‘Cottage Country’ is a familiar nickname for the scenic region of Muskoka. And, arguably, this is not a misnomer, because the shorelines of its numerous lakes are dotted with vacation properties; and its population soars in the high season of boating, swimming, and leisure. All-season tourism is steadily growing, as cottagers winterize their homes to enjoy the pleasures of Muskoka’s crisp autumns, snowy winters, and bright springtime. But Muskoka is also a place where year-round residents live, work, and play. It is a home for flourishing commercial interests in various industries, technologies, and retail establishments. Some of the business owners have launched their enterprises in their Muskoka home base, while others have chosen to move to the area because of its lifestyle and opportunity.
The landscape of Muskoka is a perfect fit for Yuill McGregor and his profound passion for wood. Founder and president of North on Sixty, a unique design and build company, Yuill divides his time between his Toronto home office and the 130-acre property on the Oxtongue River near Algonquin Park’s west gate that houses his workshop and showroom. A deep respect for conservation, paired with artistic sensibility and commitment to quality, lies at the heart of this ambitious company. “My philosophy is to inspire harmony between humans and their environment,” Yuill explained, and North on Sixty constantly nurtures that relationship. “People are paying more attention to minimizing their footprints these days,” he noted, “and our holistic approach appeals to them.” The early days were challenging, he acknowledges, but North on Sixty now employs fifteen permanent staff members, with additional summer workers. Accessing some twenty species of top-quality lumber, the business offers products ranging from small accent pieces to complete builds and renovations. The wood is salvaged from local lake and river bottoms, reclaimed from demolished buildings, and sourced from managed forests. With over sixty years of combined experience, the design team develops customized concepts, which are then finished by expert craftspeople using bespoke Italian machinery. Muskoka’s forests are the ideal backdrop for the creative journey, as the North on Sixty team convert raw lumber into magnificent projects for their residential, professional, and commercial clients.
Almost 30 years ago, the Muskoka Natural Food Market was established as a valued resource for organic produce, nutritional supplements, and healthy vegetarian meals. With its base of loyal clientele, the store was poised for significant investment and revitalization; and new owners purchased it in November of 2015 with plans for an impressive make-over. Co-owner Curt Dunlop discussed their decision: “Growing up in Muskoka, we were regular patrons, so when the chance came to buy the business, we jumped at it.” Curt and his partner, Jed Corbeil, already own and operate a craft beer pub and events company, and this venture suited their interests and talents. Finding a location almost double the size of the original shop, they removed walls and installed a kitchen and walk-in cooler. “We discovered some old post-and-beam work under the drywall, which enhances the heritage vibe,” said Curt. Creative touches include a living wall, striking wall murals, and rustic furnishings. The Market offers therapeutic herbs and vitamins, clean cosmetic products, and seasonal and organic produce supplied by local farms. The Deli Lama in-house restaurant prepares innovative dishes for special dietary needs, with two spacious seating areas. Buddha’s Bakery uses organic flours and refined sugar substitutes in its baked goods, as well as selling smoothies and fair-trade coffee. And concerts, educational seminars, and a co-office space are part of the program, positioning the Market as a friendly, interactive hub. The investment of energy and ideas is clearly an ongoing process for these enthusiastic entrepreneurs.
“What is a millwright?” Cheryl Wilson often hears this question, and she replies that it is a person who designs, builds, or maintains mill machinery. In 1953, Cheryl’s father, a shipyard welder, immigrated to Canada from Scotland and purchased a summer property in Muskoka. After a four-year stint as a college professor in Singapore, he moved his family to the cottage and founded his company, offering customized products and services in machining, welding, and millwrighting. Cheryl spent over 20 years living in America, from Atlanta to Vegas; but, when her father passed away in 2010, she moved home to reconnect with her roots and take on the role of president and owner of Muskoka Millwrighting and Machining Ltd. “The lifestyle in Muskoka is what draws everyone here,” she said. “Being able to create your living in such a beautiful environment is a true luxury.” The staff now numbers 45, with supplementary workers as needed, to service clients throughout Ontario as well as the United States. And the company continues to develop, recently expanding from a 12,500 square-foot facility to over 26,000 square feet. With the addition of a new plasma table and 25-ton overhead cranes, they plan to increase their production to include rolling stainless-steel grow tables for the marijuana business. “We anticipate that we will be exporting to the States, as well as providing for marijuana growers here in Canada,” explained Cheryl. Superb manpower, progressive thinking, and strategic forecasting make Muskoka Millwrighting a strong player in the industry. “We are the best at what we do,” Cheryl claimed, “and I would put our company toe to toe with any steel fabricator in Ontario.”
Founded in Toronto in 2003, CIK Telecom has offices throughout the world, with support centres in Canada’s major cities. Its mandate is to deliver reliable and affordable telecommunications services across Canada, levelling the playing field for businesses and enabling residents access to high-speed connectivity from any location. “We can provide Fibre-to-the-Home Internet with unlimited data, Home Phone, and IPTV or, simply put, triple play,” explained Yves Yao, CIK’s Vice President of Business Solutions. For the past year, CIK has been working with the staff of the Town of Gravenhurst to build a program that will deliver fibre internet service to urban businesses and rural areas through a multi-phased approach. The first phase establishes the regional headquarters and data centre on a ten-acre property within the community. In the next phases, fibre will be supplied to the urban core businesses, followed by the residential neighbourhoods, and, finally, extended to the cottages. The local data centre and office for sales and customer support will generate up to ten new employment opportunities; and, as the business grows, Yves anticipates that more job positions will become available. “We see this as a sound business opportunity,” Yves said, “and we are making a substantial investment in the project.”
From building and design to organic food; from metal fabrication to high-speed connectivity, commerce in Muskoka is robust and dynamic. Advancements in technology and industry have changed the landscape, breaking down the geographical boundaries that traditionally tied companies to urban centres. Muskoka is much more than a vacation playground: it is open for business and ready to welcome keen investors.