers.

The Ontario government says these new regulations will help to make the home buying process more transparent, bringing down the rapidly inflating cost of homes. Blind bidding does create an opportunity for sellers to drive up prices by signing back offers for a higher price, with the potential buyer left guessing how much (if any) improvement would actually be needed to beat out the other offers on the table. With that said, it’s hard to see why the majority of sellers would chose to have open bidding with blind bidding still an option. 

If this new open bidding process proves to be a popular option, it may increase trust between buyers and their agents  – there seems to be a common misconception that agents are the driving force behind not disclosing the details of other offers, when in reality it is the current law. A more transparent process would ease that mistrust – as well as the huge amount of fatigue buyers are feeling in the current market.

I personally don’t think this move will change much – blind bidding benefits sellers, not buyers – so putting the choice in the hands of the seller seems to point to an obvious outcome. 

There will be other changes to the Trust in Real Estate Services Act (TRESA) coming into effect in April 2023 as well: simpler standardized forms, and more disciplinary powers to the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO), the body in charge of enforcing rules for real estate salespeople and brokers.

Muskoka Watershed council launches new stewardship recognition program

The Doug Cross Stewardship Recognition Program, named for a late member of the Muskoka Watershed Council, aims to help local community and lake organizations across Muskoka’s watersheds recognize residents who protect the local watershed.

Each year from January 1-31, eligible organizations can register to receive a free recognition package from Muskoka Watershed Council. That organization will select a winner as they see fit. Each recognition package contains a Certificate of Recognition and a $50 gift card to Hidden Habitat native plant Nursery in Kilworthy – who happen to be the local expert we recommend when it comes to advice on naturalizing your shoreline!

Doug Cross, via www.muskokawatershed.org

Here is what the Muskoka Watershed Council has to say about Doug Cross:

“Doug Cross sat on the Muskoka Watershed Council from 2004 to 2008 as a representative for the Bracebridge Community. During his time on MWC, he used his extensive background and expertise in media communications to help get MWC’s messages out to the community. As Chair of MWC’s Communications Committee, he spearheaded the development of the Best Practices Program and secured a number of PSAs on local radio stations in support of the program.

Even after stepping down from MWC in 2008, Doug was a frequent visitor to the MWC office and attended many MWC events. He was a great advocate for MWC in the community and he continued his support with a generous donation to MWC upon his passing on January 25, 2020 at the age of 76. MWC is proud to name the Stewardship Recognition Program after Doug Cross as a way to encourage members of our communities to keep our watersheds beautiful.”

We love this idea – keep up the great work, MWC!

Click here for more details

Pigs in blankets, chocolate orange, and sprouts

I’ve just spent my first Christmas away from my family – because I’m in the UK! You can find more info on that in my last post, but long story short, I was on an extended trip and didn’t want to travel home for Christmas and help spread Omicron to Muskoka. Since I’ve just experienced my first British Christmas, I thought I would write about a few differences between Canadian Christmas and Christmas in the UK.

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast

Every year, the Queen delivers a Christmas message reflecting on current issues and concerns the UK faces, and what Christmas means to her and her followers. More than 9 million viewers tuned in for her address this year. Though this isn’t a tradition in every household, it is in many, and even families who don’t watch every year seem to tune in from time to time.

For some, it is a very serious occasion – my dad Steve remembers visiting his Great Grandmother (born in England) every year on Christmas morning. She would be dressed up for the occasion, and he and his brother Chris would be kicked out of the room for the Queen’s Christmas message. You are also supposed to stand for the National anthem (God Save the Queen). Or maybe for the entire speech… it’s been different depending on who I’ve asked. This investigative reporter has been inundated with sherry and pigs in blankets, so I’ll settle on reporting that some standing is certainly involved.

Obsession with Chocolate Orange

As kids, we would often get a Terry’s chocolate orange in our Christmas stocking. I know many families enjoy chocolate oranges at Christmas, but England takes it to another level entirely. I pointed this out to my friend when Christmas items started appearing in stores at the beginning of November. My friend responded with “well, we definitely have a few but I don’t think there’s that many?” And so my quest to find as many chocolate orange items as possible began.

I made an instagram post the other day where I counted through 49 of them (forgetting about the chocolate orange milk in our fridge, and the chocolate orange subway cookie we had picked up). This also doesn’t include a few items that we had seen in November but could no longer find, like yorkies and lion bars. Cookies, chocolate, even diet bars – if you like chocolate orange, England is the place for you.

