Mark Clairmont |

MUSKOKA — Together apart has taken on new meaning as the COVID-19 fight gets personal.

One Muskoka is again about one percenters.

Cottagers are getting a cold shoulder as they seek rural refuge at their home away from home.

The firestorm comes three weeks out from the traditional start of a holiday season that looks to be shaping up as a summer of discontent.

While used to frosty relations with some of the native population, the pandemic has heightened a heated divide between permanent and seasonal residents.

And the welcome mat may not be rolled out for the re-opening.

It’s all the talk at home here, despite the dearth of double-double sit-downs at Timmies.

Dependent contractors and out-of-work service providers are worried.

Locals blame empty store shelves on rich hoarders squirreling away summer stores at the lake; and bleeding hospital ERs of PPEs.

So, is this really “cottage country” — a country club for cottagers — or a closed shop that risks accusations of NIMBYism and far worse intolerance and a threat of cultural appropriation in a district destined to live and die in indentured LTCC (long-term cottage-care) servitude?

The airing of dirty laundry is like the difference between clothes lines and clothes dryers.

Letters to the editor offered both sides of staying home — and staying healthy.

Cottage coffee klatsch — sans barista — is equally acidic.

One letter writer summed up her position: “If cottage country wants our property taxes, they get the taxpayer, too.”

Caught between are politicians who must referee the only game in town now and which is being played out in particularly hard-hitting Muskoka Lakes Township.

“The Hub of Muskoka” has emerged as the incendiary epicentre of the fiery debate, which was first stoked when Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith called on his good friend — and Muskoka cottager — Premier Doug Ford to put his provincial weight literally behind a government roadblock to cottage country travel, when he sought to contain the contagion south of the Severn River.

Muskoka mayors were said have backed the call.

And while the premier’s remarks held little sway with many GTA voters who proved already averse to his urgings at the polls, they resonated in Parry Sound-Muskoka where Tory birds of a feather can flock together.

Four signs in Muskoka Lakes Township stopped many recently.

One leading to a “private road.”

“FULL-TIME RESIDENTS ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT. All Ontario residents should self-isolate at their principle residence.”

The small, red and white corrugated pieces of plastic — the size of an election or for-sale sign — sprang up faster than the first flowers of spring.

They shot up and were shot down as fast by the township that removed three of them because they were on “public property.”

So said township Mayor Phil Harding via social media.

A fourth one, he said, was on “private property” and apparently the owner agreed to remove it.

Harding has had a change-of-heart in recent weeks, as the pandemic progressed, threatening his Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit residents.

A nasty social media feud that erupted with a resident — picked up by Muskoka Post blogger Agatha Farmer and prompting him to respond publicly — may have helped him back-track.

All this after a BBC World News interview Harding gave and posted on his own Facebook account two weeks ago about the need to “lock down” Muskoka.

He told Simon Pusey on April 16: “We are one resident in Muskoka” — adding 85 per cent of the townships resident are seasonal, many of whom give back to the community.

But “when we move, the virus moves.”

He said “we need to protect ourselves and our neighbours.”

It’s good “in theory,” he said, for seasonal residents to say they are going to self-isolate.

However, he told Pusey, there are limited resources in Muskoka, including food and medicine.

“I use the word do unto others as I would have them do unto me.”

He now says everyone is welcome — so long as they stay in place, stay safe and play safe.

The firestorm comes three weeks out from the traditional start of a holiday season that is warming up to be a summer of discontent.

See Harding’s BBC interview at the link below:

Signs around Muskoka Lake Township that weren’t welcoming have been taken down says embattled Mayor Phil Harding, becasue they were on “public property.”
Two weeks ago, Muskoka Lakes Mayor Phil Harding told BBB World News presenter Simon Pusey that “we need a lockdown.” Since then Harding has changed his mind and says everyone is welcome so long as they stay in place, stay safe and play safe.

Email Mark Clairmont at


Celebrating 25 YEARS of ‘Local Online Journalism’

Follow him at Twitter @muskokatodaily

And on Facebook at

Follow us on Twitter @muskokatodaily

And on Facebook at mclairmont1


Letters to the Editor always welcome:

Let us know what you’re thinking. Click on the Comment button at the end of this story to leave your comments.

Or write a Letter to the Editor …

And … please Subscribe:

Support Your Community’s Newspaper