“We’ve rented a cottage”.
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? You picture long days of swimming and sunbathing, and evenings spent around the campfire roasting s’mores and telling a few stories. The kids are already excited and you’ve got plans to invite friends up for a night or two, barbecue and entertain. You’re planning on renting a boat and taking the children tubing.
You can already imagine what it must be like to own a place of your own and plan a trip up there every weekend.
There’s a certain romance about cottage country living that captivates hundreds ever year who buy their own place, and many thousands more who rent for a week or two and experience what it’s like to be a local.
Like any place you travel to, there are differences, and before you go it’s worth knowing what to expect.
Here’s some tips to help you blend in and live like a local on your cottage country vacation.
Be friendly, courteous and patient
I was driving down a cottage road earlier this year on my way to see a property owner and was stopped by someone out walking who wanted to know who I was visiting as he didn’t recognize my vehicle. He was a friendly guy who was just curious about visitors to the neighbourhood, and we had a great chat. Cottage country communities are close and most residents know everyone and know who is renting out so it’s natural they are interested in who you are.
If you are open and friendly with the locals they will be the same with you.
Be prepared to stop and talk to the neighbours when you are out taking a walk. Wave at people passing by in boats. Drive slowly down cottage roads as you never know when you’ll come across a pair of cars with the windows down and deep conversation in progress. Be patient at the slower pace of life and embrace the pleasure in it.
Understand that noise travels on a lake
Sound can travel a long distance over water, and if you have ever listened to neighbours a kilometer away have a domestic dispute on a Sunday morning, you’ll understand the nature of the acoustics.
If you want to play music outside, consider how it will impact other people’s enjoyment of their surroundings – while you might enjoy a blast of rap, country music or even the 1812 overture, your neighbours will not.
The sounds of nature are the best – a call of a loon at dusk, the tapping of a woodpecker on a tree trunk, the slap of a beaver’s tail – this is nature’s music you will never hear in the city. So, give it a try and turn the music off.
All townships have by-laws that prohibit outside noise after 11pm so keep that in mind if you are sitting around the campfire.
Keep campfires within limits and don’t take fireworks to the cottage
Talking about campfires, this is the part of a cottage visit everyone expects and looks forward to, and with good reason. There is just something about the crackle of fire, a circle of good friends, a beer or two and the pleasure of an evening spent under the stars.
However…and I hate to put a damper on the images I just conjured up….it’s important to follow guidelines for responsible campfire use.
- Only use firewood specifically set aside for campfires. Wood for inside burning is seasoned, expensive and never to be used in an outside setting.
- If no wood is provided, you can buy it locally at general stores and gas stations.
- Never cut down branches from trees.
- Keep campfires small and contained within designated firepit areas and never light a fire outside a fire ring or container.
- Be aware of fire bans in the area and don’t attempt to light a campfire during a fire ban. Neighbours will report it and the fines are hefty.
- Always have water nearby in a pail or hosepipe for damping down a fire.
- Douse the fire thoroughly before the last person goes inside for the night.
Most townships prohibit the use of fireworks without a permit so do not take any fireworks with you. On holiday weekends there are usually public displays on lakes or in nearby towns, and you are going to get a much better display there.
Most importantly, do not consider launching sky lanterns (sometimes known as Chinese lanterns). Although not technically illegal in Ontario, the risk of them causing a fire and creating significant damage is high.
Garbage will need to be taken to the dump – and watch out for the bears!
We are so used to routine garbage collection in the city where all we have to do is get the bin out to the kerb on the night before pick-up, and just worry about raccoons, that the thought of bigger animals might not be at the forefront of your mind.
Black bears are common in cottage country but it’s unlikely you’ll see one unless you hang out at the dump at dusk, or leave your garbage on the deck. That’s when they become a problem. And it’s not just an issue for you, as once a bear has got wind of a juicy feast from the waste you’ve left out for it, he’ll be heading for the neighbours for dessert.
Even if there is a pick-up service (unlikely in most cottage country areas), you cannot leave your black bags out at any times so this is worth considering before you leave home. Check with the cottage owner/agency about what you are expected to do with garbage. When is the dump open? How far do you need to drive? Are you expected to take care of it before you depart the cottage or will a caretaker pick it up?
Living like a local means being bear-aware and not encouraging them into the neighbourhood.
Get to know your boundaries ( and keep your pets within them)
It’s rare to see a fence in cottage country. Boundaries are just something that cottage owners know and respect, but when you are a visitor you’re not always aware of where they are.
To be on the safe side ask the cottage owner to describe where the boundaries are. Often there is a line of trees or a rock that marks the property lines and if you keep your pets and children on your side of that you’ll be fine.
Letting your dogs roam onto neighbouring properties is disrespectful and unlikely to endear you to the locals, particularly if your pets leave their waste for those owners to deal with.
On the same topic, that swim raft out in the water is not public property, and unless you know your rental cottage comes with a floating raft, it should not be used.
Respect the environment as nature intended it
We’ve all seen movies where the homesteaders are bathing, and doing their laundry in the river or lake, and it was probably fine when laundry detergent and shampoos were just naturally made soaps.
That was a time when having running water in a property was a luxury, and way before septic systems were developed to leach waste water safely back into the soil and separate out effluent for collection and removal.
Now, we need to protect the environment and our precious water for generations to comes; keep harmful chemicals away from areas where they can do damage, and protect shorelines and waterways from the impact of materials not destined to be there.
Don’t be tempted to wash your dog in the lake or take a dip yourself with the shower gel or shampoo in hand. It may seem natural and a fun thing to do, but you’ll be introducing stuff into the water that is simply not healthy for it. The locals don’t do it, and nor should you.
Although this may all sound like a lot to take on board, going the cottage with a country mindset will help you settle in quicker and enjoy it all the more.
Slow down a little; take some time to relish the peace and tranquility; marvel at the unpolluted darkness of a star filled sky; and live like the locals do, even if it’s just for a couple of weeks of the summer. You’ll be glad you did.