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"My mission is to create a world where we can live in harmony with nature."

- Jane Goodall 


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Back in 2007, flawed planning and an opportunistic developer changed Minett forever. More work needs to be done to make sure that Muskoka developments are sustainable in order to preserve Muskoka for future generations and to protect our lakes from harm.


Close to 200 people attended the virtual Minett Public Meeting on May 28th. The public was invited to comment on the draft Minett Official Plan Amendment, the policy document that will govern development in Minett. 
The draft Minett policy is a huge step forward for our community. It provides for less than half of the number of units that were allowed when Friends of Muskoka was formed in 2017, and includes stronger environmental policies taken from the work of the Minett Joint Policy Review Steering Committee. We owe this to the Interim Control By-law that paused development in 2018 while the Minett Steering Committee studied the area, and to Mr. Mitchell Goldhar who purchased the Clevelands House property in 2019 and took it out of the hands of Freed Developments to prevent a 2800+ unit development.  

Friends of Muskoka and the MLA presented the results of our survey that has now been answered by more than 1700 people.  THANK YOU for participating. Our community spoke with one voice. Many questions garnered 85%+ support for the same outcome. Your voices have been heard and the message is clear: the Muskoka community is supportive of redevelopment of the Clevelands House Lands provided it is done responsibly with minimal effects on Muskoka’s natural environment and character. 

Mr Goldhar’s concept plan for the Clevelands House property was presented at the public meeting by his representative, Ms. Paula Bustard. The rendering details approximately 500 units which she described as low impact, sustainable, walkable and integrated into nature. 
Working with our team of lawyers and planners, we also submitted recommended changes to the draft policy language to ensure tighter, clearer policies that better reflect what you told us is important to you. 
Many speakers voiced their concerns about the scale of development permitted by the draft policies and its potential impact on everything from road and boating safety to the environmental, visual and character changing impacts.  Others asked us to trust that what Mr. Goldhar builds will be in keeping with Muskoka’s character and have minimal negative effects.

We look forward to working with Council, planners and Mr Goldhar’s team to set the policy and by-laws that will govern Minett’s future, and guide development at resorts across the District. A Planning Committee meeting will be held in July to consider the public’s feedback from both the May 28th meeting and many written submissions and determine appropriate policies.  Stay tuned. We will let you know how you can help! 

Public Meeting Recording (delegations start at 55:00)
Summary Survey Results (pdf )
Key Policy Recommendations (pdf)


The District of Muskoka is drafting its resort policies that will impact development at over 100 commercially zoned properties on 27 km of shoreline across the District.

Friends of Muskoka and MLA representatives have participated in stakeholder and public working sessions over the past month with the District’s planners and consultant who are drafting these new resort policies, and have explained our views of how resort development can be done responsibly. 
As many will recall, in 2017 our Muskoka community was alarmed by the District’s proposal to permit 50% residential at resorts. As a result, the District put its review of resort policies on hold and, together with Township of Muskoka Lakes, struck the Minett Joint Policy Review Steering Committee whose recommendations will inform the new policies relating to resort development and redevelopment. 
The next step is for the District’s planners and consultant to prepare draft resort policies and release them to the public for comment. We and the MLA will be reviewing them in detail and providing feedback, as well as communicating with you to explain their impact and how you can help. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, we encourage you to visit the District’s Engage Muskoka site here and enter your email address in the ‘Stay Informed’ box to receive updates on this resort policy review that will greatly impact Muskoka’s shorelines.


Thank you to all of our supporters who have provided input to the early stages of the Township of Muskoka Lakes (TML) Official Plan process. This process is designed to determine what TML’s community wants, and the community has loudly and clearly told Council through surveys and workshops  to ensure responsible development throughout the Township by putting the environment first, protecting our lakes, our natural shorelines and the character of Muskoka. 

We are working to ensure policy reflects our community’s goals --   prevent irresponsible development of our shorelines, protect our water quality so it is swimmable and drinkable, and stop clear-cutting on properties. These policies are in no way stifling development or taking away all of our land rights. 

