Cottaging is something Canadians do. It's not enough to have a home, some of us are lucky enough to have a second location, somewhere to go and feel like you have escaped. For me that "other" place is Fort William, Quebec.
Fort William is located on the Quebec Side of the Upper Ottawa River. If you stand on the beach and look out onto the water, Base Petawawa is across the river to your left, and to the right - up river - is Deep River and Chalk River.
This is cottage country. Many compare this part of the Ottawa to Georgian Bay because of its craggy rocks, deep water and pines slightly bent with strong winds. I think the Fort William area is far more beautiful than Georgian Bay because of what it isn't. It isn't clogged with boats and million dollar cottages. This area is popular, but still remote, and remarkably untouched.
My father and mother are both from the Upper Pontiac. Dad was born in Sheenboro, a small farming community inland from Fort William. Mother comes from Vinton, further down Highway 148 in the Shawville area. When they married they settled in Pembroke, Ontario. That's where my four sister and I were born. We learned early that our "roots" where across the river. Not just in Sheenboro, but in Fort William, the nearby cottage community.
Dad bought waterfront property at Fort William when I was still a girl. My sisters Cathy and Colleen and I helped him build our first cottage. By that, I mean we carried wood, held beams, cleaned up and made sure the tea was ready when it was lunchtime. I don't think any of us ever hammered a nail. My Dad, a perfectionist, wouldn't have it.
We loved that cottage. We carried water in, cooked on a Coleman stove and read by the light of kerosene lanterns. We swam until it was dark, then crawled into bed exhausted.
Dad sold that cottage and built a second cottage, on the adjacent property years later. He said we needed something bigger. This is the cottage where we have had ALL the family parties, and get togethers. We have celebrated birthdays, engagements, weddings, and anniversaries at Cottage Number Two. It has been the family gathering spot and one of the biggest reasons my sister Cathy, who lives in Sweden, comes home each summer with her family. The cottage is Meehan family glue.
It was not the last cottage my father built. In 1997 my husband Greg and I bought property just down the beach. We thought we would put a trailer or tent on it, but Dad was determined we should have a cottage too, especially since we now had Evan, our son. So that's how I ended up with my own place at Fort William.
We are older now. Mother and Dad have sold the main cottage to my sister Gabrielle and her husband Paul, but that has changed little. We still make the trek up to the "Fort" as much as possible, driven, in part, by another generation of kids (all cousins) who love spending time together on the river. And they're getting to know all the other cottagers' kids, who also have family ties to Fort William. The circle of Life. What I want them to know, and you, is about the rich history of the area.
We are far from the first to swim and boat in this part of the Ottawa River, to enjoy the incredibly long sandy beaches, or drop into the Pontiac Hotel for a drink, meal or ice cream. Many before us have marvelled at the breath taking sunsets over the islands. We should all just take a moment to remember, and appreciate.
Thank you to former Pembroke High school history teacher Andrew Perrault for helping put the pieces to the puzzle together.