We live in fortunate times. Advances in infrastructure and technology are opening the window to the best of both worlds—people can choose to work where they play, embracing a Muskoka lifestyle that is healthy and upbeat. Who wouldn’t prefer a morning paddle or a walk through forested trails to the stress of urban congestion and daily commutes?
Working and living in vacation paradise
Linda Boothby, owner of the Dwight Garden Centre, established her business in 2001, first bagging firewood for the campers heading up to Algonquin Park, then selling soil and annuals. Demand fuelled growth, and her operation has doubled in space and expanded in capacity, with a current summer staff of 17, a retail giftware section, and large greenhouses (one of them heated). Linda enjoys the personal relationships with her clients. “My seasonal customers are so happy that I remember their names,” Linda commented, “and they tell me how they’ve watched my business grow.” Highly respected for her expertise, she also conducts workshops for the community. “I have an incredibly loyal staff and clientele,” she said. “It all makes my work so satisfying.”
Residents like Linda have instant access to one of the best year-round vacation destinations in the world. Muskoka has a wealth of parkland, beaches, and trails; and it is home to national treasures like Algonquin Park and the Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve. Heritage attractions such as the Segwun steamship (built in 1887 and still cruising the waterways), the restored SS Bigwin steamship, and local museums celebrate its rich history.
Photo: Linda Boothby, owner of Dwight Garden Centre, with resident retriever, Miley.
Active and creative environment
Muskoka is perfect for people who appreciate the outdoors: hiking and cycling, paddling and swimming, skiing and skating in Nature’s playground. The world-class golf courses are superb; and the towns have invested in state-of-the-art recreation centres.
In 2008, Muskoka was declared a Designated Arts Community … and with good reason. Artists continue to flock to the area today, while, long ago, it attracted painters such as A.Y. Jackson, Tom Thomson, and David Milne, whose cottage is being moved to a prominent place in Georgian Bay as a legacy project for Canada’s 150th birthday. A self-guided tour of the Group of Seven Outdoor Gallery is available on a mobile app, moving people throughout the region. The original studio art tour, the Muskoka Autumn Studio Tour is now in its fourth decade of showcasing some of Canada’s best artists. Each municipality has excellent galleries and special events that honour the diverse art of the region, as well as theatres and concert halls that host an incredible array of talent.
Photo: A heritage hotel now hosts the Arts at the Albion co-op gallery in Gravenhurst.
Setting up shop
Muskoka’s small-town character paired with urban sophistication invites entrepreneurs who are drawn to its spirit of kinship and clean, safe neighbourhoods. Patrick and Eilish Kelly originated from a village in County Laios near Kilkenny in south Ireland. After researching numerous locations for their new venture, they settled on Muskoka, with its rivers, bridges, green lands, and friendly people that echoed the environs of their home town. With Patrick’s background in engineering and Eilish’s experience as a chef in Ireland, the couple moved up from Burlington and pooled their talents to fully renovate the 1857 building and launch Kelly’s Kitchen Pub.
It’s a family business, with sons Brendan tending the bar and Martin helping out when he’s in town. The ‘claddagh’ design on their exterior represents love, loyalty, and friendship—expressing the Irish culture of sharing music, stories, art, and camaraderie in a kitchen pub where everyone mingles. “An Irish poet once said, ‘A stranger is a friend you’ve not yet met’,” said Patrick, “and we’ll be offering a ‘Kelly welcome’ to everyone who comes through our doors.”
The business lifestyle in Muskoka is all about pace and people, with nature at the doorstep and a community of colleagues. A true breath of fresh air … in so many ways!
Photos: Eilish Kelly and son Brendan at the bar in Kelly’s Kitchen Pub; and, A stylish bar is a highlight at Kelly’s Kitchen Pub.