Caught In Cottage Culture

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Convivium, 2 August 2018

Father Raymond de Souza confesses to wonderment that so many Canadians irrepressibly set out along traffic clogged roads for distant summer cottages when they could far more comfortably stay home. 

The August long weekend brings about joy tinged with dread. On Wolfe Island, for some three decades now the August holiday weekend includes the family softball tournament, where the various Island clans compete against each other in a friendly tournament. It brings relatives and friends from far and near to the Island, and a good time is had by all in a welcome spirit of festivity and fellowship.

But all those people coming to the Island make it, from Thursday onwards, very congested on the ferry from Kingston. It is possible to wait two or more hours to get a place on the 55-car ferry. So, I try, as best as is possible, to get stocked up and be home by Friday morning, and not leave until Tuesday or Wednesday. Otherwise I would usually go over to Kingston every day, but not this weekend. 

I have that option, and it requires only a modicum of planning on my part to make it work. Yet in southern Ontario, there are vast numbers of people, many of them quite affluent, who precisely choose congestion as part of their summer fun, not just on the long weekends but every week.

Growing up in Alberta, some friends had “cabins,” summer places on a lake or in the mountains. Once the danger of snow had passed – usually in late May – they would open them up and spend weekends and vacation weeks there. That is nothing compared to the “cottage,” though, as it is called in Ontario. The priority of cottage culture – even after years of living here and looking forward each summer to the return of my summer parishioners who have cottages on Wolfe Island – still puzzles me.

By Friday late morning, the great exodus is underway, the highways of Toronto clogged as city-dwellers head out for the 150 km drive to Georgian Bay and thereabouts, a trek that can take three, four, five hours in traffic. Before the safety monitors got a stranglehold on fun, entrepreneurs would set up chip trucks on the side of highway. So slow moving was the traffic that passengers could alight, purchase a snack and easily catch up with the driver, who had only moved ten or twenty metres. Something like a drive-through, but much slower.

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