Muskoka summer. Snow is gone, bugs are past. It’s time to kick back at the waterfront.
Gryffin Bluffs is located on beautiful Mary Lake. Unit owners share 890′ feet of pristine waterfront. One dock gives morning sun, the other brings warm and lazy afternoons. A waterfront gazebo makes the perfect spot for a BBQ to end your day.
But whether it’s a good match for your family depends on what you are looking for.
There is 890 feet of magnificent shoreline. About 60 feet of that may be useful to you as recreational waterfront. The rest of the shoreline is inaccessible for most people, and all of it is very steep and rocky. There is no beach, and no shallow swimming areas for young families or grandkids. So the good news is more than 90% of the shoreline is essentially protected from human disturbance.
This is the one in all the pictures. It’s the primary waterfront area, and the only one you can drive close to. This is where the gazebo is located. The gazebo along with its great deck are amazing places to sit.
It is also at the bottom of an extremely steep hill. The road is paved (it’s too steep to be gravel), but it’s very narrow, and there is limited parking near the gazebo. There is some additional parking at the top of the hill, but you won’t want to carry your cooler from there.
The waterfront part of the shoreline is about 60 feet, and it is all taken up with docks and stairs. It faces east, and offers morning sunshine.
Some real estate listings describe it as “club-like”. There is a washroom (outhouse) located in the woods near the gazebo. There is no running water available for showering, cooking, or washing up, and no electricity. No water, no power and only an outhouse may not be everyone’s idea of “club-like”, but there’s a place for “rustic” too. If rustic is what your family is looking for, it could be a good match.
There is a BBQ that is often near the gazebo. When it is there, it is believed to be available for unit owners to use. Safest to bring your own propane cylinder.
You won’t be having elderly relatives walk to or from the additional parking at the top of the hill. Kids and friends will be fine walking down, but they will give you a big thank-you if you drive them up. Access is pretty good if you’re parked next to the gazebo, and, except on long weekends, there is usually parking there. Note that there are small steps up to the gazebo, so while not fully accessible, if someone is comfortable getting up a porch step, they’ll be fine.
Those with limited mobility won’t be getting near the water though. The gazebo is perhaps 30 feet above the shore, and the ground to the stairs down is rough, and often wet and slippery for days after a rain. Once you get to the stairs, there are handrails on one side most of the way down to the dock.
The water is deep here, with the rock plunging into the water. It looks beautiful, but it means there is no shoreline as such.
You also want to watch out for those with excessive mobility – kids. In the summer of 2017, a five-year-old rushed down to the shore in excitement, and started to clamber on the steep rock. A quick-thinking adult rushed down on to the dock just in time for the splash and the rescue. The rescuer and the child were fished out of the water by others that (unusually) happened to be there. If the child had hit its head on the rock or dock, or other adults had not been there, the ending might not have been so happy. There was no safety or rescue equipment of any kind available, not even a rope.
After the incident, the developers advised an owner that they had assured child welfare authorities that a lifebelt with a rope would be installed. When that didn’t materialize, an owner eventually placed a lifebelt down by the shore, but as of 2018 there is still no official safety equipment.
Kids should of course never be left unsupervised near water, but if you’re thinking of a regular lake beachfront that younger kids can enjoy, this isn’t it. Older kids that are strong swimmers (Level 8/Senior) will be fine if adults are close by.
When it comes to boat safety, two unattended boats are believed to have sunk at the dock so far. Prevailing winds are from the west, and the docks are well sheltered. The risks arise when winds are from the south, or during thunderstorms.
Canoes & Kayaks
It’s a nice spot for canoeing or kayaking. MBC is just across the lake, and makes a good destination for a short paddle. Power boats tend to stay out in the wider areas of Mary Lake, so apart from craft entering or leaving the Muskoka River at the end of the lake, it’s generally reasonably calm.
The tricky part is getting your craft to the water. The developers talked to some prospective purchasers about the possibility of canoe and kayak racks next to the dock, but nothing has been done so far. So you’ll need to bring them down each time on your car, and then carry them down the flights of stairs to the dock. Alternatively, there is unofficial storage under the gazebo, and a number of people have stashed canoes or kayaks there. Unfortunately there is only room for a few, so that will not be an option for everyone when there are more residents, and car transport will be required.
