So you’ve decided to find a slice of Canadian wilderness where you can sip a cup of coffee on a dock overlooking some sun-speckled water — all without the roar of passing OC Transpo buses or the incessant thrum of your neighbour’s garage band. Congratulations!
There’s just one hitch: eastern Ontario and western Quebec are huge. Where do you start looking? If your priorities are great boating, a reasonable commute, and a wide selection of waterfront real estate, here are three great regions to plug into your GPS — all within a two-hour drive of Ottawa.
La Pêche / Wakefield
Boundaries: From Rockhurst in the south to just north of Farrellton in the north, from a few kilometres east of the Gatineau River to just west of Lac-des-Loups and East Aldfield.
Distance from Parliament Hill to Wakefield: 35 kilometres
Slung across the Gatineau Hills and adjacent to Gatineau Park, the La Pêche region appeals to cottagers who love the outdoors but hate long drives. If you’re so inclined, you could leave your Ottawa office on a summer Friday afternoon, drive up Highway 5 to your rural retreat, and still have time for a hike, bike ride, or paddle before the sun goes down.
That’s the dream that draws buyers to this sparsely populated swath of the Outaouais, which stretches across almost 600 square kilometres but has just over 8,000 full-time residents, along with 3,500 seasonal ones.
In largely francophone SainteCécile-de-Masham, a town of 2,000 people, you’ll find a Marché Richelieu grocery store, a gardening centre, a Desjardins credit union, and other useful services. More anglophone Wakefield, 10 kilometres to the east, is home to about 1,200 and has a 26-bed hospital, a library, a police station, a community centre, and other municipal amenities. The Wakefield Mill and Spa draws weekend getaway types, and the Gendron covered bridge over the Gatineau River is a popular spot for photographers.
What really sets Wakefield apart is its vibrant downtown filled with restaurants, shops, a grocery store, banks, and a small hardware store. There’s a beautiful boardwalk that overlooks the Gatineau River, complete with docks for relaxing on or launching from. Kayaks, standup paddleboards, and bicycles can be rented from Expéditions Wakefield. And come fall, the Wakefield Writers Festival will bring literary types and their fans to the region.
Beyond these two communities, there are waterfront properties to suit any taste, many of which are located on or near the Gatineau River. The range of cottages is similarly wide — you can find handyman specials for under $100,000 or gleaming McMansions in the million-dollar range.
19 Ch. du Coteau
Located on the shores of the Gatineau River, next to the iconic covered bridge, this 3-bedroom custom home offers numerous gathering spaces, high ceilings, and a huge deck. There’s a hot tub, a campfire area, and gorgeous views. MLS number: 26040411
Township of Rideau Lakes (Westport)
Boundaries: The Rideau Waterway (river, canal, and lakes) forms a rough border along the north and west from just east of Merrickville-Wolford to just west of Westport, then south to roughly Jones Falls. Elgin and Delta are just inside the southern border. Then the township border jogs north, almost all the way to Smiths Falls, before cutting south again to encompass Merrickville-Wolford.
Distance from Parliament Hill to Portland: 107 kilometres
For those who are happiest behind the wheel of a motorboat, beneath a sail, or with a paddle in their hands, the main attraction of this area is easy access to the Rideau Waterway — over 200 kilometres of interconnected rivers, lakes, and canal waterways linking Ottawa to Kingston.
People have been coming here to relax for a long time, which explains why so many of its lakefront communities are quintessential cottage towns. None of them are terribly large — the entire township has a population of about 11,000 people — but they’re well-stocked with places to gather. There’s Kilborn’s on the Rideau, a rambling general store that takes up a good portion of the village of Newboro and is the perfect place for ice cream. You’ll find libraries in Elgin, Portland, Delta, Newboro, and South Elmsley. In Westport, you can nibble on scones at the Cottage Coffee House and enjoy Blues on the Rideau concerts at the Cove Country Inn. Delta is home to one of Ontario’s oldest fall fairs (dating back to 1830).
You can visit artists’ workshops across the township during the Rideau Lakes Studio Tour in July.
Of course, even cottagers need essential services. Commercial hubs such as Portland, Elgin, Westport, and Merrickville offer practical amenities such as banks, grocery stores, and doctors’ offices.
So if your idea of the perfect cottage is a place where you can sail all day but not be too far from a decent cappuccino, the Township of Rideau Lakes just might be your happy place.
18 Main Street, Westport
Built in 1945 and newly renovated, this five-bedroom, four-bath cottage in the quaint village of Westport offers waterfront access and modern features such as wide-plank flooring and an exposed stone wall. A key feature of this home is a cozy, brightly lit sitting room with a propane fireplace and skylights. MLS number: 1275122
Leeds and the Thousand Islands (Rockport)
Boundaries: The Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands stretches along the St. Lawrence River from Gananoque to Mallorytown Landing and extends north to just past Seeley’s Bay and Lyndhurst.
Distance from Parliament Hill to Rockport: 145 kilometres
For variety — in landscape, real estate, and amenities — the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands is hard to beat.
The township has a population of over 10,000, and more than half live in Gananoque, the area’s commercial hub. In “Gan,” you’ll find grocery stores, banks, beer and LCBO outlets, coffee shops, a library, the Gan Brewing Company, medical offices, and restaurants — even a casino. It’s a particularly lively town from late spring until mid-fall, when the Thousand Islands Playhouse puts on a packed season of professional summer theatre, and boat companies run tours of the Thousand Islands.
There are actually 1,864 islands in total, scattered across the St. Lawrence River on both sides of the Canada-United States border, and many are big enough to support cottages. Buyers who really want to get away from it all and don’t mind schlepping everything to their cottage by boat should give these little outcrops a look.
Back on shore, older cottages mixed with posh waterfront homes are clustered on the edges of Gananoque, along the Thousand Islands Parkway, and in such picturesque communities as Ivy Lea and Rockport.
Are rural hills and lakes more your cottage scene than manicured riverfront? Head north to the southernmost edge of the Rideau Lakes. Cottages there are close to Seeley’s Bay and Lyndhurst, which offer amenities such as boat launches, tennis courts, grocery stores, a marina, a hardware store, libraries, and shops. Stretch your legs with a hike along woodsy trails at Charleston Lake Provincial Park. Shop for hyper-local foods at Wendy’s Country Market in Lyndhurst or the weekly farmers’ market in Lansdowne. Every summer, the Lansdowne Fair (July) and the Lyndhurst Turkey Fair (September) give cottagers an opportunity to mingle.
Town or island, river or lake, this township packs a lot of cottage-country diversity into a small space.
11 Riverview Drive, Lansdowne
Located on the shores of the St. Lawrence, this luxurious, bungalow-style home offers approximately 10,000 square feet of living space, with five bedrooms, four bathrooms, and four fireplaces — it even has an elevator! Other highlights include a theatre room, an exercise room, a stone hot tub outside nestled among mature trees, a waterfront patio, and multiple docks. MLS Number: K21001944