When Jayne McCaw started renting out luxury cottages in Ontario’s Muskoka region, she thought the main draw would be the beautiful scenery or the peace and quiet. She didn’t count on “the Canadian side of it all” being just as attractive.
International vacationers “just go on and on about … how friendly the people are, how clean the water is, how great our government is et cetera, et cetera,” she said. “It’s beautiful up here, there’s no question – but we have such a great international reputation. It’s just so comforting to hear these things about our country. I just become so proud of being Canadian.”
The international elite have long been drawn to Canada for its natural wonders and pristine landscapes. Ms. McCaw, who runs Jayne’s Cottages, a luxury rentals service, said about 40 per cent of her revenue now comes from visitors outside the country who want to escape somewhere they can feel as if they’re part of nature – but not too much.
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“I think the whole idea of, it is safe in Canada, you can be outside” is appealing, she said. “Even though people … definitely want a number of bathrooms, and air conditioning and all the amenities, they still sort of feel like they’re having campfires and doing a little camping.
“White-glove service, five-star accommodation, but it’s not a hotel.”
Ms. McCaw said international guests are a hotter market for ultrahigh-end cottages in Muskoka because people living in Toronto – even the superwealthy – don’t view it as much of an escape and, therefore, less worthy of splurging on.
“It’s only two hours north,” she said. “But for Canadians going to Italy, or going to Tuscany, or to Lake Como, Canadians would probably rent a similar type accommodation.”
For those seeking more adventure than a campfire by the lake, Mark Sager rents out Oriana, a 96-foot Burger yacht in West Vancouver, B.C., that used to belong to famed Hollywood producer John Calley. Mr. Sager describes her as “stately.”
“It’s got this old-world elegance that is simply unmatchable, in my view. I compare it [to] a classic Mercedes gull-wing, because you just can’t see anything like it today,” he said.
Just fewer than half of his clients are from Europe or the United States, Mr. Sager said. He couldn’t get any more specific, he said, owing to non-disclosure agreements his guests have had him sign.
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“We’ve had internationally recognized rock stars, New York corporate leaders … and I think all of them have loved the experience as we have loved hosting them. It’s been really quite remarkable,” he said. “These are people that, obviously, they enjoy the comfort and elegance of [Oriana], but they’re adventurers and explorers. They’re people who want to go where other people have a hard time going. It’s a totally different mindset than somebody who’s taking a traditional holiday.”
The West Coast is the perfect place to explore that mindset if you’re looking for luxury, adventure and a sense of total serenity – and if you have a spare $10,000 a night (plus fuel, crew and food fees, of course).
“People in the know realize that, hey, the coast inside Vancouver Island offers some of the most beautiful grounds in the world,” he said. “You take somebody to Hornby Island, for example, and they go to Tribune Bay and then they walk up to the co-op, and … you’re not going to get that in the Med, you know? It’s a lifestyle that is just different and beautiful.”
Mr. Sager described the scenes his guests experience on Oriana: giant flocks of jellyfish floating lazily under the waves, pods of whales and, when the engines are off, complete and total silence.
But the appeal of Canada as an escape can also have a political tinge. Nobody is claiming refugee status in a $10,000-a-week Nova Scotia mansion, but those who rent them out are seeing more people searching for the peace and serenity not only of lapping waves and rustling leaves, but a political situation that doesn’t make them feel like the world might end at any second.
Matthew Moore said he was surprised last summer, when the mansion his company, Moore Suites, rents on Shaw Island, N.S., was almost fully booked by American visitors from June through August. That number is steadily increasing, he said.
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“Even compared to our property in Barbados, there were more people coming up from the States” to Canada, he said.
Mr. Moore attributes the influx of American tourists partly to the changing reality south of the border. For liberal-minded elites worried by the political climate at home, a scenic getaway just across the border has gained appeal.
″[It’s] perhaps because of the political uncertainty,” he said. “Canada’s always viewed as very polite. It’s got one of the best images of any country in the world. I think that’s definitely a motivating factor.”
Even Rob Ford’s tumultuous mayorship of Toronto didn’t hurt Ms. McCaw’s rentals, she said – but it did give her and her clients something to talk about.
“We are still known as being very safe and I think the Trump situation has helped our economy,” she said.
That stability has also led to older, wealthy international guests looking to buy here as they near retirement age, Ms. McCaw says.
“On the high end, there is a huge interest in diversifying their money,” she said.
Last year, a couple from France in their 60s hired her to rent out a property they had just bought on Lake Joseph. She’s done the same for families from Israel and Germany.
At a certain level of wealth, it just makes sense: If you’re going back every summer, why not buy and rent it out when you’re not using it? A large chunk of your money is parked in a stable location and you get a beautiful cottage to boot.
Another reason people from across the world like to stay in Canada: We’re seen as trustworthy, Ms. McCaw said.
With rentals ranging from $4,000 to more than $60,000 a week, you need to be perceived that way. Add in a live-in chef, a water trampoline and other amenities, and some guests can easily burn through six figures in seven days.
“They’re very, very trusting of – I’m sure I’m part of it, but – the Canadian to do it right. Here, they’re giving me their credit card, they’re sending me wires … and it’s for services that they’re anticipating,” she said. “There’s a real reputation that we have – that we’re honourable and respectable.”
It’s extra important to be seen as trustworthy since the majority of Ms. McCaw’s rentals comes from families. Usually, one generation will rent it out for a few weeks and host everyone else as they have time.
“The parents may live in the States, and Muskoka’s got that cachet, and so all the kids will come to Muskoka at various times during their month’s rental, bring the grandkids, and it’s a great gathering spot for families in the summer,” she said.
It helps that the kids often know the country from camp. Ms. McCaw says in her experience, Canada is a popular place for the international elite to send their kids for the summer. And the parents often take the same flight, then split up on the ground for a vacation alone.
“A lot of international kids are going to camp. They come from France, they come from Israel, they come from [Britain], Switzerland, stuff like that,” she said. Parents coming along for the ride are “really what brings me my return rentals.”
While guests certainly enjoy the stability and international reputation of the country, Mr. Sager said his biggest draw remains the location itself.
Of his favourite location, Desolation Sound, where the water temperature in the summer averages 26 C, Mr. Sager said his guests enjoy paddle boarding, whale watching or simply sitting in silence.
“I don’t think there’s anywhere more beautiful on the planet.”