All posts by Lenore Inniss

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

Cottage in Muskoka Custom Cocktail Contest

Calling all Muskoka lovers! Submit your best Muskoka-inspired cocktail recipe, and a short paragraph on your inspiration. Our favourite submission will win all of the ingredients of our own custom Cottage in Muskoka cocktail (Muskoka Spirits Co. Legendary Oddity Gin*, Sugarbush Hill Farm Dark Maple Syrup, and Fever-Tree Premium Club Soda), plus an engraved Cottage in Muskoka Yeti Rambler Lowball! You must be at least 19 to enter.

Please tell us:

The name of your cocktail

The ingredients and recipe

The inspiration behind it

How you would like your name to appear (first & last or first name only)

Our favourite entries, based on creativity and “Muskoka-ness,” will be judged for taste by our family over the Canada Day long weekend (woohoo!). Please submit entries to len@cottageinmuskoka.ca or cath@cottageinmuskoka.ca, or fill out our google formEntries are due by Friday, June 25th 2021 and the winner will be announced in the first week of July. 

Subscribers to our brand new newsletter have been given a head start with their mixology, so if you’re not in on the fun yet make sure to go sign up here! We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

*potentially in the form of a gift card – legal investigation pending 😜

Is Slow Cottage Internet About to Become a Thing of the Past?

We all know the frustration. You’re trying to open an email attachment with a photo of your grandkids, look at a real estate listing, get some work done, or even just check the weather… and you’d like to not spend all day doing it! While newer internet technologies like fibre are trying to make that a thing of the past, the coverage is majorly lacking. In many areas the fastest high speed internet is just across the street from near-dial-up speeds, and due to the cost and difficulty of rewiring it doesn’t look like that will be changing any time soon. 

Should we just give up and disconnect? No way! Enter SpaceX, with their new Starlink Satellite Internet service. This satellite service will operate via a satellite constellation of at least 12,000 satellites, with more pending approval. According to SpaceX, Starlink will offer speeds up to a gigabit per second – a far cry from rural cottages which often max out at a speed of up to 5Mpbs (a 995Mbps difference!). During the beta testing phase, customers are expected to experience speed variations from 50 – 150Mbps. Even places that currently have no internet availability at all will finally be brought into the 21st century. 

This is not traditional satellite service – Starlink’s satellites are in low earth orbit, which will not only make the service more reliable, but will also help keep down space debris. Each satellite is fitted with an onboard propulsion system to deorbit at the end of its life, and in the unlikely event that system becomes inoperable the satellite will burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere within 1-5 years. At the higher altitudes used by traditional satellite services, this could take hundreds or even thousands of years. Satellite service also means that unlike fibre, you won’t have to have anything wired to your home to receive the fastest speeds available.

Though it is not fully ready for consumers yet, it is operational! Check out this tweet from Elon Musk, sent in October 2019 via Starlink internet!

He followed up with a second Starlink tweet – “Whoa, it worked!!” According to SpaceX, “Starlink is now delivering initial beta service both domestically and internationally, and will continue expansion to near global coverage of the populated world in 2021.”

While we truly do look forward to being able to work online at less molasses-like speeds, I, for one, will be celebrating laser-fast internet with a good ol’ Netflix marathon in my PJs!