Bracebridge Townhouse Burns in Boxing Day Blaze

Posted Dec. 26, 8.50pm: A morning fire destroyed a home in the Cambrian Court complex in Bracebridge today. Firefighters responded to a 911 call from a neighbour who saw thick, black smoke coming from one of townhouses in the Ball’s Drive complex, which is made up of 25 adjoined, attached homes. A report from the Bracebridge OPP says the homeowner was in a nearby unit when doors were being knocked on to evacuate the complex. Battling smoke and flames, the owner tried to re-enter the burning unit to rescue pets, and was taken to South Muskoka Memorial Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. Two small dogs were removed from the home and treated by a local vet while three other pets remain unaccounted for. Although only one unit was destroyed, the adjacent units on either side sustained smoke and water damage, and the occupants have been evacuated until it’s deemed safe for them to return. An investigation is ongoing to uncover the cause of the fire, which police say does not appear to be suspicious. Volunteer services including Victims Assistance, the Salvation Army and Muskoka Housing also attended to help residents of the complex.

Masked men rob Gravenhurst Pet Store

Posted Dec. 23, 10 am: The Bracebridge OPP is investigating a robbery at Gravenhurst Pet Valu at the south end of town. Armed with what is believed to be a firearm, 

two masked men reportedly entered the pet store on Talisman Drive just before closing on Friday, December 21. They took cash and some merchandise before fleeing the scene.

A police search ensued but there were no arrests. No one was injured.

Bala’s loss could be Bracebridge’s gain of $100K for housing

Bracebridge could get attainable housing funding & build

Posted Dec 20. 12pm: The District Council Community Services Committee is recommending that a Bracebridge attainable housing project go ahead now that an application has been withdrawn to build a combination housing/retail project in Bala. See earlier post, Bala housing abandoned, developer blames Mayor.

As a result, a proposal by David Rodwell for a one bedroom building at 160 Shier Street in Bracebridge may now get the green light — and $100,000 in funding to help build it.

District Council approved the submission of two remaining projects — in Bracebridge and Huntsville — to the Province for their consideration in light of the fact that Greg Knight withdrew his application to use the funds to build on Grey Street in Bala. The Bracebridge project is being given first consideration. The Bala project had been ranked first by the District Council committee.

Following is the full Committee recommendation report to District Council, provided on December 12 – the same day Greg Knight met with Muskoka Lakes Mayor Alice Murphy, two Muskoka Lakes Councillors and applicable staff in a meeting to discuss the Bala project. Knight pulled the application citing the Mayor’s behaviour as a reason for him not to want to proceed. The report below also notes there would not have been time for a further site plan meeting (thus the matter also would not have had time for another township council meeting for more discussion). The Community Services Committee had been considering projects since October.  The new recommendation report is below.

THAT Muskoka District Council recommend to the Province of Ontario that the proposal submitted by David Rodwell, and the proposal submitted by Brunel Road Property Management, for new rental housing construction under the Investment in Affordable Housing for Ontario (IAH) Program – New Rental Housing Component be considered as alternate recipients of funding, in the amount of $100,000, as well as the proposal previously approved through Report CS-11-2012-9.

Through Report CS-11-2012-9, The District Municipality of Muskoka (the District) resolved to recommend that an allocation of $100,000 towards the construction of two new attainable housing units on Grey Street in Bala be recommended to the Province of Ontario. The timelines under the IAH program are very tight, with the commitment to fund projects having to be made by December 31, 2012 or very soon thereafter, and the successful proponent having to start construction within 120 days of said commitment being made. As it has been noted that there may be a delay for Site Plan approval, the previously approved proponent may not be able to meet the provincially established time lines. Should this occur, and should the District not have other approved projects to put forth, the $100,000 allocated to Muskoka for this IAH component could be re-allocated to another Service Manager.

As per Report CS-11-2012-9, Council will recall that a total of three proposals were received in response to an RFP call made October 15, 2012. An ad hoc committee with representatives from Community Services and Facilities Services reviewed all of the applications. Proposals were ranked in a number of categories, which are noted in the chart on the following page.

