Cottage Life

Small blue cottage in Port Stanley with a wooden deck out front and green chairs on it. The cottage has an orange door.

My back yard in the north Toronto neighbourhood of Willowdale was the closest thing to a cottage that I ever owned. It was private, fenced in, surrounded by cedars. I could enjoy the inground pool without feeling watched. On long weekends, it felt like the entire city emptied and headed for cottage country. I only had to open a sliding door to get there.

I don’t remember ever going to a cottage when we were growing up. It just wasn’t what we did. I spent part of every summer with cousins at their farm near Hanover. When we wanted to play in water, there were options nearby.

Now, we live a pebble’s throw from Lake Erie. Generally, we don’t feel the need to escape to another lake. We do experience the urge to take a 10-minute walk to a beach in our village. But when friends invited us up to spend a day and night at their Kincardine-area retreat on Lake Huron, we were happy to go. It had been a couple of years since we’d been up there.


When you don’t own a cottage, it’s not as easy to empathize with those who do. Oh, you can try, but you don’t see the half of it. The chores. Annual maintenance. That’s if it’s a cottage-cottage, and not a new-build monster home on the lake front. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that – just don’t call it a cottage! It’s a lake house, dammit.)

Before we left, I happened to read this article about how to be a good cottage guest (subscription required) in the Toronto Star. Two top tips: don’t show up empty-handed (even if the host tells you to) but don’t bring a whole watermelon! It takes up half the fridge and creates more work for the host.

A cottage owner I know says it’s annoying when there are a dozen chores to do and everyone sits around drinking beer while he does them. The article suggests he should assign chores. People will help out when asked. Some think, hey, I’m on vacation! That means this beer and that chair! Well, the owner is on vacation too and cottages require maintenance and prep for guests. Pitch in for goodness sake.

That can mean stripping your bed sheets in the morning. Hanging towels on the line. Brushing off chair cushions, setting the table, chopping veggies, helping to get a boat out – whatever needs doing. But if you only get an invitation when the outhouse needs renovating, perhaps you should rethink this friendship. Otherwise, their chores are your chores if you’re enjoying their piece of paradise.


Another great tip: ask what to bring, don’t just show up with a bunch of stuff. Friday dinner was set, so we took care of Saturday brunch by bringing most of the ingredients. Derek also grabbed a huge tin of coffee and some snacks. Those things could always go back to the city with our friends.

Internet access might suck so adjust accordingly. I find it a delightful relief, although our friends do have Wi-fi. You might see a bug or two. Prepare yourself for sunshine, rain, cool winds. Cottage owners tell horror stories of visitors who expect them to be stocked like a drug store. If you knew you’d need sunscreen, bring it! It’s not a liquor store, either. Don’t take up one bottle of wine but drink three. It can get awfully expensive to entertain people at a cottage. We need to be sensitive to that.

We have no plans to buy a cottage. It’s just not our thing. We have a home close enough to the lake that we have no trouble finding friends who want to enjoy a few days here with us and while we’re away. Cuddles appreciates that. Oh and that reminds me. Ask whether it’s cool to bring the dog before you head for the cottage, too.

2 thoughts on “Cottage Life”

  1. I spent part of every summer at a family cottage and formed amazing memories- so amazing it makes it challenging to accept the so-called “progress” in town.
    Now that it’s mine, when I invite guests for a weekend, chores can wait (unless there is a specific project I need help with and in that case, I make sure to check with my guests before they arrive to see if they can help).
    I’ve been lucky – my guests always chip in, with drinks, food, food prep, and tidying up. Guess I surround myself with the right kind of people!

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