My siblings and I jointly own a summer cottage in Canada that my father left to us in his will. Growing up in Buffalo, we spent our summers in Canada, in our early years at a place we called Three Acres upon which my father and his buddies hand-built six very rustic cottages in the 1950s.
Almost fifty years later my dad upgraded to a new place—bigger, with reliable plumbing and tap water you can actually drink. A house with a real foundation instead of cinder block piers that were sinking into the ground. A house whose bedroom walls extended to the height of the ceiling and the doors themselves were actual doors and not just curtains. A place for the Klein kids and grandkids to gather.
These days we come up to Canada when we can from distant places and with various parts of our families and we spend a few days or a few weeks living what I call the cottage life: active hours spent riding bikes, hitting tennis balls, swimming in the lake, taking walks on the beach; and quieter hours passed reading, assembling jigsaw puzzles, hanging out on the porch, playing cards, and catching up because we haven’t seen each other in months.
The reason we have the cottage is to see each other and live the cottage life. Still, with ownership comes responsibility. There is always work to be done on an old house. The ceiling needs repair and the door is sticking and the shade is broken and the faucet is leaking and the footbridge over the ditch is rotting and that tree looks like it might fall on the house and that one circuit keeps blowing.
Some people love to keep themselves busy with house projects, but that runs counter to cottage life, which means we have to engage in a tricky balancing act. None of us come here to spend our time troubleshooting and repairing and upgrading. With every little problem we have to decide: fix it good, fix it good enough, or live with it.
Furnace no longer working? Fine, we only use the place seasonally. Paint flaking off living room walls? We’ll paint it, although those who took on that project faced an endless nightmare of prep work, making such lipstick-on-a-pig projects even less appealing.
There’s been a lot of new housing development around Thunder Bay and the Ridgeway area. Our house is an outlier: big, old, a block from the water, situated on a triple lot. At some point, we’re going to sell this property, and we believe the next owner is going to tear down the house due to its cottagey condition, subdivide the triple lot and put up three new houses. So if it’s a teardown, why put more than minimal effort into maintenance? Why not, instead, spend as much time as possible living the cottage life?
Take down the broken fencing or take a walk on the beach? Work on the sticky door or backhand ground strokes? Build a new picnic table or ride a bike to Niagara Falls? Decisions, decisions. Here’s my philosophy: fix what must be fixed or amend what is so unsightly that infringes upon a singular goal: enjoying cottage life with loved ones.