Study of cottagers uncovers an opportunity to boost local economies

Kawartha Lakes – The Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations (FOCA) recently undertook a study to understand the significance of waterfront property owners as vital economic contributors to rural communities in Ontario with a focus on tourism. Nine municipalities in Eastern Ontario with a high percentage (35%) of waterfront property to total residential property were studied, representing over 95,000 waterfront property owners.

The key finding from consulting both the waterfront property owners (WPO) and economic development communities was “the visible enthusiasm for both groups at the notion of working together on rural economic development initiatives.” Also, the study concludes that “seasonal WPO is an untapped resource that can provide a diverse set of skills and an extensive knowledge base that can contribute to diversifying and energizing rural economies.” 

The study noted a factor that prevents some WPOs from making a move to working from their cottage is a lack of networking opportunities with like-minded business people. 

“We are working collaboratively with our seasonal and permanent residents, and those who are considering moving to Kawartha Lakes to ensure we offer the key support needed to new and relocating businesses,” says Denise Williams, City of Kawartha Lakes Acting Manager of Economic Development. “Having an experienced, dedicated and welcoming staff at the City that can make connections for newcomers and act as a knowledge base for a variety of their business needs is our focus.” 

Another stumbling block to working rurally is access to rural high-speed internet access. A collection of municipalities in Eastern Ontario, including the City of Kawartha Lakes, are making a coordinated effort to address the gaps in cell phone and internet coverage. A project worth of $200 million, supported by all levels of government is underway to improve access across much of the region. 

The City of Kawartha Lakes is home to over 250 lakes and rivers and is best known for its iconic cottage towns such as Bobcaygeon, Coboconk and Fenelon Falls. “It’s no surprise that once people visit Fenelon Falls, they can’t stop talking about it. This is where you’ll find a mix of beach areas, waterfalls and a sense of history that gives this place a certain glow,” says one review on Expedia’s Ten Most Popular Small Towns in Canada, as named by Expedia readers. 

The report also highlights business owners within Eastern Ontario. City of Kawartha Lakes resident Dana Deathe, owner of The Book Lady Bookshop and Literary Café, describes her experience as a business owner in Fenelon Falls. The following excerpt is taken from FOCA’s Waterfront Property Owners report

Dana Deathe is the owner and operator of The Book Lady Bookshop and Literary Café located in Fenelon Falls. Her great-grandfather built their family cottage on nearby Cameron Lake, in which she has spent her entire life visiting each summer. Despite permanently living elsewhere, Dana has always felt at home in her cottage community and knew that when the opportunity presented itself, she would move to the area. That opportunity arose last year when the local bookstore went up for sale. It was the perfect opportunity to fulfill her dream of living in the area she loved while also sharing her passion for literature with this community. 

Since her move, she hasn’t faced many challenges and notes that she was pleasantly surprised by the variety of local services available. She notes that rural communities can be somewhat insular and that despite having a lifetime relationship with the area, she sometimes must clarify her connection when local customers learn that she didn’t grow up in the community. However, by sharing her story she feels more connected to her local customers. Through the local chamber of commerce, Dana has been able to network both professionally and socially with other business owners in the community. When she attended her first Fenelon Forward meeting, a local economic development and community group, she was surprised to see four other younger business owners in attendance. 

Dana feels that there is a movement of younger people coming to the community and with the new businesses and ideas. She sees many opportunities for Fenelon Falls, especially with regards to a number of underutilized retail spaces that could house niche businesses. Given the amount of natural capital that Fenelon Falls possesses, Dana also sees many opportunities to capitalize on new tourism activities. Since her move to her previously-seasonal waterfront community, Dana has adapted and has plans to diversify her business and to continue contributing to her community.

For more information on owning and operating a business within the City of Kawartha Lakes, please visit the City’s website. The Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations (FOCA) is a not-for-profit membership organization representing over 500 volunteer lake associations and 50,000 families who own waterfront properties in rural municipalities all across Ontario.