While most people associate canal communities with Florida’s tropical breezes in places such as Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, it’s a little-known fact that Ontario boasts its own examples, with Lagoon City on Lake Simcoe leading the way. 'You can sail anywhere in the world from Lagoon City,' says Jim Hopson, who bought a condo in the canal community 24 years ago. 'I have no intention of ever leaving this place. It’s the best-kept secret in the province.' (Photo courtesy Lagoon City Community Association)

Lagoon City, known as the 'Little Venice' of Ontario,
leads the way as the secret gets out on canal living

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Jim Hopson still remembers the first day he drove up from his Oshawa home to the eastern shore of Lake Simcoe to visit a friend in Lagoon City.  

“I drove through the gates and there was the fountain, and Laguna Parkway. It was totally mesmerizing,” Hopson tells “Every home and condo was on the water.”  

Twenty-four years ago, Hopson bought a condo in Lagoon City to use as a vacation home and, over the years, he slowly migrated his life and career from Oshawa to his waterfront paradise. Last year, he took the final step and left the city to enjoy life in one of Ontario’s most exclusive — but little-known — waterfront communities. He keeps a boat at his own dock in front of his home — a 5,000-square-foot detached — from which he can sail out onto Lake Simcoe in 10 minutes.  

From Lake Simcoe, boaters can enter the Trent-Severn Waterway and head west to Georgian Bay, or south to Lake Ontario. Once in the Great Lakes system, all of the globe’s waterways are at your disposal.  

“You can sail anywhere in the world from Lagoon City,” Hopson says. “I have no intention of ever leaving this place. It’s the best-kept secret in the province.”  

Hopson enjoys water activities during the warm months, and Lagoon City’s many kilometres of trails for cross-country skiing once the snow comes. Real estate agent Richard Fenn, who has lived in Lagoon City for 23 years, likes the fact that the snow stays white, as opposed to the brown sludge it quickly turns to in the big cities, and says the lagoons — or canals, if you prefer — freeze over to allow for snowmobiling and skating in winter.  

Fenn is also an enthusiastic supporter of life in Lagoon City. “When you see it from the water, turning every corner of each canal is a ‘wow’ moment,” he says.  

Some consider it Ontario’s own “Little Venice,” a community of 3,000 built around a system of canals that form the main transportation corridors. Sure, there are traditional streets in Lagoon City too, but for many residents, a boat ride — to head out to the restaurant, to visit the neighbours or to pick up a loaf of bread and a litre of milk — beats using the car any day.  

From Florida to small-town Ontario

While most people associate canal communities with Florida’s tropical breezes in places such as Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, it’s a little-known fact that Ontario boasts its own examples. Granted, there are no palm trees swaying in the wind, but Ontario’s four seasons inject its canal communities with their own charms.  

The best-known of Ontario’s canals are the Rideau, the Trent-Severn and the Welland, which remains an important shipping route. These are the province’s heavily travelled canal throughways, and each offers plenty of opportunities for urban homes and cottage country retreats along its banks. But in addition are a number of locations where savvy developers have created canal-based housing projects to accommodate Ontarians’ love of the water.  

Lagoon City is the largest. But also on Lake Simcoe sits the canal-based Young’s Harbour in the Town of Georgina. Meanwhile, what is probably the largest concentration of canal communities can be found in the far southwest, in Essex County.  

The Essex waterfront towns of Kingsville, Amherstburg, LaSalle, Tecumseh and Lakeshore all boast canal communities. There are Cedar Island in Kingsville, River Canard in Amherstburg, several along the riverfront in LaSalle, Pike Creek in Tecumseh and Lakeshore, as well as Lighthouse Cove in Lakeshore.   While accommodation in such canal communities ranges from modest cottages to modern detached homes and posh mansions, prices are generally more moderate in these locations than they are in prime lakefront locations.  

Real estate salesman Brad Bondy is based in Amherstburg and deals with a lot of waterfront properties. Bondy believes canal lots offer great value, and points to one of his recent listings on a LaSalle canal. The five-bedroom, three-bath “immaculate property” was on offer for $559,000, and Bondy estimates the same property on a good lakeshore lot could fetch $700,000 or more. If it were located on Georgian Bay, “you’d be looking a way over $1 million,” he believes.  

The fact is, says Bondy, “people are looking for their water paradise. There’s only so much waterfront, and canals offer boaters easy access out to the lake.”  

Even in Lagoon City, “exclusive” does not translate to “pricey.” “Muskoka is the playground of the rich,” says Hopson. “(Lagoon City) is for the rest of us.”  

'Everybody has a boat dock at their door'

Fenn says bargain-seekers can find condos in Lagoon City in the $150,000 to $300,000 range and detached homes on 70-by-200-foot lots from $300,000 to $650,000. “We’re very undervalued here,” he says. “And everybody has a boat dock at their door.”  

In the era of the Internet and the work-from-home opportunities it provides, Hopson operates a recording studio, exports fruit juice concentrate to the West Indies and runs a food service training business from Lagoon City. He says the opportunity to work from home in such a beautiful location adds immeasurably to his quality of life.  

Lagoon City was first proposed as a canal-based, vacation-at-home retirement community in the 1960s by Hungarian engineer Andrew Zsolt. Work got underway in the 1970s, and the original concept was for a community of 26,000. Planning and environmental regulations forced the project to stall out at about 3,000 people, but residential resort developer Talisker Corporation of Toronto is working on a proposal for a big expansion.  

Fenn says half the Lagoon City community lives there permanently, with the other half travelling south for the winter. The community includes a private sandy beach, a resort club with indoor pool, hot tub and spa facilities, and a private member-equity yacht club.  

He says the demographics of the community are changing as many original inhabitants are selling to younger newcomers. The first residents are 20 to 30 years older than they were when they arrived, he says, so now with many in their 80s, they’re moving to new quarters.  

“Boomers are moving in. They’re buying homes and condos as weekend places, cottages, and plan to make them their permanent residence once they retire.”   Lagoon City is a 100-minute drive to Pearson International Airport, 45 minutes to Oshawa and 40 minutes to Barrie. There’s GO Transit service from Newmarket, which is about an hour’s drive.  

Many prospective residents like to drop by the Harbour Inn and Resort Club to test out community amenities before taking the plunge. Paddle boats and canoes are available for visitors wishing to explore the canals. Cruises and fishing excursions can be booked. Casino Rama is a half-hour drive away.  

Lagoon City is part of the Township of Ramara. The Lagoon City Parks and Waterways Commission was created to manage, maintain and regulate the waterways and parkland located within Lagoon City under the authority of the township.  

Ramara Mayor Bill Duffy doesn’t live in Lagoon City himself — he has a nearby farm. But, he says, “Lagoon City is a beautiful spot. It’s a well-kept secret, though. You don’t realize how nice it is unless you get out on a boat and sail through the canals, under the bridges, and see the place from the water. Then it’s incredible.”  

Additional reading:

Before you go explore Lagoon City, read our Ramara Township community profile by clicking here. — August 2011