Land of the White Birch

This week, we're going to share a secret that we've kept to ourselves. Actually, we're happy to share because there is so much fun to be had and plenty of room for everyone. White Birches Cottage Resort, on Oxtongue Lake, is a terrific place for a summer adventure in one of Ontario's more spectacular landscapes. It's got it all: canoes, kayaks, paddleboats, water slide, fishing, amazing night skies, sandy beach are all included, and White Birches is only a short drive to Canada's jewel, Algonquin Park.

One week last summer, we decided to trade our tent for the comfort of a cabin resort, and we were so pleased that we did. A great barbecue, a deck, a full kitchen, bedroom, shower, flushing toilet, high beamed ceilings, a view of the lake, and then there was the fireplace....Not only inside, but a great firepit outside as well. You can bring your favourite pans and knife, but really, the kitchens have everything you will need, and coffee is included!

White Birches is run by Jenny and her two sons, Jason and Colin. Originally from Sudbury, Ontario, they bought the place a couple of years ago when they were looking for a project they could do as a family. Jenny and Jason are there full-time, welcoming guests and making sure everyone is comfortable. And they are: the atmosphere is friendly and open, with kids, dogs, bikers, paddlers, artists, and everybody in between made to feel at home.

Jenny is even kind to the local insect population. One guest, not used to the annual visitation of black flies, asked her if she could "do something about the bugs". She had to gently explain that they'd be gone soon, but this is all part of the charm of life on the edge of the bush. When she does have to deal with pests, like spiders, she uses environmentally friendly methods to keep her footprint on the land as faint as possible.

When she's not looking after her guests, Jenny likes to hike Algonquin Park's many trails, or just sit on her dock and gaze into the water. She loves peace and quiet, but she's not about to go roughing it. "I like indoor plumbing," she laughs, so much as she loves it, and loves sharing its beauty with visitors, she won't be back-country camping in the park anytime soon.

Oxtongue Lake, with its namesake river running to Ragged Falls, is a truly lovely private lake. Ringed with cottages and resorts, its open water reflects the stars at night. One night, we saw a spectacular lightning storm that lasted for five hours and 1,200 photos....The lake and surrounding area was the site of a number of paintings by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, and a local group are tracing the locations for a celebration weekend in September, featuring a documentary and a presentation by A.J. Casson's daughter, talking about her father's ties to the area.

For those who want to explore Algonquin Park itself, White Birches has some annual park passes, which they offer to guests for $7 per day. This is a great deal because a regular day pass costs $16. At the end of the season, Jenny and her family donate the fees back to the park. Last year, they gathered $300 to give back.

You will need a car to get the most out of the area surrounding Algonquin Park, but canoes and kayaks are certainly available for rental from the Portage Store on Canoe Lake, as is camping gear if you want to do an overnight. There are plenty of great side trips inside and outside of the Park including Ragged Falls and the Oxtongue Rapids. The Portage Store at the south end of Canoe Lake has everything you might need, including great ice cream and enthusiastic summer student staff. You could just show up on the bus from Toronto and get outfitted with all the gear you'd need for an adventure, including food and a guide. You could show up with a sole carabiner, but it would help if you knew which end was the front of the canoe. Lessons are available!

Canoe Lake was the target of this particular adventure, doing our own CSI investigation into the death of Tom Thomson, murdered in July 1917. Following the route of his last, tragic paddle, we climbed the portage to fish (successfully!) in Gill Lake and then, in similar weather conditions, floated back along the current to the spot where his body surfaced. Our expedition also included an afternoon lounging by his memorial cairn, playing Yahtzee and chatting with passing tourists, sharing our theory about his fate.

We did so much when we were there that Jenny observed we'd need a holiday from our vacation, but it was fabulous. This summer, White Birches still has vacancies during the second week of July and the second week of August. If you're looking for a northern experience, consider watching the sunset from a Muskoka chair under a white birch. When you book, say hi from Devin!

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