Unexpected reunions, weddings on the shore, and fiery flings that never end. As these 14 cottager stories reveal, love just happens at the lake.
The Lake Effect
Nisha & Grant – Robertson Lake, Ont.
Long ago, I helped build a cedar Prospector canoe. Years later, in the wake of hard times, the canoe sat quiet, unused, and too heavy for me to take out alone with my small son. And so, in 2005, I put the word out to friends that it was available for loan, as long as it was cared for and appreciated.
Three months later, Grant showed up on my doorstep, referred by some mutual friends. With a roof rack on his car and tie-down straps in hand, he was ready to enjoy the canoe with his four children.
More than a year later, Grant reached out and asked if I wanted to go for a paddle. Soon paddling became part of our routine, and in the quiet solitude of the Canadian Shield, we too had a chance to connect, laugh, and get to know each other. Out on the lake, we shared early morning canoe rides through rising mist, fall afternoons with the colourful leaves reflecting off the water, and late-night paddles with blankets in the moonlight. The canoe was our silent, stable ally in the evolution of our growing friendship and the discovery that we were meant for each other.
Fast-forward 10 years to August 2017, to our wedding at the lake. We decorated the canoe with cedar boughs and wildflowers and tied it to the dock where the ceremony took place. We read letters aloud that we had written to each other over a decade of courtship. Afterwards, we climbed into the canoe (Grant wearing his kilt!) and paddled away into the afternoon light.—Nisha Parekh
Andrea & Colin – Lac Barnes, Que.
At my friend Ali’s cottage wedding reception, her brother Colin followed me around like a puppy, but I was not interested. (I had my eye on another guest.) On the last night, the power went out, my alarm didn’t go off, and I just missed my flight home to Arizona. I managed to book a flight the next day, but now I was stuck in a foreign country without a place to stay, and Ali was long gone on her honeymoon. But I had Colin’s number in an email. He was my knight in shining armour. Two kids later, we celebrate our wedding anniversary every year, but we call it Thanks, Hydro-Québec Day.—Andrea Irving
Dominique & Dave – Lac en Coeur, Que.
Soon after the unexpected death of my mother, I met a magnificent man. I was still working through my grief and managing a complicated estate situation, but it didn’t matter. I was immediately in love with Dave, this wise, witty, huge-hearted human. For Valentine’s Day 2016, after dating for a month, we planned a weekend away. I wanted to bring him to my mother’s Laurentian cottage—which was on the market to be sold—but I was nervous that he would find it too rustic. My mom had a very laissez-faire attitude to home improvements and, in the 10 years that she owned the place, saw no reason to paint the Facebook-blue dining room, to repair the drippy toilet, or to do anything about the chimney smoke smell that permeated everything. Still, I put my reservations aside and off we went. Dave hauled water jugs, built fires, and was unfazed by broken doors. He admired the cottage’s vantage over the bay and relished the wilderness as much as I did. The temperature dipped to -42°C with the wind chill, but we went snowshoeing anyway.
The next month, we took the cottage off the market. A year later, we got married. We go up to the lake every chance we get. We’ve done some work on the property, but I think my mom would approve. The roof’s been redone, but the place still smells like chimney smoke, and the new toilet is just as drippy as the old one.—Dominique Ritter
Bill & Joan – Boshkung Lake, Ont.
My parents bought their property on Boshkung on the exact same day as Bill’s parents bought their land, only three lots away, in 1947—for $3 a foot! There must have been a sale on at the time. I was a teenager, and I worked nearby as a waitress at the Red Umbrella on Twelve Mile Lake. I didn’t get up to my parents’ new cottage all that much, but enough to meet the neighbours down the way. That’s when I met Bill’s parents and his brother, but not Bill.
Then, the summer after I finished nursing school, when I was 22, I went up to the cottage for a visit. This time, Bill was up too—he was 27, just back from studying microbiology at the University of Guelph after spending some time in the navy at the end of the Second World War. It was our first time meeting each other, and we decided to go on a little canoe trip together.
We spent the day paddling up four lakes on the river system north of Boshkung. That’s how we got to know each other. We just had a lot of fun—that was the essence of it all. Then we started going together. It wasn’t love at first sight or anything. But we got married the next year, and we’ve been married for 64 years.
Now we’ve got four kids. Both our daughters met their own husbands at the lake—one married the neighbour boy, and the other met her husband while playing cards at another cottage. And we’re still all going up there. There were 20 of us together for Easter at the lake this year.—Joan Dies
Wild at Heart
Lucie & Ahmed – Wolfskin Lake, Ont.
