How Algonquin Park inspired cottage fashion

Published: April 16, 2020 · Updated: April 21, 2020

Canoe on Canoe Lake on a misty morning Photo by Grant Harder

Inspired by Algonquin Park, this cottager turned her passion into fashion 

It all started with a coat. Black and white, wool buffalo check. No one can quite recall where it came from originally, and the tag is long gone. Just an old jacket, the sort of thing that might hang on a hook in the cottage mudroom or languish in a closet. But for Lyndsay Borschke, the most recent owner of the coat—she started wearing it soon after her mother-in-law handed it down to her—it was the Cottage Coat. And it was the coat that launched a business.

Lyndsay, 40, is the founder of Tuck Shop Trading Co., a Toronto-based company that bridges the divide between cabin and city, with clothing that is rustic yet elegant, stylish yet simple. The aesthetic behind what she calls “Canadiana redefined” is rooted firmly in her years first as a camper and now as a cottager in Algonquin Provincial Park.

Algonquin Park is quintessentially Canadian. We grow up seeing the park through the eyes of the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, its trees and shorelines prominent on the walls of our most prestigious art galleries. For many visitors to the park—and the country—it is where they first kneel in a canoe, its lakes the first into which they dip a paddle. Thought to be part of the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, the Anishinabewaki, and the Omàmiwininiwak (Algonquin), it is the oldest provincial park in the country, originally established as a “Forest Reservation and National Park,” more than 125 years ago. The park attracts half a million visitors each year, between draws such as nighttime wolf howls, day visits to witness the fall colour, campground stays, and backcountry trips.

Enjoy the changing seasons at this Algonquin-adjacent cabin

Lyndsay has spent part of her summers in the park since age eight, when she first went to Camp Wapomeo on Canoe Lake. The camp, and the lake, “was always the most important place for me,” she says. She found a second home on the shores of the islands that make up the all-girls camp: orange and green canoes flipped over on the docks, lined up haphazardly like shoes at the door; the wooden cabins cluttered with clothing, a summer’s worth of books, and bathing suits; the dining hall, tables set with yellow Melmac plates and the walls decorated with wooden plaques recording camper names from decades past. “All my very best friends are camp friends,” says Lyndsay. “There’s a saying: ‘Camp friends are forever friends.’  ” She spent a month at Wapomeo each year until soon the entire summer was defined by time on the lake.

Camp Wapomeo sign
Camp Wapomeo sign. Photo by Grant Harder

In 1997, she was back at camp as staff, first as a counsellor-in-training, then as a counsellor; eventually she was working behind the scenes, as a bookkeeper and the director of business development and operations. One of her responsibilities was stocking the camp’s tuck shop with camper basics: toothbrushes, flashlights, disposable cameras, and, perhaps most importantly, branded apparel. The job gave her the chance to design, something she didn’t know that she was interested in until she began to do it. Turns out, she had a knack for it, finding inspiration in Wapomeo’s long Algonquin Park history. The camp had extensive archives—photos, old pamphlets and documents—and she’d pore over them, searching for inspiration to incorporate into new clothing designs. “I looked for anything that would resonate with campers,” she says. Lyndsay’s designs were a hit: “That experience definitely put me on a trajectory without me knowing it.”

Another key part of her trajectory was connecting with Chris, a friend from Wapameo’s brother camp, Ahmek. They started dating, and it wasn’t long before she was spending time at his family’s cottage on the lake, which soon became her new home in Algonquin once she was no longer at camp.

Lyndsay’s work at the tuck shop led to a job with one of her suppliers and then another job working for a business that made clothes for summer camps and schools. Before long, she started thinking of her own business. She already had a foot in the door. “Meeting those local suppliers meant that I wasn’t starting out cold,” she says.

And she had that black and white checked coat. “Chris’ mom had given me her old wool jacket,” recalls Lyndsay. “She’d had it from the ’70s, when she was a counsellor at Wapomeo. I really liked the vintage vibe of the buffalo check.”

Lyndsay imagined a coat with the same feel, but cut for a woman, and with leather embellishments. “I wanted to take it and make it cooler and nicer,” she says. The idea gradually evolved into the Tuck Shop Trading Co.—elevated, cottage-inspired clothing that’s wearable in the city—and the Cottage Coat became the signature piece.

