When Hurricane Fiona hit Prince Edward Island on Sept. 24, Jen Harding was at home in Toronto, glued to news updates. She owns a cottage on the eastern end of the island, an area known for its dramatic sandstone cliffs and iconic white lighthouse. A great place to vacation and unwind. But not the place you wanted to be during Hurricane Fiona.
The storm toppled trees on Harding’s property, carved two metres out of the oceanfront sand dunes, and sent her barbecue for a ride. “Nothing structural, though. Thank goodness,” Harding says.
Others weren’t as lucky. Harding serves as the president of the Seasonal Residents of PEI, a not-for-profit association that acts as a forum for those who own property on the island but aren’t residents. Through conversations with association members, Harding’s heard about the damage inflicted on other PEI cottages.
“One of our seasonal residence members just bought her cottage in July, and it’s gone,” she says. Harding also points to Hebrides, a cottage community near Cavendish. “I think many of the cottage properties are just completely gone, washed out to sea.”
For cottagers affected by the storm, there’s little recourse. The federal government rolled out its Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements program after the storm. The fund covers 90 per cent of a province’s expenses following a disaster, including transportation, emergency food, shelter, and restoring or replacing uninsurable dwellings and items, such as books and furnishings. The financial assistance, however, is only available to PEI residents who had their primary homes affected. Cottages are ineligible. Meanwhile, the province offered $250 to all PEI residents. Seasonal residents don’t qualify.
Harding isn’t arguing that cottagers should be eligible for the same funding as permanent residents. “The funding should first go to people whose primary residence has been affected. There’s no question,” she says. But Harding does wonder whether something can’t be done for the handful of cottagers who experienced catastrophic loss. The ones whose cottages were wiped off the map.
Without any financial assistance, cottagers would normally rely on insurance to cover their losses. But the cottages impacted by ocean water aren’t covered.
According to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, insurance companies don’t cover damage caused by overland flooding from coastal waters, salt water, storm surge, tsunamis, and tidal waves. This means that the cost to rebuild or repair a cottage affected by ocean water falls entirely to the owner.
Harding admits that responsibility needs to be taken for the cottage’s location, but it doesn’t mean that cottage owners should be punished for it.
“Some people would say it’s a luxury, so we shouldn’t feel too bad,” she says. “But I couldn’t say that with a straight face to people who I know have lost a property that has been in their family for decades.”
While the Seasonal Residents of PEI can’t offer financial assistance, it’s doing what it can to help cottagers in need. There are approximately 3,500 households on PEI owned by non-residents, Harding says. Many of those owners live in Ontario, Quebec, other maritime provinces, and the U.S. To help, the association has introduced a matchmaking service, pairing cottagers on the ground with those who haven’t had a chance to check on their properties.
“We saw a lot of people willing to go out and check-in and give people reports back and photos,” Harding says.
In the grand scheme, most cottages endured downed trees and damaged roofs. Nothing in comparison to the stories of those who died during the storm or the elderly who lived without power for over a week, Harding says. But when she thinks about how much some cottagers have lost, she can’t help but feel heartbroken.