Fairhaven on Bigwin Island, Lake of Bays, Muskoka
Asking price: $3.395-million
Taxes: Not available
Agents: Paul Crammond (Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.) and Lonnie Rumney (Royal LePage-Lakes of Muskoka)
Summertime visitors who ventured to Lake of Bays in the early 1900s found shimmering water, beautiful rolling landscape and a rather fusty collection of hotels and inns to greet them. Entrepreneur Charles Shaw, who was in the hide tanning business- in Huntsville, Ont., decided that what the area needed was a glamourous resort on scenic Bigwin Island.
Just as Mr. Shaw had envisioned, the Bigwin Inn attracted the elite and famous to Muskoka during the Great Gatsby era of the 1920s. Hollywood couple Carole Lombard and Clark Gable had their honeymoon at Bigwin, which became known for its romantic wooden dance pavilion cantilevered over the water.
Many of the grand hotels in Muskoka had burned down in years past, so Mr. Shaw specified that the buildings at the Bigwin Inn should be built of concrete and spaced apart.
The renowned golf architect Stanley Thompson designed the island golf course, which attracted golfers for many years.
Eventually the fashionable crowd moved on to other hot spots and the resort fell into decline.
After the inn closed in the 1960s, the land languished for decades until a new money man arrived in the late 1990s to rejuvenate the island and its reputation as a destination for golf.
In 2001, Bigwin Island Golf Club opened as a private golf club owned by the members. The new course, designed by golf architect Doug Carrick, ranks on many lists as one of the best in Canada, says real estate agent Paul Crammond of Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd. Golfers from Toronto often arrive by float plane.
"A lot of people from the city will fly up for the day," Mr. Crammond said.
The real estate developer also brought a new vision to the 520-acre private island: He would sell cottage lots on the shoreline to purchasers who could also opt to buy memberships in the golf club.
Mr. Shaw's fear of fire contributed to the longevity of the original Bigwin Inn's buildings. Today, an octagonal lodge building is undergoing renovation so that it can serve as a community clubhouse. Golfers and Muskoka cottagers hold dinners and weddings in the same Indian Head dining hall that served Bigwin's early guests. The kitchen has tripled in size so chefs can prepare meals for the restaurant overlooking the water.
The club shuttles golfers and cottagers between the mainland and the island by boat. Residents and golfers can also hop on the dock-to-dock shuttle service around the island when they're not zipping around on golf carts. The club will deliver groceries to the dock and cottagers can even bring in a Bigwin chef to prepare dinner for their guests.
Mr. Crammond says the development company has created a niche in selling to people who want a cottage on a pristine lake but also want all of the amenities of a club.
"They are trying to make it seamless and eliminate any possible inconvenience of being on the island," Mr. Crammond said.
Sales of the cottage lots have been slow – especially following the financial crisis of 2008 which put a damper on all high-priced Muskoka real estate – he adds.
David Smith, president of developer Eagle Landing Co., says business has been picking up and several more lots were sold last year. Of the 112 properties on the island, approximately 48 lots are still available.
Cottagers don't have to be golfers to live on Bigwin, says Mr. Smith, but most are.
"It's primarily a golf crowd."
Americans Stephen and Michelle Bebis are Americans who were living in Canada when they got to know Lake of Bays on their summer sojourns.
When the plan to develop Bigwin Island was launched, they became two of the early buyers of a waterfront cottage lot. Purchasers can opt to have the developer build a cottage from plans or bring in an architect and builder of their own choosing.
The Bebis's turned to Toronto-based Richard Wengle Architect Inc., to design a cottage that provides six bedrooms, five bathrooms and a little more than 5,500 square feet of above-ground living space.
The cottage is reminiscent of the New England style familiar to the Bebis family, who have recently returned to Boston, Mr. Crammond said.
"It has a very nautical feel," he says. "There are not that many shingle-style cottages in Muskoka."
Visitors congregate in the great room with a stone fireplace, separate dining area and views over Lake of Bays. When all of the doors are open, screens controlled by an electrical switch come down from the ceiling to effectively turn the area into a screened porch. The kitchen, with views of the woods, has 12-foot-high ceilings and white-painted cabinets with soapstone countertops.
"Because the rooms are human scale, they don't feel imposing," Mr. Crammond said. "They still feel comfortable."
A Muskoka room has windows on three sides, cathedral ceilings and a large stone fireplace. The den offers a haven on the main floor but it can also be used as a seventh bedroom, says Mr. Crammond. It has an ensuite bathroom with a marble-clad walk-in shower.
Upstairs, the bedrooms are made luxurious with built-in window seats and heated floors in the bathrooms, but the rooms are also kept deliberately small.
"They didn't want the family and guests to spend time in the bedrooms but down at the dock or in the principal rooms," Mr. Crammond said.
The master suite has a large ensuite bathroom with a walk-in shower, soaker tub and mahogany woodwork.
"It's obviously very luxurious but it still doesn't feel like a bathroom in a city home," Mr. Crammond said.
Also in the master suite is a dressing room and a coffee bar area for late-night drinks or early-morning espresso. The bedroom has a private deck with a treetop-level view over the water.
"They wanted the afternoon sun. They wanted the sunsets," Mr. Crammond said.
The bottom level is situated on the sloping terrain to provide a large recreation room with walkouts to the exterior.
Outside, the land is large enough to provide room for future bunkies or a family compound, says Mr. Crammond. A walkway leads down to the 400 feet of shoreline and boat docks.
The best feature
The main-floor deck opens to a large gazebo with room for a cocktail party facing the sun setting over the water.
"They do get sunsets here, which is what so many people want at the cottage," Mr. Crammond said.