What does cottaging look like across Canada?

wooden cabin during sunrise Photo by Givaga/Shutterstock

Folks across Canada like to take advantage of the country’s all-too-short summer by leaving their primary dwellings and escaping to somewhere with a little more wilderness, a little less chaos and, ideally, a lot more relaxation.

But while the need to get away is pretty universal, there are some important differences across the country.

People have different names for where they go

People in much of Ontario and parts of the Maritimes might be shocked to learn this, but “cottage” isn’t a universal term for a summer getaway property. In Newfoundland, parts of BC and most of Alberta and Saskatchewan, the term is “cabin,” thank you very much. In Quebec, not surprisingly, the term is “chalet,” and in northwestern Ontario and parts of New Brunswick, it’s the slightly more rustic-sounding “camp.” Cape Breton, meanwhile, calls them “bungalows.” Other regions will refer to going to “the lake” or “the farm,” depending on the prevailing geography.

Perhaps surprisingly for Ontarians, “cottage” is seen as a little pretentious in places that prefer to use “cabin:” it’s an uppity term for a summer house that rich people own—which, given some of the properties in Muskoka, maybe isn’t all that far off. Never fear, Ontario cottagers—we know that many of you revel in simple, no-frills places that could easily be called “cabins.” And all of us can agree that the outdoors, not regional nomenclature, is the most important part of getting away anyway.

Oh, and “cottaging” has a completely different (not suitable for work) meaning in the UK. Probably a good idea to look that up before you host any British guests.

Not everyone goes to the same kind of place

Ontario is famous for its many, many lakes, and whether you’re on Lake Erie or in Muskoka, most cottages are on or near open water of some sort. If you’re on the East or West Coast, chances are you’re getting away to a property on or near the ocean, and if you’re in Alberta, you’re probably taking off for the mountains, without too much thought about water access. Not that there aren’t lakes in all these areas, of course—it’s just that “lake” and “cottage” are pretty much synonymous in Ontario, and not so much in other areas.

Of course, lakes and oceans aren’t the only bodies of water that have cottages or cabins. There’s a healthy cottaging population along the St. Lawrence, and on other rivers across the country.

People travel different distances to get there

For a lot of Maritimers who have moved west to find work, a cabin or cottage back home is the way to reconnect with the land and culture they grew up with—so going somewhere for the summer might mean getting on a plane or taking a multi-day drive. Ontarians, on the other hand, tend to cottage close-ish to home—although the traffic getting to the most popular cottage spots can turn what should be a relatively short drive into a multi-hour marathon. Many Albertans are much the same as Ontarians, travelling a little ways out of the major city centres to enjoy time at a cabin in the mountains.

We go at different times of the year

In many places across the country, escaping from the city for a week or longer is a summer thing—once winter rolls around, the cottage, cabin or bungalow gets shut up tight, to lie dormant until the weather warms up again. In some areas, though—especially where skiing and other winter sports are popular—going to the cottage or cabin is a year-round undertaking. Considering the cottage can be a glorious place in the winter, maybe summer devotees should consider trying out a cold-weather visit.

We do different things

If you’re on a lake or river, chances are you’ve got a motorboat, kayak, or canoe, and you like to go swimming, fishing or paddling most days. If you’re in a cabin in the woods, hiking might be a part of your regular activities. And while campfires might be regular occurrences for some places, your area may be prone to wildfires (or in the midst of them)—which means board games might have to take the place of s’mores for an evening’s activity. Ocean property? Clambakes, driftwood fires, and exploring tidal pools.

Some own, some rent

In some areas (Ontario’s Muskoka region, for example, or the popular tourist towns in Alberta) owning a cottage can be super expensive, so folks choose to rent a cabin instead. For a lot of cottagers, though, going back to the same place over and over—often across generations of a family—is a big part of the experience, so owning a cottage has an appeal that can override any qualms about price.

What have you noticed about Canada’s cottage and cabin culture?