Discovering Ontario’s Cottage Country
As spring creeps into Ontario, fevered anticipation lingers in the air.
Locals shake off the snow, stomp out their boots, switch their winter wardrobes for their summer style, and eagerly await that first weekend of sunshine. This might sound similar to your spring tradition wherever you are in the world, but these Canadians aren’t just waiting for the weather to warm up so they can bathe in the backyard. No, summer in Ontario means a lot more than that.
It means packing up the car with a weekend’s worth of food and beer, picking up friends and family on their way out of town, escaping the daily grind, exploring their beloved province, and taking part in one of the most prized traditions Ontario has ever known.
It means two words – cottage life.
What is Cottage Life in Ontario?
When I moved to Toronto back in late May 2013, those jitters of anticipation were in full swing. I was told that I had arrived on the first truly hot day of the year, and on that day the city blew out a hot sigh of relief that the winter freeze had finally cracked and shed.
While locals are excited when summer arrives, life in downtown Toronto in the intense heat is rough – eyeball sweating kind of rough. So with every summer long weekend, people make plans to flock away from the mug that hangs is the city air, and go and stay in a cottage for the weekend.
It was with an amused eye that I noticed quite how excited everyone got about going to cottages on weekends. As I observed the practice more and more, I came to learn that cottage life in Ontario, and many other parts of Canada, is a huge part of the national identity, and for good reason.
Coming from a country that locals rarely take the time to explore, England, I admired the Canadian ambition to discover their own native land, and you can hardly blame them – with scenery as stunning as you’ll find all over Ontario, you don’t really need to venture further afield. Ontario is dotted with thousands of lakes, big and small, making it the ideal place to pull up a chair, blanket, beer, and loved one or group of friends to enjoy cosy nights out on the water.
Such is life in cottage country.
A Weekend at Lake Erie
It was with honour that I accepted an invitation to spend a weekend last summer at a cottage at Lake Erie, in southwest Ontario. I was finally in, and about to witness this intriguing ritual first-hand. I met friends in the early hours of Saturday morning, and we set out on our journey towards one of the largest lakes in Ontario.
We stopped to stock up on supplies along the way – my new friends moved through that market like pros, picking up essential cottage supplies I had no idea we would even need. I was out of my depth here.
We arrived at the cottage, which was played down far too much by our friend who had organised the trip – this place was everything you could possibly imagine from a cottage. Exposed beam ceilings, blankets draped across inviting leather couches, a rustic kitchen, and a large deck right on the waters of Erie. I wanted a classic cottage experience, and I had found it.
We spent the weekend sunning ourselves on the cool grass, with beers in hand, chatting and taking time out from life. We explored the local area, and on our way back paid a visit to Balls Falls (yes, such a place with that name does exist), clambouring through rocks to drench ourselves under waterfalls.
I was sold. Cottage life was the life for me.
Popular Cottage Regions
There are numerous places you’ll find clusters of cottages around Ontario, but some are more popular than others. One of the most famous regions is Muskoka, home to ‘Millionaire’s Row’ and even ‘Billionaire’s Row’. Here you’ll brush shoulders with the elite of cottage country life, in of the most wealthy cottaging areas in the province. Furthermore, the most populous – two million people on average a year visit Muskoka, making it elite but not exclusive.
The Bruce Peninsula and Kewartha Lakes also offer excellent opportunities for experiencing cottage life in Canada, but really you can find pockets of paradise dotted all over Ontario. With thousands of cottages available for rent, you’ll find something ideal for your budget and needs.
Further Information and Resources
Cottage Life is a magazine dedicated to all things cottage in Canada. This article on 26 Ontario cottage regions will give you a thorough reference point of where to go and what’s available.
Have you ever experienced cottage life in Canada?
Would you like to?