BRACEBRIDGE, February 7 – Muskoka Magazine is a magazine for Muskoka cottagers, residents and frequent visitors. The magazine covers the rich array of people, lifestyles, events, special places, local issues and activities one will find in this truly unique part of Ontario.

Featured in the February 2009 issue of Muskoka Magazine is My Muskoka written byMarilyn Brooks. It gives a glimpse at how she came to arrive in Muskoka, what keeps her busy there, how she absorbs and channels the natural beauty of her surroundings into her creative works, as well as her take on life in beautiful Muskoka.

Muskoka is a beautiful place to unwind and create

By Marilyn Brooks

I was born in upper New York state but grew up in Michigan. We lived right in the heart of downtown Detroit and the highlight of each summer was when I went to a Clear Lake Camp on Lake Michigan, which was owned by our church. I couldn’t wait each summer to go there and be part of the area that was so beautiful.

Marilyn Brooks-Coles and Kennedy Coles at home in Muskoka

As I grew older, I became a camp counsellor and got to stay for a month each summer teaching crafts. The clear blue water, the pine trees and our little cabins were all part of a special time growing up in Michigan.

In the early 1960s, I drove my Volkswagen across the Ambassador Bridge to start a new job in Toronto as the display director of a series of fashion stores. As I met new people, I was invited to some of their cottages and that was always a highlight of each summer.Marilyn Brooks-Coles painting in her studio at home in Muskoka

One memorable summer evening I was invited to a cocktail party where I met a young man. I could see he was special and had a smile that could light up a great summer party. As we chatted, he asked me out to dinner for the following week. I accepted and over dinner he proceeded to invite me to join him and his six-year-old nephew, Jamie, for a weekend excursion to his cottage on Lake Rosseau.

When we got there and I saw the clear, clean water, I had to have a swim. It felt lovely and I just didn’t want to leave the lake. The water was so blue and so clear. I was hooked on the lake and on the man who brought me there — Kennedy John Lachlan Coles.

For the next two summers, I got to not only enjoy Muskoka, but came to realize Kennedy was the man for me. We were married on April 21, 1982 by his father Rev. Stuart Coles at Calvin Presbyterian church in Toronto.

My other love in life was, and remains, the fashion industry. I have always loved this business and began sewing my own clothes as a teenager. In addition to opening my own line of stores across Canada, I was also the founding president of Toronto Ontario Designers, which has since evolved into the Fashion Designers Council of Canada. Needless to say, I was busy and, believe me, there can be a lot of stress in the “rag trade”, as people call the fashion industry.

Spending every weekend in the summer at Lake Rosseau is what saved me! I arrived on Friday late in the afternoon and by Saturday I would be painting fabric design ideas for the next season or sketching my fashion designs for the next collection. Many were inspired by the colours and patterns that came from the natural surroundings of Muskoka. One summer, for instance, the beavers were working overtime and I ended up with lots of beaver twigs that I made into jewellery for my spring collection.

After each weekend I felt renewed and when I got back to Toronto and the studio on Monday I was refreshed and ready to go again. Today that up and down cycle of stress is behind me.

Two years ago, we sold our condo in Toronto and moved to Muskoka full time. A few years before, we had built our dream home on Lake Rosseau adjacent to the little two- bedroom cottage Kennedy’s parents built in the early 60s. Now the little two-bedroom cottage is my Art House. I love painting in the water with the dock as my easel. Hours just fly by and yet time stands still. It is a wonderful feeling.

I love it now that I am retired and after people go back to the city, we are left to enjoy the quietness and the wonderful songs of nature. Each season is so unique onto it self. We meet more and more people who, like us, appreciate the beauty of Muskoka and have chosen the area as their permanent home.

Maybe coming to Rosseau and living at Coles’ Hill, as we call it, was meant to be. Many moons ago, my Aunt Katherine sent me a picture of myself at the age of five, sitting on a fence at my grandmother’s summer place in upper New York state. Not too long ago, I turned over the picture to see what was written on the back. It read, “Marilyn eating watermelon at Cole Hill.” I was surprised to see the name my grandmother had given her retreat. My beloved home in Muskoka is called Coles’ Hill, a name given to it by the Coles family who bought the property in the 1950s. Perhaps destiny brought me to this paradise in Muskoka.

Marilyn Brooks is one of Canada’s most renowned fashion designers. Burning with an entrepreneurial spirit, she established one of Canada’s first and highly successful one-of-a-kind boutiques, The Unicorn. Over the years she has received numerous awards and even inspired the mayor of Toronto to declare Feb. 3, 1988 to be Marilyn Brooks Day in recognition of her contributions to the Canadian fashion industry. In 2000, she received the Order of Ontario for outstanding contribution and achievements to the fashion industry and mentoring young people.

Reprinted with permission of Muskoka Magazine
February 2009.