The next draft of the policies will be released this summer and we will keep you informed as to how they will affect you and how you can provide additional input.


43 'cottages' well under way, Legacy’s property clearcut from Lake Rosseau to Peninsula Road

THIS is why we need better, stronger, more restrictive policies in Minett, our Township and the larger District.  Policy work may seem dull, but it is oh so important to get right.  

We lost 2 battles at LPAT because our policies are not strong enough, not aligned with our community’s vision for Muskoka, too vague and open to interpretation. We are working hard to change this. Thank you to everyone who has written letters and participated in surveys, online webinars, public meetings and workshops. Our work is not done, and we will keep you informed along the way. 


Muskoka has become an increasingly popular destination for cottagers….and developers. The following real-life stories serve as inspiring examples of how the community can respond to the threat of overdevelopment and preserve Muskoka property in perpetuity by developing responsibly.

Highland Island
42 acre Highland Island - a landmark conservation project.
Highland Island near Royal Muskoka Island on Lake Rosseau.

The large Highland Island (also known as Warner Island on many maps), consisting of 42 acres and 7500 feet of shoreline located on south side of Royal Muskoka Island, was purchased from the Crown in the late 1870’s, for $45. It changed hands in the early 1880’s and the first house was built, a massive 12-bedroom house with wrap around verandahs and a 30x40 foot dining room. Several generations of family spent their summers there since then. The remains of that house still stand but has been in complete disrepair for many years now, so the island is effectively undeveloped. There was no hydro to the island, so for many years the house was lit only by kerosene lamps. It is first growth forest, with the average age of the trees being 150 years. 

The island had been in the same family from that time until most recently, when it was under contract by the developer of Legacy Cottages in Minett, with plans to create 14 building lots. Fortunately, the developer didn't complete the purchase agreement and the island was then purchased jointly in September of 2020 by Don and Karen Lang and Seth and Theresa Mersky, with the hope of preserving more than half the island as part of the Muskoka Conservancy.

When the Langs and Merskys, who are longtime cottagers on Lake Rosseau and who also own and have preserved old Muskoka cottages built pre-1900, first heard of the developer backing out of the contract, they approached the owners, who the Merskys knew, having rented the Highland Island cottage many years earlier. The idea of creating as few lots as possible to cover out of pocket cash costs and donating the balance to the Muskoka Conservancy was very much from the heart, as both the Langs’ and the Merskys’ cottages are quite a distance from Highland Island. It was an opportunity to give back to Muskoka, a place that has meant so much for both families who have now enjoyed Muskoka for their 2nd and 3rd generations.
The plan is to create and sell 4 building lots on the south side of the island and donate the north shoreline to the Muskoka Conservancy. Donations of land are tax deductible when done in accordance with CRA guidelines, helping to offset the cost of the land and improvements.  This shoreline, which the Royal Muskoka Island (and approximately 30 cottages) presently faces, will now have the security of enjoying it as it has always been - an unspoiled shoreline of forest and nature. This will be the first Lake Rosseau shoreline donated to the Muskoka Conservancy, which since 1987 has worked to protect 44 properties totaling over 2,700 acres of land, 60,000 feet of shoreline and 600 acres of wetland in the District of Muskoka.
The Langs and Merskys definitely weren’t experts on how to pull off this endeavour, but learned quickly and with support from expert planning, legal and tax professionals and the Muskoka Conservancy, the east side was approved this Spring and the application process for the west side has started.

South Lake Joseph Property 
Neighbours conserve forever over 100 acres of ecologically sensitive lands behind their cottages.