While the Bala proposal was viewed to be the top ranked project, it is noted that all three proposals were valid. Should the top ranked project not be able to proceed in this funding year, it is staff’s recommendation that funding be made available first to Dave Rodwell, for his proposal on Shier Street in the Town of Bracebridge, and secondly, to the proposal from Brunel Road
Management Corporation.

The Bracebridge proposal is recommended for priority because:

  • zoning is in place
  • no minor variance is required
  • construction would not displace sitting tenants.

In Huntsville, the proposal notes the addition of a second storey to an existing rental building, which would necessitate the temporary relocation of the downstairs tenants. An additional allocation of $100,000 is available in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, and an RFP from interested parties will be made early in that period. Both new and unsuccessful proponents from
this year would be welcomed and encouraged to reapply for funding at that time.

Should the District not have an alternative proposal positioned to be recommended to the Province within timelines established by the Province, Muskoka could lose the $100,000 allocated to this component of the IAH program.

1.1 Through leading by example, be recognized as a model municipality for the implementation of environmentally sustainable policies and practices. Continue to examine new technologies for their appropriateness in Muskoka.
7.4 Utilize all available senior government funding for affordable housing and homelessness to improve the housing situation in Muskoka.
7.6 Continue to support the construction of new affordable housing units. Conduct a complete review of how this is to be accomplished including the potential adoption of an Affordable Housing By-law.

Venue change for Wynne visit-will be at Grace and Speed

Updated Dec 19 9.50am: Wynne winging her way to Gravenhurst, Midland & Orillia – first stop Gravenhurst Wharf

Posted Dec. 18, 10pm: Ontario Liberal leadership hopeful Kathleen Wynne will visit Gravenhurst, Midland and Orillia this Thursday, December 20. Muskoka gets her attention first — she’ll be at Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre (Grace and Speed) at the Gravenhurst Wharf from 12-2pm. She then heads for the Serendipitea Tea Room in Midland for 4 pm and then Apple Annie’s Cafe in Orillia for 7pm. Her team prefers you RSVP for the Gravenhurst drop in: MNW hears there will be snacks! Wynne is the first in the Liberal leadership race to visit the very PC region of Muskoka. Will she be the one and only?

The provincial Parry Sound-Muskoka Liberal riding associationed saw a few last minute people in Muskoka join the Liberal party November 23 (on the last day you could become a member and be a potential delegate for the leadership convention). Township of Muskoka Lakes Mayor Alice Murphy was one. The Mayor announced on Twitter that she was a last minute joiner, tweeting “Only way to make difference is get involved” and encouraging others to make the midnight membership deadline in order to try and help determine the outcome of the leadership convention.  She may be one of a few municipal politicians who wish to welcome Wynne to Muskoka — out of courtesy and just in case Wynne’s successful in her race. The big Muskoka question Wynne can expect? Would you put us back in the north with Parry Sound?


Bala Cenotaph off heritage designation list; first public Conservation Review hearing in January

Public gets chance to hear arguments for and against planned Bala heritage designations Jan 7-11, 2013 in Port Carling
Posted Dec 18, 4.30 pm: The next Ontario Conservation Review Board (CRB) hearing into proposed Bala heritage site designations will be open to the public in January. It is the first time the public has been invited to hear arguments for and against the proposed designations. A public meeting had been planned by Township Council for last March but was cancelled and never rescheduled. Two pre-hearing conferences with supporters and objectors held by the provincial CRB since September were closed to the public as per CRB rules. And as of yesterday, one proposed site designation has been dropped from the Township’s list: the Bala Cenotaph. No official reason has been made public, but the Cenotaph itself is not owned by the Township. The Township has earmarked up to another $30,000 to support its recommended heritage designations.

