Forum Magazine Vol 1

Forum Magazine Vol 1

A Room with a View

Muskoka has long been the playground for affluent society, particularly for those who live in Toronto. What were once log cabins and steamboats has evolved today into million dollar cottages and SUV’S. From the modest” cottage cosy” to the more extravagant, we were taken on this tour de force by Chris Madden of Tamarack North Ltd. Tamarack is “the new kid on the block” and is responsible for not only some of the more aesthetically beautiful cottages but as well the solid engineering that is necessary to stabilize the structures in what can be the brutal and unforgiving winters of Northern Ontario.

Born in Manchester England, Chris immigrated with his family back in 1976. The family soon settled in Nobel, Ontario where his father worked as an explosives engineer. Chris met his long time friend Jon Mintz whilst growing up in Nobel and not long after completing an engineering degree at Ryerson, Chris & Jon (now a bonafied carpenter) conjured up a business plan in 1990 to form Tamarack North. “With my engineering background and his carpentry skills, it’s all we really needed to get the ball rolling,” says Chris.
The two started up their own contracting company and began by building small homes in the Parry Sound Area-it wasn’t until  1995 that Chris saw what was beginning to unfold in this exclusive haven for aging boomers and quickly delved into what is one of the most lucrative cottage industries in the country. The engineering and carpentry combination has proven to be the key to the success of the business.

We met Chris at his Port Carling office that was reminiscent of the log cabins that once dawned these here parts. The walls of the office display of large framed pictures boasting some of the diverse cottages they’ve built. Chris, who recently bought out his original partner and now has a new silent partner, staffs up to 40 people. They consist of project managers, architectural designers, construction management staff site supervisors, carpenters and carpenters helpers.

Now although the pictures provided us with a “wow” factor as to the scope of what Tamarack does, Chris wanted us to breathe in the full blown experience of Tamarack’s work in what would be a day trip between road and water before arriving at several of the destinations. With the sun finally beginning to penetrate through the  clouds of an early morning rain, we ventured out onto Lake Muskoka in an aluminum work barge. This twenty six foot aluminum barge powered with 300 HP didn’t exactly serenade us across to the island like a Gondola,  but it was certainly worth it’s bumpy ride as we pulled into the dock to cast our sights on this classic 3000 square foot Muskoka cottage that was still in construction by a large carpentry crew putting on their finishing touches.

We were met by the site supervisor James Sjaarda, who gave us a breakdown at how labour intensive this operation was, not only from the meticulous work that I had witnessed by the stonemasons who sweated over finite details of cut, chip, and blowing off the dust before fitting in the next stone to this monolithic sized fireplace, but also in learning that practically every item had to be ferried across in the tank-like boat we had just travelled across in -and that was in the summer time. In the winter, where most of the work was done for this Muskoka gem, it was lugged across by sleigh; (sans reindeers) and that included the White Pine supporting beams cut from a monster 30″ diameter tree.

These massive timbers that weighed 1800 pounds needed the Herculean strength of five men to not only haul it across the frozen lake and drag it up the hill but to also have the stamina to fit it up high and in place. All the beams were then fitted together with traditional timber frame joinery. Basswood was used instead of drywall because of its clean, un-knotted appearance that allows for it to be easily painted or stained over. Unlike drywall, basswood is one of the indigenous species that make up the Muskoka forests. “We try to incorporate a lot of the natural resources that are available to us in the area, says James proudly, ” but then adds, “however, it’s a far more sophisticated process than erecting a home in a city environment”.

It was evident we were dealing with craftsmen  carpenters as we watched Ritchie’s and AI’s crew effortlessly applying basswood with cuts requiring no trim using white gloves in the middle of summer to prevent the wood from being even slightly stained, the workmanship was not just good, it was perfect. The Canadian Shield is home to solid granite bed-rock, in this case, a four-week lasting period was needed to prepare the site before being able to lay up the block foundation.

The boathouses  common in the Muskoka region pose unique challenges but also provide unique living space. The upper structure of the boathouse is supported with engineered steel piles and ice bubblers that protect it from the freezing and thawing that takes place over the winter months. These two bedroom mini cottages in their own right are meant to blend seamlessly with the cottage beside it. An inspired space that is usually reserved for the guests, this tree-house on stilts is multi-functional far more than a boat-slip and to handle the overflow of guests. A Zen hideaway? A kid’s hangout? A late night romantic rendezvous?

