BARRY’S BAY, ON - Theirs had a sauna. Big bonus. Theirs had a wasps’ nest. Big minus. (The spray stuff you buy in grocery stores to eliminate the kamikaze pests, by the way? Good luck with that.) Theirs had a swimming raft with a kid-friendly slide on it. Check. Theirs was well equipped for a family of four, two adults and two kids, ages 2 and 6.
Plus, theirs had a separate mini-cabin, a “bunkie” for visitors. Although, according to someone who stayed over in it, there was a permanent resident, a chipmunk. Who arose with the sun. Noisily.
Ours was bigger. We had, not four, not five, not six, not seven, but eight beds. In three bedrooms.
Ours had a big kitchen, a big dining table, a big covered deck, a dishwasher and a barbecue with not two, not three, not four, but five burners. As these devices go, this one was deluxe, mucho macho.
Left: Bonding time with grandpa. Right: Even the family pet likes to take a dip in the lake.
Residents of both Ontario cottages last July had equally fabulous times. This is what Canadian summers are made of — going to the cottage (aka, the cabin), even if you don’t own one. It is a grand and honoured tradition. Go Up North (if you are not already there and the vast majority of Canadians live within a couple of hundred kilometres of the U.S. border), set up for a week or two of swimming, sun-burning, listening to local FM radio (The Moose, 106.5, Barry’s Bay, The Valley’s Greatest Hits. Love it!) and cursing the existence of mosquitoes, deer flies, the aforementioned wasps and especially, damn them, horse flies. (The latter love to skim the surface of the lake, zig-zagging, homing in on human blood, miniature drones, vampires. What they have to do with horses, who knows. They should be called hell flies.)
Counter-balancing the bugs are the nightly campfires. There is something primal about gathering around and gazing into the glowing embers. Did you hear the loons? Have you ever skinny dipped? So that’s why they call it the Milky Way.
We were connected, of course, the two cottages in question.
The “theirs” cottage was occupied by my eldest daughter, her husband and their two kids, visiting from their home in Hong Kong. She spent much of her childhood in the general area of the Madawaska Valley, east of Ontario’s vast and celebrated Algonquin Park, but has lived in the Far East for some 15 years now. Her husband is British-born, but long ago made his own form of Brexit. Over the years they’ve become somewhat experienced cottage renters, but this is their first kick at the kayak (yes, one came with both the rentals) in a couple of years.
The “ours” was occupied by me, my other adult daughter, my adult son, his (need I say, adult?) girlfriend and her dog, named Downie. I’d been forewarned, but was still stunned at this canine’s love of the water. Equal parts Shepherd, Boxer, Labrador, Navy Seal, Jacques Cousteau and Michael Phelps, he swam laps of hundreds of metres and spent hours on end collecting rocks just big enough to fit in his generous jowls. He’d arrange them on the grass above the little beach, then set off in search of more (which we’d throw back in, he was tireless). His molars are a little ground down by this passion for rocks, but his spirits are grandly elevated. Rock on, Downie.
Left: Summer cottage is a true Canadian tradition. Right: Lake-front properties are the most prized.
Theirs cost $1,100 a week. It was on Kamaniskeg Lake, south of Barry’s Bay on Highway 60, a town with all the essentials, including two supermarkets, a bakery, a beer store and a liquor store. Yes, there is also a ubiquitous Tim Horton’s outlet complete with Wi-Fi. Highly recommended is a side visit to Grumblin’ Granny’s, a gift shop loaded with weird and wonderful wares from all over the globe, in addition to the more expected local arts and crafts. The shop is especially popular on those rainy days.
Our cottage was east of the same town (a three to four hour drive from Toronto, a couple of hours from Ottawa to the east) on the somewhat smaller but also picturesque Trout Lake. The price for a week was $1,000. All things considered, I thought this was a bargain. The place was neither posh nor crude. Everything worked. There was a canoe and a beach with a bit of sand and a gradual entrance to the water, life jackets, a clothes line, a covered front porch and a dock and two fire pits, plus that honkin’ big BBQ. We brought our own sheets and towels. There were helpful labels on this and that, which might not have been spelled correctly but were still helpful. One of them on a kitchen drawer, for example, read: “CULTLURTY/OPENERS.
The cost of cottaging, of course, ranges wildly. We were on a budget and found these two places on the lower end of the expense scale. To get anything cheaper in the prime summer months in this area would be difficult, perhaps only in cruder and much less accessible properties.
For those with higher expectations and larger wallets, of course, the summer skies are the limits.
There are all sorts of websites featuring the likes of a cottage/castle on the Lake of Bays in high-demand Muskoka that advertises itself as once being featured on the cover of Canadian House and Homes. It has “120 year old plank heart pine throughout” and is “Palladian inspired.” With five bedrooms and three bathrooms, it typically rents for $5,000 week.
Not far away from that little Shangri-La as the crow flies, an island cottage that sleeps three in modest style is advertised for $895 per week, including two water taxi trips.
On the Cottages In Canada website, I found a spot in British Columbia’s South Cariboos renting for $7,200 per month and featuring a “large lawn for Bocce Ball or Crochet” (sic).
On the flip-side, you could buy, outright, a very nice cottage in Nova Scotia, near the ferry to Prince Edward Island, for $68,000.
As always with internet deals, it is buyer beware. I’ve come across plenty of stories of folks arriving at the cottage of their dreams only to find little nightmares in progress, be it no running water or in rare cases, facilities double booked or, even, non-existent.
Commercially operated groups of cabins are a viable no-surprise option, especially for families with kids as they usually feature playgrounds and roped off, sometimes supervised, beaches. Shared ownership or leasing of properties, families taking a couple of weeks here and there, is becoming more popular, too.
The lifestyle is sufficiently established that there are TV channels, magazines and websites devoted to it. As a start, try: http:www.cottagesincanada.com or http://www.cottagerental.com