HEARING BEGINS Monday, January 7, 2013
This hearing is open to interested public members.
Date: January 7-January 11, 2013 Time: 10am.
Where: Township of Muskoka Lakes Council Chambers
Note: The CRB has sets aside five days for this hearing.

CAN THE PUBLIC BE HEARD? Yes. CRB officials confirm (as was also indicated previously by the pre-hearing conference adjudicator) that if someone from the public shows up right at 10am on the first day and asks to speak that they will be given a time to speak to their concern (that time could be another day). If they are late, they miss that opportunity. The adjudicator will also decide whether questions could be asked of that speaker. Public hearing rules are similar to that of Ontario Municipal Board hearings, where the public is given a time if they have requested to be heard. If there is ANY chance a person wishes to add their two cents, they must attend on the first day, Jan. 7, at 10am sharp.

WHAT IS THIS ABOUT? The CRB hearing is to determine whether the proposed sites should be designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. Township of Muskoka Lakes Council has said it would designate the following properties:

  • Township Dock on Lake Muskoka
  • The Shield Parking Lot
  • The Portage Landing on Moon River
  • The Bala Cenotaph (as of Monday, Dec. 18, this site has been dropped and will not be up for discussion. The Township does not own the property the actual Cenotaph sits on).

The Township Dock on Moon River was another potential site dropped by Township as a site at the start of the first pre-hearing conference. No official reason was given. The pre-hearing conference in September occurred, coincidentally, just a few days after a Moon River Property Owners’ Association (MRPOA) meeting. MRPOA has done a good job in the past in ensuring Township stays on top of upkeep on the dock, but there is nothing to indicate it had any say in the designate-or-not-to-designate decision.

Note: The Bala Museum was on the original list, but there are no longer any objections. Objectors had said they felt forced to object to all designated sites due to the wording of early designation notices. Now it is up to the Township and the owners – Jack and Linda Hutton – to proceed with the designation as desired. The Museum has long been on a list as a potential designation site.

WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN as a result of the hearing? Even if the CRB decides a site does not deserve designation, the Township can still go ahead and designate it. Township has final say. The only avenue left then for anyone having a problem related to a designated site is to take the Township decision to an Ontario Municipal Board hearing. For example, if you were to want to build a dock or boathouse next to a designated site or in view of a site, you might have to get special Township permission. The CRB does have additional powers though beyond simply making recommendations about what should or should not be designated under the Heritage Act: it can also order costs be paid if the conduct or course of conduct of any of the involved parties is believed to be unreasonable, frivolous or vexatious or the other party has acted in bad faith. Meantime, the Township of Muskoka Lakes has earmarked up to another $30,000 for heritage designation purposes (it put about $25K for heritage in its last budget, up from $2k budgeted by previous councils). Its web site does not include any up to date minutes of Heritage Committee meetings (last minutes posted in June yet there have been meetings since, including one scheduled in July) and at one pre-hearing conference, the Township took back surveys of the sites it had just handed out.

Some public residents have stated they believe the proposed designations have become a hot bed issue for Township Council as part of a bid to stop a hydroelectric project, but the Mayor and Councillors have stated the designations have nothing at all to do with the proposed green energy project.


Heritage Designations Could Stop Hydroelectric Project, Metroland, Oct. 2010

SOUTH MUSKOKA – Bala could consider creating a heritage district to stop the proposed hydroelectric project at its north falls, residents recently heard.

Link to Bracebridge Examiner Story

Muskoka Lakes Council Opposes Hydro Plant November 2012

BALA – The current Muskoka Lakes council has been fighting the efforts of Swift River at every turn, trying to prevent the hydroelectric project from being built at Bala Falls.
Council has appealed government decisions, is in the process of creating heritage sites in the Bala Falls area, and has raised concerns to Swift River and the provincial government.

Designations prove controversial, What’s Up Muskoka January 2012

Bala Heritage Sites Spur Objections, Gravenhurst Banner Sept 2011

Why Muskoka Lakes Protecting Docks, Rocks and Waterfalls Nov 2011



TVO’s Paikin to host 2013 Muskoka Reading Circle event

Posted Dec. 17th, 11.20am:  Press release from Muskoka Chautauqua.