On this bright September morning, Lyndsay’s dog, Rosie—a mixed-breed rescue—in true cottage-dog form, is the first to jump into the aluminum tinnie that’s bobbing at the mainland cottager dock at the south end of Canoe Lake. The cabin, at the north end, is water-access only and a 15-minute or so boat ride away. Lyndsay, wearing a Tuck Shop Cottage Coat (this one pink and white), steps into the boat with her 16-month-old daughter, Blake. “Boo” already knows the drill, happy in her lifejacket on her mother’s knee. Lyndsay’s eldest daughter, three-and-a-half-year-old Poppy, settles herself behind the mid-ship steering wheel. “I’m going to drive,” she says. “Are you?” asks Lyndsay, while she arranges bags of groceries and weekend supplies. “All by myself,” Poppy replies, as she watches her grandmother, whom everyone calls Matchey, untie the boat and hop in. “Sit over here, Pop,” says Matchey in her friendly but no-nonsense manner. “I may need to pull-start this baby.”

It’s the morning after high winds and a series of tornadoes have ripped across the province, taking down trees and powerlines. But today the skies are clear, the lake calm. Matchey steers around the point, towards the open water, passing the camp en route to the cottage. The lighthouse across from Senior Wapomeo Island comes into view, and then Main Wapomeo Island with its arts and crafts shack and dining hall. Only a handful of canoes are heading into the park today; when camp is in session, the expanse of water between the islands is filled with canoes, small sailboats, and, several times a day, a war canoe that 30-odd teenagers use to get back and forth between meals on one island and their cabins and tents on the other.

As the dock at the cottage comes into view, Matchey frowns and says, “Lyndsay, did you leave your canoe like that?” The Kevlar canoe sits bobbing in the shallows. “No, I certainly did not,” Lyndsay replies. Pulling in behind the tinnie in a motorboat is Bruce Sandilands, a long-time friend and lake neighbour. He steps out of his boat onto the dock before Matchey has even cut her engine. He’s got the canoe flipped over on the dock in a few seconds, and he and Lyndsay inspect the bottom of the boat, which they suspect was blown into the lake during the storm. “No holes,” he says. “Just a few good scratches. It’ll just look like it’s been on a trip.”

Ray Kettlewell-designed paddles
Ray Kettlewell-designed paddles. Photo by Grant Harder

Bruce is on his way from his cabin, where the power is out, to help another neighbour with a problem stove. Matchey confirms that he and his wife, Sherry, will be coming by for dinner later. With a see-you-soon, Bruce takes off, while Lyndsay and Matchey unload the boat, and Poppy and Boo wander around in their lifejackets, revelling in rediscovery of the place.

Matchey’s parents built the cabin in the early ’50s, not long after they were first married. It has been added onto, but the simple main room is still the heart of the place, serving as the kitchen, living room, and dining room. With only one bedroom in the cabin, the screened porch doubles as another: Chris usually sleeps there—whatever the weather—on a large pine-framed daybed, following the tradition originally started by his grandfather.

There’s also a bunkie, where Chris’s brother, Andrew, mostly stays now, “built by my dad and Sherry’s dad, legend has it, in a weekend,” says Matchey. Lyndsay pokes her head inside, and inspects the Cottage Coat hanging from a hook. “This one is the original men’s sample we made. I gave it to Andrew, but I see the mice have been enjoying it.” The real original—the one Matchey gave her—is in what Lyndsay calls “The Tuck Shop Archives”—boxes of stuff stashed safely in the city.

The most recent addition to the property is a tent-frame cabin, like the ones at Wapomeo. From its deck, you can see the lake, but you’re practically invisible to passing paddlers, thanks to a spattering of trees along the shoreline. “We call this ‘Canoe TV,’ ” says Lyndsay, as one goes past. “People don’t realize we can hear every word they say. We’ve heard relationships ending as people make their way down the lake, arguing about the map.”

Lyndsay Borschke in the Cottage Coat (with Boo, left, and Poppy)
Lyndsay Borschke in the Cottage Coat (with Boo, left, and Poppy). Photo by Grant Harder

The Tuck Shop flagship store, on Yonge St. in Toronto, has pale wood floors, racks filled with bathing suits, wool coats, cashmere hats, and long cotton dresses. In the narrow hallway that leads to her office and a city-sized patio at the back, Lyndsay has a gallery of old photos, maps, letters on camp letterhead dated 1946, cardboard luggage tags, and outtakes from fashion shoots, all inspiration she keeps close at hand.

“I knew I wanted to do the coat,” Lyndsay says. “It’s the iconic piece. But I couldn’t just start with one item. I wanted cashmere,” she says. Cashmere? At the cottage? “I wanted to do something nicer than a 20-dollar T-shirt,” says Lyndsay. “Something that was a necessity, but with a nod to luxury. Cashmere seemed like a good fit.”