Shortly after Ahmed and I married, my in-laws came to visit from the United Arab Emirates, and we took them up to my family cottage. I was on edge, hoping that it would go smoothly out in the woods for these people unused to cottage country. On day one I clogged the toilet, the power went out, and I was so panicked over what else might go wrong that I threw up. Meanwhile, Ahmed’s family was unruffled, busy figuring out how to cook on the barbecue.
On the second day, Ahmed’s dad and brother decided to go out fishing in our metal rowboat. A couple of hours in, the wind picked up. And then—boom. Thunder and lightning. We shouted at them to row back. Of course, an oar busted halfway through their journey.
It started raining, hard. Ahmed and I paddled out to rescue them in our canoe. He threw the rope, but the water was so rough that his dad let go and fell backwards into the boat. After about 15 minutes of struggling, we managed to nudge them back to the dock, in a panic, trying to explain the danger and get everyone inside. Then the hail hit—a lot of it.
That storm raged for hours. But when we lost power again later that night, we were able to laugh about it. I realized that I had been so nervous for nothing. My in-laws can handle themselves in a crisis. They’re already looking forward to their next visit. What could go wrong? —Lucie Ganz
Lauren & Greg – Buckhorn Lake, Ont.
Greg and I had been dating for two years on and off when we were invited up to our friend’s cottage—my first time going and our first time going away as a couple. We hit the road at about 7 p.m., with the intention of stopping for a gourmet junior bacon cheeseburger from Chez Wendy’s on the way and arriving at the cottage around midnight. We started driving, chatting non-stop, while keeping an eye out for Wendy’s, which we should have reached after an hour. Well, we kept driving …and driving…and driving. Greg was certain we would get there eventually.
We stopped for a bite at a dodgy Burger King in the middle of nowhere. By this time it was 11 p.m., dark, and we were getting worried. Around midnight our hearts sank as we saw the sign: You Are Now Entering Quebec. What. The. Heck.
We bought a map from a gas station (this was right before GPS was common in cars) and discovered that we were so far away from our destination that we would have to drive around Algonquin Park, and that would take us another five hours.
I was upset. Greg was upset. But we kept driving. After 20 minutes of intense silence, I piped up. “I’m sorry,” I said in a meek voice. I thought he would explode, but instead he said, “No, I’m sorry! This sucks!” We laughed and settled in for the long drive.
We reached our destination around 5 a.m., exhausted. But as we pulled in, we realized: we hadn’t fought once. We hadn’t been angry with each other, snippy, or bossy. We just worked through it and made it to the other side. And we had a story to tell.
A few months later, Greg was diagnosed with cancer. This wouldn’t stop us from getting married. After four long, hard-fought years, Greg lost the battle—but not before he knew that I was pregnant with his son. Every time I get lost on a car trip, I think of him and always manage to find my way back.—Lauren Ehrenworth Hébert
Karlyn & Brock – West Hawk Lake, Man.
As my daughter Karlyn’s wedding neared, the forecast called for rain. Still, she was determined to get married outside, at her aunt and uncle’s cottage, and had yellow boots and a matching umbrella ready.
Rain on the radar turned into a severe thunderstorm warning, and it hit us on the morning of the wedding. Winds pulled trees up from their roots, and the rain came down in torrents. We woke up that morning to find the wedding flowers crushed and our boats full of water. The highways were starting to flood. I felt we were in serious trouble. My daughter just gave me a smirk and said, “I am getting married today no matter what.”
As the day wore on, the news improved. The roads were down to one lane, but passable. We bilged out boats to pick guests up. Even the flowers made a gallant effort to recover.
The day turned out to be cloudy and warm, with light wind and calm water. The bride had organized 20 boats for guests to watch the ceremony from the bay. The music and voices echoed over the water, and everyone could see and hear perfectly. Later, at the reception, the sun came out, and the bugs held off until twilight. The music had everyone dancing, and we ate a late-night snack of hot dogs and s’mores over the bonfire. When we left at 3 a.m., we had to drive through a foot of water on the road to get back to our own cottage, and found the high water levels lifting the boards off the dock. We hauled garbage cans full of rocks onto the dock to keep it in place, then fell into bed, exhausted.
