My “Can-Fam” and I spent a week at our friend’s cottage in Temagami, Ontario: a five-hour drive to North Bay from Toronto, another hour plus drive north from there, and then a boat ride to the island. The island, depending on which boat landing you use, can take 15 to 40 minutes to get to by speedboat.
It felt, and sounds (in UK terms) like we had travelled really far north yet we hadn’t even come close to the summit of the province. Just take a look at a map. Laughable once you see where exactly we were but, people, we were on our own. Secluded and surrounded by water, the island is wild and untamed. I would have liked to include something here about me also being wild and untamed, but that would have been a lie because a) anxiety and b) anxiety. My stupid need to control things. And yet, I love going away to a cottage.
Let me define cottage: this is not a thatched roof construction with tidy lawns and a picnic bench. A cottage in Ontario means forest, lakes, and wildlife. With the population being only half of that of the UK, the only people you’re going to see are the friends you go with (hopefully).
I was fairly silent on the boat ride. It’s not often that I’m so acutely aware of seeing something new for the first time: we tend to have experienced something similar before, something comparable, something we can box away. But in this moment, I knew I was seeing something alien to me.
I was excited and in absolute wonder but my anxiety was prickling me. Nothing new. Every time I return from a trip like this, I congratulate myself. It sounds silly for doing something so privileged but it tests my resiliency and capacity to manage my anxiety away from the known. The first test on this trip came when my friend had to return to the dock to pick up more people leaving me alone on the island. All the What ifs? swam to the surface as my breathing became shallow. Overreacting? Of course, but that’s anxiety. Thankfully, I was left with a cute dog and some tasks to distract me.
The cottage was as close to camping without being in a tent as you could get. Some glamorous additions included a scenic outdoor shower, boat house, and bunkies with bedrooms. Taxidermy pieces like a wing-spread owl and fluffy lynx decorated the interior. It was cute, cosy, and a world away from urban drama.
We spent five days swimming (I can’t, so I floated), reading, and making homemade pizzas on the barbeque. I went fishing, caught a fish, and threw it back (unharmed). Evenings were spent playing camp-style games, drinking, and telling stories. Loon Lodge, accommodation with café on the lake, took me by surprise. Located near family camping, the lodge rents rooms and sells milkshakes, ice creams and lunchtime options so we nipped by for snacks. I didn’t expect the opportunity to shop – whatever the capacity. At the time of writing this Loon Lodge is up for sale and sadly, maybe even be closed.
At night we all lay on the dock haphazardly cuddled together watching shooting stars until it got too cold.
What I’ve typically found in Ontario is that cottages are passed on through generations. People do buy, but it’s generally expensive and proximity to Toronto comes at a cost. Places like Muskoka and Kawartha Lakes are highly coveted and can therefore be pricey, but you can find beautiful cottages anywhere; typically, the further north the more affordable. It helps if you know someone in the area to give you tip-offs. Aside from any opportunities to visit friend’s cottages though (always be a good guest) you can rent: Air BnB, VRBO.com, and a general Google search will find you plenty of options.
Whenever I go away to a cottage with Canadian friends I realize how far I swing to one end of the English spectrum. I seek shade, the indoors, I get restless, and I crave a cup of tea. My Canadians excel at chilling out and I’m beginning to learn: one trip, one mosquito bite, one more tan line at a time.