As I travel to and fro this summer, I am feeling beyond spoiled to have friends and family with cottages, cabins and gorgeous getaways on the shores of various lakes and oceans across this great country.
Mention the words, “going to the cottage” to many Ontarians and you’ll get a big, wide grin. Cottaging is a way of life in these parts, where there are 250,000 lakes and 100,000 kilometres of rivers. Much more so then in other provinces. This is a part of Canada that inspired the Group of Seven and from the lakeside mansions of Muskoka to the ramshackle sheds that dot the shorelines across the province, Ontarians hold their cottage time dear.
It gets a different name depending on where in Canada you engage in the art of cottageing. In B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland it’s called a cabin. In Ontario it’s a cottage, but in northern Ontario and New Brunswick it’s also called camp. In Quebec it’s a chalet and Manitobans often say they’re going to the lake (with the mosquitos).
To anyone who spends time at one, the cottage is a magical spot to get away to. A place that is often a reminder of childhood, family and a sense of belonging. And for me having spent summers on Lake Superior, then Georgian Bay along with summer camp in Muskoka, that’s why I will always jump at any invitation to such a place.
Everything revolves around water and the weather. A sunny day means water sports. Rain means baking and indoor games and cabin fever. Cocktails start midday regardless.
There is a certain way of doing things. Everyone has their role and everyone seems to know how to park a motorboat with ease. (How did I miss that lesson?! Oh I know, my Dad was busy teaching me the fine art of canoeing.)
I’ve noticed these are places men like to get busy fixing things, doing physical labour and talking about boats, even if these are not habits they have in the city. Among other things, women manage the constant flow of guests.
There is a definite fashion sense: Rumpled, relaxed, untucked and a touch boho. Flip flops and flat sandals. Never heels. Ever. The message is, look how good I look without even caring.
Part of the charm of an old family cottage is that it fools you into believing that nothing ever changes. At a friend’s cabin on Qualicum Beach, B.C., the bathroom walls are covered in framed faded photographs of generations of kids, all grown up now. (The shower curtain in the pictures is the same one that still hangs.) And when my family’s cottage was sold many decades after my grandfather built it, the same butter dish sat in the exact spot it always had for all those years.
If you’re lucky enough to get invited to a summer getaway, be sure to arrive with lots of booze, clean up after yourself, pitch in, go with the flow, offer to pay for gas for the boat and always adhere to the house rules. (Every cottage has them.)
I do wonder what the future holds for the family cottage. Most owners nowadays are middle aged or older. Today’s millenials have other priorities and many are struggling to buy a place in the city and can’t imagine a luxury as grand as a simple shed on a lake. The times they are a changin’.