This is the inspiring story of a group of neighbours who worked together to successfully oppose the development of a piece of property behind their cottages, and to preserve it forever through the Muskoka Conservancy.
Nearly a decade ago, a developer acquired 110 acres behind several cottages on south Lake Joseph with two strips of land, 25’ and 72’ wide, extending down to the waterfront. These two strips run between other waterfront properties and were likely originally intended to be water access for logging purposes. 
In 2016, the developer requested a variance from the Township of Muskoka Lakes to build a cottage on the 72’ wide piece of waterfront property. Neighbouring owners Beth and Andy Burgess and several others were understandably nervous and drove to Port Carling in December to object. The Township denied the application as the lot has well below the minimum required shoreline. The following year, the developer applied for relief to build a cottage at the top of the hill behind the other waterfront properties. Again, the neighbours organized to object, and again the Township said no to the developer. This time, he appealed the decision to the OMB (later LPAT). 
A group of concerned neighbours collected funds and hired a lawyer, planner and biologist to put forward a compelling case at LPAT as to why the intended development was contrary to the Official Plan and would harm the local environment. LPAT ruled in favour of the neighbours in the fall of 2019. 
Having lost his appeal, the developer put the property up for sale, and it was purchased for $990,000 by a local construction company owned by Lake Joseph cottager, Corey Hawtin. The neighbouring cottagers approached Mr. Hawtin and, after much discussion, he sold the property to them for his cost despite receiving interest in the property for a higher amount. Mr. Hawtin shared neighbours’ concern about developing a cottage behind other cottages and the precedent this might set for a type of development that would damage the waterfront’s natural beauty and inappropriately increase density, noise and pollution surrounding neighbours’ cottages.
The neighbours struggled to raise the funds to purchase the property but received contributions from Mr. Hawtin, the real estate agent and even some generous cottagers across the bay. At this point, they approached the Muskoka Conservancy to acquire the property with donations from the neighbourhood group. The Conservancy pitched in as well and, together, they created the Pinelands Bay Nature Reserve. 
Some of the neighbours also acquired parcels of the land and the majority was donated to the Conservancy in exchange for a charitable tax receipt for the money contributed. They will also avoid ongoing property taxes and maintenance costs on the conserved lands. Most importantly, the property will now be preserved forever. 
Contact cottager Andy Burgess or the Executive Director of the Muskoka Conservancy, Scott Young, for more information. 


South Bracebridge Environmental Protection Group has launched an appeal with the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) of Bracebridge Council’s approval of an application to build Muskoka Royal College (MRC), a private boarding school and summer camp housing 1800 students on 442 acres of environmentally sensitive lands.  This approval came despite a leading wetland scientist highlighting flaws in the environmental analysis and 5,300 concerned individuals asking Council to apply a higher standard of care.  The wetland habitat belongs  to 204 species, including 20 species-at-risk, and 7 endangered or threatened species. 

To learn more, please visit:


Many of our supporters have voiced concerns about fast, loud boats and large wakes. Safe Quiet Lakes (SQL) is a community organization advocating for responsible boating in Muskoka and Georgian Bay.  In fact, 420 of over 1700 people who responded to our survey are also supporters of SQL. We are happy to support a like-minded organization that shares our objectives so please take a few minutes to fill in their survey which will provide valuable data for their efforts.  

The Township of Muskoka Lakes is undertaking a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) for the communities of Port Carling and Bala. The Township’s new Economic Development Strategy recognizes downtown enhancement as a key priority for the growth of the local economy. If you are interested in sharing your views on either Bala or Port Carling, please follow instructions to take survey here.


Friends of Muskoka are a group of dedicated volunteers working to protect and to preserve the natural environment and unique character of Muskoka by promoting responsible use and development of its land and lakes. Friends of Muskoka believe that the environment IS the economy in Muskoka since millions of people come to Muskoka and invest here because of its clean water and natural, treed shorelines. Our lakes, forests and rivers are a resource that can drive Muskoka’s economy for decades to come if we put the environment first. To this end, Friends of Muskoka is trying to stop residential subdivisions on the waterfront in Muskoka and will work to enshrine sustainable development in the Municipal and District Official Plans.


You can help Friends of Muskoka to protect and to preserve the natural environment and unique character of Muskoka by promoting responsible use and development of its land and lakes.


Click here and bookmark our constantly updated calendar of events or click here to download and import / subscribe to the Friends of Muskoka calendar in your desktop or phone calendar application.


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