Muskoka Chautauqua is thrilled to announce the names of the first authors and speakers confirmed its 2013 Reading Circle event.

Whether you’re a book fan, music lover or just enjoy good conversation, Muskoka Chautauqua’s Reading Circle event is the region’s not-to-be-missed literary event.  Held annually, this exciting three-day event includes talks and interviews with big-name (and local) authors, musical and dramatic performances, poetry readings, and presentations from young participants from the group’s arts in education programs.

The theme for 2013 (May 31st – June 2nd) encompasses “Humour, Health and Happiness” and will again be hosted by TVO’s Steve Paikin.  And, for the first time, the event will be held in the heart of the historic and lively community of Port Carling, with events occurring in different venues throughout the village.

Joining Paikin is guest speaker Dr. Michael Evans, whose video, “23 and 1/2 hours, What is the single best thing we can do for our health?” has had almost 3 million viewings on YouTube.

Authors attending will be Francesca Grosso, co-author of Navigating Canada’s Health Care – A User Guide.  Grosso will discuss tips and tactics on how to access healthcare that is better, faster and safer.  Mairlyn Smith, author of The Vegetarian’s Complete Quinoa Cookbook, will provide some quinoa tips and talk to us about living healthier lives.  And Charlie Wilkins, author of Little Ship of Fools, will share the fascinating story of his journey rowing solo across the Atlantic.

“We chose Little Ship of Fools to illustrate how our passions in life can test us, while making us happy,” says Muskoka Chautauqua’s Managing/Artistic Director, Gary Froude. “Every rower, indeed everyone of us who has been motivated to get out there and do the things we love, even when highly dangerous, will relate to the book and enjoy Charlie’s account of his row across the Atlantic.”

Muskoka Chautauqua is an arts and learning organization providing year-round creative, multi-disciplinary arts-based programming for entertainment, life-long learning and community engagement.  In Muskoka during the 1920s and 30s, summer-long Chautauqua assemblies were held on Tobin Island, Lake Muskoka, where some of Canada’s literary greats of the time spoke, earning the group the title of “Canada’s Literary Summer Capital”.

For further information, call 705-765-1048 / 1-888-311-ARTS, or visit the group’s website at <> .

Muskoka Lakes Mayor responds to Knight Developments

Posted Dec. 16, 11am: Township of Muskoka Lakes Mayor Alice Murphy says she is fully supportive of attainable housing — in the right place (see her comments, verbatim, below). She made the comment in response to claims by Greg Knight of Knight Developments that a meeting with her and other township staff and council convinced him to halt a proposed affordable housing/retail development in Bala — a project receiving $100,000 in grant money to proceed. It’s expected those funds will now flow to another community in Muskoka.

Mayor Murphy responded promptly to a request by MNW that she address Knight’s charges (see Bala housing project abandoned, developer blames Mayor) yesterday. Here is her statement.

Response from Mayor Alice Murphy:

It is my understanding that you are in receipt of correspondence today from Mr. Knight, regarding a proposed attainable housing project in Bala for which certain provincial grant monies would be directed through the District of Muskoka. I provide my comments as follows:

As with all planning issues, there is a process, and we need to respect the process.

Mr. Knight is well within his rights to proceed with the project on the basis of the current site plan.  Should he wish to alter the site plan, he will need to return to Council, as per the will of Council, expressed on December 3, 2012.  As I have indicated a number of times to Mr. Knight, my comments represent my views, and not that of Council.

I am highly supportive of attainable and accessible housing, as is TML Council, recognizing that this is an intrinsic link to the economic health of our community and residents. How can we not be given the real financial challenges facing our seasonal economy and so many of our constituents?

