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  • Writer's pictureDMcIvor

The Joy of Cresting Hills: 
Georgian Bay

“Where is Tay…Victoria Harbour?” I asked our real estate agent when he suggested the area. We hadn’t found what we were hoping for in my partner’s hometown, Orillia, so our agent suggested we search “a bit more north”.

Just a few months earlier, we had decided to escape the concrete walls of a Southern Ontario urban life, with its crowded highways and polluted air to find a new chapter, with less stress and much more nature. It made sense to move closer to where we had relocated our boat; closer to the waterways of Georgian Bay we intended to explore. Not only did we find a beautiful house for a fraction of the price, we found an incredible community. We had yet to realize it, but Victoria Harbour (along with Midland and Tiny) was about to become our new found hometown.

The day we followed the moving truck up from Hamilton to Victoria Harbour was long and exhausting; I was anything but aware of my surroundings. However, the moment I crested the hill on Albert Street in Victoria Harbour, I was awe-struck by the incredible view of Georgian Bay. An intense orange sky was a backdrop for the deep, dark water splashing toward shore; it greeted me with a generous welcome. I paused with my foot on the brake and my heart lifted for a moment, as I fell in love. 

The vista from Albert Street continues to take my breath away whenever I stop at the top of the hill. It reminds me of the first time I saw the Bay in 2018, while moving our boat up from Lake Erie to Penetanguishene. As we descended the famous “Big Chute” marine railway (built in 1917) into the waters of the Bay, the hairs on the back of my neck rose in exhilaration. We made it.

Four weeks, heat waves, missing lock times and meeting a wide range of fascinating people made for a challenging but rewarding trip to move “La Vida Loca” nearly 300 km. On the last leg of the journey, as we left Port Severn behind, my spouse pointed out Waubaushene, where he had spent summers as a youth, camping and fishing with his family. His fondness for the area was contagious. Born and raised in the area, he was ready to leave the city behind after we made this journey and I was eager to come with him. 

City Girl Turns Country

I had spent most of my life believing I was a ‘city girl’, more comfortable in urban settings, who could only enjoy nature and rural Canada on occasional trips. However, my life was missing something that I couldn’t place. Little did I know I would be coming to a region with a rich history, where ‘old’ meets ‘new’. You can see it in the landscape, the architecture, the small family cottages that are a 100 years old versus the new condo developments, the local watering holes, the agricultural land and self-built businesses. You can see it in the wide demographic of young families, professionals, farmers, business owners and retired folks. And here, the opportunities to be outside are plentiful, exploring every season on the water, in the forest, on trails or enjoying landmarks like Sainte-Marie among the Hurons, Discovery Harbour or Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre, no matter what your age or ability. 

A few weeks after the move, I discovered I was experiencing a cultural shock: people stopping their cars to let you cross a laneway, the pizza delivery guy commenting on our lovely home and view; the way I could speak to anyone at any time in public, finding it easy to talk to strangers and have a pleasant exchange. This was not the city. This was not the road rage and the frustration and the over-crowded feelings….this was peaceful and refreshing. 

A New Home - a New Community

Once we settled into ‘the Harbour’ (as we were informed we should call it), it wasn’t long before our neighbours became good friends. And these friends became people we could rely on. And, it wasn’t long before I discovered the area is more than just a ‘retirement community’. This is a vibrant, engaging and welcoming place where you will find ‘locals’ happy to share the beautiful Tay with tourists, retirees and ‘imports’ like me. There are all kinds of activities to engage in, groups to join — or “accidentally start”— like the knitting group at the Victoria Harbour library, “Knit Happens”. I had put out a social media call looking for a friend or two to knit or crochet together and before long there were over 50 responses and the local librarian responded offering a space and time for us. Then there are networking groups and a wealth of women entrepreneurs who support and help each other with growing our businesses and our personal lives. We had found all the ingredients to combine into a recipe for happiness, custom designed to our desires. 

I now see what I was missing in the city: the positive energy generated when you have a healthy life balance between work and play, surrounded by rolling horizons of land and water. Life doesn’t lose its stressors and challenges when you relocate to a place like Tay Township; your response to them changes. It doesn’t mean life becomes perfect: for example the weather can truly test your will-power, but you may find out, like I did, that winter is so much more beautiful and easy to enjoy here with cross-country or downhill skiing, with snowshoeing across a bay or just watching the big white flakes settle on the sleepy trees. 

Back in 2018, when I had the ‘wheeee’ hill feeling in my stomach, cresting the hill at “the Big Chute” lock 44, I had no idea I would was entering a new, revitalizing chapter of my life. I’m reminded of that moment every time I see the waterfront, whether Waubaushene, Port McNichol or cresting the Albert Street hill; and I’m astounded that I live here.

Those that come here to play are extremely fortunate to have Tay, Tiny or Midland as a holiday destination, but for those of us who come to stay, we are more than the richer for it. There is no price to pay that will bring you this kind of joy. Explore Georgian Bay and you may just find your bliss.

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