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Building a Muskoka Boathouse

Cottage Boat Houses

The Muskoka style boat house, part of the fabric of cottage life for generations has potentially become much harder to build.  Many of our beautiful Muskoka and Parry Sound area lakes are dotted with them in all shapes and sizes. Lake Joseph, Lake Muskoka, Ahmic Lake, Lake Vernon, Lake Rosseau and Lake of Bays are some of the famous waterways known for their boat houses. However, a dispute in the Kawartha area made its way to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice who’s ruling and has the potential to make construction more difficult.

Muskoka boat house

The Back Ground

The ruling comes from Glaspell v Ontario in which a 1000 square foot floating boathouse was constructed on a little lake in the Kawarthas. Prior to construction the Boathouse builders contacted the Township Building Department and the MNR office. The township determined that the structure was the MNR’s responsibility.  The MNR took the position that it came the township area of responsibility. As it was constructed the adjoining property owner complained as it was their understanding that there were no boathouses allowed on the lake. The back and forth began and ended with the ruling. 

The Boathouse Questions

Here are the questions the court was asked to rule on;

Does the Ontario Building Code Act, 1992 apply to construction of structures to be built on, over, in, or under Ontario lakes?

Does the Township have jurisdiction to enact and apply by-laws to these structures?

Do each of the dock and the house require building permits, and compliance with the Township’s zoning by-laws?

Does the boathouse require an occupancy permit to occupy public lands?

Does the boathouse require a work permit regarding the construction of a structure on shore lands?

The court answered “Yes” to all the above.

In a nutshell the questions boiled down to this; Who is responsible for governing the construction and use of boathouses and docks on Ontario’s lakes and rivers. Previously it was a “grey area” that seemed to slip through the cracks in many areas of cottage country with different regions having various interpretations. With the Glaspell v Ontario ruling the lines have been clarified. 

The Repercussions

Thanks to the recent ruling by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, boat houses and docks now require approval at both the Municipal and provincial levels (Federal in some cases as well). I’ve talked to several boat house builders and one of the biggest concerns is the lack of manpower at the provincial  level to handle the potential torrent of incoming applications. Previously a relatively small number of boat houses were thought to require approval from the MNR but now before any construction can begin the plans will need to be reviewed and approved.

Muskoka’s Big 3 Lakes

Lake Muskoka, Lake Joseph and Lake Rosseau have their own unique set of rules when it comes to boat houses. On top of shore road allowances at the municipal level any construction requires property owners to purchase or lease the lakefront from the Province of Ontario. This can be a complex process but is manageable if you have the right people in place. 

The Dock Question

One of the major changes that seems to missed from my perspective is that the decision also applies to docks. Not everyone has the money to construct a Muskoka boat house but rare indeed is the cottage without a dock. Repairs can be made to existing docks but new construction can required multiple permits depending on where you’re located.

If you’re pondering building a new boat house or dock system and need recommendations for Muskoka and Parry Sound contractors contact us, we can help. We’ll give you some names of companies that cover your area. Be careful when searching for waterfront properties, not all lakes allow boathouses and some have different rules depending on where you are on the lake.


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