The next morning, we had to evacuate. Our friends and family formed a convoy and made it out just before they closed the highway, which stayed closed for two weeks. I think it’s safe to say that Karlyn’s wedding was unforgettable.—Linda McFadyen
Friday I’m in love
Damon & Kendell – Red Rock Lake, Man.
Across the bay from our cottage is a rock, which my family lovingly calls Ryan’s Rock (no one knows why). As kids, my cousins, brothers, and I played there every day. As an adult, I go there when I want some quiet time or solitude.
Since Kendell and I started going out, it’s been our place to get away from the crowded family cottage. We’ll just sit there for a few hours, share a drink, meditate, or chat. It’s become “our place,” since most of my cousins don’t head out across the bay much anymore.
Last year, two years after we started dating, I planned to ask Kendell to marry me while we were out on the rock. My grandparents were selling the property that summer, and I wanted to make one more special memory.
It was a cold, rainy day—it was June but barely five degrees. I kept checking on the weather, and the app kept saying in an hour, we might get some sun. In another hour, we might get some sun. I eventually realized it was going to be a cold, cloudy day (not what I had envisioned for an engagement), and, as we had friends joining us that evening, I would have to just do it. I also had to somehow sneak roses, a ring, and a Bluetooth speaker across the bay to the rock, without him noticing. I wrapped everything in a towel and tucked it into a basket. Kendell didn’t ask questions. Later he told me that when he saw it he thought, Oh, that’s just Damon being Damon, packing everything up in a fancy basket. We sat there, shivering in the drizzle, wrapped in a blanket, with a bottle of champagne. Eventually, the drizzle stopped, and that’s when I did it. I handed him one rose at a time, and each had a date that was important to our history. The last rose had that days’s date on it. He said yes. —Damon Klassen
Geoff & Emily – Clear Lake, Man.
For weeks I had been secretly planning a wedding for Emily on her 30th birthday. She always said she wanted to get married at the cottage, and since it had been put up for sale, I figured there was no time like the present. Even though we weren’t even engaged yet, we had often talked about one day throwing a surprise wedding for our family. We thought the surprise would be fun, and we would avoid all the hassle of gifts, showers, and registries. I decided to surprise Emily too. I spent weeks preparing.
On the big day, at the cottage, we woke up to pouring rain. Em was disappointed, because we were having people over to the house for her birthday party, or so she thought. I was sick to my stomach, because weeks of planning were about to get soggy. I put on a happy face as Em went off with her mother and aunt to get their nails done.
As soon as she left, the mad scramble began. The tent company was waiting at the end of the road for my call. Emily’s brother helped me set up the tent, tables, and chairs. I made a sign for the gate, so that arriving guests would know: Surprise! You’re At Our Wedding. (I put them to work too.)
Once we were set up, I left to meet Em by boat down the lake at her nana’s cottage, but the weather looked dicey. I set off into the fog, and when I arrived at Nana’s, I put the top up just to be safe. Suddenly the rain let loose—the hardest I’d ever seen. Water started flooding the boat. I actually laughed out loud. You can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather! I turned around, and there was Em—holding an umbrella and looking beautiful. I pulled out the ring, and her eyes teared up. I dropped to one knee right there in the boat and asked her to marry me. She said yes.
As we putted back through the rain, we talked about the ring, which was my grandmother’s, and about the terrible timing for bad weather. As we approached our dock, I slowed down and popped the second big question: “Would you marry me…today?” She had questions for me: “Is your mother here?” Then: “Is your brother here?” And finally: “What will I wear?” Then I got my second “yes” of the day. Phew.
As we coasted up to the dock, she could see our families standing with umbrellas. Everybody cheered.
Em got into the dress, and her two aunts altered it on site. Meanwhile, the rain started pouring even harder. There was a river of water flowing outside the front door, and we had to move the ceremony from the dock to the tent in the yard, which was a wet mess. I always said that I would get married barefoot on the beach. I guess barefoot in muddy grass is a close second.
After the ceremony, Em and I went for a tandem waterski. After one failed dock start that left us soaked, we managed to get up and do a victory lap in front of the crowd. Cottage life is awesome! And so is my wife. Most people wouldn’t have gone along with such a crazy plan. But then again, I wouldn’t marry most people.—Geoff Vail
Cam & Rebecca – Skeleton Lake, Ont.
Rebecca and I had never met, despite being cottage neighbours. Then a friend mentioned that he’d been to Skeleton Lake, staying with his pal Rebecca. I recognized her name and told him my family’s place was close by. He said, well, you should probably go out of your way to introduce yourself.
