Dock Days of SummerPublished on May 19, 2023


  • Photo by: Jordann Brown

  • Photo by: Jordann Brown

  • Photo by: Jordann Brown

  • Photo by: Jordann Brown

  • Photo by: Jordann Brown

  • Photo by: Jordann Brown

As the remnants of a warm summer breeze skirt across the lake and the setting sun paints the sky periwinkle, almost a dozen members of a large but close‑knit extended family enjoy the moment together, just as they have over many summers. A location steeped in family history, the cottage owner’s great‑grandfather set down roots on Big Rideau Lake in the early 1900s, along the 24 kilometres spanning the largest and deepest segment of the Rideau Canal Waterway.

One of seven children, the owner reminisces about summers spent lakeside and claims that it was only natural for him to snatch an undeveloped property in the area nearly 40 years ago, with 4.8 hectares of land and 450 metres of shoreline. “Our property has a natural isthmus that creates a very protected bay area where we can dock our boats, and we have a sandy beach which is very rare on the Rideau Lakes,” he explains, speaking of what drew him and his wife to that particular spot. Eventually, due to the passing of time and the welcoming of three daughters, then their partners and their children, the once modest four bedroom cottage simply could not sustain the growing brood. So, adding a two-bedroom cabin and a second full-service cottage was deemed necessary.

Living full-time in Toronto, one daughter credits summers at the cottage as a basis for the family’s close relationships, despite the physical distance. “What I think makes any cottage special is its ability to serve as a gathering space for a family — a place where we can come together even if we live in different cities because it gives us a central place to spend time together.” Engaging in typical cottage activities like fishing, tubing, sailing, and stoking bonfires means little time is spent indoors. That meant additional living spaces weren’t the only necessary upgrades. It remained pertinent that the family retain the ability to enjoy outdoor gathering spaces, including a central fire pit and a brand-new dock, which serves as a morning meet-up point to plan the summer day ahead.

There exists a family rule, though, explains another daughter. “You’re not allowed to tell anyone else that they can’t come,” she says, laughing while insisting the existence of a family cottage is time spent together, which means there is no divvying up of weekends. It isn’t only reinforcing bonds with one another that they all appreciate about cottage living but also re-connecting with the natural world surrounding them. “It’s healthy for the kids to be out in nature and push themselves — they’ve learned to swim, they jump off the boat and the rocks, they’ve tried water-skiing, they play in the tree fort, and navigate through the woods in an attempt to find [the mineral] mica…they put away the iPads! To be integrated with nature is really nice for them.”

It isn’t only the kids that benefit from summers spent at the cottage, explains the third daughter, who is thrilled that all three of the sisters have become dog moms, thus incorporating a new dynamic of furry friendships into the family. “They are all the same colour but different breeds, and they love being at the cottage and being together, and they get so excited when they see each other.”

Nonetheless, there are moments of pure blissful relaxation among the hectic and chaotic hustle and bustle that naturally radiates from a large and loving family. It’s not unusual to observe a doe and baby fawn making their way around the cottage as the sun rises early in the morning or to equally revel in the beauty of the full moon dancing across the lake in the blackness of the night.

The hope is simply to enjoy time together and to pass this ability on to future generations so that no matter what direction life pulls them in, there is their spot on Big Rideau Lake.

Hollie Grace James

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