I never planned to buy a cabin. Then I saw my grandfather’s old property in Algonquin listed for $220,000

I never planned to buy a cabin. Then I saw my grandfather’s old property in Algonquin listed for $220,000

As far back as I can remember, living with nature was an essential part of my life. Born and raised in Oshawa, I was the eldest of three children. My family didn’t have a lot of money — my dad was a freight driver for Purolator and my mom was a school bus driver — so traveling was not an option.

Instead, from the age of nine, we spent summers at my grandparents’ cabin in the Algonquins. Nicknamed Rocky Ridge for its rugged terrain, the grandparents bought it from the original owners for $55,000.

Set in private grounds, the three-bed, one-bath bungalow was approximately 750 square feet. The lot had 108 feet of waterfront frontage on Lake Barnum. With a rustic red exterior and A-frame roof, the cottage clinged to a small hill overlooking the lake, where many mornings a mist drifted through the window.

While the place belonged to my grandparents, we would have come to know it as the family cottage. We were taught to care for and respect nature and animals. My grandfather, an avid hobbyist in the art of wood burning, turned household items into works of art, like turning kitchen cabinets into a carved landscape of trees and rock.

With my sister Jennifer and my brother Thom, I explored the nearby woods. We climbed trees and picked raspberries. We made food and listened to my grandparents’ chosen music on the radio, usually Polka. We sat together on the deck and played “I Spy”, spotting clouds, trying to find shapes in them.

Sometimes I would place peanuts between my toes and feed the chipmunks, or watch hummingbirds hover above the feeder. But what I remember most are our activities on hot days. We swam in the lake with Grandpa, who was doing backstroke to the little bay at the end of the lake.

As we grew up, the circumstances in our family changed. Grandpa had mobility issues and couldn’t keep up with the interview. And no one else in the family could afford the upkeep at the time.

In the summer of 2001, my grandparents were forced to sell for $80,000. It was especially difficult for me because my parents separated around the same time. When the chalet was sold, I felt the end of my childhood.

Over the years, I have retained many memories. While in college at Queen’s, I ended up working part-time at a hardware store called Millwork in Oshawa. This is where I met my husband, Steve. The store has since been replaced by a big-box conglomerate, but in hindsight the woodworking has stuck with me.

In the summer of 2020, my husband and I were living in Whitby with our daughter Grace, 5, and our son, Oliver, 8. Steve was an accountant for an architectural firm and I worked as a teacher for deaf children. and hard of hearing. And although I often thought of the cabin during those years, life went on and we had no immediate plans to buy our own cabin.

Grace, Steve, Kathleen and Oliver, with their dogs, Teddy and Toby

In June, my cousin, who rents a cottage every year, happened to see my grandfather’s cottage on MLS, listed for $220,000. I broke the news to my husband, who said we should have a look. In July, we made the two hour and forty-five minute trip to the Algonquins, partly for nostalgia, partly for fun.

The adventure began before our arrival at the chalet. As we drove through the Haliburton Highlands, it was clear we were in the Canadian Shield because of the jagged granite walls that lined the road. The boulders measured up to thirty feet in some places. I knew we would probably see wildlife, like turkeys, porcupines, turtles, deer, foxes, owls and moose walking around. There were tall jack pines leaning over our lake, which reminded me of Tom Thomson’s “The jack pine.

Upon arriving, we passed a general store that has been around for 100 years. It’s the last stop for supplies, cabin gifts and the famous Kawartha Dairy ice cream. After turning off the main road, it was another thirty minutes of winding, hilly road with no cell reception. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is often required to access it due to the steepness of the terrain.

To my surprise, the place was almost exactly as my grandfather had left it. The man who bought my grandfather’s cabin 20 years ago hadn’t made any changes.

Inside, I saw scenes from my old life. No television; mid-century modern furnishings within wood-panelled walls; the dining room table; the flower-studded carpet; and the airy gray curtains draped over the window.

A few personal accessories were still there. Wood kitchen cabinets; my grandmother’s dishes; Hidden in a drawer was an old phone book with a note my grandmother had written on the cover.

