Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Part Three: The Great Cottage Renewal

Mary and I had boxes filled with cottage dream clippings, a shelf of every issue of Cottage Life magazine, and neighbouring cottagers wondering endlessly whether we were really serious about making the cottage match the charm of the point.
But nothing ends procrastination quicker than a wife who says, by actions if not words, that enough is enough. And Mary was slower than usual in helping to open the cottage, and in late October and November, when the bass and pickerel were really biting but it was time to close up, I was there by myself. In the cold!
Our best bet for a contractor had always been a nice chap who could do everything and was very agreeable except he kept slipping through our grasp. Steve Buchanan (of Buchanan Kitchen and Bath, Lansdowne St., Peterboro) had grown up in Havelock and along with a buddy started building houses.
A great apprenticeship that prepared him to do everything himself, or deal with temperamental carpenters, balky plumbers and haughty electricians. He knew everyone in our nook of the Kawarthas, including the trades to avoid. A good example of his work stood just down our road, a house he had built that his sister now occupied. We became interested when a neighbour hired him several times and praised him, which caught our attention because this was one strange neighbour.
So Steve came around and thought fixing up the cottage and the bunkie would be a cinch. As a sensible fellow, he ignored the boat house. And we had long and pleasant planning sessions before he vanished.
A year later, under prodding from Mary, I phoned Steve on a chilly January Sunday. He said he had some ideas and would fax them within a week. Nothing happened! And so I closed the book on Steve. It became a family legend - the builder who died, the builders who were busy, the builders who wanted too much, the builder who disappeared...
Mary stayed on the scent. She found Steve doing more work for the cranky neighbour and he came over, explaining that he had left the contracting business to design kitchens and bathrooms but now he was back building.
And so, in the warm sun, with the river gurgling by, we drank and dreamed and drafted. I still have his rough sketch on a napkin (I really don't understand napkins at a cottage but Mary disagrees.) Later the design graduated to three sheets of graph drafting paper with rough but sure working drawings. And they resemble what finally was built, after the architectural technologist and the bureaucrats and the forms and the adjustments made in the midst of the hammering and sawing.
What I wanted, I said to Steve, was just a big room out front of the box. The old weather-beaten cottage was 500 square feet (about 46 square metres) and I wanted to double it. I was tired of never having space, whether at my 1 1/2 storey city home or the cottage. Cathedral ceiling. No walls. Fireplace. Nice wood. V front. Deck. An archway into the old cottage where the three home-made windows were. And new windows, doors and siding on the cottage and the bunkie.
And so we entered what I hoped was the stretch run of the restoration of Burnt Point. And this time I wasn't going to lose the jockey, my contractor Steve.
(Next: Hurdling the barricades)

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