Ahhhh…. Another warm, summer Friday. It’s already been very sweaty summer for those of us living in Ontario, which drives us to our cottages and lakes, out into the sun. How many of you are hitting the road for your summer retreat today? I don’t have a cottage myself, but I do have others in my life with cottages on the various small lakes of Ontario.
Growing up, there was one cottage I considered my own. My Grandma rented “Broadview” on Presqu’ile from another family for the month of August every summer. A small bungalow that was once covered in pink, wooden siding, then cream, with a big tree in front, an old teeter totter out back, a permanent croquet green behind the cottage next door, and furniture inside that never changed. Every summer, the whole family (about 25 of us) would get together one weekend for a big barbecue, frisbee, catch and croquet matches. My cousin Kyle and I, would hop on our bikes and take off for hours, exploring the trails of Presqu’ile and looking for signs of our parents’ past – you see, my mother and her family had been going to Presqu’ile since they were kids and teens – they were there when bands would come play at the pavilion (now long gone), and their parents would go dancing. They made picnic table pyramids and built forts in the woods. I loved the stories of my mother growing up there, and it tickled me that I got to grow up and run free in the same place. We would get together with other families for boating, tubing, games and barbecues, we would skip stones and hunt for fossils by the lighthouse, taking the best ones into the old museum to be put on display, and my Grandma taught me to be ruthless at cards during those summer visits; I could go on and on, my love for Presqu’ile runs very deep. My Grandma stopped renting the cottage about 20 years ago, in her 80’s, but I still drive down for a walkabout now and then. Last September, the day after my Grandma’s funeral service, my brother and I drove down to Presqu’ile in memory of those summer days. We ran into a few people we knew, and got to go back into Broadview for the first time in 20 years – teary and overwhelmed, we were so happy to see that the furniture still has not changed. While I’m all for change in many ways, sometimes, you find the marvel of time travel in things left untouched.
Another cottage that is very near and dear to me is Island 89 on Stoney Lake. I have visited this island nearly every single summer since I was born. A small island, it is home to a single cottage with my favourite screened-in porch, a boathouse, a sauna, a frolf course that circles the cottage, and a private bit of water that’s perfect for swimming. Many cottagers have traditions and cottage rules – the most important rule on Island 89 is that kids must reach a certain level of swimming proficiency in order to be outside without a life jacket. In the carefree glory of summer, water safety is so important.
I love Island 89. Owned by our great family friends the Minty’s, they spend all of their summer months at their cottage and Len grows out his long, curly cottage hair. Our family visit is a high point of my calendar every year, it is where our families gather to gab, swim, lounge and bask in the glory of cottage life. Our son Henry is getting ready for his third visit to Island 89, and we will be proud show off his own head of long, curly cottage hair when we arrive.
Slip eastward to Haliburton and you’ll find one more cottage I love, my aunt and uncle’s family cottage. Back in 2005, I was granted the gift of one week alone within those cozy wooden walls, and I took full advantage. I was 25 years old, but it was like a coming of age experience. I drove up in my Grandma’s old white Chevrolet Corsica, which I owned for one year, and named Percy. It was squealing something fierce at the time, and I remember feeling just a little embarrassed to be disturbing the peace every time I moved the old girl. Before I left Toronto for the lake, I will never forget my manager at Kinko’s asking me what I would do up there – he was baffled that I would want to spend a week alone, and that I was certain I would not get bored. How could I get bored though? My co-workers made me a little activity book to keep me busy, filled with games and tasks. I kept that book and re-read it a few months ago; it turned out to be a very entertaining journal. So what did I do with my time? I walked, I swam, I lay in the sun, I read, I went out in the paddle boat, I visited the Haliburton Sculpture Forest, I took photographs – in fact, I stood still for 30 minutes one evening waiting for the perfect hummingbird photo, and got it!, I rented VHS movies from a shop in town, I ate fresh market veggies and a basket of peaches, I barbecued every day, I went on a day trip to visit my aunt in Dwight, I painted the view of the lake as a gift for my aunt and uncle for letting me visit, I had the BEST week. I hardly touched my guitar because I was too busy doing other things. It was impossible to be bored at the cottage.
Head even further east to Bancroft and we find ourselves at another cottage that has become dear to me. My very good friends Laura and Andrew invited a handful of friends to Andrew’s family cottage somewhere in the neighbourhood of 15 years ago. We were only a year or two out of university, full of energy, and had an incredible weekend. We did all the usual things – swimming, sunning, campfires with guitars and great songs, hikes to the nearby falls, beers, wine, and lots of fun. My friend Ryan and I took the canoe out to the middle of the small lake at about 2am one night. As we drifted there on the still, ripple-free water, loons called out behind us, and wolves cried out before us. THAT was a Canadian moment. Fast forward to 2017, I returned to that cottage with Laura and Andrew, my husband Matt, and the 3 kids we have between us. We swam, canoed, hiked to the falls, had a fire, and lots of fun, just as we did when we were younger. I have just learned that Laura & Andrew have bought a cottage of their own on that lake, and I can’t wait to spend many summers to come, watching our kids grow in the woods and on the water.
Finally, we must leap west to the Muskoka’s – the most well-known cottage country in our province, with one more very special cottage called Linger Longer. This is Caroline’s husband Colin’s, family cottage. Built by his grandfather in about 1920, it has seen a few generations grow up free and wild on the water. When not on the road, this is where Caroline spends as many summers days and nights as she can. I’m lucky to have shared some memories with Caroline there, including her wedding. It was perfect. Colin proposed on the island, and months later, Kerri and I sang her down an aisle lined by pine trees and bedded in fallen pine needles. The two exchanged vows on a rock, surrounded by friends and family who stood under trees, sat on the porch steps, or looked down from the porch railing. There was a tasty potluck dinner, beer in a shallow, sandy area of the lake down by the boathouse, and square dancing in the great room as evening fell. Now, Colin and Caroline are watching their own kids grow up free and wild on the water, and it’s a beautiful thing. Linger Longer is a social spot where they are surrounded by extended family, and I love getting the opportunity to join them, lounge on the deck, slip into the lake, and sit around the fire with my friends at night.
We are so lucky to have such an abundance of beautiful cottage country in Ontario. Go enjoy it, unplug, stay for a few weeks, (skip the traffic and go on a Tuesday!), live free and wild on the water. Oh, and be safe 🙂