I looked her up on Facebook and sent her a message. We chatted for about six weeks. Meanwhile, our parents had known each other well, and our mothers used to meet up and go for a walk at the cottage. For years, they plotted to introduce us, but neither of us were really up for a blind date. So it never happened.
What did happen is that I eventually found an excuse to drive her up to the cottage when she didn’t have a ride. Once she was in the car, I drove in the slow lane. I kept finding reasons to stop and take our time. It felt like we had always known each other. It was easy. Eventually we made it up to the lake, where I met her entire family. We spent some more time together that day and into the evening. The next day I actually had plans to drive all the way back to meet some friends in Grand Bend. (I had really gone out of my way to bring her to the cottage.) I asked her to join me for the rest of the long weekend and, to my surprise, she agreed. We drove four hours to Grand Bend, and spent a few days with a whole group of people. Then I drove her back to Toronto, after a four-day stretch together. We call it our superdate.
Now, with kids, the drive up is a bit different. But when we go up just us, it’s always special.—Cam Carver
Love on the rocks
Meghan & Tim – Gull Lake, Ont.
Tim and I met at his friend Evan’s cottage when we were 15. It sounds cliché, but I fell in love with him instantly. We talked about our similar tastes in music, and he made me laugh the whole time. That first night, we lay on a dock under the stars, and after many awkward attempts, we held hands and stargazed. We spent the long weekend in teenage puppy love, and, when I left, I was devastated. We tried to date, but being so young and cities apart, it only lasted for a month. We still talked over the next three years via MSN. I thought about him all the time, and nothing seemed to work out with the other people I dated. Finally, at 18, I went to visit him at university. We picked up right where we left off, and now we’ve been together for nine years. He’s my other half. And we still spend so much time on Gull Lake, where we met. This also happens to be where his parents met when they were teenagers. Now we have a star map hanging in our bedroom that shows star configurations from the exact time we were lying on that dock.—Meghan Ardies
George & Robin – Oak Lake, Ont.
Robin and I met in the late ’60s, when we were in our early teens, and we spent the summer of ’71 as a couple. We were inseparable. I had shoulder-length blond hair. Robin’s parents weren’t totally happy with this situation—they didn’t approve of their youngest seeing a hippie.
Living far apart and without our own cars, we ended up going our separate ways. We both married other people, started our own families, and lived the lives most people our age lived. Eventually, we both got divorced.
For 40 years, we didn’t speak. Secretly, we both cherished our memories from ’71. The music, walking to the general store, and lots of boating and swimming—and each other.
Then, in 2013, I drove past her sister’s cottage in my boat. Robin waved at me from the dock. I turned around to visit her, and sparks flew. It was like time had stood still. A few years later, we were married. Funny how life comes full circle.—George Buetter
Raymond & Doris – Michel Lake, Ont.
Last summer, up at the cottage, our friends Raymond and Doris, after dating for years, decided on a whim that they wanted to get married—just not in the legal sense. Ray had been married twice, and Doris once, so a mock wedding suited them fine. (Ray is 81, and Doris 78.) We all flew with the idea. We borrowed a wedding dress, held together with white duct tape, from our friend Debbie. The groom made the cake. Then we held the ceremony on our pontoon boat. (They “honeymooned” back at Doris’s niece’s place. No privacy at camp.) Just for the hell of it, they intended to get an equally faux “divorce” the next day, at the trestle (a bridge that enters Iroquois Falls), but we didn’t bother. So, technically, I guess they’re still married.—Sue Tremblay
Patrick & Lianna – Baptiste Lake, Alta.
It was the last weekend of summer. My girlfriend, Lianna, was just back from a trip, and before she could put her bags down, I whisked her away to Baptiste Lake. I had grown up there, fishing, playing in the forest, and canoeing.
I knew I really liked this woman, and I wanted to share my childhood sanctuary with her. The sun was starting to set over the lake as we paddled past the reeds and trees. There was this moment where we just sat there in silence, beaming like a couple of goofs. I think we both knew that we had fallen for each other. Then we realized that our canoe had drifted into the reeds!
Later, curled up by the fire inside the cabin, the words “I love you” came so naturally. We are now married, and time out in nature remains our favourite way to escape and connect.—Patrick Lundeena
This story was originally published as “Summer Lovin'” in the Early Summer 2018 issue of Cottage Life.