Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Part Two: The Great Cottage Renewal

Deciding to expand a cottage is like deciding to get some more room in the marriage bed.
At the start, maybe even for a few years, you can put up with so little space that you have to plan ahead just to move a chair.
But then it makes you cranky.
Like when you wake up in the night and wish you had just a little more space on your side of the bed, the happy days of always spooning or sleeping intertwined no longer a daily memory.
My Burnt Point retreat continued to be a wonderful escape from reality, even when zebra mussels waited to inflict paper cuts on feet and hands, even when the water weeds exploded in growth because the mussels had let so much sun through to fertilize the river bottom and change fishing patterns forever.

The days were endless pleasure. My sons and their friends romped from pup tents to the bunkie deck with their beer games and kidding. I hated to interrupt their camaraderie to ask who broke my favourite fishing rod and ran the boat out of gas. The barbecue glowed and the delicious smell of burning grease cut through all that fresh air that makes you sleep an extra hour or two or three.

But in the chill of spring and fall, or when the rain persists, it's nice to have space to snuggle, maybe even before a fireplace instead of the rusting space heater.
And so Mary and I would return to expansion schemes. And I put some money aside, along with hopes that renewing Burnt Point wouldn't be a hassle of red tape, trades folks and bills.
I would go to the shows of Cottage Life and Sportsmen's, Mary would give me catalogues of cottage plans for Christmas (hint, hint), and pull out the latest dream cottage from the Cottage Life magazine. But somehow reading in my air chair was more attractive on a summer afternoon than talking to local builders.
We tried surveying the market. At one point, I contemplated buying a new cottage with a century-old cottage inside, along with a spa and sauna. A lighted tennis court was on the second lot. Wow! Maybe even affordable. But somehow I was now programmed to drive the 189 km from central Etobicoke to my cottage on the Trent south of Havelock (on the river above Healey Falls.) And so we stopped with the hunt, and dreaming up excuses for why everything we looked at didn't measure up to the views from Burnt Point.
My neighbours were no help. Bob Clement, who has cottaged there since the days of Adam and Eve, said why didn't I just bulldoze the cottage and start again. And while I was it, knock down the damn unsightly boathouse. And the bunkie was no hell..
Then Connie and Glen Woodcock built a new house just off Highway 45 and said their builder, a Dutchman who was a whiz at drywalling and just about everything else, was economical and good. So I called him. We drafted a crude plan of a two-storey wing connected with a breezeway. A shallow V. Would cost $80,000, he figured. I gagged.
He said he would be back after taking his wife on an trailer trip through the U.S. Never heard from him. Which didn't quite surprise me since this had happened with several builders at that point
Next spring, I decided to track him down and found that his son was building a house south of Campbellford. Quite nice too.
I kidded the son about his father not coming back and, shocked, he said his father had dropped dead the night he returned from the U.S.
My luck didn't improve. Two builders told Mary that they were booked for two years. Apparently the economy was better in the Kawarthas than it appeared. We talked to an innovator who used straw-stuffed blocks. I worried about what would happen if the Trent waterway flooded but it didn't matter because he wasn't really interested.
When two contractors were working in the neighbourhood, I asked them over for some ballpark estimates. They both hit home runs, estimating that it would cost at least $25,000 just to pick my cottage up to put a foundation underneath before they did anything else. There was a hint they would knock my boathouse down for free.
You see, my cottage and bunkie were "floating," to use the term for cottages who don't have a concrete foundation but are perched on piles or blocks or just the ground.
And so the "floating" term poisoned the planning for several years, the local lore being that the tyrant of a local building official would never let me build anything attached to the cottage without putting in a real foundation first. And so Mary and me put our renovation dream on hold, a $25,000 hold.
(Next- Actually getting shovels in the ground)

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