“We’d rather cut our hands off than drive through traffic up to the cottage.” This is what Yannick and Shantelle Bisson would tell each other when the subject of buying came up. “We’re not cottage people,” they’d say. “We don’t have the time.” Yannick is often on set for 12-hour days on CBC’s long-running Murdoch Mysteries, while Shantelle has been writing a parenting book. But everything changed one evening at a friend’s place on Chandos Lake, Ont. “Every night at dinnertime they had this beautiful sunset,” says Yannick. “That was it.” Soon after, the couple bought a lot from a nearby cottager. Suddenly, as of July 2017, the Bissons were cottage people.
Land procured, the Bissons turned their thoughts to designing their ideal cottage. Their ethos: green, cheerful, and Canadian-made. “We didn’t want it to be so big that it would be a nightmare to maintain,” says Yannick. He drew up plans for a modest structure with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and had the pros at Beaver Homes and Cottages develop a custom cottage package. They had another motive for building small. “This way, we can only host one couple at a time,” says Shantelle. “We want this to be our quiet place.” Hydronic radiant heated floors, giant windows, and ceiling fans create a sense of simple luxury. In the kitchen, function was the focus. “There’s a pull-out spice rack on one side of the cooktop and a concealed knife block and utensil storage on the other,” says Shantelle. “Everything is exactly where we want it to be.”
The Bissons’ cottage is, first and foremost, a place for fun. Exhibit A: the bright orange ski lift chair swinging outside the back door (p. 51), a nod to the family’s passion for skiing. “We wanted one from 1969, the year we were born,” says Shantelle. Exhibit B: the boat shed, clad in cedar, that doubles as a drink stand, hence the bar ledge (top left). “It’s from the Shedman,” Shantelle explains. “You design it online, then their designer verifies it. They built it on site start to finish, in one day.”
Inside the cottage, even the trim around all the doors (left, middle) has a story: their builder used birch milled from trees taken down on the property. During the build, the crew sent Yannick photos. “Any construction project done remotely is going to involve some mistakes,” he says. “Thank God we have smartphones now, so we could catch and rectify them.”
At the end of 2018, the Bissons bought a local marina, which Shantelle will run this summer. “Yannick and I met when I was scooping ice cream at Baskin Robbins,” Shantelle says. “So we’re throwing it way back.” It’s a rescue mission—the marina will need to be overhauled before opening. It’s an investment that’s equal parts financial, sentimental, and sheer goodwill. “We wanted to be part of the community,” says Yannick. “We’ve been spending every summer in Toronto for the past decade, and we haven’t enjoyed the best part of living there: proximity to the natural beauty up north. Being by the water has peeled years away from my psyche. I feel like a kid when I’m at the lake.”
“The exterior was supposed to be grey, almost black, but it looks blue,” says Shantelle. “We debate daily whether or not to paint it.”
On the repurposed kitchen cabinet sits a Biltmore 5X cowboy hat, from one of Yannick’s old roles, and a turn-of-the-century beaver top hat.
Yannick designed the fireplace stand with built-in wood storage with his stepfather-in-law, a large-scale steel estimator.
The neighbours seem to like sharing paradise with Detective Murdoch. “He’s so gung- ho,” says Shantelle, “they call him Cottage Man.”
Shantelle and Yannick can spend all day on the lake. “I never realized that fishing off the end of the dock could be such a satisfying way to start my day,” Yannick says. “And I didn’t think that, at 49, I’d learn to wakeboard!” says Shantelle.
Face the music
Rather than place the kitchen sink along the wall, the couple placed it in the island. “I knew we’d cook most of our meals outside, and that any time in the kitchen would be spent cleaning up,” says Shantelle. “I didn’t want my back to the party.”
The fire outside
Yannick is a big fan of mid-century modern design, and was excited to have a space where he could install a Malm outdoor fireplace, sitting on top of stone. “We love it for the shoulder seasons and for rainy nights when you can’t sit around the bonfire down at the lake,” says Shantelle.