Bruce Peninsula is located at the northern tip of Southern Ontario, separating Lake Huron from Georgian Bay. Tobermory is at the north end of Bruce Peninsula; Sauble Beach at the south. It is about three hours from Toronto. This is one of the prettiest parts of the province, with the largest nature reserves in Southern Ontario. Bears, rattlesnakes, loons, herons, and all manner of interesting animals can be found here.
Georgian Bay is known for its rugged landscape, clear cold water, and stone beaches. Lake Huron is clear, blue and sandy. Sauble Beach is the second longest freshwater beach in the world with 11 kilometres of sandy beach.
We recently spent five nights in the region and recommend five sights that are a must see when here:
1. Play on the sand and in the water at Sauble Beach.
Sauble Beach is the world's second longest freshwater beach, after Wasaga. We have such bounty in Ontario. Sauble Beach is known for fabulous sandbars stretching hundreds of feet out into the water. The water is crystal clear such that you can see your toes when you are walking in the lake. The beach strip is great for younger adults who want the beach vibe next to the strip but the north end of the beach is perfect for families who don't want to deal with the crowds. We swam every morning between 10 am and noon at the north end of the beach and pretty much had a good stretch of the beach to ourselves. We swam every evening between 6 and 8 pm and again pretty much had the beach to ourselves. The water in August is refreshing. I suspect it would have been a bit cold in June and July but our four children could not have cared less. Bring a football, a couple of frisbees, your beach toys, along with some inexpensive floaties. Your children will spend two hours in the lake playing and wave surfing without once asking for their electronics. And the sunsets are gorgeous! Sauble Beach is definitely a highlight of this part of the world.
2. Visit the Grotto.
The Grotto is an Ontario heritage site and is spectacular. There is no other word for it. You have to book your parking and access to the hiking trails well in advance, particularly in the summer and on long weekends. We instead rented a hard hulled Kodiak with boat operator from Divers Den in Tobermory for two hours. We docked a hundred yards away from the grotto and snorkeled in. This cost $400 plus tax and was money very well spent. The water is blue and green and clear clear clear. The rock formations and underground caverns and caves are breathtaking. The grotto itself is a treasure and feels like a magical secret cave when you are swimming in it. You can also jump off the large rocks into the clear water. This was a highlight of our trip. Our children begged to go back a second day but we could not afford to rent the boat again and had not booked access to the hiking trail...otherwise we would have been back at least two days in a row. This is a must see in this part of the world.
3. Go splunking.
There are a bounty of caves in this part of the world. We visited Bruce's Caves for our hike but there are many options from which to choose. After a bumpy drive into the parking area, we enjoyed an easy 15 minute walk into the caves. The vegetation around the caves was lush and mossy and green. The caves themselves were very interesting with strange rock formations, narrow passageways from one cave to the other, high steep rocks to climb, deep gulleys to explore, and in general very interesting rock formations that we had not seen before. The children were enchanted. It was a nice way to spend an afternoon.
4. Go see Flowerpot Island.
Whether you arrive by ferry boat or private charter, Flowerpot Island is something to see. Manitoulin Island is a three hour journey by ferry, but Flowerpot Island is a mere 25 minute journey from Tobermory. The island has lots of interesting stone formations and sights to explore. It is named for the one intact flowerpot rock in the lake along with one flowerpot that has partially fallen but remains interesting. The third flowerpot sunk into the lake a while ago. Just the unusual nature of the rock formations makes this visually curious. Spending time in nature exploring the island is a refreshing break from whatever you do every day for work. It will reset your priorities spending time in such an awe-inspiring environment.
5. Eat local.
There are many local eateries and small groceries that sell homemade goods. We loved the homemade cookies, fresh ice cream, and homemade burgers from North Sauble Meats N More. Sitting down to eat burgers off the barbecue with fresh corn was a pleasure. Kelsey's in Owen Sound, at the foot of Bruce Peninsula, was also just excellent. We visited three days in a row and their chicken with sweet and spicy Thai sauce was exceptional as were their quesadillas, broccoli and cheddar soup, and homemade biscuits. Everything we ate was fresh and delicious...a culinary delight. A good trip should involve good food and this one did not disappoint.
Bruce Peninsula is well worth seeing. You are guaranteed to come away with a deeper appreciation of the stunning beauty available to us in Ontario along with a plan to return someday real soon.
I predict that the price of houses in towns and cities that are within one to two hours of Toronto will skyrocket in value over the next two years, outpacing the average price appreciation for all residential real estate in Ontario. There are three reasons I make this prediction.