I wasn’t kidding when I said OBSESSED!
Christmas Day Foods

Many of the traditional Christmas dinner items in Canada are the same as in the UK – some sort of fowl as the main, stuffing, potatoes, sprouts, green beans, gravy, and cranberry sauce. The stuffing is different – it does use breadcrumbs, but it seems much heavier on the sausage and has the addition of chestnuts. British Christmas dinner includes a few things that the Canadian version doesn’t – Christmas pudding (except for in some families), and pigs in blankets (an absolute must here).

It’s also traditional to have mincemeat pies on Christmas Day and at Christmas celebrations here – something I’ve never known anyone to do in Canada (but let us know if your family does!).

White Christmas

In recent years, this has changed a little… but growing up you could pretty much always expect to have a white Christmas! In England this is a rarity. We actually ended up having snow on Christmas night this year… and at home in Port Carling there was none! Notwithstanding this role reversal, generally you can expect snow in Muskoka and a green (no, really!) Christmas in England… well, and grey. Grey skies always.

Brussels Sprouts Products

Okay, so we may have sprouts at Christmas… but we don’t love them nearly as much as the Brits do. I was amazed when Christmas season hit and they started popping up everywhere – I’ve seen Brussels Sprouts:

  • Ornaments
  • Socks (I bought these – Brussels ‘pouts,’ and all the sprouts had big red lips!)
  • Stress balls
  • Truffles
  • Milk Chocolates
  • Gift bags
  • Wrapping paper
  • Gin
  • A suit (seriously, yes – I’ll include a picture)
  • Sauce
  • Cards
Source: amazon.co.uk
Boxing Day

Boxing Day is one of the biggest shopping days in Canada – that’s not much of a thing in England. I found most shops closed, aside from grocery stores. There is a different tradition though – a boxing day dip! The friend I’m staying with has parents who live near the coast, where people run into the ocean on Boxing Day – sometimes for charity, sometimes just for fun. Sounds a little less cushy than our tradition!

Source: thenorthernecho.co.uk

My friend’s mum also told me about her grandparents, who were married on Boxing Day. A lot of people struggled for money back then, so they would get married on Boxing Day to take advantage of the Christmas leftovers. Smart!

And that’s it – all the differences between Christmas in England and Canada that I’ve found so far. Did I miss anything? Leave a comment and let me know! And Happy New Year to all!

Christmas in England

I am lucky in my career. I live in a gorgeous place, spend much of my time with people I admire, and tour incredible cottages on the regular. I am also lucky to live in a place with a bustling summer season, and a real estate partner I can take turns covering in-person business with during the slower winter season.

I decided to take advantage of that this year, and take a trip to visit a friend in England. I booked my trip for four months down the road (in the end of October), crossed my fingers, and waited. When the time finally came there were no travel advisories. I had been double jabbed, and I was all set to go. After six amazing weeks of exploring England, driving the North Coast 500 in Scotland, visiting endless castles, and taking my first trip to Ireland (Dublin), it was time to come home.

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness in Drumnadrochit, Scotland – said to be a favourite haunt of Nessie!

There was only one problem… Omicron! My return was originally scheduled for December 15th, in time for me to be home for Christmas. By a week before my planned return the new variant had started to become a major news story. By a few days before? Cases were surging, and travel advisories were being issued. The UK was ahead of Canada in cases – Omicron was set to be the dominant variant in London (where I’d be flying out of) by December 16th – just one day after my flight. I didn’t want to risk flying home & potentially being part of the spread, so I hopped online and booked a new flight – for March! Thank goodness I did. Cases continued to surge, and I was able to book a booster shot here sooner than I would have been able to at home.

Spofforth Castle, Harrogate, England

Anyway, remote work it is! And there’s another way I’m lucky – aside from a few in person meetings like showings and listing appointments, I’m able to do the majority of my work online. I will have to post another blog about that… it’s amazing how much we are able to do remotely these days! And I have my partner Catharine Inniss on the ground in Muskoka to cover the rest.

If you want some information on the market, or if you’re looking to buy or sell, please don’t hesitate to contact Catharine at 705-801-2304, or to email me at len@cottageinmuskoka.ca.

A bridge at Hardcastle Crags, Hebden Bridge, England

See you next time, when I talk about some differences between Christmas in Canada and Christmas in the United Kingdom! Merry Christmas everyone – I’m off to eat some pigs in blankets!

