Water-access cottagers on Lake Mazinaw struggle to rebuild over a year after the derecho

It’s been a long road to recovery for cottages in Eastern Ontario hit by a devastating derecho storm in May 2022. Over a year later cottagers on Lake Mazinaw are struggling to rebuild. Gillian Van Kempen’s water-access cottage on the lake was one of the properties destroyed by the storm, and she’s been trying to rebuild it ever since.

The Van Kempen cottage is one of the dozen properties in Clay Bay. Her parents built the cottage in 1974, the year she was born, and she has always strived to maintain the original vision despite many renovations and additions.

“This place was my sanctuary,” Van Kempen says. “I don’t recognize where I am anymore.” [Before the storm] the forest trails were just wide enough for an ATV, but now they are as wide as a two-lane highway. “There were walls of downed trees—hundreds if not thousands of them.”

After around 10 trees crashed into the house, she made calls to contractors, engineers, and insurance companies. With a water-access property, getting anyone to come and assess the damage was difficult, and repairs were more complicated than expected.

“The engineer came in and said, ‘You have to completely relevel this cottage.’ But with no road access you can’t just bring in a massive crane,” she says. “It’s all a very manual process.”

The engineers ultimately found the building leaned too far to one side to be fixed, so the Van Kempens decided to build another cottage behind the first, a two-storey property with floor-to-ceiling windows. This time around they are adding a basement in case of another storm, and an additional bathroom to accommodate the growing families of Gillian and her sister, Wendy. 

Being water-access also means they have to load all their materials onto a boat, cart them to the property, and unload them in stages. Wendy says the process can take hours, and the loads can be quite heavy, so they needed to innovate. 

“They put two-by-fours under big cabinets and there were probably five guys with my husband holding them over their shoulders,” she says. “It’s an adventure, that’s for sure.”

To allow the Van Kempens to recover their belongings, the insurance company hired arborists to take down their fallen trees. 

“Every limb they cut off fell onto the deck, damaging it even further,” she says. “Then there were sections that fell into the bedroom. It cracked the floor and affected the leveling of the cottage.”

As a board member for the Mazinaw Property Owners Association, Van Kempen says she watched the community come together after the storm. Many members of the Facebook group offered help and reached out to other lake residents using the MPOA contact database.

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The board also discussed how they could help more directly, but they weren’t aware of any federal grants or provincial assistance. As a result, Van Kempen says some of her water-access neighbours still struggle to find restoration companies and contractors who are both close enough to offer services and affordable.

Their family estimates that their insurance company has poured around half a million dollars into the new property. They’re hoping to have construction for the bay house done by spring 2024.

“The most upsetting part was the feeling after the storm that it robbed us of something so special,” Van Kempen says. “But there’s going to be a lot of great memories we can make at the new place.”

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