We always wished we had a cottage growing up. I’m not sure where the notion came from because we didn’t know anyone that had one. We’d never been to one—until the soupy summer a motley crew of extended family ended up at a hunting shack of sorts near Orangeville. It belonged to perhaps a great uncle? What I do remember is that it was a wood panelling special of the 70s with zero fanciness. A Stephen King set at best. My sister cried because there was no TV. It was so dark during the day you needed to turn the lights on (with your sleeve pulled over your hand, lest a tarantula or wall-climbing snake attacked–) and it smelled like my aunt’s wet cocker spaniels and gorgonzola. Though, I probably didn’t know what gorgonzola was at age 8.
Luckily that experience didn’t cloud my shiny cottage future. I am still attracted to the lazy lifestyle, mesquite and marinade-heavy menu and wet dogs that are generally synonymous with cottages. I read Cottage Life as though I own one. We watch Sarah’s (Richardson’s) Cottage and hatch design plans. I like the intense Canadiana behind them, the Hudson Bay swag, the antlers, the ships in bottles, the mismatched cutlery, the ambitious “learn astronomy” plans via a clunky telescope, the bird guides at the ready, the bags of potato chips, tchotchkes, Scrabble boards missing “Q” and cards stuck together by a long-ago root beer mishap.
It’s a glorious departure from rules, diets, schedules, traditional exercise, Netflix and sophisticated reading (bring on the Judy Blume, gossipy mags and summer fluff). Itineraries revolve around the sun, shade, gin runs and the shift from the dock to feeding a fire long into the night.
Kim and I decided that we’d spin our annual trip east to visit her parents in Prince Edward Island from the norm. Also, selfishly, we couldn’t imagine sleeping on her parents new pull-out couch again. We’ve renamed that cursed thing the Taco. It envelops you in the night, pressing its coils into your hips and ribs until you find yourself trapped in the mattress valley. The only thing that falls asleep in the Taco are my arms and legs, not me.
To avoid the Taco accommodations, a cottage just made sense. Since Kim’s parents downsized to a condo, Murder She Wrote can be heard from any inch of the square footage. Also heard at 6:30 am: Kim’s mom unloading the dishwasher, vaccumming and tending to the recycling—directly beside the Taco room. The reprieve is the balcony, though it is skinny. Dominated by geraniums, if four people are on it at once, you have to sit like you are riding a bus, in a line, straight across.
So, we rallied the siblings with the cottage concept and booked the Summer House near the Northumberland Straight in Argyle Shores. In addition to Kim’s brother, sister, brother-in-law—we’d be possibly entertaining 100 people for their parents’ 60th wedding anniversary on the Sunday. When we innocently placed a “Anniversary Cake and Coffee Reception” ad in the Stratford church bulletin, we had no idea that it was circulated to three other churches! Had we just invited the entire island? I had visions of a Papal visit—except it would be Kim and I waving to the masses from the cottage balcony with a bbq flipper and Rolling Rocks.
We did have enough baked goods to feed all the disciples for sure. Judy, Kim’s mother, has a freezer routinely packed solid with Amish friendship loaves. She triple wraps them in foil and at first glance, they look like dozens of cocaine bricks. And then there are the oatmeal raisin cookies, cinnamon pinwheels and biscuits to be drizzled with molasses. Her ‘granola bars’ are chocolate bars in disguise. Her bran and date muffins are delicious laxatives in muffin wrappers. She is like a factory outlet of baked goods.
We arrived at the Summer Garden Summer House in two vehicles (50% of the load being pastries). Gail and Joe Kern, the cottage owners, embraced us in true Maritime style—with hugs. We later learned that the ‘retired’ couple were part of WWOOF—World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The organization has created a network for travellers with a back-to-the-land curiosity with outposts from New Zealand to the Netherlands. In exchange for 30 hours of work on the farm (which can involve everything from sheep shearing to fruit tree pruning), WWOOFers get a snug place to sleep and often, meals included.
Gail and Joe were pure loveliness, inviting Kim and I in for a glass of wine and conversation on a few occasions. They’d stop dead in their tracks, regardless of what they were doing to ensure that we were okay or help better our stay.
Now, if only they could build tiny mosquito machine guns. They were vicious and travelled in a cloud in Argyle Shores. Gail and Joe had long adapted and succumbed to permanently wearing mozzie shirts with the hoods—startling us at first as we thought angry beekeepers or fencers had found us in the woods.
The Summer House was just as it appeared online—which was an enormous relief. Kim and I know only too well about misleading hotel pictures, i.e. Alexandria, Egypt where the bed looked like a body was stuffed under the mattress. It was actually humped up like a turtle shell. The room that was supposed to have a King bed, en suite and malecon view but instead had three single turtle beds and a bathtub down the hall that was so rusted and ringed you’d have tetanus or hydrophobia or something after spending any time in it.
But, back to the Summer House. The sun was actually shining—the skies were indigo blue (the only time this happened during our week there)—Kim and I were ready to move in, forever. There was a jar of homemade organic granola on the counter, PEI organic coffee beans, a jar of honey from nearby Canoe Cove. The fridge was stocked with cartons of orange juice and milk. The bathroom had verbena soaps that left you smelling like a slice of lemon meringue pie. There were red clay and kelp soaps from Moonsnail.
Kim’s mom quickly set up shop in the kitchen, assessing where all the pots and pans were. The cottage even came with an oyster shucker!
All the cottage staples were here—books on sea glass, lighthouses, fishmonger memoirs, Maritime cookbooks, dominos, kites, Chatelaine magazines, wildflower guides, a baseball glove, a kite. The DVD collection covered my top ten classics from Steel Magnolias to The Big Chill. Judy and Earl were rest assured to learn that the satellite picked up Murder She Wrote and Coronation Street. Whew. It would be a merry time after all.
Base camp was gorgeous. The view was rolling jade, many mornings the fog hung in the fields like low-lying clouds. Hummingbirds jetted around the deck, a token fox streaked past.
And it rained. Like, for 36 hours straight. The mottled sky brightened to an elephant grey during the cake and coffee affair. Thankfully not all of the devout church attendees who received the bulletin came to the cottage. It was a very full house though, full of that east coast unity and bloodlines that knot as tight as moored ships.
While the Kenny’s carried on with euchre and bridge games, maintaining stamina with Clamato and boxed chocolates, I ran to the shoreline, red dirt streaked on my calves. Like Ireland, the rain and moody skies of PEI seem to make the place all the more authentic.
The roadside was dotted with burnt orange bursts of devil’s paintbrush, coltsfoot, yarrow and purple tufted vetch. Only the ravens carried on as per usual in the soggy afternoons.
Nearing the end of our stay we tripped out to Victoria-by-the-Sea (a twenty minute pastoral drive). The year-round population of the village is just under 200—how ideal! Though the 2% chance of sunshine and 98% chance of bitchy mosquitoes is off-putting.
We did as tourist brochures dictated and visited the Island Chocolate shop, Red Sand studio and The Studio Gallery. We tried the potato fudge for $1 and ordered deep fried bar clams with horseradish aioli at the Lobster Barn Pub.
We drank blueberry beer with Homer the cat at the Landmark café curling and poked around the lobster traps at the marina. As rain pelted down I quickly snapped a picture of PEI’s biggest tree (an American Elm with a circumference of 21 feet!).
The Summer House Summer Garden was as a cottage should be. A place quickly entrenched deep in our minds, a place to drift to with a smile, in the moments before sleep.
Even if it’s in the Taco, or on a turtle-shaped mattress.
Wanna stay? Check out the cottage availability. $150/night for 4 guests, $15 plus HST for additional guests.