It’s been a little over a year since we moved to a 14-acre property on Deer Lake in Lount Township, west of South River, ON. Back then, the property consisted of a beautiful viceroy home that needed little work, an A-Frame that was uninhabitable (although we did not realize it at the time), 230 feet of waterfront with lots of open area and beautiful stand of pine trees right at the lakeshore, and a large 3500 sq ft two-storey unfinished brown building that from the beginning sparked our imagination as to its possibilities.
We have found that the amount of work involved in just living out here, instead of being a deterrent, makes it more real and dear to us. We have a connection to our land that we did not have in the city. I am not exactly a stranger to the north, having grown up in Callander, ON, but still, living in Toronto or nearby for 30 years changes your mindset and where we are living now is far more rural than Callander ever was (yes, you North Bayites, there are even more rural places than Callander!).
When it snows, it really snows and so shovelling and snow blowing becomes a seemingly daily activity from November to beginning of March. My aunt related to me what surely most who live here year-round already know: when it’s cold, it’s really cold, and when it warms up, it snows.
But the beauty of the winter in both the landscape and the soundscape of the Almaguin Highlands is unsurpassed. My partner and I both would often say, as we drove into town, “Wow! Do we really live here?”
We have a propane furnace, but to save on heating costs, we burn wood in our fire place. We use wood from trees that have died or are in poor health on our property so as to make this both affordable and sustainable. Almost everyone who lives up here year-round burns wood because the only other heating options are oil, propane and electric – all of which are expensive alternatives.
To save on electricity, which is three times the cost up here than it is in Toronto, we try to keep our usage to the off-hours. This means planning ahead for things like doing laundry, downloading or uploading content on the internet (we have satellite internet), and charging up our digital devices, to evenings and weekends. I use the clothes-line to dry our clothes in the spring, summer, and fall so that we don’t need the dryer as much, if at all from April to October.
The first time we saw our property back in February 2014, the snow banks on Eagle Lake Road were 4+ feet high. We made the acquaintance of Jason Hrabb who owns Spring Lake Lodge just down the road. He was kind enough to remove enough of the snow so that we could at least drive in to the edge of this property and then we snowshoed in from there. Still, entrance into any of the buildings required quite a bit of maneuvering since the snow in some cases covered the entrances in.
I’ll be forever thankful for our real estate agent, Barb Larose, who drove us in with her 4×4 and donned snowshoes with us to check out the property.
This last winter, we had even more snow as the banks were higher than 5 feet in places. Thankfully, we were able to contract Jason to snowplow our 2000 feet of private drive (1000 ft into our home and buildings and another 1000 ft down to our waterfront) throughout the winter, making access both in and out of our property fairly easy most days.
Spring brings a lot amazing sounds. Have a listen to these sounds we recorded, the most prominently featured being the sounds of peepers and ruffed grouse. Late May brings black flies and mosquitos that pretty much stay thick til mid to late June, depending on how much rain falls. No one wants to wear Deet everyday and so last June, I asked my aunt how she copes with the swarms of black flies and mosquitos in the spring, and her one-word answer? Bug-jackets. These are jackets that are made of a tight mesh that you wear as an outer layer and which prevent the pesky pests from biting. We bought several and this year we did not go outside without them for a good three weeks. Late June, July and August there are no black flies and the mosquitos are out just in the evening and on rainy days – unless you take a walk in the forest (which covers half of our property) – and so it’s much more bearable.
Spring brings out all kinds of animals; far more than we see, as they tend to avoid humans for the most part. We have to be conscious that we are in bear country and so we lock up our garbage in our garage and make sure the doors are all secure at night. We don’t leave any garbage or food lying around either. We have not seen any bears this year, but our neighbour (a weekend cottager) unwisely left his large barbecue – which still had traces of meat on it – out on his porch and a bear knocked it over and tore off the cover to get at the grill. I couldn’t see the bear from where we are (when I say neighbour, it’s still a 5 minute walk down the road) but I could hear it. You learn to play it safe. You carry noise-makers like Bear-horns (these are just marine air-horns). We go for walks in groups, especially in June. We try not to drive at dusk in the spring and fall as that is when a lot of the wildlife come out, and with the fading light, it is harder to see them and easier to hit them if you are travelling too fast to stop.
Living in an unorganized township means you do a lot more yourself as your taxes only pay for road maintenance and land tax. We have to take our garbage to a community dump, the use of which requires we pay a yearly membership fee. This makes us far more aware of how much waste we create as we literally have to drive it to the dump and dump it into a large landfill site ourselves. Consequently we recycle a lot more and burn the paper and cardboard ourselves.
Our plans for the property have changed significantly since we moved in last May. We had originally planned to live in the A-Frame but there was far too much work to be done on that building to allow for this.
The blue house became our home and right from the start we loved the amount of space we have in it, the fireplace and vaulted ceiling as well as the wonderful view it provides for our family and friends when they come to visit.
The summer is wonderful here and we swim, kayak and canoe as much as we can. The fall is breathtaking with its vibrant colours and a close second to summer for me as my favourite time of year. And the soundscape is unsurpassed for its rich sounds: the quiet solitude of winter, the peepers, drumming ruffed grouse and other birds in spring. There is also, of course, the sounds of our neighbours enjoying their cottages and the water too. Yes there are boats on deer lake and yes there are ATVs in the area, but we are somewhat insulated from most of that here and they are more like temporary intrusions.
Finding good trades people to do the work on what has now become the Inn was not difficult thanks to Bob Sohm, who has been so very helpful and supportive of our plans for this place (he’s also my second cousin). He provided me with names of companies and and contractors, all of whom have done an amazing job.
We call our place Warbler’s Roost and the property now includes, as well as our home on one side of our road, a Country Inn across the road (see our Warbler’s Roost website for yourself!). We have completely stripped the AFrame and, once renovated, it will be used as an artist facility with one large room on the ground floor that both visual artists and sound artists can use to create art. We hope to have that ready in the fall. We have a nice long dock down at the waterfront and are clearing a bit of the brush for a picnic area.
As well as being closer to family (and finding I am related to far more people in the area than I realized) we are also becoming part of the larger community here. Getting to know the people here, and become known ourselves, is wonderful, but will take time. That’s okay, because we’re here for the long-term. We are very proud to call this wonderful place our home.