Friday, August 21, 2009

Cottage in the Port Elgin area

From Friday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2009 02:32PM EDT

When Toronto lawyer Doug Harrison tells his friends and colleagues he's headed to his cottage in Port Elgin, Ont., for the weekend, he's often asked, “Huh? Where's that?”
The beach town on Lake Huron in western Ontario is unfamiliar to many Torontonians, who are more aware of Muskoka, the Kawarthas or Prince Edward County as cottage destinations. “It's not on the radar,” says Mr. Harrison. “It's amazing how many Torontonians don't know about it.”
But the days of obscurity for Port Elgin and the neighbouring community of Southampton might not last much longer. “We're starting to notice more people from Toronto coming to the region,” local real-estate agent Brad Angel says. “The Kawarthas and places like that have become quite expensive, and people are looking for alternatives.”
Prices are lower along Lake Huron, although it's no bargain basement. Lakefront properties start at about $450,000, largely because there is such a tight supply. The area has always been popular with families from London, Guelph and Hamilton, and there's little ownership turnover. Cottages are often handed down through the generations.
If the lure of lower prices isn't enough of a draw, the natural beauty is. Wide, sandy beaches interspersed with rugged outcrops, as well as the vast expanse of Lake Huron, are compelling. “You just cannot get better sunsets than on the Lake Huron shore,” says Mr. Angel, the broker of record for Coldwell Banker-The Property Shoppe.
Mr. Harrison's reasons for venturing three hours west of his Toronto home and office are more personal. He grew up in Hamilton, and his wife, Margaret Grottenthaler, is from Guelph.
They spent summers in their youth in and around Southampton, and rented cottages in the area as adults before buying their own land in 2003 and building a modernist beach house. “I think most people gravitate, when they get a cottage, to the area they experienced as children,” Ms. Grottenthaler notes.
Port Elgin and Southampton are about a half-hour north of Kincardine, and an hour southwest of Owen Sound. Port Elgin, whose population includes blue-collar workers, white-collar types from the Bruce nuclear plant, and increasingly affluent cottagers, has a main street that's seen several new establishments open over the past couple of years, including a deli, a pair of yuppie-friendly coffee shops, an English pub and a swank Italian restaurant. Southampton has long had enough upscale shops and services to satisfy city folk.
Still, the area is relatively isolated, and Mr. Harrison and Ms. Grottenthaler hope that never changes. They prefer the slow pace and lack of modern trappings. “In Muskoka, you have to be much more industrious,” Ms. Grottenthaler says. “You have to boat, you have to swim, you have to fix the dock. Here, you don't have to do anything. You just have to get out your lawn chairs and read a book.” For many harried Torontonians, that might be the biggest lure of them all.

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