To celebrate our first issue with Cottage Life’s new editor, Michelle Kelly, we sat down to discuss her history with the magazine, her love of cottaging, and her preference in butter tarts!
When did you start working at Cottage Life?
I started at Cottage Life right out of university, in the fall of 1998. I heard about an opening at the magazine for a receptionist and thought working here would be a good way to get some experience ahead of applying to journalism school. Well, that was my plan anyway; at about the time that I was preparing my application for school, a job came up as editorial assistant. I applied to that instead and ended up getting it. I’ve been here ever since.
What are your most memorable experiences from working for the magazine?
Well, it’s been 17 years so there have been a lot of memorable experiences! I think what I’ve enjoyed the most is simply going to cottages and meeting cottagers. I’m always amazed by how welcoming they are when I show up on their doorstep. Most cottagers only have such a limited time at the lake, but I can’t recall a time when they haven’t welcomed me with open arms (and usually a beer), keen to tell me all about their places. They are an endlessly social bunch!
What are some of your favourite places you’ve visited while on the job?
I estimate that in the time I’ve been working at Cottage Life I’ve visiting hundreds of cottages—of all shapes and sizes! I’ve been to big, fancy places that are about five times the size of my home and to small little shacks that a strong wind might blow over (but somehow doesn’t). Obviously, there are big differences here, but there is actually a surprising amount that is the same: people hanging out and relaxing, puttering around fixing things, spending time with friends and family. Despite the differences in where we all cottage, we seem to do the actual cottaging in a strikingly similar way.
Do you have any big plans for the future of the magazine?
I think what Cottage Life magazine has done so well is help cottagers manage their properties. How many people know about how a septic system works before they became cottagers? We explain that to them—and also explain how to keep it running problem free. That service and how-to information is the backbone of what we do, but we also strive to entertain our readers and want them to feel the same relaxed, content feeling reading the magazine that they feel when they’re at the lake.
One thing I’d like to do more of is reflect back the ways in which cottage country is changing. As the boomers age and step back from full ownership of family cottages, there is a whole new generation taking over—a whole new generation who need to know about septic systems! But they also need to know about entertaining their kids, how to make their retreats more comfortable year round, or about the latest watertoys to hit the market. I look forward to connecting with that new generation of cottagers and hearing all about their experiences.
What childhood cottage memories do you cherish?
I grew up cottaging on the Rideau in Eastern Ontario in a cottage that my parents built before they were even married. To say that the cottage is where my roots are is to understate it. I have so much appreciation for the time I spent there as a kid, hanging out with my family. We are a close bunch, and it’s mostly because of the time we spent together at the lake. I hear this from other lifelong cottagers all the time.
How are you passing those traditions on to your own kids?
We sold our family cottage about five years ago, so now my husband and I are starting our own cottage journey with our two kids. Last summer we rented two separate cottages, each very different from the other, in the Bancroft area. It was amazing to see how my kids immediately took to the environment, spending long days hunting for frogs, collecting rocks, napping in the hammock, and laughing all the time. I’m a total sap, for sure—but the experience made us even more excited to buy our own place.
Why is it so important to pass the tradition of cottaging on to future generations?
Cottaging doesn’t just foster a sense of loyalty and togetherness from time spent together, it also teaches us about the environment, and how we need to be respectful of it. Anyone who has spent a night under a summer canopy of stars cannot help but feel that they are a part of something much bigger than themselves (I told you I was a sap!). That sense of environmental stewardship is so strong in cottagers because they experience the lake environment so intimately. And I think that sense of respect translates into a desire to protect … which couldn’t be more important in this day and age.
What’s the key to making a good s’more?
Don’t cheap out on the chocolate! And I actually prefer it when the graham crackers get a big soggy after they have been sitting outside. Is that gross? Maybe, but s’mores aren’t exactly a health food so I’m not sweating it.
Raisins in butter tarts: necessity or abomination?
Now you are really making me weigh in on a controversial topic! Truly, I’m good with or without. I’d never say no to a butter tart.
Pick up our winter issue and receive a Cottage Life Trivia Calendar exclusively at Chapters/Indigo Books & Music. Special offer gift packs on sale now!