It puzzles new immigrants no end: what is this thing that Canadians speak about so lovingly – this thing they call, simply, “The Cottage”? And why do they seem almost maniacally happy when they mention it?
One new immigrant told me that when he first came to Ontario, he thought everyone – except him – was going to the same mysterious cottage somewhere. Another immigrant laughed as he recalled a visit to a friend’s rustic cottage.
“I couldn’t believe it!” he chortled. “That people actually CHOOSE to spend their summer weekends in such primitive conditions. Where I come from, only very poor people would live in a place like that!”
These days, many of the old family cottages on the lake are being replaced by ‘Muskoka Mansions’ – huge houses with fancy kitchens and bathrooms – the kind you see in decor magazines.
But whatever its size, “the cottage” occupies a sacred place in the hearts of many Canadians.
Artist Don Corbett does much of his painting in his studio at the family cottage on Sugar Lake, a nearly 3-hour drive north of Toronto. It’s where he finds much of the inspiration for his art. Don paints landscapes.
The family has owned the cottage since the 1970’s, and though improvements have been made, it’s still a modest building. Theirs is the quintessential Canadian cottage, made of wood. Up there, it’s the lake and the trees, the fresh air and family get-togethers that matter.
“I love the solitude, (but I also love) the opportunity to be with my family and friends,” says Don. “I just love the north country and the cottage gives me a good anchor. The cycling is awesome too, and so is the cross-country skiing. ”
Perhaps that’s part of the appeal of Canada’s lake-country cottages. They encourage the outdoor life, whether swimming or canoeing in warm weather, skiing or snow-shoeing in winter. And they remind many people of a bygone era, when conveniences at the cottage were few, but a family from the city could find pleasure, comfort – and a summer home – in the wilderness.
“Home is where the hearth is,” Don says. “The fireplace is warm there, the sensibilities are clearer…no urban noise to clutter thought or negatively alter one’s mood. And for 7 months of the year I can go jump in the lake, or take my red canoe for a meditative paddle along the shore. The seasons are more defined in the north….Vivaldi would approve!”
I’m betting composer Vivaldi didn’t have our Canadian winters in mind when he wrote “The Four Seasons”. Just weeks ago, Don says, he removed about “31 tons of snow” off the roof of the main cottage. It goes with the territory, and doesn’t diminish his love for the place one bit.
If he had a choice, Don would live at the cottage full-time.
“But my wife Jan would leave me, paint brush in my hand,” he jokes. Jan likes to visit, not live there.
From Wednesday, March 12 to Sunday, March 16, a selection of Don’s paintings will be displayed at the McKay Art Centre on Main Street in the historic town of Unionville (on the edge of Toronto). The hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.
The show is titled: My Heart Leaps Up — Landscapes by Donald Corbett and Friends.
I’m honoured to be among those friends. I’m no painter, mind you. But Don has invited me to read an excerpt from one of my stories in Canada’s Art and Architecture magazine, Arabella on Saturday, March 15, and to do a short reading from my new book, A Good Home.
Above paintings by Donald Corbett
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