A secluded Muskoka retreat
This cottage near Port Carling is the perfect way for a family to escape the city
THE LISTING 1361 Foreman Rd., #24, Port Carling, Ont.
ASKING PRICE $2.195-million
TAXES $8,762.00 (2017)
AGENT Paul Crammond, Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.
In the 1970s, Janet McDonald was a student from Kitchener who spent her summers working at the landmark Clevelands House in Muskoka.
John McDonald was one of the hotshot skiers who sped across the waters of Lake Rosseau during the resort's weekly water skiing spectacle. He'd learned his skills as a kid attending summer camp in Muskoka, then went on to teach the sport. The team would travel from one resort to another, putting on shows and giving lessons to the guests.
As the young pair continued their educations, they got to know each other during their summers in the midst of Muskoka's buzzing social scene. They married in 1985 and soon began raising three sons.
Eventually Mr. McDonald's work as a business executive would take the family to the United States. As the family moved between locations such as San Francisco, Dallas and Florida, Ms. McDonald was keen to maintain a connection to Canada.
In the 1990s, they began renting a cottage on an island in Lake Muskoka.
"Muskoka was our constant," Ms. McDonald says. "I wanted [our children] to really be proud of being Canadian. That was really important to me."
She recalls living in Texas and, on the first day of summer vacation each year, herding kids and dogs into the car and setting off on the long drive to Ontario.
"They loved coming here," Ms. McDonald says. "They never balked. I'd stop and park the car and they'd run and jump in the lake, no matter what they were wearing."
In 2004, the McDonalds found a property with a rounded granite point and 330 feet of rock shore near Port Carling. The couple made an offer but they were competing with a local builder who planned to tear down the 1960's-era cedar cottage and rebuild.
The McDonalds' bid won out, however, because they promised the owner they would preserve the vintage Pan-Abode.
The three-bedroom cottage came with two boat docks on Lake Muskoka and a bunkie hidden in the woods.
"The kids grew up in the bunkie," Mr. McDonald says. "There was nothing they wanted more than to be there."
The cottage today
Surrounded by pine trees, the cottage is made of western red cedar shipped from British Columbia by Pan-Abode International Ltd., which first began manufacturing ready-to-assemble dwellings in 1948. The building kits arrive with the floors, windows, roofing materials, fasteners and every other component needed to make a sturdy log cabin, cottage or ski chalet.
Some families hired a builder but many put the structure together themselves.
The one-storey cottage at the end of Foreman Road has an open kitchen, dining and living area with a field stone fireplace.
The aroma of natural cedar fills the air inside.
"It smells like a cedar chest because it is," says real estate agent Paul Crammond of Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.
When friends and family visit, the open space is great for entertaining, Ms. McDonald says.
"We move all the furniture back and it's a dance floor. She recently had the bathroom renovated when guests began pressing for a modern upgrade. The kitchen has been updated with a build-in dishwasher and other stainless steel appliances. Old flooring was removed and the pine sub-floor was refurbished.
When the McDonalds added a new deck, they built it around an existing evergreen so they wouldn't have to cut it down.
Otherwise, very little has changed, out of deference to the McDonald's pledge to the previous owner.
"We've stayed true to that," Mr. McDonald says.
When the McDonalds decided to expand, they left the cottage untouched and added a two-storey boathouse in place of the docks.
On the lower level, the boathouse has interior slips for two boats and another covered slip outside. Upstairs, the structure provides an enlarged living space. There's a large living room with doors opening to the outdoors and a deck that wraps around three sides. There's a bedroom, bathroom and a small kitchen.
The only thing not allowed by local regulations is a stove, so the McDonalds use the facilities in the main cottage to cook and barbecue.
The boathouse allows the couple to have private living quarters while their sons and extended family take over the main cottage.
As the summer of 2017 was winding down, the McDonalds were waiting for their adult sons to converge on the cottage from far-flung locations. Ms. McDonald said the entire family would leap into the water from the second-storey deck of the boathouse.
Mr. McDonald was making plans for an outing on the boat.
"We'll go to the golf course by boat. We'll go through the locks at Port Carling and visit Clevelands House," Mr. McDonald says. "The boys will have a beer at each place."
Mr. Crammond set the listing price with the expectation a new buyer would most likely keep the boathouse and replace the existing cottage with a new and larger building.
"Muskoka in every era has always had some big cottages," Mr. Crammond says. But in recent years, he has seen buildings become more elaborate and people increasingly introduce technology and luxuries more typical of houses in the city.
"We are seeing more and more of this redevelopment as the land becomes more valuable and peoples' tastes in cottages change," Mr. Crammond says. "They're replicating their Toronto lifestyle up here. The days of having a 1,000-square-foot cottage and bunk beds are gone."
The Foreman Road cottage sold last weekend for $1.92-million when a heatwave arrived in Ontario after an unusually dreary summer.
The best feature
The shoreline's secluded point is the best place to watch the sunset or gently enter the water for a swim from the sloping rock.
"It's a very special piece of land," Mr. McDonald says.
The landscape has natural pocket gardens and paths covered in pine needles winding between large boulders.
"It's a gathering place," Ms. McDonald says of the cottage and its land. "It's a beautiful place to spend time with people we care about."