First, with the onset of COVID, a lot of employers have been forced to permit their employees to work from home. This is a trend that is here to stay. Even bankers and lawyers are working from home. That flexibility and the concept that you may only need to attend the office in person two to three days a week removes the need for people to live in or near the big city. Commuting a few days a week is not as onerous as commuting every single weekday. This provides flexibility and opens up a much larger radius around the city for purchasing a home. The smaller towns are far more affordable than Toronto. A colleague of mine recently bought a brand new home in Bracebridge for less than $500,000. That is an attractive metric for many people who currently live in the city.
Second, there are so many condominium dwellers and apartment dwellers who are sick of waiting 45 minutes or more for the elevator due to social distancing. They are also tired of heading up and down the emergency exit stairs trying to keep their distance. They are desperate to breathe the fresh air and spend some time outdoors given the state of emergency orders that have been in place. Many condominiums and apartments have no outdoor space. Those feelings of having been cooped up in a box will drive many of those condominium owners to sell their condominiums and purchase houses that they can afford…and those affordable communities are typically at least an hour outside of Toronto and often as far away as two hours away.
Finally, the price of houses in the city of Toronto remains incredibly high. The prices are completely unaffordable for most families. Anyone coming into the city from elsewhere in Canada cannot afford to buy in Toronto. That lack of access to affordable houses in the city will drive people who want a backyard and their own house further and further outside of the city limits.
Those three trends support my prediction that homes in the surrounding communities within one to two hours of Toronto will skyrocket over the next two years. We’ll see if the prediction comes to fruition.
I feel extremely lucky to be Canadian.
When I was growing up, there was a perception that being Canadian was second best to being American. No longer. Canada has truly come into its own as a country in the past 30 years.
I am proud of our peaceful welcoming personality; I am proud of our tolerance within reason; I am proud of our humanity and compassion; I am proud of our business acumen; I am proud of our intelligence; I am proud of our practical common sense; I am proud of our sense of fun; I am proud of our embracing of life; I am proud of our athletic achievements; I am proud to be Canadian.
Happy Canada Day!
Muskoka is known for many things...beautiful sunsets, sparkling lakes, muskoka chairs, docks, boats, cottages, fishing, and relaxation. Increasingly, though, it is becoming known for small business development.
In speaking with Matt Holmes, the Head Planner for the town of Bracebridge for the past decade, he indicated that for the first five years he was in the job, most development applications were for residential building. In the past five years, though, the preponderance of applications have been for commercial and industrial building. This should translate into jobs.
At Aspire Muskoka's building, there are 50 different tenants, most of whom are small businesses. Muskoka Futures and Contact North are both in the building and they foster and develop small businesses in Muskoka. Lake of Bays Brewery is growing and they have recently opened a brewpub in Huntsville. Sheerly Genius will be joining Aspire Muskoka in August and they are a new business in Muskoka. Premium Storage's lockers are full and they are currently building another 18 lockers to provide more capacity. Muskoka Contracting has recently opened.
David Grand of Muskoka Grown has started growing marijuana in his new building off Keith Road and has purchased expansion lands beside to build a larger building to grow more marijuana. There are two other marijuana groups that have bought property in town.
Muskoka Lumber has recently purchased a building by Highway 11 to begin constructing their own roof trusses, an expansion of their existing business. There are many more businesses opening and growing which will be the subject of future blogs.
Suffice it to say that doing business in Muskoka is a growing trend. Both the town and the government agencies in Muskoka are very supportive of this movement. The benefit of job growth in Muskoka is that those who come to call Muskoka home can enjoy the beautiful sunsets, sparkling lakes, muskoka chairs, docks, boats, cottages, fishing, and relaxation when they are not working. A true win-win.
Kathleen Wynne's approval rating is up to 15% from 12% in March. It is still the lowest approval rating of all premiers in the country. Hydro has been her undoing.
We have a powerful solar installation on my folks' Muskoka building. Hydro rates for solar power have ranged from 80 cents per kilowatt hour at its pinnacle down to 29 cents per kilowatt hour now. Ours pays out at 71.3 cents per kilowatt hour for the next 18 years and we have an option to purchase it over the next year. In the meantime, the owners pay us rent for using the roof.
The Auditor General for the province was immensely critical of the government for the negotiation of solar and wind contracts, criticizing them for paying between two and three and a half times what other jurisdictions were paying for the same installations. This has raised the issue of whether a future government might renege on the contracts in place that are paying 71.3 cents and 80 cents per kilowatt hour for solar power.
