A survey of seasonal residents conducted by the District of Muskoka’s Economic Recovery Task Force revealed that the population of Muskoka could inflate by as much as 7,000 people this winter.
MERTF, which was launched in May 2020 to assist Muskoka and its businesses in coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, distributed the survey through local lake associations and road associations, targeting people who owned secondary dwellings in the area.
Of the estimated 77,000 seasonal residents in the Muskoka area, the survey received 1,188 responses. According to David Sword, the MERTF team lead, this was a surprisingly robust response, enough to give them a fairly accurate prediction of how many seasonal residents may be in Muskoka over the winter months.
Excluded from the survey results were full-time residents, guests of seasonal residents, and any general potential increase in visitors.
Of the survey respondents, 17 per cent said they expect to be in Muskoka more often on the weekends throughout the winter. MERTF estimates this to be a 5,000- to 7,000-person population increase when compared to previous years. And 12 per cent of the respondents said they expect to be in Muskoka more often during the week. MERTF estimates this to be a 3,500- to 5,000-person population increase.
Based on the survey results, Sword said, “MERTF estimates that the increased time spent by seasonal residents will have an economic impact of roughly $1 million to $2.5 million per week in additional revenues in Muskoka.”
In response to concerns that increases in population, especially with many seasonal residents commuting from high-risk areas such as Toronto, could spur the spread of COVID-19 in the Muskoka area, district chair, and MERTF chair John Klinck said in a statement: “I am confident we can all continue to stay healthy and safe by continuing to follow the advice of our public health officials.”
This is particularly pertinent as Muskoka has already witnessed a jump in population with the start of schools this past September. According to Sword, Muskoka’s Trillium Lakelands District School Board reported over 900 new students enrolled this year, approximately a six per cent student enrollment increase with 84 per cent of the new students enrolled in-class rather than online.
On top of investigating potential population growth, MERTF’s residency survey also explored the barriers preventing seasonal residents from spending more time in Muskoka. “The two main answers,” Sword said, “were their place was not winterized, and the second one was broadband.”
Since the start of the pandemic, internet access has become a desirable cottage feature. “Everyone’s looking for internet so they can stay up all year round,” Sword said. He added that this desire for internet extends beyond seasonal residents. Full-time residents are also demanding stable, high-speed internet connections so that they can work from home and, if necessary, their kids can complete schooling from home.
“That’s something that we’re looking at,” Sword said. “It’s going to be a longer game because it’s a big task, but it’s one of the task force’s main priorities.”