35th anniversary celebration: Times we basically predicted the future

man in a donald duck hat sitting on a deck in cottage country holding an early cell phone in front of on an old computer Photo by Ellen Tofflemire

It was rent to be
In our March 2000 issue, we published a story by David Cameron called “Internet Biz Offers New Lease on Life.” This picture of Mike and Jean Campbell using a desktop computer on their deck may be dated, but they were on the cutting edge of a soon-to-be cottage trend: renting out cottages online.

a couple sitting on their deck with a large desktop computer
Photo courtesy Mike Campbell

The couple owned a property on Warner Bay on the Bruce Peninsula, not far from the place where Mike’s family had owned a cottage for 30 years.

But it was the 18 years that Mike spent as Bruce County’s senior planner, followed by a stint as the area’s 911 coordinator, where he became familiar with the many bays and hamlets of the region, not to mention the potential of the peninsula’s often dormant cottages.

In 1995, Mike and Jean did a mail-out (yes, through the mail) and found that 17 cottages in the area were interested in renting. They set up a “Web site” for Bruce Peninsula/Huron Shores Cottage Rentals, including an early take on a rating system that judged a property’s privacy with a score out of five. The site was so successful that, after three years, Mike left his planning job to run the venture full-time. Soon after, the couple listed their 100th cottage. The Campbells were able to work from home for most of the year, but in the summer, they would move their fax, scanner, two computers, and two kids to the cottage for July and August. Though that sounds pretty great, summer is obviously a busy time for cottage rentals. “One of us has to stay in the office,” said Jean at the time, “while the other goes for a swim.”

Twenty-two years later, even we’re in on the cottage rental game—we have a hub on our website. Man, you can’t help but wonder if Mike and Jean had the foresight to buy shares in Amazon too?

Ducking out of the office
“The Electronic Cottage,” was a famous catchphrase coined by American futurist Alvin Toffler 10 years before we published a story by Yvonne Cox in 1989 about working remotely from the cottage (“Taking Care of Business,” Aug ’89). Can you believe? According to Toffler, this revolution would be made possible by “word processors, computers, facsimile machines, and teleconferencing equipment.” Well, considering that’s a prediction from more than 30 years go, it’s pretty spot on.

man in a donald duck hat sitting on a deck in cottage country holding an early cell phone in front of on an old computer
Photo by Ellen Tofflemire

But even he couldn’t predict the effect that a global pandemic would have on accelerating the trend of remote working. Cox goes on to say, “Futuristic predictions aside, most urbanites still do not grab a home-brewed coffee, close the den door, and fire up the computer for another day’s business.” We beg to differ.

Extending the weekend isn’t a pandemic innovation either: “With his cellular phone,” Cox writes, “[Then-CEO of Rogers Broadcasting] Jim Sward gets the jump on Friday evening traffic and occasionally postpones his trip back until Monday morning.” And these early-adopters were already starting to grapple with conflating the cottage and the office. ” ’Why?’ ask incredulous cottagers for whom the vacation home, however humble or grand, symbolizes an escape from profit margins, demanding bosses, nagging clients, and the shrill summons of the telephone.”

The technology, however rudimentary, presented an opportunity that we’re still taking advantage of today: without the convenience of such time-saving tools, Jim Sward said he would be hard-pressed to get away at all. Now, surely there was a 1990 article about unplugging we could read? No? I guess we’re still trying to figure that out.

Back to the future
You might not think of cottagers as living in the future, but as we’ve highlighted many times, you’ve always been innovative.

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