My daughters and I traveled to Windsor for my eldest daughter's baseball finals. I was absolutely staggered and amazed by the number of windmills that turn continuously as you head out from London. I had seen them before but every time I travel that countryside it continuously amazes me. We came home at night and the red blinking lights on all of the windmills replaced the spider-like spinning that you see in the daytime. Farmers in the countryside are making between $12,000 and $25,000 per year from them.
There is no doubt that converting from coal power to solar and wind power is good for the environment. It is not good for the province's pocketbook. The premier's approval rating reflects that reality.
My kids LOVE Storage Wars.
Even my husband has caught the bug and sometimes watches it with them. When they are not watching it on TV, the kids are playing it at home with our various rooms, bidding against each other for the bathroom contents or the closet. Or they are on their electronics playing Storage Wars there. It has a lot of appeal for them .
Storage lockers are a relatively new invention. Started in 1958 in Florida, chains started appearing in the late 1960's and the industry really took off in the 90's. The United States has the most storage facilities worldwide. There are typically 4Ds that drive demand: divorce, death, downsizing and dislocation (the need to move).
In my folks' Muskoka facility, we are now 95% full. We started out with no lockers rented because of a dispute between the prior owners. Now, out of 165 lockers, we may have a handful available at any one point in time and sometimes have none. We have contractors who store their tools; cleaning suppliers who store their products; interior design companies that store furniture; lots of folks who moved north and need to store excess items until they get settled; many people who are storing their parents' household items because they have moved to a retirement home; professionals who keep their files with us; and numerous others who value climate controlled and secure storage for their valuables.
We are extremely grateful for the business and always try to take very good care of the building and of our locker clients. Our storage manager is a Muskoka local and she knows all of our tenants on a first name basis and is skilled at catering to their needs. We are also hoping to add some outdoor storage lockers down the road to continue to meet our client's demand for more space.
The storage industry is fascinating and seems to be steadily growing in Canada. Fortunately we have very few bad debts in Muskoka and those who owe money are usually personally known to us so we try to work with them to get current or to move out. Hence thus far there has been no drama with delinquent units like that on TV. Nonetheless, my kids are always hopeful.
Yesterday I visited a friend of mine who lives on the Muskoka River. It was a beautiful sunny day with a light breeze.
When we arrived in the late afternoon, we noticed a baited trap out in his yard along with a .22 rifle at the ready. When we enquired what he was trying to catch, he told me red squirrels because they were making themselves a nuisance all around his yard. He confirmed that once he trapped them he was going to shoot them dead. A few months previously, I had a problem with raccoons in the attic. A mama raccoon had taken up residency and had just given birth to babies. I waited a couple of months for the raccoon babies to grow large enough to survive on their own before humanely coaxing them out. I was struck by the differences between the Muskoka and the Toronto approach.
At my folks' building in Muskoka, we have Abell Pest Control on retainer. They treat the building on a monthly basis, primarily for mice and ants. There are traps all around the perimeter and those traps kill the mice and the ants. We are very happy with them and feel pest control is an essential service for any commercial or industrial building. Our tenants are happy not having to deal with the nuisance of pests in the building.
That being said, the building is never completely free of pests. I was heading to our General Manager's office on the mezzanine level the other day and out of the corner of my eye saw something slithering on the floor. "Reinhard, can you please come here...now!!" The snake had wandered in through an open door on the gorgeous summer day and had decided to mount the steps. It was a garter snake, more scared than I was, and Reinhard indicated the biggest risk was that it would pee on him when he relocated it back outside.
Fishers are common around our building and they pose a significant risk to cats and little dogs. They are vicious and efficient killers and one of our staff lost his wife's small dog to one last year. The fellow who lives in the building has two beautiful Siamese cats and he indicated they've come back with bites and scratches after their nightly adventures and he worries they may go out some night and never come back. The gal who runs Muskoka Yarn Connection had a fisher wander into her old store. It took three days to remove him and during that time he completely destroyed the store.
The same gentleman who was killing squirrels told me with admiration about his neighbour, Sure Shot, who could kill anything with tremendous accuracy using his .22 rifle with silenced bullets. He then rated the taste of beaver, muskrat, bear, moose, deer and rabbit, telling me that rabbit was his favourite.
There are significant differences between Muskoka and Toronto and I am enjoying bridging the two worlds on a weekly basis.
Muskoka is land-rich.
In Toronto, there is no open space and the downtown core is becoming like Manhattan with high rises, people and shadows everywhere. Muskoka is the opposite. There are lots of open spaces, beautiful vistas, blue skies with white clouds, and lots of land...acres and acres of land.
