Muskoka Insights - Deep Connections

By Kate Monk

What comes to mind when I think of Muskoka? Is it the people or is it the place? Actually, it’s the simple – yet intricate – intertwining of the two.

Born in Bracebridge almost 56 years ago, I don’t remember ever feeling unrooted in all those years, even despite having skipped town for many of them. When you grow up here, no matter how far you wander, Muskoka lies deep in the bones. And for people over a certain age, the foundation for this heartstring usually happened when you met your neighbourhood gang. I was no exception.

Blessed with a childhood back in the day (I can’t believe I’m using that expression) when kids found their own fun by roaming like a feral pack around the extended block, my crew of four girls would be outside at all hours in the summer. We would dart from lawn to lawn, some days only entering one of our houses to take a bathroom break, to bandage a scrape or to beg a homemade popsicle from an amused adult.

Our pre-teen exploits were legendary, in our own minds anyway, and would likely terrify a lot of parents today (myself included).

We’d hike or snowshoe into the bush and climb trees to eat our packed lunches. We’d golf around the block, swinging without any precision, completely unconcerned at the prospect of a stray ball landing on a stranger’s lawn or through their windows. We’d head to the railway tracks before scheduled locomotives passed to put pennies down, then wait at a safe distance up the hill to watch them pass, hoping to turn the squished metal into a jewelry empire (Genius but also illegal!).

Many nights we slept outside wherever including on top of an old boathouse on Lake Muskoka, where we’d been dropped off, left to pitch a tent and fend for ourselves. This involved sourcing wood and lighting campfires to fry up meals, including ‘gourmet’ spaghetti one night (for which Gang Rules stated we weren’t allowed to use our hands or utensils to eat).

Another night at the lake, a storm arose and doused our tent and sleeping bags, forcing us to seek shelter in the boathouse. At some point, our parents all called on the rotary phone to see if we were still alive but none of them were worried enough to come collect us until morning. For certain, after witnessing our escapades over time, they all had faith in their girls’ abilities to watch out for each other.

All my years in Muskoka, I’ve seen this intertwining of people and place create the deepest connections over and over again, which form the poignant attachment many of us feel about being here. I still see it in our rural community halls, where neighbours gather to share a potluck meal and socialize for companionship, permanent and seasonal residents alike. I see it in the tourism industry, where young staff form life-long bonds with their colleagues who also work hard and play hard, while providing visitors with unforgettable experiences. And I see it now, most prominently, as our communities rally to ensure healthcare in Muskoka serves every single one of our neighbours, for years to come. 

Five decades later, our gang of four, which is now lovingly referred to as ‘The Neighbourhood,’ still meets to organize expeditions and to watch out for each other. We have very different lives and a couple have moved away. But our hearts were forged together here and they beat with a collective pulse, thanks to this place. 

There are such a thing as halcyon days and I am so grateful to have found them in Muskoka.

 Kate Monk is a regenerative strategist who has worked in the area’s tourism sector for decades. She is a proud Santa’s Village Elf Alumna.