Fall in Muskoka

Fall has arrived in Muskoka. The days are getting cool, the colours are changing, and our cottaging friends are preparing to close up for the winter. But the fun isn’t over yet – every year Muskoka has more and more events that that extend the tourist season. We’re grateful for that, because we aren’t ready to say goodbye just yet.

So, what’s there to do in Cottage Country this Autumn?

Cranberry Festival & Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh

The Bala Cranberry Festival is a Muskoka tradition. This Festivals and Events Ontario Top 100 Event has been running for 35 years now, with a mission of extending Muskoka’s tourist season and providing financial assistance to organizations and individuals in need.

Cranberry Festival runs from October 15 – October 17, 2021. Tickets will be sold online only this year, so make sure to grab yours before they sell out.

Getting your photo taken in Johnston Cranberry Marsh is one of the best fall photo opportunities (must be booked ahead). Don’t worry, they’ll provide the waders. Don’t forget to book a tasting, tour, or wagon ride at Muskoka Lakes Farm & Winery while you’re there.

Muskoka Lakes Farm & Winery bookings (including Cranberry Marsh pics).

View the Lakes Chair Tour

These nine Muskoka chairs are a self-guided tour, meant to showcase the best views in Muskoka! The locations of the chairs are: the Bala Town Dock, James Bartleman Island, Hardy Lake Provincial Park, Huckleberry Rock lookout, Moon River Lookout, the Port Carling Wall, Walker’s Point Lookout, the Windermere Dock, and the Port Sandfield Swing Bridge.

For more information or to view a map of the chairs, click here.

One of nine View the Lakes Muskoka chairs after sunset. Huckleberry Rock, Muskoka Lakes. October 2021.

Muskoka Fall Fun at Sandhill Nursery

September 17- October 31st. A free event, with donations encouraged in support of Hospice Huntsville. Over $15,000 was raised last year! Activities include: “Bat”sketball Toss, Tic-Tac-Toe, Beanbag Toss, Pie Pumpkin Bowling, Sand Put, Slide, Human Hamster Wheel, Mazes, Fall Scavenger Hunts, Pumpkin Slingshot, Trick or Treating “Witches Walk,” and a Food Truck. 

Sandhill Nursery also offers a number of Fall-themed workshops – Wreath making, Pumpkin Centrepieces, Harvest Urns, succulent arrangements and more. Workshops fill up quickly – be sure to book ahead. 

Or check out their concert series, running from October 8th – October 24th. This is a free, family-friendly event featuring live local talent. Food and beverages available on site from Merci Eh! (fries & poutine) and Canvas Brewery. Donations accepted in support of Hospice Huntsville. 

Visit a Lookout Point for a Panoramic View of the Fall Colours

My favourites are Huckleberry Rock in Muskoka Lakes, and Lion’s Lookout in Huntsville.

Huckleberry Rock offers a beautiful view over Lake Muskoka, and is one of the best places in Muskoka to view a sunset! Lion’s Lookout offers an overlook of the town of Huntsville at one vantage point, and overlooks Fairy Lake at another.

Fall in Muskoka. Lion’s Lookout, Fairy Lake, and the Muskoka River. Huntsville, ON. October 2021.

Oktoberfest Muskoka

A 4 day music, culinary, and beer festival taking place from October 20-23. Local breweries will provide tours and partner with local chefs and restaurants to pair their beer with traditional Oktoberfest fare like sausages, potato pancakes, spätzle, etc. 

The breweries participating are: Canvas Brewing Co., Clear Lake Brewing Co., Katalyst Brewing Co., Lake of Bays Brewing Co., Muskoka Brewery, & Sawdust City Brewing Co. 

Click here for more info.

Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery

A collection of over 90 murals celebrating the work of renowned Canadian artist Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. Take a self-guided tour beginning in front of the Algonquin Theatre (37 Main St. E., Huntsville), and follow the walking map on their website to view the majority of the murals. Then hop in your car if you’d like to visit the rest of the murals, located in surrounding communities & Algonquin Park.

If you do make a road trip out of it, make sure to download a Tom Thomson/ Group of Seven podcast to listen to while you drive. For history buffs, I’d recommend going with one of the many available that go over the history of the group and their influence on Canada’s art scene. For true crime buffs I’d recommend Haunted Talks Ep. 13 – The Many Deaths of Tom Thomson, featuring Gregory Klages, a Tom Thomson researcher.

