By Phil Harding
Muskoka moments and Muskoka365, as I am known across social media, for me is made up of many, many, many moments in life. When all stitched together, they turn days into weeks, months into years and decades into lifetimes.
So to back up a little, over 50 years ago now, I was introduced to Muskoka at a family cottage on Lake Rosseau where summers were spent on the dock, in the boat or canoe or more appropriately, behind the boat learning all the finer points of water skiing.
Fast forward a few months when the water skiing stopped and the lake was frozen and my first “muskoka365” moment was sitting virtually on the engine of a 15 hp, 1969 Ski-Doo Olympic in front of my dad and brothers as we broke trail and often “broke down.” We were attempting to enjoy winter in our three-season, boathouse cottage, pulling water from the lake with the oven on and open to keep us warm at night.
Fast forward 50 years and, thankfully, snowmobiling has changed considerably, allowing for problem free 500 km days on trails as smooth and flat as Highway 11. They reach not only every corner of Muskoka but all over Ontario for that matter with almost 40,000 km of groomed trails at our doorstep, thanks to the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs.
But my time in Muskoka is clearly not just about snowmobiling in the winter – though last season, I think I put over 3,000 km on my snowmobile. There is also Summer Water Sports (SWS), a company I started back in 1996, offering ski schools, ski shows and waterfront management to hundreds of thousands annually from June through early fall (or as long as the water is warm). Learning to water-ski at age three, and water-skiing at the Canadian National Exhibition and in the U.S. for theme parks, it seemed like a natural fit to combine a marketing career (for seven years post university) with my love of Muskoka and water sports. Thankfully, after selling the company in 2005, it is still operating today, serving up many Muskoka moments to guests at resorts or spectators at the Tuesday night Bala Ski show.
As I love all that Muskoka has to offer, many of my most challenging and memorable Muskoka moments come between May and October, as Muskoka is blessed with a dozen or more of the finest championship golf courses in Ontario or Canada for that matter. Though I have yet to shoot my age, with a little luck and a few more lessons, hopefully in the next 15 or so years, this will be one Muskoka moment to boast proudly about. And from winter to summer, back to winter, from early November through the end of March – curling with the Port Carling Curling Club has quickly become my new “Muskoka moment,” uniting both men and women who each display various skill levels and ages either for fun or competition.
So my Muskoka moment cannot be defined. My Muskoka moment doesn’t have a date. It doesn’t have a specific location, nor does it have a specific activity. But moreover, my Muskoka moment is just that – Muskoka – and all the people, places and activities that make this place special. My Muskoka is Muskoka365.
Born and raised in Toronto, Phil Harding spent every summer at the family cottage on Lake Rosseau until he entered the workforce in 1986. Working for 10 years in advertising with large multinational agencies, Phil missed his true passion (water and Muskoka), so in 1995 he started what quickly became Canada’s largest watersports company, Summer Water Sports. In 2005, after selling SWS, he once again returned to the world of marketing and also joined the board of the Muskoka Lakes Association. In 2010, he was first elected to District Council in Muskoka and served two terms. In 2018, he was elected Mayor of the Township of Muskoka Lakes. Now living full time in Port Carling and on Lake Rosseau, Harding has two grown children. Today, Phil spends his time between his kids and council, trying to protect Muskoka from over development of the lakes while at the same time working for Forest Hill Real Estate in Port Carling, helping unite buyers and sellers.