Further, the Township seeks to promote vital commercial cores in our urban communities, as reflected in our official plan which states that the predominant use of the C3 zoning shall be for retail and general commercial activities, including offices, dining establishments, and places of entertainment.  Accordingly, approval was provided last year to allow the property to be rezoned from single family residential to commercial, with specific reference to the construction of a yoga studio.  This construction did not progress, and an application has now been brought forward by Mr. Knight which will shift the primary use of the property from commercial to multi-residential.

I am not supportive of housing, other than ancillary, in the core commercial corridors of our urban communities.  I view this as short term reactive planning and not reflective of the development of successful and walkable retail-focused areas that are critical to the long term financial health of our communities.  This view is consistent with our Official Plan, but unfortunately our C3 zoning has not yet been appropriately updated.

There is no doubt that attainable housing, and financial incentives related thereto present important and critically needed opportunities to our communities.



Bala housing project abandoned, developer blames Mayor

Bala affordable housing project stopped before it starts. $100K in funding may go elsewhere in Muskoka.

Posted Dec. 15, 1.30pm: In late November, at least one Muskoka Lakes Councillor was expressing delight that Bala was earmarked for $100,000 in affordable housing money. See Article. But that money will not flow now after a pre site plan consultation meeting on December 12 between the developer, township staff, the Mayor and two Councillors. Saying that a “bullying, lawless approach” on the part of Muskoka Lakes Mayor Alice Murphy has convinced him it’s not worth while to invest his efforts in Muskoka Lakes while she holds office, developer Greg Knight is halting the project. In a letter today to all councillors, Knight, of Markham-based Knight Developments, explained why he will not move forward. He also told MNW that “Following my meeting Dec 12, it became evident that I could no longer guarantee I could meet the timing requirements. So I withdrew the funding proposal, so as to ensure another project within the District (of Muskoka) would receive the funding and it would not be lost. He adds that “Murphy was advised by District staff in advance of last Wednesday’s meeting that they’d be bringing an alternate recommendation forward to Dec 17 District Council in the event my minor site plan matters couldn’t be sorted out in time.

The following email is printed verbatim as sent to Muskoka Lakes Councillors and Township CAO Chris Wray today, December 15, 2012.

Subject Line: Mayor Murphy Snuffs Out Best Practices Example of Attainable Housing Planned for Bala

Dear Members of Muskoka Lakes Council,

It is with regret that I report that the Muskoka Artisan Lofts development planned for 1001 Grey St, Bala has been cancelled.

The development was to include approximately 2,000 sq ft of exciting retail art space and three residential two bedroom apartments.  The project promised to be a best practices example of how attainable housing can be successfully integrated within the community.  The plans had been thoughtfully prepared after studying successful examples of similar projects in other tourist based communities in Canada.  Developers and operators of two similar projects were involved in the design process, as well as a local architectural firm with significant experience in this realm.  The proposal won considerable praise at District Community Services and was selected through an RFP process to be recommended to the province to receive $100,000 in Investment in Affordable Housing program funding.  Such funding would be a first for the Township of Muskoka Lakes.

As a requirement of the provincial program, the proposal was designed to meet existing zoning by-laws for the property and required only minor amendments to the previously approved site plan in order to complete Planning Act processes.  Specifically, the required amendments were the addition of a number of windows on the south (MR 169) elevation of the building design approved last Summer.  Under the current approvals, there are no windows at all on the wall that faces the main street.  By all accounts, the proposal represents a significant improvement to the Bala streetscape.

In keeping with standard protocol for site plan applications, I requested a site plan pre-consultation meeting which was scheduled for last Wednesday, December 12th and was attended by Councillors Nishikawa and Burgess, Mayor Murphy, new CAO Chris Wray and Interim Planning Director David Pink.  Typical site plan processes of a minor nature often take place at the staff level, but in my experience, Muskoka Lakes highly politicizes site plan processes (which is not a public process) and so I requested the relevant members of Council attend as well.  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss these minor improvements and to determine the manner in which the site plan amendment application may be brought forward.

