In southern Ontario Canada, every summer weekend is characterized by a mass exodus of motorists heading to a cottage oasis. Not to suggest that there aren’t other things to do in and around the Toronto area but some would say that on some summer Friday afternoons you can almost walk from Toronto to Barrie across the top of car hoods, about 100kms of stop and go voyagers.
For many, it’s about the need to just get away and be happy to be busy doing nothing, while for others, cottage life is filled with watersports, fishing, bbq’s and cold ones by the lake. The appeal has spawned an industry few could have imagined filled with television shows and magazines, resorts and rentals not to mention the waterside mansions that I can’t call a cottage.
I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to enjoy time around the water with family and friends. I think more than anything, that is what cottage life is – which stems from my childhood memories and simpler times……….
With the help of his wife and children, dad completed building our cottage in the mid 60’s on Lake Nipissing in Northern Ontario Canada. I say completed but those days we referred to our summer vacation home as a “camp” and like most camp’s, these rustic and yet usually solid dwellings were rarely ever complete. But, by my mother’s standards who had only one stipulation, Coleman lanterns and wood burning stove and all, there must be an indoor toilet, and with that installed and employed by pouring a pail of water down to flush – all was well in the world and fait accompli!
What an amazing feat – 3 bedrooms, a large living area, kitchen and washroom with the structure aptly dubbed “The Red Cap Camp”; after my mother’s favorite beer! Initially there were no roads to our camp and all materials had to be rafted or boated in and my father was neither a carpenter, plumber nor builder – but in those days people did things for themselves and with no surprise, the bones of the camp were so sound that years later it was upgraded to a beautiful 4 season lake house.
It seemed like entire winters were spent in wait for our summer cottaging, with the traditional start of the season being Canada’s celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday – a long weekend held on the second last Monday every May.
Getting there was always an adventure, 5 or so hours with 5 kids and a dog all loaded into a station wagon and a great many sandwiches which were always gone within the first 30 minutes.
Our journey always had two milestones. First, we always stopped to get gas and stretch our legs at the same location that housed an orphaned bear – his name was “Pete” who we affectionately called, “Pete The Bear”. The second was not a stop at all but a recognition that we had almost reached our destination when at the same point in the road seeing our lake in the distance we would all simultaneously let out a loud “cheer” applauding our highly anticipated arrival.
Cottage life was early to bed and early to rise and very active in between. That’s the funny thing about cottages, even today the imagery is all about rest and relaxation but for most people the therapeutic tonic is about puttering around and tinkering with something.
We always had things to fix and build, leaves to rake and the fire pit was forever smoldering. Yet we found time to play horseshoes, go fishing, swim and pick berries for mom’s pies. Rainy days were like a day off spent playing cards or monopoly and enjoying our one luxury and only contact with the outside world – listening to songs on our battery powered radio. I remember days starting with the smell of pancakes and ending with bbq’s and all you can eat fish fries depending on our successes – we were always hungry and there was never a shortage of food.
And I can still see dad’s old Scott outboard motor hanging from a two by four between two trees. That motor was about the only thing that could get to him while at camp, as he pulled the cord about a dozen times to try and start it – we always had to stifle our chuckles and strike choice words from our memory.
What I remember most is how the world seemed to pause, pure joy, togetherness and surprisingly, the moose antlers in the main room with hats hanging from each tine. Contrary to Benjamin Franklin’s old saying, “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”, there are few things that must be done today at the cottage.
One other funny thing, I cannot remember one trip back home.