Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Some old pictures I didn't take: Cottage Country

Cottage country, Ontario, late '30s

I CAN'T SPEAK FOR THE REST OF CANADA - it's a big country and our regional antipathies would be hard to explain to anyone who doesn't live here - but I can say with authority that "Cottage Country," an only semi-mythical place, exists in a vivid spot in the minds of people who've grown up or lived in Ontario.

My family never - or didn't until recently - have the money that got you to Cottage Country, which makes me wonder at these frames, shot by my mother and discovered in the pile of negatives I've inherited. They were taken in the late '30s - a time when everyone, we imagine, should have been on a breadline or riding the rails - and reveal a glimpse of leisure that I certainly didn't expect to find in my mother's past.

The lovely wooden speedboat pulling the water skier is hardly consistent with our image of the "Dirty Thirties," yet it's obvious that there were people with a financial cushion that meant their 1930s weren't markedly different from their 1920s. What surprises me, however, is that my mother somehow managed to find her way to a spot where she could catch this moment with her camera. It seems a long way from the Kodak factory and Mount Dennis.

Cottage country, Ontario, late '30s

I can't really guess where these were taken; it could have been the Muskokas or Georgian Bay or the Kawarthas. I'm assuming Mom was there as someone's guest, though I don't know who that could have been. In the context of the rest of the negatives and photos I've inherited - pictures of friends and family members posed in backyards or at weddings in Mount Dennis or Hamilton - these are exotic and unexpected, like finding a shot of Macchu Picchu or the Lascaux Caves.

We never owned a cottage, and my only memories of Cottage Country are a couple of day trips to Wasaga Beach and a crowded week in a tiny, musty-smelling, rented place where I spent the whole time scheming to get someone with a boat to take me out on the lake - without success. And yet I had a vivid image of places like the one in the photo above - a big old unwinterized cabin that smelled of pine and wood smoke, with a dark boathouse where the water lapped a hollow pulse against the walls.

I don't really share the Ontarian dream of Cottage Country despite this, but I wish I knew what brought my mother up there at such an unlikely time. These photos, more than any others I've dug out of the ripped envelopes where they sat for decades, remind me that my mother had a life full of incident and memories that I could never share, only some of which was captured in passing on the film in a box Brownie.

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