Northumberland County offers a serene backdrop and a calming, secluded lifestyle that encourages creativity, and a welcome change of pace
Serendipity plays a role in everybody’s life. But those of us who’ve lost our hearts to Northumberland County swear there’s something magical about the way fortune and timing join forces to draw us to this exquisite part of the country. It’s the kind of magic that Linda Schuyler swears by. The powerhouse producer/director/ screenwriter, who, along with her producer/lawyer/ husband Stephen Stohn, gave the world the celebrated Degrassi franchise, lives between a Toronto harbour high-rise and a 110-acre estate outside of Grafton.
It’s been 12 years since Linda and Stephen discovered their paradise, and while having a country retreat was something they both longed for, Northumberland County was never really in the cards. But one enchanted weekend, desperate for a getaway from production pressures, they called Ste. Anne’s Spa to see if there were any openings. Luckily, the spa had a cancellation, so Linda and Stephen checked in for a couple of days
A post-dinner walk that first night proved to be the start of their mystic journey. “It was pitch black… you could actually see stars,” recalls Linda, a twinkle in her eye. “You could hear crickets. We asked ourselves, ‘When was the last time we were aware of that sort of night sensation, and those night noises?’ We hadn’t any idea it was so beautiful out here.” The next day, Stephen was at the front desk, inquiring about the possibility of timeshares at the spa. While the spa had no intention of that particular business model, he was told that Nancy Corcoran, the innkeeper, and her husband John (brother of spa-owner Jim Corcoran) had their house up for sale.
The Corcorans’ fabulous house had been built as their forever home about eight years previously, but now they’d decided to buy a boat and pursue a different lifestyle. As soon as Linda and Stephen took a look around the sprawling property, they were hooked, and by the time they got back to the city, the deal, in principle, was done for the house and 40 acres. “That was the most expensive spa weekend!” Linda laughs.
Not long after, the opportunity arose to purchase a neighbouring 70 acres. The total privacy made for the perfect weekend respite the busy couple was looking for. “We had Degrassi down to a science. We tried to create a family-friendly production environment so we wouldn’t have to work overtime and we wouldn’t do weekends. I was able to schedule my life so I could come here earlier on Fridays to miss the rush and then Stephen would come out at the end of the day. Then ideally, I’d go back Monday mornings.”
Linda loves their proximity to the city – only a 90-minute drive when traffic allows. “And I’ve got my markers,” she shares. “When I’m on the 401 and Highway 35/115 comes up, that’s my first big exhalation. Then I turn into our stone gates…and I’m in another world.”
With such a stark duality in her lifestyle, I wondered if the constant ‘back and forth’ existence might be a little crazy-making at times. “Oh no,” Linda claims. “I feel like I’m home when I’m here. You see, I grew up in Paris, Ontario, a small town of 6,000 at the time. As a young teenager, I couldn’t wait to get out, but now…” And Linda stops to reflect on just how much she savours the slower, easier pace of life outside the city. “When I’m driving in downtown Cobourg for example, it’s so much like driving in downtown Paris. Stephen will never embrace it in quite the same way that I have because he’s a city boy… but I feel like I’m home here and like I’m visiting when I’m in the city.”
Still, Linda maintains that purchasing their Northumberland County home has been the healthiest thing that she and her husband have ever done for each other. “We’ve got the Shelter Valley Creek that goes through the property, and we’ve got beautiful walks we’ve made through the forest so that we have access in all seasons.” She also relishes how she and Stephen use their producing skills when they take on new projects at their property. They even repaired a dam. “We’re project people,” she admits, and all the negotiating and diplomatic skills they’ve developed in show biz over the years have helped them with the various levels of government they’ve had to deal with when completing some of the projects on their property. They’ve also learned a lot about the environment, and that’s been tremendously satisfying: as a former junior high school teacher, Linda is always hungry for information.
At 72, having been named to both the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada, this award-winning dynamo, who managed to capture the zeitgeist of a whole generation, feels like she’s ready to blaze new trails, and tell new stories.
“We’ve converted an old barn at the top of our property into a studio. It’s such a beautiful place to sit and write.” For all the scripts Linda’s helped develop over the years, little was written by her. “I’ve never had to sit down alone with a computer and start spitting stuff out. And sitting up here in this property, I’ve broken through that and I’m actually writing,” she shares.
While her husband currently serves as Chancellor at Trent University, Linda is Vice-Chair of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, lectures at various colleges and universities, and is completing a book about the history of Degrassi and her life as a female entrepreneur, because, she claims, they’re so intertwined.
Personally, I can’t wait to read the book that Linda’s reflective time in Northumberland County has inspired. It’s going to be called Head On. You see, when Linda was only 20, she survived a near fatal head-on collision – another one of those twists of fate that served to catapult her into brave new life directions – a mere taste of the serendipity that was to come, and that helped bring her to this serene neck of the woods – a place she can lovingly call “home”.