To say summer in Canada is a big thing is definitely an understatement. After months and months of cold weather, the average Canadian emerges in late Spring with a vigor unlike anything they’ve felt in the past eight months. There’s a strange electricity in the air as everyone gets ready for a few great months of weather before the inevitable cold returns. As such, the majority of us tend to cram as many fair weather activities into our summers as humanly possible.
With that in mind and as school closed for the summer, we grabbed the kids, jumped in the car and headed East to cabin country. Three weeks and 2,100 kms later we were sitting on the dock enjoying warm water on our toes and the feeling you get when you know you made the right decision.
Growing up in the prairies, summer was a special time of exploration and contentment for me. Ever since I can remember, my family has gone camping. I remember staying in tents, tent trailers, truck campers, regular trailers, fifth wheels and even motor homes at different points in my childhood. For years, my aunt owned a large lot in lake country next to a river that half a dozen of my mother’s siblings used as their own personal campground. Every weekend we’d all descend on the place and a dozen of my cousins and I would thoroughly explore the wildlife and all that the area had to offer. Looking back. those moments framed some of my happiest childhood memories.
Just months after I moved out of Manitoba, my parents finally caved in and bought a cabin. Whether they had finally gotten tired of camping or just wanted to lure me back (I had always wanted a cabin) they embraced cottage life with a fervor I hadn’t seen in them in years. It seemed every other word they uttered had something to do with their new place. We’re just going to paint this, rebuild that, move this, chop down that, plant this, etc. It seems that the first thing you learn about cottage life is that there’s always something that needs to be done. Maybe it’s that summer electricity in the air that I mentioned or eight months of stored inertia. Maybe it’s the need to find that perfect place between contentment and satisfaction of a job completed. No matter which way you look at it, cottagers are busy little beavers in the summer.
When I first lived and worked in Calgary in the late 90′s, I would drive the 1,400 kms back to my parents cabin for extra long weekends and those few hard earned weeks of vacation I was hoarding. Besides for getting away to someplace warm for a week in winter, most Canadians will tell you there’s no better time to take a holiday than during the Canadian summer. In those days, extended travel was only a dream of mine, and I still hadn’t found my perfect travel partner. As such, I spent as much time as I could outdoors in the summer. When I wasn’t making the crazy cross country dash for the cabin, I was hiking and camping in the Rockies and touring BC and Alberta on my motorcycle. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t enough.
When Micki and I returned from our first year long trip a few years later, camping became a high priority for us. With a baby on the way, we were thrilled to be able to get out and explore the outdoors while still being fairly close to amenities. We explored from Banff and Canmore all the way into the BC interior. Though mountain camping is great in its own regard, the prairie kid in me still missed warm swimmable lakes and nights by the campfire surrounded by close friends and family.
As we prepared for another long travel trip with our son and pondered what we should do with our house, we decided it was time to rethink our way of life. One of the first conclusions we made was that we didn’t enjoy cold weather or even winter. I spent many long days growing up snowmobiling, skating, skiing, ice fishing, sledding and so forth, but as I got older, I found I was enjoying the outdoors less and less the colder the days became. Micki never really cared for cold weather to begin with so we decided to sell our house and buy a cabin. That way we could enjoy the nice Canadian summers with friends and family and then close it up and travel every winter.
At the time it wasn’t a bad decision, but as things sometimes go, it didn’t work out as well as we hoped. To make a long story short, we sold the cabin last year. We had some good times and more brushes with nature than we thought possible, however, in the end we decided that it was too much cost and work for the shorter and shorter amount of time we were spending there.
On the plus side, since then my parents have torn down their small cabin and have now built a gorgeous house on the lake with a room designed just for us. We now can enjoy cabin life without all the work that goes into it. The best part is that our kids get to know and spend time with their cousins and relatives, and we get to enjoy every moment doing the things I love best about cottage life. Like sitting on the dock watching the water flow by, touring the bays in one of the kayaks, swimming with the kids in the warm water, touring the lake on a speedboat or being pulled behind it on a tube or wake board. Like sitting around a campfire with my family watching the stars brightly twinkling in the darkness and telling stories of our travels or days gone by and listening to their stories while enjoying a cold Corona. Like having friends and family stopping by and pulling out a guitar, mandolin or even some bongos and having impromptu jam sessions around the dying embers of a campfire while dawn slowly approaches.
Whether you call it a vacation from work, at trip back to my youth or simply a way to make life a little more enjoyable, I plan on soaking it all in. Canadian cottage life may not be the equivalent of a world trip or exploring some exotic location on the other side of the world, but to me cottage life is comfort food for the soul. Once you get a taste for it, there’s nothing quite like it.