It quickly became evident in that meeting that Mayor Murphy was fiercely opposed to the proposal and that she was prepared to pursue a number of unsavoury avenues outside of the planning realm in order to quash the project.

Mayor Murphy indicated she would not support the project because she did not approve of the internal layout of the building. Interim Planning Director David Pink advised that the township had no jurisdiction over the interior of the building in the site plan process, but that was to no avail.  She quickly dismissed discussions surrounding the innovation in design and that the project mimicked a similar award winning project in Collingwood.  Instead, Mayor Murphy stated that “no one wants retail on the second level” and that “as the former CFO of a retailing company” she was the authority on retail design.  I plead that frankly, since it is my financial investment and my project (not to mention my sole legal right), I ought to be the one to make the determination as to the interior design of the space.  Alice reminded me that she was “the Mayor!” and as such, it would be her who would make such determinations, notwithstanding any planning policy justification or legal jurisdiction to do so.

Mayor Murphy also expressed a lack of support for the project because she felt the project was inconsistent with the official plan, stating that the predominant use in the C3 zoning shall be for retail and general commercial activities.  David Pink confirmed that while these statements do exist in the official plan, the relevant law is the existing zoning by law in place for the property and that the C3 zone does not require a predominant commercial use….that, in fact, a proposal which was solely residential in use would meet the requirements of the by law.  Again, in spite of any planning policy justification or legal jurisdiction, the Mayor indicated she was firmly opposed to the proposal on the basis of the statements in the OP.

This is particularly puzzling, because the zoning by law for the property was signed by Mayor Murphy only a year ago.  I asked Mayor Murphy, if the planning principles from the official plan she continues to exert are so crucially important as to kill this project why were they not incorporated into the zoning by law?  I did not receive an answer to my question.  Indeed, excerpts from the October 11th 2011 Committee of the Whole meeting indicated:  “In response to Committee’s concern regarding the possibility of staff housing, Mr. Fahner indicated Committee could limit permitted uses, and / or eliminate residential uses.”  Clearly Alice did not feel so strongly about this issue a year ago to heed Mr. Fahner’s advise.  Having ignored the issue at that time, its difficult to understand why it is so significant now, except as an (uncompelling) argument to attempt to quash the proposal.  If Mayor Murphy were truly supportive of attainable housing, I expect she would stand behind the zoning by law she so very recently ascribed her signature to.

Finally, in an attempt to quash the project, Mayor Murphy continues to attempt to suggest impropriety in the awarding of the provincial funding because of my volunteer activities as a member of the Muskoka Attainable Housing Advisory Table (“MAHAT”).  MAHAT Chair Coleman and District Community Services Chair Williams both confirmed to the Mayor that MAHAT had no involvement in the RFP process.  They both confirmed that the process was transparent and legitimate.  Yet, when I asked Mayor Murphy pointedly in our meeting if she was now satisfied in that regard, she indicated that she was not and that she would raise the issue with Council, should a site plan application on the project be put forth.  As Mayor Murphy is herself well aware, the perception of a conflict can be as harmful as an actual one. Mayor Murphy’s clear willingness to convey that perception is an egregious disservice to me personally, my business, the Muskoka Artisan Lofts project, senior District staff and the good works of the Muskoka Attainable Housing Advisory Table.

It is for these reasons that I have abandoned the project.  While I am reminded by others that she is only one vote, Mayor Murphy’s lawless, bullying approach is so unorthodox as compared to the other six municipalities in which I carry on my development business that, frankly, I don’t want to invest any (more) money within Muskoka Lakes while it is under her leadership.  I suspect in many aspects, this satisfies her mandate.  While Alice publicly points to the township’s strategic plan as evidence that she is, in fact, supportive of attainable housing, her conduct behind closed [doors] clearly is not.  This is a consistent challenge for those of us who work in the affordable housing realm, but it is unfortunate, because the people of Muskoka Lakes deserve better.  Alice ought to represent all members of the Muskoka Lakes community.  So for the suppliers, construction tradespeople, retail employees, arts community, cottagers, surrounding businesses and housing recipients who would all have benefited from this exciting project, I am sorry.

