Up and out early doors Saturday morning as we depart Rouge Valley just after 8am. We are en route to ‘cottage country’ aka Muskoka Lakes for our first ever Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Muskoka Lakes are a 2.5 hour drive from Toronto so we wanna be up there in plenty of time to enjoy the day – and boy is the weather good. The sun is shining, there’s not a cloud in the sky and (more importantly) the roads are unusually quiet as everyone must’ve headed out of the city on the Friday night. ‘Cottaging’ is massive here in Ontario. Because the scenery is so beautiful out of the city, a lot of Canadians buy a cottage or cabin up north of Toronto, and from Spring through to Autumn spend most of their weekends chilling out at their cottage. Cottaging is only really a thing for 6 months of the year because the winters are too harsh, they aren’t equipped for the weather and a lot of the cottages are usually not livable during these months. For us, the main focus of the weekend is to ‘shut down’ the cottage before the winter season (and also to celebrate Thanksgiving)! Denise and Cliff have had the cottage for 25 years and they have done this ‘shut down’ every autumn since. There’s a lot of work involved so Greig and I are happy to chip in.
We arrive in the small town of Bala, about a 5 minute drive away from the cottage. We nip into Dons Bakery for some fancy pieces for the weekend. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a busier bakery in my life. They have a ticketing system because it just gets so manic – there must’ve been 40+ people in the bakery all waiting for their lucky number to be called out. We are in and out in about 20 minutes before heading to the cottage.
We arrive at the cottage just as Greig and Cliff have got the fire going in the livingroom. It normally takes 6 hours to heat the place up to a more pleasant 70 degrees, it was warmer outside the cottage than it was inside. It’s my first time here so I am given the tour; it’s an absolutely beautiful place. The whole cottage is wooden and spacious with a front porch that looks down onto Lake Medora. Further along is the dock which stretches way out into the lake. One of the jobs on the agenda is to take the floating dock out of the water before the lake freezes over in a couple of months. Icy weather doesn’t seem possible at this moment in time, as the sun beats down on us. The colours are truly remarkable. Across the other side of the lake the oranges, reds, yellows and greens of the trees burst into life when the sun shines.
We have BBQ’d burgers for lunch, sat out on the picnic bench down by the lake. The first of many amazing meals this weekend.
After lunch we relax on the seats down by the dock with a Smirnoff in hand. Bliss. Shortly after, Greig, Cliff and I head out in ‘the tinny’ for a tour of the lake. Because they have had the cottage for over 25 years they know everyone on the lake; there’s a real community feel to the place. We draw up to a few of the neighbours docks and chit chat before moving onto the next one. Everyone is very friendly; I think we must’ve been invited to 3 or 4 Thanksgiving parties by the end of the afternoon!
We stop off at the north end of the lake – just across from their cottage. Cliff takes us on a wee hike to see Harper Lake and beyond. We see massive moose tracks on the ground – I cannot believe the size of them! Huge! Just when we think we’ve seen enough wildlife for the day, Cliff stumbles across a Massasauga Rattlesnake curled up sunning himself on the rock. After being lightly prodded with a (long) stick, the snake rattles like crazy a couple of times and then scurries underneath a nearby rock – he is fast! Pretty rare to see such a snake in Ontario. The Massasauga Rattlesnake is endangered and is the only venomous snake in the province.
We head back to the cottage for a couple of drinks and a nice rest. The temperature in the cottage is slowly rising and is now up to a more bearable 65 degrees, lovely and toasty next to the fireplace. Just as the sun is setting on the lake we take a wonder outside to see the beautifully tranquil scenes. The wind has completely gone so the water is perfectly still and mirror-like. The tree reflections are magical.
We sit down for a dinner of pork souvalaki, again rustled up on the BBQ. Delicious. Followed by the movie Rush and bed. Great first day in cottage country.
We awaken on Sunday to another fabulous sunny day. We open the curtains to see the sun peeking through the forest outside the bedroom window. The smell of the smokey fire and the aroma of strong coffee wafting through the cottage is enough to set us up for another great day. A full hearty bacon and eggs breakie is devoured before the work begins. This mornings shut down job is to get the dock out of the water and onto the land for the winter period. It’s a long process. Greig and Cliff do the majority of the work; it’s clear that Cliff has mastered the art of this task having done it at least 20 times previous, and learning something new almost every time. 3 hours later and a whole heap of tooing and frowing and the dock is now on the edge of the lake where it will stay for the next 6 months or so.
Late afternoon, Greig and I head to the Johnston Cranberry Farm, about 1 mile down the road. Next weekend is ‘Cran-Fest’ for the town of Bala, so already the place is heaving with tourists. Murray and his family offer helicopter rides, marsh tours and wine tasting, along with all the other bits n bobs you can pick up in the store and at the cafe. Denise and Cliff are good friends with Murray and his family so have helped out at the farm over the years – in the farm shop and doing the heli tours!
It’s a nice wee place so we spend a bit of time there and then wander back to the cottage for one last sunset cruise on the tin boat. Again, the colours are superb:
Thanksgiving dinner is served! A beautiful traditional turkey meal cooked up by Denise who has ‘slaved all day’ in the kitchen! All washed down with a bottle of Sandbanks Wine. Truely awesome – it feels like Christmas! After dinner Dee and Cliff surprise us with tickets to see Blue Rodeo who are playing at a venue downtown in Bala. Blue Rodeo, we are told, are the biggest folk band in Canada, led by Jim Cuddy. The gig is sold out so we are lucky to have got tickets! What a surprise!
We go down to The Kee for about 9.30pm and enjoy a few drinks on the patio before Blue Rodeo come on stage at 11pm. The place is awesome – a massive stage which stretches the entire length of the venue, so there really are no bad seats in the house! The atmosphere in the gig is awesome, and although we only know one of their songs, it’s obvious that this band are thought highly of by their fellow Canadians.
By the time we get home it must’ve been after 1am. The sky really was pitch black out by the cottage, with thousands upon thousands of stars twinkling away. We sit on the rocks down by the lake and try to identify each of the stars (Cliffy’s stargazing app may have helped!) We then hear howling in the distance, coming from the other side of the lake… it’s a band of coyotes! It sounds almost wolf-like, surreal to think they are just across the other side of the lake – in the same location as we were when we saw the rattlesnake! …and with those howls we disappear inside to the comfort of the cottage!
The Monday is spent tidying up the last bits and bobs around the cottage. Everything is locked down or stored in the shed and the porch windows are boarded up (by Cliff and Greig) to protect the room for the winter months. A very busy day, with a spot of relaxation in the sunshine when it all got a bit like too much hard work! We eventually got back to Toronto around 8pm; content with my first experience of cottage life and happy in the knowledge that the cabin was ‘locked down’ before the looming harsh winter!
Posted by: Lynsey x