A passive home in a beautiful setting on Eagle Lake lured Dana and Rose from Arizona for the good vibes of a four-season wonderland
by Gale Beeby | photography by Danielle Meredith
When it comes to picture-perfect settings, Dana McMullen knows a thing or two about the subject.
McMullen, along with his wife Rose Janssen, have opened the EvergreenCSD Gallery of Fine Art Photography and Design Studio in downtown Haliburton that features some of McMullen’s spectacular wildlife and landscape photography.
McMullen was a contributing photographer for National Geographic magazine from 2016 to 2019 and was assigned some of the magazine’s biggest projects, including capturing the majesty of both the U.S. National Parks and the Grand Canyon during their centennial years.
Now he’s brought his immense talents to his new home on Eagle Lake in the heart of Ontario’s Cottage Country as the design part of EvergreenCSD, while his wife Rose runs the consulting and strategy piece – hance the CSD in the name.
It’s the perfect marriage of art and commerce.
Long and winding road
The road to Eagle Lake involved living in a number of different locations in the U.S. before relocating to Canada.
While Janssen is from Iowa and McMullen grew up in Tillsonburg, southeast of London, Ont., the pair met in Atlanta while working for the same global company. At the time, Janssen was living in California and McMullen in Waterloo, Ont.
“I worked with her for months before anything (romantic) happened,” McMullen recalls. “We became friends first. She is an awesome person.”
“We had – and still have – lots of respect for each other professionally,” Janssen adds. “I am always proud to put his work in front of our clients.”
But the strain of a long-distance relationship was too much and McMullen soon relocated to California to be with Janssen and her son and daughter.
From there it was a move to Flagstaff, Ariz., and the creation of EvergreenCSD, which offered communications services, brand strategy and advertising, as well as consulting with companies on how best to deal with corporate and employee communications.
“My daughter went to Northern Arizona University and we really liked the area. It seemed a good fit at the time,” Janssen recalls.
McMullen always wanted to open an art gallery in Flagstaff, but the opportunity never came up.
Home sweet home
McMullen and Janssen decided to move to Ontario’s Cottage Country, partly because of their discomfort with the previous U.S. administration, but also because of health insurance costs, which, according to the couple, were more than their mortgage payments.
It was also because they missed the wonderful four seasons Canada is known for.
“I just needed to be surrounded by nature, living, working, exploring,” McMullen says. “I missed the four distinct seasons and Haliburton has the best of all four.”
“There’s a certain feeling that’s hard to explain that differentiates Haliburton Highlands from other areas in Cottage Country,” they write on their website, EvrgrnCSD.com. “It’s raw, natural, untouched and more honest. More trees, rocks, lakes and wildlife add to the northern experience and leaves you thinking more north, less south; more granite, less concrete.”
In April of 2020, they moved to Eagle Lake. But not without a thorough search of properties in Cottage Country.
“We started looking in Muskoka because that’s what I was most familiar with,” McMullen says. “But this home caught my attention.
“Located on a secluded site on Eagle Lake, the house was a new build featuring Scandinavian design, two acres and a good price. Also, we liked that it was a passive house and close to Algonquin Park.” (A passive house uses the sun to heat it in the winter and the shade of the tree canopy to cool it in the summer.)
“It’s all about positioning,” McMullen says. “There is no direct sunlight in the summer, but in the winter the sun gets through. Also, the walls are 18- to 24-inches thick with blown-in insulation and an R value of R96.”
The house is sealed tight, so there are zero emissions, and there is a high-tech air quality monitoring equipment.
The creation of the gallery – always a part of the couple’s long-term plan – was accelerated because of the pandemic.
“We had planned to work out of our home on Eagle Lake, but when the work slowed down because of COVID, and projects were put on hold, it helped us to decide to open the gallery sooner,” McMullen says.
“We needed to force our own destiny,” Janssen adds. “We shopped around for a location and once we settled on the space at 158 Highland St., we spent three weeks doing the renovations and opened at the end of November.”
The gallery features McMullen’s spectacular photography, with much of the work being limited edition metal prints, featuring salt flats, waterfalls, canyons and bison. Much of the work was captured while he worked for Xanterra Travel Collection, a park and resort management company located in Colorado. Many of the images were taken in Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park.
“The gallery gives me a chance to display and sell some of the photographs, as well as tell the stories behind the images,” McMullen says.
The design aesthetic of the gallery is urban chic with a rustic flair.
“There are white leather couches and big rustic benches and metal sculptures,” Janssen says. “We also wanted it to be comfortable and inviting so we have layered everything like it is a home.”
There’s not a white wall in sight.
The gallery also features the work of other local artisans, including wood craftsmen and sculptures and Evergreen’s new brand of clothing and home decor, More North.
“I’m also working on a coffee table book, which will be called More North, with images of the Haliburton Highlands,” McMullen says.
We’ve got friends
The opening of the gallery in downtown Haliburton, which has been suffering from the fallout of the pandemic along with the rest of Canada, was a strategic plan to help revitalize a struggling town.
“Two things pushed us,” Janssen says. “First was filling up an empty retail space in downtown Haliburton. The second was for us. We didn’t know anybody and needed to meet people, which we weren’t able to do in our secluded spot on Eagle Lake. And we’ve met some great people, people who will be life-long friends.
“Now, more stores are opening in empty spaces. There is a new barber and a new sports store.”
“There is a booming population up here and newcomers want to support local shops and local artisans,” McMullen adds.
“We’ve have felt nothing but good vibes.”