The one we we,re visiting was nestled in a tiny cove on a private island of the spring fed Lake Joseph, Adjacent to the boathouse, was an old log cabin from the early 1900’s that was to be  torn down to make room for a 3200 sq foot cottage in early fall, Our site super, John Ritchie dropped a rumour has it  hat a famous American President once visited here along with other Ontario politicians. Not to mention a number of celebrity sightings around here that are the norm including … names that are mysteriously whispered respectfully kept secret. .. No celebrity sightings yet, but we did catch site of a mink.
As we headed back to shore, our next stop was by way of car towards the jewel of the Muskoka Lakes, Lake Rosseau. Down a one kilometre trek of a narrow winding road and thick forest, we finally arrived at the much anticipated “piece de resistance” to meet our project manager, Jake Morrice, site supervisor, Perry Burton and even the owners, Bobby & Karen Genovese. We could hear but not yet see, until suddenly the omnipresence of the massive fifty-foot cliff of dotted pink and blue granite, played backdrop to 5000 gallons per minute of gushing water that cascaded down into this trevi-style pool of water. And if that wasn’t magical enough, the pool was met by a waterslide loaded with gleeful “kids”. The waterslide wound its way down to the foot of the lake where the “beyond your wildest dreams cottage” was embedded tightly into the rock that it was built on.

Only fifteen feet from the water’s edge, this open concept state of the art cottage flowed seamlessly from one room to another. It’s light airy colours, dark chestnut floors, and surround vision Ross Patio doors provided a panoramic view of the Lake, no matter what room you were in. And before you could say James Bond, the automated executive window blinds dropped down from the frames shielding us from the sun’s blinding descent into dusk. And then when the sun settled on the horizon into a soft orange and pink, the room transforms once again as the blinds go up, the mosquito screens come down and the doors gently slide open up to allow for the full Muskoka experience as we hear the soft waves wash gently ashore just beyond the granite patio while taking in this magnificent sunset.

Chris Madden knows the cottage experience first hand and that’s why he’s immersed himself here and works closely with the architects and engineers to try and make sure that all aspects of both technology and nature are nicely complimented. “I love to be challenged by the client and then to be able to fulfill their dreams even beyond their own imaginations.” This is why Chris encourages the client to come to him first.
The cottage industry is legislated by many different laws because of the natural setting, shoreline and of course respect for thy neighbour. It’s quite often that the client will come to Tamarack with an architects design and we will form a design team to ensure that the building melds into the land perfectly. “It’s far easier for the client to meet with me in the initial stages so that we can work closely together and get a better understanding of how things work up here and the unique characteristics of each Muskoka property” advises Chris. “We have developed a great rapport with some of Toronto’s best known cottage Architects and designers including Ray Murakami, Peter Berton of the Ventin Group and Wayne Swadron Architects.

Because of the intricacies of the work and attention to detail, extremely detailed pricing using leading edge construction software is developed prior to commencing the project. This is to benefit both the builder and client who Chris sees as a partner in the design team so that complete financial accountability is achieved by Tamarack’s open book policy.

Because for Chris, this was just the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Tamarack is not only serving the needs of building the cottages but is also there doing follow-up. The Clients not only want winterization of their cottages but they also love the convenience of summarization so that when the May 2-4 weekend approaches, they can show up with bathing suits and tanning lotions and know that the cottage has been tuned up for a summer of fun.

Left to our own devices in finding our way back home while our fabulous host Chris stayed behind to tend to on-site business, we stopped in for a quick bite at Tamarack’s most recent commercial project. “Crossroads” restaurant is the new, upcoming dining option in Muskoka, located in the village of Rosseau. It was clearly evident that the natural resources including white pines and granite stone were the inspiration here, becoming a trademark of the Tamarack design.

Meals fit for a lumberjack, I was quite surprised to find “Penne ala Pomodoro” on the menu that was cooked to “al dente” perfection .. .

I think Chris sums it up best when asked about his passion for building in this darling of the Muskoka Lakes … “when you escape you’re a lot closer, or in my case, “when you escape you’re not so far from home” …