Algonquin Highlands, KOM 1J1, Algonquin Park
Asking Price: $899,000
Taxes: $1,232.96 (2021)
Lot Size: 1.7 acres
Agents: Megan McLeod (Sotheby’s International Realty Canada)
The back story
Christopher Sankey has been exploring Ontario’s Algonquin Park since he was a teenager. In those days, he would canoe deep into the backcountry with family friends.
“When I would enter the park, I would feel it – you can smell it – there’s cleaner air,” he says of the park’s 7,000 square kilometres of protected wilderness.
The Ottawa Valley and Algonquin area was inhabited by Indigenous peoples for approximately 8,000 years before Europeans arrived in the 1500s.
In 1893, Algonquin Park was established on the traditional lands of the diverse Algonquin Nation.
Today, a few hundred cottages sit on leased land within the park, but only a handful of freehold properties exist. All of those are remnants of the defunct Ottawa-Parry Sound railway, which once cut through the park, Dr. Sankey explains.
About 10 years ago, he had the opportunity to own the cottage on Whitefish Lake that originally belonged to Colonel Collins, the station master of the Rock Lake Train Station.
When the railway was decommissioned and its lands transferred to Algonquin Park, the lot was no longer owned by the railway, as it had been sold to the colonel.
The property was passed down through the Collins family for many years, then sold to another owner, who in turn sold it to Dr. Sankey.
The Toronto-based physician figures the cottage was built in the 1920s or 30s. He intended to replace the original building with a new cottage some day, but those plans changed over the years.
With plans to rebuild, he didn’t make many changes to the 896-square-foot cottage. It remains very much as it would have been in Col. Collins’s day: vintage windows, a wraparound porch and an outhouse.
The view from the porch extends beyond the lake to Centennial Ridge, which offers one of the most spectacular hiking trails in the park, Dr. Sankey says.
The cottage, which sits about eight km in from Highway 60, is one of the rare freehold properties in the park that has access by motor vehicle, Dr. Sankey says.
“I’m lucky – I can drive right to my door.”
The cottage today
The previous owner purchased the three-bedroom cottage from the Collins family estate fully furnished right down to the plates and kitchen utensils, Dr. Sankey says.
He has also kept many of the artifacts, including kerosene lanterns and an antique saw used for carving ice.
The doctor has made few changes over the years, but one big concession was the addition of electricity.
“When I want to make an espresso in the morning, I’m really glad I have power.”
In the kitchen, Dr. Sankey also added a modern Heartland gas range with a retro appearance.
“This is a gas stove made exactly like the old wood-burning stove that I dragged out.”
Dr. Sankey stopped short of adding indoor plumbing, however. A hand pump in the kitchen pumps water up from the lake, which Dr. Sankey filters before drinking.
The doctor, who was taught to drink from a canoe paddle when he was young, says the hand pump encourages him to slow down and not take the water that flows out of it for granted.
“It’s delivering itself gently into your world,” he says.
He says that when he craves modern conveniences, he can visit a nearby campground for indoor showers, potable water and laundry facilities.
Dr. Sankey figures a new owner will replace the building, but he admires its traditional architecture and sense of proportion, which shows the influence of the railway in elements, such as its covered porch.
“The quality of workmanship that went in is clear,” he says. “It’s the railway aesthetic. That’s what they knew how to build.”
Outside, the nearly two acres of property has a mix of forest and meadow, with 440 feet of shoreline. He often lets his rescue dog – a red heeler named Tuli – run around freely on his property. The sandy beach and gentle slope into the water let children play safely, he adds.
The doctor’s favourite way to take a dip on a hot day is to canoe a short distance up the lake to one of many rocky points and jump off into deep water, he says.
The old railway line that runs by the edge of his property has been turned into a cycling and hiking path. A rusty old railway bridge has become a destination for park visitors who like to fish from it or jump into the water below.
“When I walk my dog down there, I see a bunch of happy families.”
Wildlife is abundant, he says, and because they’ve never been hunted there, the creatures comfortably co-exist with humans. A moose will sometimes wade past the dock, for example, and the bear that occasionally ambles through the meadows has never caused anyone any trouble, he says.
The day unfolds differently because of the park’s high elevation, Dr. Sankey explains. Most mornings he wakes up early to see the lake enveloped in mist.
“As the day warms up, the mist disappears and you see your lake again. It’s like a slow reveal.”
By afternoon, the heat of the day intensifies the scent of pine coming from the conifers. At sunset, he looks across the lake to watch the rays lighting Centennial Ridge.
The last thing he sees is the serrated edges of the pine trees in silhouette against the sky.
“The nights are darker,” he says. “There’s no light pollution – it’s just inky black. You can hike by moonlight no problem.”
Dr. Sankey sometimes visits in winter, but cottage life is a lot more challenging in February, he allows. He uses the wood stove to warm the interior and piles lots of duvets on the beds.
The doctor hopes that a family will take over and teach future generations to appreciate Algonquin’s expanse of protected wilderness.
“I hope that someone gets it who really does have that extended, big family,” he says. “It’s kind of glue – any cottage is.”
The best feature
Dr. Sankey says people who spend time in Algonquin Park value the silence.
The park has a total and permanent ban on personal watercraft, motor boats over 25 horsepower and all-terrain vehicles, he says. Fireworks are also banned and wardens are there to enforce the rules.
He appreciates the way his own cottage feels private but not isolated. The cottagers know they can rely on each other.
“People respect privacy there – it’s like a refuge,” he says. “Everybody there has made a sacrifice – they’ve given up Jet Skis and they’ve given up guns.”
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