Experience the Fall Colours with a Cruise Around the Lakes

This is my favourite time of year to enjoy the beauty of the lakes – especially on a cruise, so you can access the areas with larger groups of deciduous trees – hot spots of bright colour around the lakes! We recommend Sunset Cruises in Port Carling – offering cruises of Lake Muskoka, Lake Joseph, and Lake Rosseau. They will be running cruises until October 17th. Here is a link to their schedule.

Fall Colours emerging on the Muskoka River, Huntsville. October 2021.

Muskoka Discovery Centre

Over 20,000 sq. ft. of exhibits highlighting the glory of the Muskoka experience, exploring the rich history of steamships, wooden boats, and luxury hotels that helped define our region. Make sure to check out their Watershed Wonders exhibit – an interactive exhibit that teaches you all about Muskoka’s watershed. Build your own watershed, explore and learn how they operate, and meet the creatures that call Muskoka’s shorelines home. Book tickets here.

Take a Flight to See the Fall Colours

See Fall in Muskoka from the most impressive vantage point – way up in the sky on board a sightseeing airplane or helicopter!

Cottage Air Inc. offers a “Fall Leaves Tour.” Or, if you’d prefer to explore by helicopter, check out Blade Aviation. They offer a scenic tour of Lake Muskoka, or go on their “Muskoka Resorts – Lake Rosseau” tour, where you will be flown to one of the many resorts located around Lake Rosseau to enjoy an extravagant dining experience and a spa treatment.

Visit One of Muskoka’s Many Hiking Trails

Muskoka has a network of trails covering more than 4000 square kilometres of terrain. After thanksgiving is one of the best times to hit the trails – the colours are gorgeous, the crowds are gone, and the wildlife comes out of hiding. Make sure to bring your camera. 

Here’s a list of favourites from Discover Muskoka.

Or, visit Muskoka Trails Council’s website for a full list of Muskoka Trails with info and maps.

Visit Little Free Library Steve

Located less than 10 minutes from downtown Huntsville, Steve is a former bus shelter converted to a free community library. I’ve visited Steve a few times now and the selection is fantastic – and always changing. Bring along some books to donate if it suits your fancy.

Steve can be found at 2835 Muskoka District Road 10, or found on instagram @littlefreelibrary_steve 

Little Free Library Steve, Huntsville, ON, July 2021

Told you there was lots to do in Muskoka this Autumn! Looking for more? Feel free to email me at len@cottageinmuskoka.ca.

Cocktails, Mocktails, Docktails – Free Download

Congratulations to our winners Anna Bortolus (The Muskojito), Maria D. (Canoe Hoo), and Kinsie Kean of Blooming Muskoka (Blooming in Muskoka).

Kinsie Kean of Blooming Muskoka in Gravenhurst holding her prize – all of our winners received Muskoka Brewery Gin, Sugarbush Hill Farm Dark Maple Syrup, a custom engraved Cottage in Muskoka Yeti Lowball Tumbler, a Cottage in Muskoka maple charcuterie board, and Fevertree Premium Club Soda.

Did you miss the cocktail judging? Fear not, you can check out some of our judging videos on our instagram highlights here.

A few of the cocktails our wonderful clients sent in. From front centre moving clockwise: Blooming in Muskoka, Muskoka Nectar, The Loon Call, Muskoka Maple Liqueur, The Muskojito, and Canoe Hoo (centre).
The ingredients for “The Cottage in Muskoka,” our Cottage in Muskoka custom cocktail. Not pictured: club soda.

Missed this year’s contest?

We had so much fun that we’re making this contest an annual event – with the winners from this year invited to guest judge in 2022! Thank you so much to everyone who participated, and we can’t wait to see what you come up with next year!

Protect the Future of Your Investment – Naturalize Your Cottage Shoreline

The shoreline is an extremely valuable and important area – not only for personal enjoyment and property values, but for the health of our Muskoka Lakes, and the critters we share them with.

Nymphaea odorata/ Fragrant white waterlily in Lake Muskoka near Port Carling, ON. Not only is this Muskoka native gorgeous, the flowers are also edible!

Did you know a natural shoreline can:

Protect against erosion?

A natural shoreline is perfectly engineered to protect against erosion. Native vegetation along the shoreline strengthens the structural integrity of the land and prevents it from falling apart. The roots of the plants grip the earth and provide structure, and the foliage and leaves of the plant reduce erosion caused by rainfall and winds. Aquatic plants and buffer plants right along the edge of the shoreline also lessen the effects of wake hitting the shore.

Maintain or improve water quality?

