Ontario wants to ban cottage country ‘floating homes’ made from shipping containers

Cottagers doubt proposed rule changes will have significant impact

A floating shipping container converted into a home sits on a lake.
A floating home made of two shipping containers is docked at a marina in Port Severn. The province is proposing to ban such floating accommodations from overnight stays on water over public land, which includes the beds of most lakes and rivers in Ontario. (Lotb.ca)

The Doug Ford government is aiming to slap restrictions on floating homes that are provoking controversy in Ontario’s cottage country.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry cites “an increase in the number and types of structures and things being used for overnight accommodation on Ontario’s lakes and rivers” as the reason behind proposed rule changes.

The changes would ban what the province describes as “float homes” and “barges with residential units” from overnight stays on water over public land, which includes the beds of most lakes and rivers in Ontario.

During consultations on the issue, the ministry received feedback that suggested the current rules for overnight accommodation on water are too permissive.

Graydon Smith, Ontario’s minister of natural resources, said in an interview that the intent of the proposal is to restrict large floating homes that are “outside the scope” of the boats typically seen on the province’s lakes and rivers.

“We want to get it right,” said Smith. “I do believe we’re on the right path.”

Photo of Graydon Smith in Queen's Park media studio
Graydon Smith, Ontario’s minister of natural resources and forestry, represents the cottage country riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

CBC News has previously reported on how cottagers and municipalities have raised concerns about shipping containers converted into floating accommodations on lakes in the Muskoka region.

Officials say the converted shipping containers are the chief target of the proposed regulation.

“The one thing we don’t want to be doing is ensnaring the traditional boating, cruising, sailing vessels that are a big part of Ontario and our tourism economy,” said Smith.

Transport Canada defines floating homes as vessels

What’s unclear is whether the proposed ban would succeed in restricting the floating shipping container homes.

That’s because Transport Canada has designated floating homes as vessels, which gives them the same rights as houseboats, motorboats or sailboats to anchor overnight in public navigable waters.

Transport Canada said in a statement that floating accommodations “are considered vessels — just like barges.”

The province’s proposed ban on floating accommodations defines them as “house-like structures incorporating a floatation system, intended for … residential or longer-term purposes and not primarily intended for, or usable in, navigation.”

Joe Nimens lives in cottage country year-round in a floating home constructed from a pair of 16-metre-long shipping containers, and is building six more for clients.

“Business is booming,” Nimens said in an interview from his floating home, docked at a marina in Port Severn, about 150 kilometres north of Toronto. “The one that we started first will be going in the water in the next few weeks.”

A photo of Joe Nimens sitting at a table inside his converted shipping container floating home, beside a window overlooking a lake.
Joe Nimens is pictured inside the floating home he built from two shipping containers. (CBC News)

Nimens says he suspects his floating homes are the province’s target.

“I believe that they’re trying to discourage us from doing what we’re doing, but I don’t see any way that the proposed regulation would affect us,” he said.

“Boats come in all kinds of sizes and shapes,” said Nimens. “I don’t have any idea what distinction [the province has] in mind between a floating accommodation and a vessel.”

Cottage owner calls move ‘a lot of hand-waving’

Nimens’ critics also doubt the province’s proposed ban on floating homes will shut him down.

“We really feel that these measures are meaningless,” said Cheryl Elliot-Fraser, president of the Gloucester Pool Cottagers’ Association, representing about 400 cottage owners on the large body of water that extends northeast from Port Severn.

A photo of Cheryl Elliot-Fraser outdoors with a lake in the background.
Cheryl Elliot-Fraser is president of the Gloucester Pool Cottagers’ Association. (Alexis Raymon/CBC News)

“We think (the Ministry of Natural Resources) is doing a lot of hand-waving,” said Claude Ricks, another member of the cottagers’ association. “They truly don’t understand the vessel designation trumps all.”

Township of Georgian Bay Mayor Peter Koetsier says he applauds the provincial government for doing what it can about the issue.

“I do appreciate the fact that they are recognizing that these floating accommodations, floating homes, whatever you like to call them, are not properly covered in the rules and regulations that currently exist,'” said Koetsier.

While Koetsier said the province’s proposed changes are part of the solution, he believes there will still be confusion over how they can operate unless Transport Canada changes its designation.

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February 27 Carling Budget Meeting

Carling Council is in the process of finalizing the budget for 2024. There is a public meeting scheduled for February 27 at 9 a.m. The West Carling Association (WCA) strongly urges you to: Read the attached report (below). Attend the budget information session that is scheduled for February 27 - either virtually or in person. To gain access to the virtual meeting, please contact mtaylor@carling.ca Should you have any concerns regarding the budget, please feel free to express them during the meeting or in writing prior to the meeting. You may direct your written concerns to Mayor Murphy and our Councillors at: smurphy@carling.ca lcook@carling.ca adoubrough@carling.ca bkelly@carling.ca pwing@carling.ca The WCA has received an analysis of Carling's financial and operational data, which has been compared to the municipalities of Whitestone and McKellar. These two municipalities have similar populations and proportions of seasonal residents. The analysis was conducted by a member of the Pengally Bay Ratepayers Association, who has extensive financial management experience. The study has identified several areas of concern. Based on a data review conducted in 2017, it has been concluded that the residents of Carling are being overtaxed. The study reveals that we are paying 40 to 50 per cent (or more than $2.5 million) extra compared to the residents of Whitestone and McKellar for maintaining similar infrastructure and, in some cases, receiving fewer services. The following specific concerns were identified in the analysis: High staffing costs that continue to grow. Excessive reserves that continue to build up, resulting in interest payments on debt. The lack of involvement of Carling residents in decisions regarding the purpose and disposition of the reserves. Increasing taxes to build the reserves. Compared to Whitestone and McKellar, Carling is building higher reserves to fund the replacement of Township equipment and infrastructure ($3.8 million when only $168,000 is required by the Municipal Act). Building reserves for undefined purposes. Unexplained costs in the General Government Fund. The report concludes with several recommendations, including requesting that the Carling Council target tax reductions rather than continuing to increase our taxes. The WCA and the Pengally Bay Ratepayers Association have jointly drafted a letter expressing their concerns to the Carling Council. They have requested the council to take the following actions: Conduct a review of salaries and benefits in comparison to other jurisdictions. Conduct a full review of reserve funds in comparison to other jurisdictions. Form a financial subcommittee comprising one or more Carling residents with expertise in financial management (non-paid) to work with the council and staff. Additionally, they should assist in the budget analysis, monitor quarterly results and make recommendations to the council for remedial action if required. Adjust the 2024 budget to a zero per cent increase.   If you have any questions, please address them to info@westcarling.com   Carling 2024 Budget Analysis Final

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