From the gazebo to the dock is more difficult. Depending on the craft, it’s OK with two people if the stairs and rocks are not wet. It is more challenging for one.
If you have to drive anyway, and unload and load your craft each time, you may find it much easier to drive to Port Sydney, which also offers a beach and an area that is much safer and more fun for kids. There are also boat launches at MBC, and also at the end of North Mary Lake road, both of which are very close by water, but a much longer drive by road than Port Sydney.
The docks nominally provide eight berths. For anything larger than an aluminum fishing boat, the realistic limit is probably six. There is no system for allocating the berths among the 26 owners. The condo association does not currently charge owners extra for docking. It is unclear whether they could. As of 2017, there were fewer boats than berths, but when there are more, whatever the allocation system, some owners are going to lose out.
Note that there is a 25 horsepower limit written in to condo documents, so of necessity the boats tend to be smaller. Something bigger but slower, such as a pontoon boat, would likely not fit at the docks (or take up several berths if it did). Since the same rules also require only four-stroke motors, the power-to-weight ratio for small motors will be poor. Typically a 25HP motor weighs the same as a 40HP. Oil injection can be used as an alternative to four-stroke, but for smaller horsepower motors they are just as heavy. So the motors that are allowed and the boats that can support the weight may limit boating options.
The best alternative is Mary Lake Marina. It is very close by – for some owners, it might be faster to get to than the Gryffin docks. A berth there is about $1000 per year, but it is much better sheltered, and there are people living on the site 24 hours. There is also gas and a boat ramp, as well as rescue services, rental power boat toys, and a friendly dog. You can park near your boat with no hills or stairs. If you would have to drive to the Gryffin dock anyway, the marina is probably the better choice. And of course you can have your choice of boat and motor there without the Gryffin Bluffs restrictions.
This west-facing shore area is larger. It is designated by the condo rules as a ‘swimming only’ area. It is a very steep rocky shoreline, with no beach. However, it is the only area with sun in the afternoon.
Unfortunately it is extremely difficult to get to. Based on what the developers said about trails and other amenities, some unit purchasers believed there would a path or stairs to access this waterfront. The developers disclosed in the fall of 2017 that there was no intention of creating any proper land access.
The only access is therefore by water. The closest access is probably Mary Lake Marina. However, as the dock is designated as swim-only, power boats from either the marina or the Gryffin docks would not be permitted.
Swimming, or canoe/kayak, is therefore the only access.
From the Gryffin dock, it is a 500m swim each way, too far for most casual swimmers. There is no toilet available, so it’s also a very long swim back to the outhouse. There is not believed to be any emergency equipment (e.g. lifebelt) there, and, in the event of an emergency, there is no land access to go get help, nor any land access for the help to get in. The closest help by water would likely be at Mary Lake Marina.
It is theoretically very possible to kayak or canoe from the Gryffin dock. However, remember craft must either be stowed under the gazebo and lugged down to the lake, or taken to the Gryffin dock by car. Then there’s the paddle around the point. Then there’s the remembering you forgot your sunscreen, or panicking at the sudden sound of unexpected thunder, and the paddle back.
In the spring of 2018, the western swim dock was effectively destroyed. Moving lake ice is an unfortunate fact of life. Wind-blown ice is incredibly powerful, and avoiding damage to docks requires lots of dock-building experience, as well as careful design and construction. As of summer 2018, there had not been any discussion with unit owners about repairing or replacing the western dock. It is not known how much of the dock may be elsewhere underwater, or perhaps carried into the lake with the spring freshet. The condo corporation may be liable for removing the remaining wreckage even if the unused dock is abandoned, because beyond being unsightly, portions of the dock that slip underwater could pose a hazard to boaters and other lake users.
Given that it is so quiet and inaccessible, unit owners can feel good for having preserved a portion of Mary Lake shoreline. However, with the current access, many people would not count the Western Shoreline as useful for everyday recreational purposes. But you will know best what your family is looking for.