Cottage Country – A Canadian Rite of Passage


“I’m heading up North” – though vague sounding, is a Canadianism for the rite of passage (for many) that often starts in your youth; sometimes you are lucky enough to have a cottage that has been in your family for generations, or maybe you’ve rented a property somewhere for the week. “Up North”  indicates to the listener that you’re heading to Haliburton, Algonquin, North Bay, Penetanguishene,  Georgian Bay, the Kawarthas, the Thousand Islands, Bobcaygeon or Muskoka. You would likely be somewhere in the Canadian shield, amidst shield rock and on one of the thousands of lakes or rivers that spread across the area directly North of the Greater-Toronto-Area (GTA) and extend into the wilderness of the North.

A quick search for “Ontario Cottages” yields a wide array or cottage getaways, from McMansions on the lake, with speedboats, jetskis and floating trampolines, to quaint log cabins and family places with bunkies for overnight guests.

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I just got home from the Haliburton Highlands, where a family friend shared her lovely cottage (a truly impressive new-build) on a lot beside a quirky old place that had been in her family for years. What a beautiful few days.

It had never occurred to me that Up North wasn’t universal until our exchange students from France asked (over a decade ago), something to the effect of ‘what do you mean by zees ‘Up Nort’?’

The Wolfe Islander Ferry

The Wolfe Islander Ferry

We had a cottage for all of my childhood, on Wolfe Island, on Lake Ontario, just a short ferry boat ride away from Kingston. My grandmother used to cottage there as a girl, and later she and my grandfather retired there and built a home on the same property as the log cabin cottage that I stayed in throughout my youth. It was the best thing a kid could have as a place to forge memories. I spent my days out of doors, building rock castles for minnows, waiting until the appropriate hour of 8 am to run up the hill to Granny’s, lazing on a screened-in porch and playing board games, sitting by the fire, reading books, climbing the birch trees, making forts and jumping in and out of the lake.

I wish so much that we’d kept the property in our family, but I will be having the chance soon to re-visit the island with my nieces. About three years ago I went with my wife to the island and we knocked on the door. The current inhabitants asked if I was the same Alison whose name was carved into the cement of the steps down by the cottage. Yes, that’s me. They offered us lemonade and let us see the property and sit down by the lake. It makes me happy that a new family is loving it as much as we did.

This time around, I was visiting and enjoying a cottage far more luxurious than either the one I knew, or the house I now own. Field stone and granite and wood, oh my. It was truly a gem and its location will remain a secret. Highlights included amazing meals.

a great jump in the lake.


visiting the local wildlife preserves and study facilities

a tour of the sculpture forest

sleeping soundly in a room with windows open (but not too open in case of bears). 

Landscapes that rival a Group of Seven Painting (who is the that?…A group of seven prolific Canadian painters). Here are some examples:

Varley - Stormy Weather

Varley – Stormy Weather

Macdonald - Mist Fantasy

Macdonald – Mist Fantasy

Casson - White Pine

Casson – White Pine

Tom Thomson - The namesake painter of my elementary school.

Tom Thomson – The namesake painter of my elementary school.

So, enjoy these days of summer. Get outside. Get up North. Get into the water. Where is your little piece of paradise?


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