August seems to go by so quickly here. The inevitable end of Summer is hinted at by a slight change of colour on the leaves facing East. Most notably, the cool night air and warm water create beautifully misty sunrises. I took this photograph way back in the early 90’s. I used to get up at 5 am to drive to work near Toronto in order to avoid the Sunday night traffic.
My family began cottaging in Muskoka in the mid 1960’s. My earliest memories were of two small ‘summer only’ cottages with basic power and plumbing, but no phone.
In the 70’s and 80’s, life at the cottage was all about splashing in the lake, sailing and eating popsicles made from orange juice by Mother in those old plastic popsicle molds.
When the sun was out, we went for boat rides and drank Brown’s Pop that we bought with black ball candy at Mike’s Gas Station in Minett. My parents would take us past old cottages and old abandoned hotels on Lake Rosseau. Once I remember, we stopped and my Dad explored an old house. I was too young and I wasn’t allowed to go, but my imagination ran wild and it is the basis of my creativity today. I can picture the old bedsprings he described like as if I had seen them myself.
We often walked across the highway to visit the old Foot’s Bay Church and graveyard.
On rainy days, we played card games and board games, did arts and crafts and waited for the sun to return. We had an old black and white TV with rabbit ears that we almost never turned on – there were only 2 stations anyway.
In the evening, after dinner was cleaned up, we would paddle the canoe out into the early twilight and wait for the bats to begin swooping in for the bugs we attracted. We even played with a loon that seemed to enjoy taking us all over the Bay. He would dive and pop up close to us, we would paddle over, and he would pop up somewhere else. He seemed to enjoy the game because he would keep getting close enough to keep us going but never close enough to let us get a good look at him. There seemed to be a lot more Loons (of the avian kind) on the Lakes back then.
The Foot’s Bay Regatta on Lake Joseph was the main event of the August long weekend back in those days – and I think, still is. The flags would go up the night before from the old MacDonald Store (built in 1910 and lost to fire in the mid-nineties). We used to paddle over our red Chestnut canoe for the races that took place all afternoon. Somewhere, I have cloth badges from the victories over the years. On each one was stitched on the year it was acquired. Then there was the unstoppable Deacon Boys who seemed to win the Four Man War Canoe every year.
I remember going out in the fishing boat with my Dad when the wind was blowing hard one August. So hard in fact, that the little engine barely kept us moving forward. I would sit in the front, hanging onto the bow line in one of those massive stuffed orange life preservers, while the waves splashed over the small tin boat. I would be soaked by the warm, summer water.
I caught my first Lake Trout when I was five. I pawed at it in the bucket and tried to convince my Father to keep it as a pet instead of eating it. I didn’t realize that I was removing the fish’s ability to fight infection with all my handling. I was convinced that Dad let him go for years until I figured out that he had in fact made him for dinner that night!
I remember my first August sunrise. I was awakened by the setting full moon that shone like a spotlight through my window. I climbed out of bed and made my way down to the lake. The mist was heavy and the constellation of Orion was still visible. I was alone but for a Monarch butterfly that flitted around until landing on my foot. We watched the sun rise in silence. That butterfly eventually landed on me at different times of day for the rest of that weekend. I could put out my finger and it would settle there.
Another August is almost past.
I have lived as a permanent resident in Muskoka now for 9 years. Life as a resident is a quite different than cottage life. Thanks to fellow Bloggers Ed Boutilier, Jenn Jilks (click to see their blog) and the fabulous history of Muskoka on film at the Visual Heritage Project, I was inspired to remember the Muskoka of my youth.
I will have to bother my Mother for some more old pictures at the cottage from the 70’s – stay tuned!