Seen out the window was our lake without a motorboat. To get in the water, we would only have to rely on the muscles able to move: canoes or kayaks, like the ones we would take to Loon Island, a natural sanctuary that we would visit to observe the nests of birds.

It was very moving to see the chalet again in 2020. It made me feel close to my grandfather in a way I had not felt since his passing. I could imagine him sitting in his place at the dining table. He was always in charge of the toast at breakfast. He was often on deck, beer in hand, soaking up the cabin air.

It was like being in a time capsule. I knew I wanted to buy it. After a discussion with my husband, we saw an opportunity. Due to the early phase of the Covid pandemic, prices were more negotiable. Since interest rates were low and the owner hadn’t done much work, our real estate agent was able to negotiate an affordable purchase price. Initially, we were not looking to buy a chalet. We were not in a financial position to do so. But if we wanted one, it had to be this one.

It took a while for the sale to be finalized, but we bought the chalet in August 2020, for $192,000. Today it is valued at around $400,000.

The price jump is understandable. The pandemic prevented so many people from traveling and the supply in the chalet market was low. Suddenly everyone wanted a place to go, a vacation or a safe and secluded place to stay.

I received the key on my grandmother’s 100th birthday. Even though my grandfather is no longer with us, I know he would be happy with the result.

Since then we have left many of the basic elements of our chalet intact. People visit and ask, “Are you going to paint it white?” We laugh and say no. We want it to have that cozy cottage feel, just like it did back then.

We have also brought back a few items from the original chalet. The canoe paddles on the walls; the retro carpet that represented wild mushrooms, which my aunt had made for my grandmother; a few of my grandfather’s wood burning hob fires; an old Montreal Canadiens jersey, Lorne “Gump” Worsley, remembering that I was a third generation fan of the Montreal Canadiens.

On the sideboard we placed a picture of my grandfather and a younger me, taken in his garden in Uxbridge, before I went to England for two years. I had just been to the Highland Games Festival and I had a flower crown in my hair. The photo was special because after it was taken, my grandfather started having health problems. I wanted this photo to remind me of the essence of him, the best version, the grandfather I knew.

But we to have started to renovate. We’ve added light, modern touches: glass doors, crisp linens with colorful geometric patterns. We also added a new deck, due to wear and tear on the old one, and made repairs to the roof, due to water damage.

The original sign planted in the ground at the entrance to the chalet is no longer there. But we replaced it with a new one. My last name and that of my husband are engraved in the wood, created in 2020, marking a new era.

Over the next few years, we plan to do other renovations, including the kitchen. Once we do, we will preserve and refashion my grandfather’s wood cabinets as works of art. We anticipate that the total renovation will cost approximately $35,000.

As a teacher, I’m lucky to have free summers and my husband works remotely. As this is such a close-knit community, we will continue to paddle the lake in canoes to enjoy the company of friends.

I still have the paddle boat we used when we were kids. In these adventures, I think of the time capsule that my sister and I once buried. We haven’t been able to find it yet, but I consider it another adventure for the family while we spend time here.

Grandmother and grandfather in the pedal boat, 1989

Unlike other places, we don’t have too many cabins crowded around the lake. Strict regulations govern a protected and sparse natural environment.

My kids love swimming here, as do I. They also like to explore the area around the lake.

Grace and Oliver in the pedal boat, more than 30 years later

On game nights we play at Yahtzee and have a designated happy hour. Those nights remind me of when Grandpa ate a Rickard’s Red and we were allowed the luxury of a soft drink.

We continue this tradition of happy hour. Then, as now, our family receives really into it. I remember we were cheering while playing board games. The family across the lake could hear us because our voices came through the water, so even the neighbors knew how much fun we were having.

Having the cottage back in our lives feels like a piece of Grandpa is still with us. It’s a way for my children to get to know him. It takes me back to when he first sold the cabin, when my childhood unofficially ended. Except that now the feelings are good. I feel like a child again.

– As told to Penn Javdan

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