Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Magic of Muskoka Boathouses

Muskoka boathouses are so much more than shelters for watercraft. They are architectural gems - some whimsical, most hearkening back to an earlier century, never two the same, and all with stories to tell. Those built before size restrictions came into being in the late 1980s can be enormous, with 3000 or more square feet on the second level. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these spaces were often used as servants’ quarters or ballrooms. Later, they became guest suites or places for children to sleep and play.

Built just prior to WW1, the brown boathouses in the photo above are known as the Girls’ Boathouse (on the left) and the Boys’ Boathouse, which oddly is more ornate. Both have a “Lindbergh door” - a secret passage added later, allowing children to escape should anyone try to kidnap them. This wealthy American family was taking no chances after what happened to Charles Lindbergh’s child in 1932. As in this case, one boathouse is often not sufficient, so it’s not uncommon to see two or even three attached to one property, and housing as many as sixteen boats, each building retaining its unique character.

Boathouses reflect the style and colours of the cottage, as can be seen above in a modern recreation of a century summer home, with an even more fanciful boathouse. Old cottages that have settled comfortably into the landscape over generations are often hidden in the pines, so it’s the boathouse that welcomes visitors.

Some cottages that perch on granite cliffs high above the lake have an inclined elevator to scale the hillside, ferrying people and supplies - a real boon in the days when cottagers and guests arrived with trunks of clothing and other paraphernalia for a two or three month stay.

It’s also understandable that these functional buildings, hovering over the water, often replete with kitchens as well as bedrooms, bathrooms, and sitting rooms, become the focus of lakeside activities. Most have balconies, decks, verandas, or screened porches and are surrounded by docks so you can feel even closer to the water as you sip morning coffee or evening cocktails.

Those lucky enough to live in boathouses talk about the magical light and the serenity of feeling adrift on the water. “On sunny days, sparkles dancing on the lake reflect on our walls and windows. And at night, there’s no better lullaby than the sound of waves lapping beneath the cribs,” writes Judy Ross in Shelter at the Shore: The Boathouses of Muskoka. For her family, the boathouse is the cottage, and if you love being on the water, who needs anything more?

As for me, I can delight in designing boathouses circa 1919 for my characters, and vicariously enjoy the experience of staying in one.


  1. I always drool when I look at your photos. The quote from Judy Ross has made me want to go even more. I'd give anything to be in one of those right now, it sounds magical.

  2. Nice lifestyle, isn't it? The cottage and boathouse at the top belong to a couple of Hollywood stars.

  3. Are the two boathouses in the second photo also on Lake Rosseau, or elsewhere?

  4. The bottom photo is from Millionaires' Row on Lake Muskoka. The top one is on Lake Rosseau, and you may know to which celebrities it belongs.



my inspiration for a series of novels - visit theMuskokaNovels.com for more info

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