Buffer plants and shoreline gardens reduce incidences of soil erosion, which has the added benefit of protecting fish habitats.

“One could think of it this way: waterfront plant buffers are like eyelashes to our lakes: they keep the grit and goo out”

www.muskokawatershed.org

Filter overland pollutants and absorb extra nutrients?

Vegetation along the shoreline not only helps slow the movement of surface runoff, but the roots of this vegetation also help absorb surface water – trapping excess nutrients and pollutants in the soil.

An excess of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen is one of the factors that can cause an algal bloom – much like how fertilizing your lawn causes it to grow faster. Given that the other main factors are weather related, keeping these nutrients at a reasonable level are the best defence cottagers have against algal blooms. There are many types of algae – an excess of any of these can be harmful to the aquatic ecosystem, but some types (like blue-green algae) can have dire consequences when it comes to our health and the health of our pets. Most other common types of algae are at their most harmful once they’ve died – they sink to the bottom of the lake and decompose, reducing the amount of oxygen available to fish and other aquatic organisms.

Blue-green algae, via Muskoka 411

Consuming toxins from a blue-green algae bloom can include headaches, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and other more serious effects. It can also kill dogs and other animals. According to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, “people not on public water supplies should not drink surface water during an algal bloom, even if it is treated. In-home treatments such as boiling and disinfecting water with chlorine or UV and water filtration units do not protect from blue-green algal toxins.”

Blue-green algae does more than just threaten our health though – it also threatens our property values. Of particular note is the 2005 toxic algal bloom in Three Mile Lake in Muskoka, a lake which has had more than it’s fair share of blue-green algae related woes. This toxic bloom resulted in property values on Three Mile Lake dropping by about 25%. I guess that’s not much of a surprise to anyone after hearing about the health risks… but we should also mention how repulsive it can look and smell. According to former Township of Muskoka Lakes Mayor Susan Pryke, the worst hit areas of Three Mile Lake “looked like pea soup, with bits of algae floating in the water, sort of like chunks washing up on shore,” and smelled like “garbage that had been left sitting out too long.” Lovely.

Protect wildlife habitats, while ALSO reducing the number of geese that come on your property?

Throughout their lifecycles, the majority of our native Muskoka species depend on a healthy shoreline. The riparian zone (the area that lines the border of the water, with rich moist soils where diverse plant communities can grow) is used for sources of food and shelter, breeding, migration, and for rearing young. This area is also essential when it comes to preventing geese – geese are attracted to open spaces with easy access to the water, and they like to feed on short grass. If you have a goose problem then I’m willing to bet you probably have a grass lawn. A shoreline barrier of native Muskoka shrubs and tall vegetation can help deter them from hanging out on your property.

Moving into the water from the riparian zone, we enter the littoral zone – the submerged area of shoreline where the sunlight still penetrates through to the lake bottom. According to Muskoka Watershed Council, the littoral zone is “the richest natural environment that most of us will ever come into contact with,” with as much of 90% of the species in the lake either living in or passing through this zone. This area (and the aquatic plants and downed trees that it consists of) is responsible for providing oxygen to the lake, spawning areas, shallow protected nursery areas (for fish and amphibians), foraging areas, and hiding spots.

Ducklings foraging in shoreline debris. Mirror Lake, Muskoka, Ontario

Protect the economic benefits associated with tourism?

Nature is one of the major appeals of Muskoka! Wait to catch a sunset while you watch a Blue Heron fish nearby, a family of ducks float past, or any number of other native Muskoka species encounters. Or just enjoy floating in a lake that isn’t thick with potentially dangerous, smelly, pea-soup like blue-green algae… either way, if the health of our lakes isn’t protected it will result in major tourism-related economic losses down the line.

So, how do you naturalize your shoreline?

Getting started with naturalizing your shoreline doesn’t have to be some gargantuan effort – there are some very low effort ways you can get started on your journey to a healthier shoreline for your Muskoka cottage. Let’s look at a few ways you can help work towards a more natural Muskoka, in order of increasing difficulty…

Creating a no-mow zone near the shoreline to allow vegetation to re-establish

This one could not be easier – simply leave an area along your shoreline unmowed. It is recommended that you leave at least 10 feet, but any amount of shoreline buffer is better than nothing! Ideally you would also minimize the amount of entries you have into the water, leaving 75% of the length of your cottage shoreline to re-naturalize.

