When it comes to relaxing and finding the time to enjoy the beautiful moments in life, nothing beats a vacation. Especially if we’re talking about one of North America’s best kept secret summer getaways—a cluster of gorgeous lakes and cottage communities just north of Toronto, called Muskoka. For anyone looking to make the most of the region’s cottage life, there’s one woman to talk to, Jayne McCaw. She’s the Jayne of Jayne’s Cottages, and her curated collection of 250 individually owned cottages define the perfect trip to the region—large, private properties on the water with plenty of room to gather with family and friends. What sets Jayne’s Cottages apart from the rest, however, is McCaw herself.
Jayne’s Cottages offers is a complete concierge service. “If you want a water trampoline when you arrive, or a private chef, or anything else, it’s there,” McCaw says. But her business isn’t just built on superior service. The real secret to her success is managing her clients’ multi-million-dollar waterfront estates.
“You need this kind of care at the high end,” she says. “It’s a big forest and you have no idea where your path leads you. You need someone to get you there.”
The cottages in her roster are built to create memories. They’re the type of places where first kisses, proposals, and celebrations happen, places that build traditions.
Escaping the stress
McCaw didn’t always live the cottage life. In her 40s, she found herself going at a frantic pace with four children, a booming career in marketing, and a full-time nanny. Then came the divorce and the period of reevaluation that followed. McCaw knew she needed a change and decided to ditch the big house for something smaller in the city and a cottage on Lake Rosseau in Muskoka. She got hooked on the cottage immediately.
“When I’m in the city, it’s just errands, errands, errands, all day long. When I’m up here, it’s, ‘Let’s go out in the boat. Let’s go for a kayak. Let’s have friends over for dinner or get together for a drink.”
“Whether it’s reading a magazine or sitting in a Muskoka chair and watching the sun go down, I would never do that during the week, but I do it all the time at the cottage. Having a drink and going down to the waterfront to watch the sunset—it’s just part of your day here,” McCaw says.
One day, she and a friend were planning to go to France on vacation together with their families. McCaw got so stressed trying to look through properties on different websites that she started having doubts about the whole trip. Then she found a woman named Beverly who managed a collection of villas in the Luberon Valley of France.
“When I called her, I felt comfortable right away, and I really trusted her,” McCaw recalls. “I just thought, ‘I can’t handle this stress anymore. I’m going to look at her properties. I trust her, and we’ll just go with what’s available for these dates.’ I booked [a place]. We got there. She was waiting for us with a big fruit basket. I asked about getting a private chef, and she had Collette already lined up. She had a kayak tour arranged for us, a driver who could take us into Avignon for a day and to little villages. I left there and thought, ‘There just isn’t a Beverly in Muskoka.’”
Arriving at Jayne’s Cottages
It took a few years for McCaw to act on the idea planted in her mind by Beverly. She was still juggling her city life and cottage dreams. But she could see that she and other friends in the community weren’t making the most of their properties.
She says, “There I was, turning 47, 48, 49, and I still had this idea about Beverly in the back of my head. I needed to take more control of my life. So when I turned 50, I decided on Labour Day weekend that I’m going to quit my job and start this business full time.”
“I put an ad in the local newspaper for cottage owners looking to rent. Then I set up a booth at the Bala Cranberry Festival. By the time summer came, I had 25 [clients]. That first summer was great, and by the next summer I had 60. By the third, I had 120, then 160, 200, and now I’m at about 250,” she says.
What makes McCaw so special is that her business management aligns with her life principles. She makes it easy for people to relax, which is why 70 percent of her customers are repeat visitors each year, and her catalogue of properties continues to grow.
A destination for relaxation
“The best thing about these lakes is what we call destination boating,” McCaw says. “You can get in your boat at 10 o’clock, travel around for 5 hours, stop for ice cream, get some lunch, and be waterskiing all day. Then you come back, park your boat, and everyone jumps in the water.”
The three main lakes of Muskoka—Joseph, Rosseau, and Muskoka—have the unique characteristic of being linked together by waterfront communities. The boat takes you wherever you want to go, which means that even a simple outing becomes an adventure, with the wind in your hair, crystal clear waters, beautiful views of nature, and gorgeous homes with lawns running down to the water’s edge.
“I’m very proud to be part of this community,” McCaw says. “We have nice villages and beautiful, clean lakes. And boating is easy here because there aren’t shoals like there are in other lakes.”
The views around the lakes are 70 percent natural scenery, and the developed areas all carry the charm of the Muskoka lifestyle. It’s the perfect mix of quaint scenery and open space, she says. There are no expectations other than joy.