A-Z of Canada: C is for Cottage

the letter C

the-letter-cBefore we’d even flown the kids over to Canada, we were growing familiar with the concept of “the Cottage”. Canadians LOVE their cottages! Give them a long weekend and above freezing temperatures and they’ll be off, up north, chillin’ by the lake or hiking in the forest.
When our realtor (or estate agent for those of you who speak English) left for her cottage, we knew she would be unreachable until she returned.

Coming from the UK, my understanding of a cottage was a quaint, small house, possibly with a thatched roof, thumb-latches on the doors, low ceilings, leaded windows and draughts in odd places, like the one in Oxfordshire I had lived in. I soon found out in Canada a cottage can mean anything from a bare-bones shack on the shores of a primeval glacial lake to a Torontonian’s million dollar playpad equipped with floor to ceiling mod cons, private beach and tennis courts. Here “cottage” is not so much a description of a structure as a conceptual term for the innate Canadian appreciation of the natural world.

Canoe, MistyLake, cottagecountry
Image courtesy of cottagelife.com

I’ve mentioned before how Canadians enjoy the outdoors. I’ve spoken of the trails and woodland parks, conservation areas and lakeshores thronging with people walking, jogging or just sitting – enjoying the moment. Here you don’t feel out of place walking nowhere without a dog. That need to connect with the planet that sustains us is understood and shared. That’s what “The Cottage” is all about.

Canadians understand that this concrete, convenience-driven, electronically connected life is a construct, our own creation. Like a writer that tires of re-reading their own draft, they understand the need to go back to the source to refresh their soul.

canadacottagecountryThe drive to the cottage can last a few hours, depending on how far into Cottage Country it is (yes, that’s really what it’s called!). Driving at night is dangerous, the long arm of the law loosens it’s grip a little as the population thins and the big clusters of civilisation recede, so drunk drivers are a hazard, as are kamikaze deer. But once you make it, in one piece, with your trunk-full of groceries, the pace of life slows to a circadian rhythm. Out here there’s no WiFi, no signal on your phone (unless you hang upside down off the east side of the balcony) no nearby convenience store and no pressure from anyone or anything but yourself. The decor may not be the latest in Ikea-catalogue style, but this place isn’t about impressing, it’s about letting go and remembering what’s important. Taking the time to listen and see the things that so often go unnoticed – birdsong, the clear dewy smell of early morning, mist on the lake and that small voice inside that says what you REALLY think.

hammock, cottagecountry, chillin'People do whatever they like to chill out, whether that’s water sports, swimming, hiking, sitting on the dock reading – you leave your worries behind when you come out here. Some people own their property, others rent. Some have a time-share where you have a few weeks allocated and you negotiate with the other stakeholders about who visits when.

I used to wonder why people went to all the time and expense of travelling to, and maintaining, a cottage when we live so close to the water anyway. But now I understand… it’s about getting away from the hectic pace of everyday life, and you can’t do that where people can find you!


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Whitby Shores, Whitby, Ontario

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


    1. This is the bit where I’m supposed to say “Is that an obtuse reference to the practice known as Cottaging in the UK?” and then advise people to Google it if they’re curious… 🙂

  1. I love the outdoors, I prefer camping to cottages, but I don’t like to camp where there is tent after tent, plus RV after RV. Stick me in the middle of Algonquin Provincial park where there is absolutely no one else around, except for the odd canoeist also looking for that peace and quiet you refer to . Our first camping trip of the year, is always the last weekend in May, and the last trip is Thanksgiving. For Thanksgiving we rent a group site, and camp with brother-in-laws, sister-in-laws, nieces and nephews. We have perfected cooking our turkey in a garbage can, so 20lbs takes about an hour and a half. We even have pumpkin pie!

    1. Wow. I know who to come to for advice. I would love to go camping and hiking through Algonquin, but my youngest is 22 months so she still needs a stroller and is too heavy for me to have on my back. My husband is doing a portage up there in August with a couple of friends from work and I’m very jealous 🙁

      1. When the kids were that young and still in cloth diapers, we did go to regular camp-sites, and they absolutely loved it. Our son was 5, when he first experienced the backcountry and learned how to canoe. My kids will no longer go to a regular camp-site, and look forward to our backcountry trip every summer, exploring a new part of ‘Algonquin every year. I hope your husband has a grand time and hopefully next time, the kids will be with a sitter & the two of you can go.

        1. Hopefully he’ll learn how to canoe, then he can teach the rest of us. It doesn’t look difficult, is it easy to learn? I love being on the water 🙂

    1. Canada is country of extremes. On the one hand you have people who never get out of their cars, yet there’s still a certain pioneer spirit here, and we still have people who are referred to as “Outdoorsmen”!

  2. Here in South Africa, we also have lots of cottages to choose from to escape to for the weekend, they are all in the country and living in Cape Town, we usually go off into the winelands somewhere where we can walk in the mountains, do some market shopping, relax next to a river and be away from the internet!! Glad the Canadians enjoy that too!

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