Monday, June 8, 2009

The Enchantment of Cottaging

Listening to the haunting cry of a loon echoing across the lake, the splash of the paddle as you glide through the water in your canoe, the crackling of the evening bonfire, the lapping of the waves that lull you to sleep. Watching the rising sun chasing the ribbons of mist across the mirror-calm lake, sailboats wafting by, another spectacular sunset, a nighttime sky so heavy with stars that some plummet to earth, the rippling of the moon across the black water. These are just some of the experiences that keep us going back and longing for time at the cottage.

In Canada, “cottages” are waterside dwellings that range from cabins with no running water or electricity to luxurious, multi-million dollar mansions with all the latest gadgets. Most, however, are comfortably in between, many not useable in winter. In Ontario, cottaging began in the last quarter of the 19th century, when travellers discovered the wonder and beauty of the multitude of lakes carved out of the Precambrian shield by glaciers.  Escaping the heat of the cities, people with time and money could spend leisurely summers cooling off lakeside. Many of these cottages have now been passed down through four or five generations, those growing up there, feeling such a strong connection to these family places that they travel great distances - sometimes across the continent - to vacation at the cottage.

 And cottages do tend to be places where family and friends congregate to enjoy the outdoors, chat during morning coffee and afternoon cocktails on the dock, bond over meal preparations, and quietly share the tranquility. It’s little wonder that Friday evenings see an exodus of urban people undertaking the two or four or more hour drive to this sanctuary, with the reverse on Sundays. Our family cottage is on an island, which makes our journey more weather dependent, as the lake crossing - and docking the boat - can be tricky and sometimes impossible in high winds and storms that whip up punishing waves. It’s all part of the challenge of island cottaging - outrunning that wall of water coming at you across the menacing lake. But how glorious once you’re there. And how lucky those who, because they can work from the cottage (some even commute, if they live in towns nearby) or are retired, can spend the entire summer there. 

 My “Muskoka Novels” are set in cottage country, and describe the cottaging ethos prior to WW1, during Muskoka’s Age of Elegance.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Proud to be Canadian

On this 65th anniversary of D-Day, I’m reminded of an encounter we had with an elderly French gentleman last year in Hardelot on the north coast of France. We had gone there to see the ruins of the “castle”, which I had read was a popular spot for the nurses working in the Etaples hospital district during WW1 to go for outings. (The ruins are being restored for use as some sort of international centre.) With our half-remembered high school French, we struck up a conversation with this elderly man out for his daily stroll. When he discovered that we were from Canada, he practically embraced us with tears in his eyes, and thanked us Canadians for liberating him and his family from the German occupation in WW2. The Dutch and Belgians, too, seem to have a special place in their hearts for Canadians.

On the flip side, I recently read an article about a prisoner-of-war camp during WW2, set on the shore of magnificent Lake Muskoka (north of Toronto) and touted to be the Rolls-Royce of camps. It seems that over 30% of the 34,000 Germans who were interred in Canadian prison camps returned to settle in Canada after the war. Surely another accolade for us Canadians.


my inspiration for a series of novels - visit for more info

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Gabriele Wills's books on Goodreads
The Summer Before The StormThe Summer Before The Storm
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A Place to Call HomeA Place to Call Home
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