Written by Jessica Wynne Lockhart
When Bob Laing found the one-acre plot of land on the shores of Kawigamog Lake in 1970, he knew it was going to need some work. Completely covered in bush, the lot had no hydro, no water pressure system and no road leading in—and accessing it during the wintertime would take another level of commitment.
In the early days, his family would trek through the snow across the frozen lake to reach the cottage. Their reward, upon arrival, would be a warm beverage—but even that was easier said than done. “We’d melt snow to make tea, and we’d have to pick pine needles out of the water,” recalls Laing.
But for Laing, braving the cold was worth it. He had discovered cottage country’s hidden charm—the area is perhaps at its finest during the winter months, when it’s covered in a layer of pristine white snow. Owning a four-season cottage means the ability to experience nature in a way that isn’t possible during the summer, including exploring frozen lakes by foot, and skating or skiing across the landscape.
Yet, many cottagers are only beginning to catch on. Take Tim Arkell, for example. His family has owned a cottage (“The Ark”) on Lake McKellar since 1961, but it wasn’t until they rebuilt in 2011 that he was let in on the secret.
“It was a new discovery for me,” says Arkell, who lives in Whitby with his wife Donja and three teenage children. “I’ve come to appreciate the outdoors in winter. There’s just so many more things to do.”
The Arkell family now visits the cottage five or six times every winter, including during the Family Day weekend, which is a chance to play hockey and walk on the lake with the family dog.
But even with a fully winterized cottage, there can still be challenges. When Saira Sturk and her husband Dan first purchased Moose Lodge in 2012, they were excited to take advantage of the four-season property, with plans to snowmobile, ice-fish, and snowshoe across the frozen surface of McKellar Lake in the moonlight.
What they weren’t prepared for, however, is just howmuch snow to expect. One Friday after work, they made the long drive from their home in Hamilton only to find three feet of snow in the cottage’s driveway upon arrival.
“Very soon after that, we contracted a service to do snow ploughing,” says Sturk. “Even though it’s expensive, we pay for it because it gives you piece-of-mind.”
And while wintertime means avoiding the bumper-to-bumper traffic associated with summertime long weekends, that doesn’t mean the commute is always stress-free.
“We’ve had some white knuckle rides up there,” says Sturk, noting that the snow can reduce visibility. But she says, the trip always pays off: “As soon as you arrive up there, the stress goes away.”
That’s exactly why Laing moved to his haven full-time in 2001, where he manages his neighbouring rental property, Happynest. Each winter, he clears an ice rink in front of his boathouse for guests, complete with halogen lighting for night skating. His own cottage, which was once bare bones, now has every creature comfort imaginable, including a sauna.
“Everything is quiet when it’s covered in snow, which adds to the relaxation,” says Laing. “There’s a certain ambience of having a real fire burning, a beautiful view over the lake and snow hanging in the trees—it’s a Christmas-card setting.”
Sturk agrees. “We were a little bit apprehensive about winter cottaging at first, but it is absolutely stunning and beautiful up there in the wintertime,” she says. “It gives you a different perspective.”