Muskoka is the place to be if you need a drink.  Our cute pubs, stylish ristorantes, and laid-back hangouts fulfill everyone’s wants and needs.  One thing I have found since returning home is that I spend much more time talking to my bartenders because we are all around the same age.  It is amazing what you can find out about someone over a casual drink.  

Did you know that you can make between $8,000 and $13,000 as a bartender or server during the summer in Muskoka? I talked to some friends who are working as servers and bartenders in variety of Muskoka establishments, and they all agreed that if you really commit yourself you will get a very high return. It is very difficult to find a job where you are making that much money, other than in construction. I was chatting with one of my favorite local bartenders and when the subject of school and travel came up it was so interesting to hear that she had done a double major, and had travelled all over Europe and South Asia during the past few years. When I asked her why she came back to Muskoka and what she was going to do next, she replied, “I’m not really sure. Right now I’m just making money to travel and pay off my student loan. I just love it here! The lifestyle is so different, I love the outdoors, and I really can’t see myself anywhere else.” This statement is very telling. 

Having grown up in Muskoka, I constantly run into people I went to school with and during the initial “How are you?” the subject of school almost always comes up. “I’m done, just back here to figure out what I want to do now”, “I think I might have to go back and do a college degree or something. There aren’t that many jobs up here in my field”, “I can’t find something I really want to do up here, so I’m serving. The money’s decent.” 

Don’t get me wrong, serving and bartending are completely acceptable careers, and absolutely vital in Muskoka. It is disappointing, though, if you go away to school, get your degree, come back because this is where you want to settle down and instead of being able to find a job in whatever you studied, you settle for a summer job that will make you money, not a full-time career. This is a problem. We go away to school so that we gain a better education, learn the tools we need in order to get a well-paying job, and to experience life away from home. When we come back to find that great job here, there isn’t one for us. You have raised us in this amazing haven, and regardless of how much we wanted out after high school, you still made us fall in love and we’re back. What are we going to do now?

I was talking to a fellow intern the other day and he said, “Finding a nice girl in this town is hard because they all leave after high school. The guys come back and work construction, but the girls move on and go to the city to find a career.” This may not seem like a big deal at the moment, but when the baby boomers are retired and it is up to us to keep Muskoka’s population sustained, how will that happen without young people attracted by well-paying jobs? 

This is where the creative economy comes in. Ask yourself – do the young people in your community represent wasted resources? Muskoka needs to start investing in new economy jobs that require next generation education, skills, and ideas – that is what we can offer. Now that’s sustainability!

Dana Clark
I am a twenty-something with my eye on Muskoka. This is my home and, although my schooling has taken me across the country, I am constantly drawn back to its natural beauty, charismatic community and its lifestyle. But something is changing and I want to be a part of it. They call it the creative economy and like others, I am trying to understand what it means.

Why does the creative economy interest me at all? Because my expectations are high. I am educated, ambitious and hungry for opportunities that will grow my talents and my experience. I am looking for a great job that will make use of my talents and will reward me in return. I love Muskoka and want to build a career that will allow me to contribute to my home town. Occupations related to arts and culture are very much a part of the new creative economy, and cultural activities contribute to a quality of life that acts like a magnet in attracting creative workers. But by definition, creative occupations are much broader. Creative workers are knowledge workers whose jobs involve idea generation, innovation, decision-making and responsibility.

The creative economy is taking many forms in Muskoka. I mention a sampling.

On the culinary front, The Griffin Gastropub is a niche establishment that is capitalizing on consumer's interest in combining quality food, cozy atmosphere and a focus on all that is local and micro. Two young Griffin entrepreneurs are bringing the flavours of the world to their patrons along with over 50 different beers made exclusively by Ontario Breweries. Muskoka Cottage Brewery and Lake of Bays Brewery, two other local creative industries, are included on the menu. Good luck finding a seat! Savour Muskoka is a clever collective of food businesses that is developing the Muskoka region as a dynamic culinary tourism destination by supporting establishments like the Griffin.

What about the many environmentalists who are operating consulting and research services from Muskoka. They are also a part of the creative economy. For example, Hutchinson Environmental Sciences Ltd. is a new Muskoka company that is using local scientists and technicians to undertake Canada-wide projects related to aquatic science. New technologies allow Muskoka-based operations to serve clients around the globe.

Muskoka is also becoming an eduation centre. Georgian College, Nipissing University and now Waterloo University are bringing formal learning opportunities to the area. Specialized programs promise to attract learners from around the world, and bring teaching professionals to Muskoka as well. Having the chance to experience Muskoka may entice some people into relocating and moving their businesses and jobs here to enjoy our quality of life on a permanent basis.

And yes... I am proud of my community. I am passionate about being a part of Muskoka's future and I am committed to doing what it takes to prosper here at home by becoming a part of this new, creative economy.

Dana Clark