Thanks to David Pink and Councillors Nishikawa and Burgess for their efforts to steer the discussion in a proactive way.  I encourage all Council members to investigate this matter further with CAO Wray who took very thorough notes throughout the meeting and I thank all Council members for your continued contributions to our community.  I appreciate how difficult your jobs are, I am optimistic for a brighter future for Muskoka Lakes in spite of current predicaments and I look forward to returning to work in Muskoka Lakes when the environment has changed.

Greg Knight
B.A., LL.B., M.B.A

MNW Editor Note: Previous to Dec. 3, residents of Grey Street in Bala had contacted MNW expressing concern that they had heard nothing of plans for affordable housing on their street and planned to contact their local Councillors to discuss the matter.

Carpet Cleaning Fraud Targeting Muskoka Seniors

Post Dec. 11, 850am: As you spruce up your home for the holiday crowd, beware of fraudsters offering to clean your carpets. They’ll clean you out, instead, says the Bracebridge OPP. So far, it seems the person or persons running this scam have been approaching seniors in Muskoka.

How does this carpet cleaning scam work?

The fraudster contacts an intended victim either by phone or by a door to door cold call. The deal is he is a carpet cleaning person who would like to attend and clean the carpets. A price quote is provided as well as various contact numbers all of which appear legitimate.  The fraudster advises payment is to be made by cash only. There is pressure put on the intended victim to sign up.

While in the residence providing the carpet cleaning service, they claim that due to the chemicals being used (scotch guarding etc.) that the home owner remain out the room being cleaned. At that point it appears the fraudster is free to rummage thru the victims personal belongings stealing money, and other easily accessible items. When the service is completed the culprits get paid cash, and are long gone before the victim realizes items are missing. When the victim attempts to the contact the carpet cleaner from the numbers provided on the bill they find out they are not real.

Spread the word to head off this scam, and if you or someone you know are approached, call the Bracebridge OPP.

15 acre wetland protected on Robinson Lake in Huntsville

Posted Dec. 10, 1pm: The Robinson Lake shoreline in Huntsville has received a boost from a local donation that will see a very sensitive wetland protected forever.

Robinson Lake wetland protected

The Muskoka Conservancy has received a donation of just over 15 acres of provincially significant wetland from Peter and Linda McBirnie and Doug and Kim Spiller.

“The donation by the McBirnies and Spillers is particularly special because it highlights how local developers can and do consider the environment when planning their sites.” says Kristie Virgoe, Executive Director with Muskoka Conservancy.

The two couples are in the process of developing the “Robinson Estates” on the property formerly known as Robinson Farm. In their planning they recognized the importance of protecting the 15 acre wetland. “We were very concerned about ensuring that the wetland was protected forever.” says Peter McBirnie. “While you can place conditions on the sale of lots to private landowners, there’s no guarantee that those conditions will be upheld decades down the road. With this donation we can rest assured that the wetland will be protected for all of our future generations.”

The Robinson Lake shoreline wetland is very important to protecting our water quality and providing habitat for many iconic Muskoka wildlife species. The 15 acres is located on the north shore of Robinson Lake which empties into Lake Vernon.

“Shoreline properties and wetlands are of particular interest to us when it comes to protection.” says Virgoe, “These areas are often the most diverse in species and play such an important role in water quality.” Based on the 2010 Watershed Report Card put out by the Muskoka Watershed Council, the Huntsville Lakes sub-watershed has a ‘below standard’ grade on shoreline and riparian areas. “That’s why protecting approximately 2,500 feet of shoreline in this sub-watershed is so important.” says McBirnie. “As residents and developers in the area, we have a responsibility to consider the impact on our environment and to take steps to ensure we leave a positive legacy to the next generation.”
The donation of the ‘Robinson Lake Nature Reserve’ marks the 30th property under the protection of Muskoka Conservancy.

