Dock building and repair just got bogged down in red tape; Ministry approval now needed


If you’re a builder, contractor or even a waterfront property owner, you may not like this.

From now on, Ministry approval as well as the customary municipal approval will be required from anyone wanting to build, replace or expand a dock on or above more than 15 square metres of shoreline (161 square feet). The same now applies for single-storey boathouses as well.

That covers about 95 per cent of the applications Lake of Bays Chief Building Official Stephen Watson says the municipality gets.

“The big concern is when the cottagers come up from wherever they live and find that their dock has been damaged due to ice, they’re going to come to me thinking that I can give them a building permit in less than 10 working days, because that’s what I’m obligated to do,” said Watson, adding that he will not be able to issue municipal permits until the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has signed off on it.

Contractors are not very happy. This is not only for a new dock; this is for repair of an existing dock. If you were applying to me for a building permit for a dock, I’d say to you I need a copy of the MNR’s approval first. I don’t know what it looks like yet. I haven’t seen one. Lake of Bays Chief Building Official Stephen Watson

The change is a direct result of a June 2015 court decision stemming from an incident on Big Cedar Lake in the Township of North Kawartha. A resident built a floating dock and a boathouse over it without a building permit from the Township or the Ministry. The judge found that, among other things, the owners of the boat house should have acquired an occupancy permit as well as a building permit for the structure even though it was not actually touching the bed of the lake. That decision, issued by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, “impacts the Ministry’s oversight of docks and single-storey boathouses on public lands and shore lands,” explained MNRF spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski.

“As a result of the Court’s decision, Ministry authorization, under the Public Lands Act, will now be required for new, replacement or expansions of existing and seasonal docks and single-storey boat houses on or above more than 15 square metres of shore lands. Permits for boathouses taller than one storey have always been required,” she added.

There’s still no news on how long it will take the Ministry to issue the permits and Kowalski said no additional hires are planned to deal with the increase in applications at this time.

Watson thinks the real test will come this summer. He said all of the applications in Muskoka will go to the MNRF office in Parry Sound.

Watson and other Chief Building Officials in Muskoka have been trying to spread the word to alert dock manufacturers and contractors of the changes.

“Over the last five or seven years their (MNRF) staff have been cut dramatically so now, I don’t know how many permits they’re going to receive but the Township of Lake of Bays issues on average 50 or 60 permits a year,” he explained.

Watson thinks the MNRF will get thousands of permits a year from Muskoka alone, which could see the local Parry Sound branch flooded with permit applications at the height of construction season.“To be fair with them they were just told to do it… but they don’t know how many permits they’re going to get.”

You can find the court decision that prompted the change through this link provided by the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Association. You can also find MNRF information on permit requirements here.


  1. Chris Featherstone on

    The “real test will come this summer” … no the real test is going to begin immediately.

    Damage to docks due to flooding is happening right now. The irony is that the MNRF has made minimal effort to solve this annual problem of extremely high spring water levels and now they have the nerve to delay repairs to docks and create a backlog of permit applications. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would see a connection here.

  2. Stephen Winter on

    I am on Lake of Bays and I am glad that my dock comes out every year. We used to have a dock that got pushed by the ice every winter but back in 2003 we went with one that comes out every fall. So much easier and I am happy with the low maintenance

  3. Bruce St. Louis on

    Replacement of my dock is already underway…! The plan and purchase of components have been completed…! I have to question the rules around how these changes get implemented.

  4. Dietmar Schade on

    I have lived on my Rosseau river property and have never had flood concerns for over 30 years and over the last 3 years have had water levels rise like never before and have had water in my house. I blame this totally on the MNR for not controlling the water levels. There are enough cottagers that have had damages to their properties due to this year’s high water levels which the MNR is supposed to control and have failed miserably at. Considering the damage done alone on the lakes if I had more connections I would enact a class action law suit against the MNR for failing to properly manage water levels. This same thing happened a few years ago and nothing has changed. How much of this mismanagement is to continue? They are, in my opinion, educated idiots.

    • We have a marina on Lake Joe which we have operated for the last 35 years. Prior to the last 3 or 4 years there was high water in the spring almost up to the top of our docks but it was manageable. Two years ago our gas dock on piles was 4″ under water. This year our docks are 2″ under water and the snow melt hasn’t finished.
      The winter draw down over the last 4 years has been substantially less than the prior 30 years. In some instances 18″ less. The experienced people must have been let go so the water levels are being guessed by newbies who have wreaked havoc.

  5. Put a motor mount on your floating dock and it becomes a boat. No permit required. Get boat numbers from the Feds and slap them on visibly.

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