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Niagara-on-the-Lake
Monday, September 26, 2022
Ross’s Ramblings: Spring is here, with traditions and confusion about ‘the cottage’
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Spring is teasing us, and even the NOTL dog walkers seem to have a spring in their steps. Dogs are tugging at leashes and dog walker discussions are solving many of the problems in our towne and our world.

For many, the first puffed-out and proud robin's breast has signalled that spring is nigh. Or almost nigh.

For me and many other NOTLers, the annual two-day parade of effulgently coloured Whirlpool Jet Boats on trailers says, “Hold on a bit longer, warm weather is coming soon.” Company owner, head river guide and chief mechanic John Kinney confirmed the same livery will be used this year. Purple, yellow, orange, white, aqua blue, green and hot pink.

Who needs a licence plate when your 1,200-horsepower boat is painted purple?

Follow me now, as I ramble about a subject near and dear to the hearts of many Canadians, coast to coast to coast. We are so used to talking about our summer vacation at the cottage, but this simple term causes confusion to many newer Canadians.

In northern Ontario and out west, summer getaway places usually are called “camps.” In La Belle Province, it's “le chalet,” which sounds somehow a bit classier. Je ne sais quoi?

How about the current kerfuffle after some national newspapers referred to the Harrington Lake estate used by Canada's prime ministers as their official country residence as “Justin Trudeau’s country home?” Some Canadians found this description to be provocative and perhaps it was lousy journalism.

Now, to the unintentional confusion and misunderstanding surrounding the term “the cottage.” As in, “we’re going up to the cottage for the first weeks of July.” Or, “our family will be at the cottage for the first week of August.” Innocent and happy statements, eh?

But a good friend of mine, an American from southern Connecticut on Long Island Sound, who had spent seven years in southern Florida in her twenties, was confused by this innocuous term.

In her mind, it costs a fair bit of money to have a second home, on the ocean, on a lake, or at a ski area. Some of her friends here in NOTL, people of limited means, kept referring to “going to the cottage.”

So many Canadians, so many, talked about the cottage where they enjoyed vacations.

Indeed, a friend of mine in Chautauqua, a proud Irishman and intense rugby fan, recently told me that during his first few years living in Toronto, he thought there must be a summer resort up north called “The Cottage.” So many of his work colleagues and neighbours talked about going up to “The Cottage” next month for a few days or a couple of weeks.

No one was putting on airs, or being pretentious, they were just talking Canajan. Eventually, the penny dropped and the situation around “the cottage” became clear to him.

Someone finally said, “We traded our July week at our family cottage with my sister’s family for their week in August.” Aha! It was explained that the third generation families of grandpa and grandpa, who had built “the cottage” as part of the Canadian dream, sat down each February and discussed who would get to use “the cottage” for which weeks during the upcoming summer.

Now, that made sense.

As we finish up this discussion about “the cottage,” let me recount a family conversation from about 1958 in Etobicoke. That summer, I had been invited up to my friend Bob Chapman’s cottage for five days. And, the next week, I had been with my buddy Dave Brennen at his cottage for a week. Lots of waterlogged fun, swimming, riding in their boat, bonfires, swatting mosquitoes, exploring the woods.

“Dad, maybe we should buy a cottage, so I could invite them up to our cottage next summer.” Social graces, even then.

My father, who was never judgmental, apparently replied, “Ross, a million Canadians can’t be wrong, but our family will never own a cottage. From what I have seen, no one owns a cottage. The cottage owns them. They are obliged to spend every summer weekend there, entertaining friends, doing never-ending odd jobs, fighting traffic to and fro.'

"We are saving to take you and Pat for a two-week camping trip to the Maritimes next summer, and in three years, we are planning to go to the Calgary Stampede and to visit relatives out west. If we had a cottage, we couldn’t do those things.”

So there you go. The good Lord makes chocolate and vanilla, and at least 30 other flavours.

Who knew the simple expression “the cottage” could mean so many different things to so many Canadians?