“The secret of our success is our donors and volunteers.” says Virgoe. “They deserve our respect and our gratitude for their foresight and generosity.”
Muskoka Conservancy, formerly the Muskoka Heritage Trust, is a charitable organization that has been working with local landowners for over 16 years to protect and nurture our natural spaces. The Conservancy protects 20 nature reserves and 10 conservation easement agreements throughout our region.

Muskoka governance under the microscope

Post Dec. 4: MNW talks with One Muskoka’s Mike Provan ahead of public meeting December 5, 630pm, Gravenhurst 

Hearing there’s a meeting about ‘governance’ may not prompt people to jump up, and shout, I’ve got to be there! Governance just doesn’t sound, well, ‘sexy’. But how people are governed is critically important — for democracy, for the well-being of our region, and for anyone who is touched by any system of governance — and that’s each and every one of us. According to One Muskoka, there are ways we could be saving money and doing things better politically for the good of our unique region’s future. One Muskoka wants an independent review of the Muskoka governance structure and they’re committed — they’re not giving up.

  • “We need an independent review of our 40 year old governance structure.”
  • “We spend almost 1/4 BILLION dollars  a year in Muskoka on local government….and it is increasing.”
  • “Our duplicated services can be restructured to off-set costs.”
  • “Local politicians say that nobody talks to them about a review…..tell them if you care.”

MNW spoke with one of One Muskoka’s principals, Mike Provan, just ahead of the next public meeting — tomorrow night in Gravenhurst at Your Independent Grocer at 630pm. Everyone is invited to come share ideas, concerns and opinions on the current state of how Muskoka is run. If you’ve ever thought, there must be a better way, One Muskoka will tell you this is your chance to speak up.

Q&A with Mike Provan                                                                                          Q: What is that One Muskoka wants?

A: The only action we want is for our elected councillors to get an independent review of our governance structure and implement the most appropriate recommendations for now and the next 20 years. There are experts that can do this. One Muskoka is not championing a structure nor do we have the expertise to do such a review. Neither do the politicians or employees of our municipalities.
40 plus years ago, experts recommended a structure for that time and it was adopted. 12 years ago, experts recommended changes that were not adopted by our elected officials.

Q: Why is this important now?

A: Nothing has changed in over 40 years in Muskoka but the rest of the world has. Our taxes and costs increase and industry decreases. Our cost of social services increase along with our unemployment numbers. Studies have been done with either no reporting or impact on the cost of local government. We have 51 politicians and over 1,000 staff spending $1/4 BILLION a year for 61,000 residents on a structure designed before the electronic/technical age was invented.

Q: What do you think needs to be done?

A: Our main mantra is that we need to work together in Muskoka if we are going to survive and thrive into the next 50 years. We need a structure that will help us to do that. We need an economic development policy for all of Muskoka not just for some of the parts. We need a planning vision, including construction code harmonization to get us there. We need changes to compete with the rest of the province, the country, the world. National Geographic reports that Muskoka is one of the 10 best places to visit in the world. We have over 10 tourism agencies in Muskoka all telling different stories to the world. Why not just one? If Bracebridge and Gravenhurst minor hockey can work together for the citizens why can’t our 51 politicians?

Q: If we reduce politicians, won’t some areas of Muskoka lose a voice at the table?

A: Losing representation is a red herring. Is Port Carling any lesser because it is part of the Township of Muskoka Lakes? Is Bala any lesser because it is in the Township?  Don’t folks who work in Huntsville live in Bracebridge? Do Lake of Bays folks ever come to the Walmart in Bracebridge to shop?  Let’s think about all of Muskoka (the Brand name by the way) and maybe our small neck of the woods on Ziska Road will be taken care of too. We cannot afford to continue with our heads in the sand.

Q: Where do you start?                                                                                                 A: Please pass on to your readers to come out to the meeting on Dec 5th in Gravenhurst. Similar meetings will follow in Bracebridge and Huntsville in the new year….just like we did last year.