A surplus of land makes one want to develop some of it.
Building a country road seems simple enough:
1. First you have to survey it...which you learn once you've started the road and your neighbour claims you are on his land, not your own.
2. Second you have to clear the land of trees. This can be done one by one with a chainsaw or much faster with a very large, very expensive piece of equipment. The first option seems cheaper until you are into your third week of paying the chainsaw operator and are only a few yards into the road.
3. Third you have to figure out how the water flows and redirect it or ditch before you start putting down gravel. This you learn the hard way after the first rain when your road completely washes away.
4. Fourth, you need to bring in hard fill of some kind to set the road on its path. Typical gravel is good, although larger stones are sometimes needed mixed in the gravel depending on how wet, muddy and soft the ground is.
5. Fifth you need to weather 12 months with the road in place to identify the flaws. Four full seasons are required, particularly in Muskoka where the winters are long and there is often a lot of water run off when Spring arrives and things start to thaw then freeze then thaw then freeze then thaw then freeze and finally thaw out completely in preparation for the Summer.
You can spend $200,000 without blinking for your rough country road.
In Toronto there is a big push on by municipal government to eliminate cars in the downtown core. The investment in bike lanes and public transit will theoretically eliminate the need for so many cars to travel downtown.
In Muskoka that concept is laughable. Muskoka's primary public transit system is either your thumb or your feet. Hence everyone wants a car. Those who can afford it drive trucks...big, beautiful, powerful, shiny, expensive trucks. Owning a tractor or a bobcat or a trailer is commonplace. Some even have multiple pieces of heavy equipment to plow snow and move dirt around. One of my school chums has purchased a bunch of mighty machines to build roads and houses on his property. My children have been invited to visit this summer and they cannot wait to drive the tractors.
The implication is that if you own or manage a building in Muskoka, the more parking the better. Our tenants love the abundance of parking we provide. One medium sized company can have ten spots. A small business can have two or three spots. And although getting from your car to the building sometimes requires walking in inclement weather, our tenants view that as a small price to pay for the ample parking for staff and customers.
Parking lots require maintenance and investment year round. Snow plowing costs are significant and snow plow operators must expect to work in the middle of the night on multiple nights throughout the winter and, given this week's weather, sometimes well into the spring season. Every spring and fall two large loads of gravel are needed to be spread out by a front end loader to smooth out the pot holes for the sections of the lot that are not paved. For the paved sections, hot asphalt is required to fill the pot holes and smooth out bumps. And capital must be set aside to pave or re-pave sections of the lot each year. Large pot holes are not uncommon between seasons. As a result, Muskokans value vehicles with four wheel drive and good shocks.
Keeping our parking lot both functional and usable year round is a priority worth the investment. Forget bike lanes. Muskoka businesses value large, well maintained parking lots.
The Muskoka building I manage was almost empty in August of 2015.
Today, thanks to the team on the ground, the owners' ongoing capital infusions and financial support, and strategic asset management, it is now 75% full. It is on track to be completely full by year end.
Early on, it became clear that the owners had to be prepared to invest in their existing and prospective tenants. The owners funded the build of a brand new space for Manna Food Bank even though they only pay $1 per month in rent on a long term lease. The owners funded the build out of a brand new space for Muskoka Yarn Connection and Muskoka Futures in exchange for long term leases. The owners funded the installation of a new garage door entryway for Muskoka Quality Foods. This process continued, with some new tenants requiring far less money - a new desk and chair for example - and others requiring far more - new drywalled offices, new electrical, HVAC and plumbing.
The end result is a building full of tenants who are happy and who feel appreciated. They feel appreciated because they are appreciated. We are now fielding calls from a number of local tenants who want to relocate to the building because it has a positive energy and feels like a hub of business and social activity. We are talking with enough new tenants right now that we expect to be full by year end and hopefully before. We current have 47 different tenants and by year end should have between 55 and 60.
The evolution of the building has been fascinating to be a part of. The building now has an energy and a life all its own. There are such a diverse array of tenants that the Bracebridge Examiner ran a front page article last week on the building and its residents. I am grateful and humbled to be involved with the process and to have met so many interesting and quality people along the way.
I look forward to watching the remaining spaces fill with more good people. Good people make for good buildings. Investing in our tenants has proven to be a very good investment indeed.
Entrepreneur and mom to four amazing kids
A company owner was asked a question, "How do you motivate your employees to be so punctual?"
He smiled & replied, "It's simple. I have 30 employees and 29 free parking spaces. One is paid parking." ;-)
(from the Aspire Flyer)