Bonus points if you follow this “no-mow” philosophy in the shallow water along your shoreline by using your dock as a bridge to get over the weedy shallow parts of the water rather than clearing the weeds to create a swimming area. That way you can still enjoy a clear area to enjoy the water, without harming this essential habitat.

A Great blue heron searching for a fishing spot in Lake Muskoka’s littoral zone

Placing or allowing woody debris to accumulate along the shoreline

Unless a fallen tree is a hazard to boats or swimmers, consider leaving it be! Not a lot of shoreline trees fall around the lake during a year… and clearing a bunch of them away at once can have disastrous consequences to the habitat they were supporting. By the way, submerged wood not only creates hiding and spawning spots for fish, it’s also a major food source for crayfish, aquatic insects, and small fish.

Active planting of native species

So, you’ve already begun to leave the strip of land nearest to your shoreline alone to re-naturalize… but why not help it along even more by planting some native grasses, plants, shrubs, and/or trees? This is also beneficial in terms of appearance – Muskoka has so many beautiful native plant species, so there’s no need to sacrifice the aesthetics of your cottage. People are often surprised how much they love the look of a naturalized shoreline garden.

Native Muskoka flowers, via MuskokaConservancy.org

For more information on plants native to Muskoka, visit Muskoka Watershed Council’s Recreating a Healthy Waterfront.

Removal or “softening” of existing hard structures like retaining walls

While these hard structures may provide a temporary solution to erosion, they can cause damage to neighbouring properties. They can also eventually fail and damage the shoreline they were originally placed to protect.

Instead of removing these structures entirely, there is also the option of protecting the wall (and your shoreline) with softer measures such as planting buffer vegetation. In the case of rip rap, planting can be done between the rocks – the roots of the plants will help with structural integrity, and the foliage of the plants will help to protect against erosion from waves.

An American mink (Mustela vison) swims by carrying dinner. Lake Muskoka near Port Carling, ON.
Resources:

For help with naturalizing your shoreline, check out Watershed Canada’s Natural Edge Program, offered by Muskoka Watershed Council.

For native plant selection, visit The Natural Edge’s Plant Database, Muskoka Conservancy’s Native Plant Program, or Muskoka Water Web’s page on Gardening & Landscaping.

For more information about blue-green algae in Muskoka, have a look at Muskoka Watershed Council’s Technical Bulletin on Algae in Muskoka, or learn about their Algae Monitoring Program.

Lightning Leaps over Lake Muskoka

I’ve been loving hobby photography lately, but I’d never thought to capture a lightning storm before. As a child I remember being told that lightning came up through the ground (which is only partially true), so I was surprised to check my pics and see the horizontal lightning bolts.

Horizontal lightning bolt over Lake Muskoka in Port Carling, ON.

First: a short explanation of how lightning works, then I’ll explain what I learned about my horizontal lightning strikes! 

Lightning is all about the charges – nature always wants to find equilibrium. It’s a natural static discharge where different areas of the atmosphere equalize in charge. Think of it like when you get a static shock from something – it’s the same process taking place.

The most common type of lightning is cloud-to-ground (CG). Generally CG is negatively charged. This channel of negative charge, called a stepped leader, is invisible to the human eye. When it approaches the ground, positively-charged “streamers” reach up to meet it – which explains the “lightning comes from the ground” misconception! These streamers tend to travel up through tall objects like trees, and when they reach the oppositely-charged leader electric current begins flowing – which is why you’re supposed to avoid standing near trees or tall objects during storms.

Cloud-to-ground lightning via lightningmaster.com

Occasionally, an exceptional amount of positive charge builds up in the upper levels of the cloud. This too must be balanced out, and since the lightning has a longer way to travel it is much more powerful. Usually these bolts travel vertically to the ground, but because of the high difference in electrical potential they can also travel horizontally before going to the ground. This means that these positive cloud-to-ground lightning bolts can strike from a blue sky many miles away from the storm – a “bolt from the blue.” Since positive lightning has higher peak currents and longer continuing currents, it is capable of heating surfaces to higher levels… which also makes it the type of lightning most likely to start a forest fire.

Positive cloud-to-ground lightning, via the Washington Post

So anyway, onto our horizontal lightning strikes! The explanation for these bright horizontal strikes is actually pretty simple – differently-charged areas in the atmosphere are simply seeking equilibrium, this time it happens to be two clouds with opposing charges (cloud-to-cloud lightning). As we learned earlier, clouds can be either negatively or positively charged, and nature always seeks equilibrium.

Cloud-to-cloud lightning over Lake Muskoka in Port Carling, ON