The three little bears and why they love Muskoka

The snap shot above is of my grandchildren, taken at our cottage on Lake Muskoka last Thanksgiving, which I entered in the Muskoka Lakes Association’s (MLA) annual photography contest. In the spring edition of ShoreLines it was announced that the portrait of my grandkids earned second place.

In May I received a call from the MLA asking permission to use the grandkids picture for a promotional campaign they were planning entitled, “Help preserve Muskoka for generations to come.” It sounded like a good idea, so I said “absolutely!”  There are a number of reasons I wanted to support the MLA.

The association has been looking after Muskoka since 1894, so I figured it was time to do my bit. We all have a major investment in our summer homes, be they humble or high end. While we are sipping chilled beverages on the dock, behind the scenery a dedicated group of volunteers and staff are looking after our present and future ‘big picture’.

I joined the MLA when I started paying property taxes to the town of Bracebridge. As an island dwelling seasonal resident, I often wondered what value I received for my tax dollars. Were the local politicians, municipal and regional, aware of our unique concerns? There is an election coming up this fall. We as property owners now have a strong voice through the efforts of the MLA, which interviews and rates the candidates by who would be most in tune with the MLA’s mission.

Beyond politics, the MLA monitors the condition of our lakes and the overall status of the ecological environment. These are our most precious assets, and their future is in our hands.

The benefits of belonging to the MLA are tangible from a personal prospective as well. They can help to explain zoning requirements as they apply to our properties;  they run informative seminars on topics such as cottage succession planning and the best way to insure our properties.

On the fun side, they run an annual regatta that even non-members can participate in that has events for the whole family. They host an antique boat show every other year that assembles some of the finest classical wooden boats ever made. It is amazing to see our nautical history right before our eyes. And members can use the MLA Advantage Card at many local retailers to get discounts and special offers.

What I appreciate most about the MLA is their communications. From the informative ShoreLines newsletter to special notices on weather and important topics in NewsBites, I would venture to say that we are the best informed and represented group of summer residents in North America. So if you are a cottager in Muskoka and want to be informed about what is going on around you, or simply want to protect your investment for future generations ― Get with the program and join the MLA!

Here endeth my soapbox sermon.

My grandchildren now think they are rock stars.

It started with a postcard in the MLA yearbook, then an ad in the ShoreLines newsletter. After that things went viral, (in a little people kind of way). Then, while driving north on Highway 11, just south of Gravenhurst, unexpectedly, there they were, pictured on a billboard! I just about drove off the road!  More print and virtual postings came after that.

One rainy day in July I stopped by the MLA office in Port Carling to see if they had any extra postcards that we could give out to friends and family. In chatting with Marilyn Vogel, the MLA’s Communications Manager, it was suggested that I write the story behind the picture of the “three little bears”. Because I was now a famous photographer I thought, “why not add acclaimed author to my resume?”

What I chose to write about is our children and grandchildren, through one very important question.

How do you help your children fall in love with Muskoka? 

Let’s face it, if the kids don’t buy into cottage life, your stay in paradise will be less than pleasant and probably shorter than anticipated. What I discovered over the years is that once a person has settled in and found their place here, they often develop an intangible feeling, a sense of calm belonging; a realization that they are now part of a grand and rugged history, in one of the most beautiful places on earth. These lakes are perfect for big dreams. That feeling is something that I have come to call “Muskokaness“.

Sounds very silly, doesn’t it? How does one put a name on such an abstract feeling?  Well, let me try and explain. My maternal grandparents bought a cottage on The Tom Wroe road in Milford Bay, in the 1930’s. My mum loved the place so much that after she married and gave birth to yours truly, I was spirited to Muskoka at the tender age of six weeks.

That was sixty-seven summers ago.

While spending every July and August there, my dad taught me how to swim, fish, and drive a boat. My mum taught me about the beauty of the lakes and forests. When the trilliums would bloom around our property it was breathtaking. My grandmother taught me about the history of Muskoka, especially the steamers that were so essential to life in the wilderness. I fell in love with the Sagamo, and every season ‘Gran’ would rent a stateroom and we would sail the 100 Mile Cruise from Beaumaris to Natural Park on Little Lake Joe.

Our family grew to four siblings by 1960, and my best pal lived two cottages down the road. As I got older, my peer group developed into a group of raucous teenagers, both boys and girls, who explored everything Muskoka had to offer. We got jobs here, partied here, fell in love here, and thought the good life would last forever. These were my people, and through them I found ‘Muskokaness’.

When I became a parent and it was time to pass my ‘Muskokaness’ on to my children, their education seemed effortless. The grandchildren are no different. My grandson has the same fascination for the Segwun that I did for the Sagamo. They love Chelsea buns and water skiing, fishing, and exploring nature. Simple things, Muskoka things.

So how did we help our children fall in love with Muskoka?

We passed our Muskoka memories on to our family. Things like buying large blocks of ice, covered in saw dust for the “ice box”, burning garbage in the stone “incinerators”, black and white television with one CBC channel via rabbit ears, six hour drives to Muskoka before there was highway 400. Most importantly, we never said the word “bored”!

We encouraged our kids to vocalize their feelings, both good and bad, while they were trying to find their own space and we encouraged them to participate in group activities, like sailing or day camps. As they got older, we persuaded them to get their first summer jobs here.  Their education seemed effortless and they quickly embraced their own sense of belonging; of wanting to be here every summer.

After a recent family gathering at the cottage one of our adult kids posted the following thoughts on their Instagram account:
#moon #muskoka
#sacredandspecialtome
#homebaseandtouchstoneplace
#ofchildhoodsafetyandcomingofage.

Every family has their own dynamic. Do the best you can to transfer your love of Muskoka  to your kids and grandkids, and just like the three little bears, your family will experience their own ‘Muskokaness’ for generations to come.

Jim McCreath

(Jim has been a Muskoka cottager for over sixty years and an active member of the MLA since he purchased his own cottage in 1969)