When Tuck Shop launched in November 2013, Lyndsay sold only fall and winter items: the Cottage Coat, cashmere accessories, and acrylic toques. The company’s City of Neighbourhoods toques—and eventually, the toques named for different cottage areas, and different ski destinations (“Skibourhoods”)—became the store’s bread and butter. To Chris’ surprise: “He has always been really supportive of the business,” says Lyndsay. “But I remember talking with him about those hats. He thought it was a stupid idea. Of course, we laugh about it now.”

Since Tuck Shop’s beginnings, Matchey has shared in the business as a partner. Busy with her own law career, her involvement has been slim, but she’s looking forward to doing more. “Lyndsay is really the creative force,” says Matchey. “I’ll be working on the non-creative side.” She hopes to broaden the e-commerce business and expand it internationally. With Matchey more involved in the day-to-day, “it’ll free me up to do product development,” says Lyndsay—which is of course her favourite part.

Despite being collaborators on the business, Lyndsay and Matchey have very different approaches to cottage fashion. Matchey wears the same clothes the whole time she’s at the cabin. Lyndsay, on the other hand? “Some people think I’m crazy, but I like wearing a dress when I’m here,” she says. “We have a dress that’s long and made of linen with pockets. I wore it all summer.” It’s casual enough that you don’t look out of place even at a cottage as rustic as a Canoe Lake cabin, says Lyndsay. “And anything we’re making is going to be wearable and made to last.” For her part, Poppy spends afternoons at the lake with hair unbrushed, in a T-shirt, watershoes, and mittens. “Algonquin chic,” says Lyndsay, wryly. “She takes after me,” says Matchey.

Lyndsay Borschke (in toque) with friends in her Algonquin Park cottage
Lyndsay (in toque) with friends in her Algonquin Park cottage. Photo by Grant Harder

As the day’s shadows grow longer, and the air starts to cool, Sherry and Bruce arrive for dinner, Sherry handing over half a carrot cake for dessert (“Lyndsay’s favourite,” says Bruce). Matchey may pay little attention to her weekend wardrobe, but she goes the extra mile where food is concerned. Tonight, for example, she “attempted” a tomato tart. “It could be excellent, or it could be a disaster,” she admits.

Bruce is wearing a toque and a headlamp, and before he has taken off his red jacket, Lyndsay and Matchey are all over it. “Where did you get it?” Lyndsay asks. “It’s Red Lake, circa 1985,” he says with a laugh, explaining that it’s a hunting jacket, standard issue from rural hardware stores decades ago. On the back, the jacket has a large “game pocket,” Bruce says. “You’re supposed to put your birds in there. But I don’t think anyone actually does.”

Canoeing at sunset on Canoe Lake
Canoeing at sunset on Canoe Lake. Photo by Grant Harder

Just after sunset, they sit for dinner around the big dining room table in the main room. Bruce tells a story, about one Thanksgiving night on Canoe Lake years ago, when a storm knocked out the power. “Well, we’ve got 22 people, families from all over the lake, coming to our place for dinner. So Sherry took the turkey out of the oven and put it in our wood cookstove. We had all the woodstoves firing in all of our cabins. And then,” Bruce says, “we put on every Aladdin lamp and every candle we could find. All the buildings were lit up.

“Our daughter, Paige, was working in Huntsville and was coming in around seven o’clock,” he says. “She came up the lake in a storm, all covered up and blowing about in the boat, and she said the whole lake was pitch black because everybody’s power was out. And so she came around the corner—our place is up high on a ridge—and all the cabins were lit up with lights and lanterns and candles, and she said it looked like this little elfin village in the trees.

“It was blowing and snowing and awful outside, but inside it was like this, shirtsleeves. Cozy. Paige said it was the best Thanksgiving ever, that we should turn out the power every year because it was so magical.”

It’s a fitting story on this post-storm fall evening. But for Lyndsay, the most interesting part of the visit is Bruce’s jacket. She likes everything about it: the quilting in the shoulders (“very ’80s”), the clever shoulder patch, and the arrow details on the pockets. Best of all, she says, this jacket is reversible. “I think that’s the coolest part.”

Lyndsay can’t help but get inspiration from Algonquin. “I’m always finding it, around every corner,” she says. “Tuck Shop’s bestsellers are inspired by cottage time.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Cottage Life magazine as “Cut from the Same Cloth.”

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