Saturday, May 29, 2010

All Hail Victoria

Thank you Queen Victoria for being so long-lived that everyone wanted to celebrate your amazing life. Loyal British subjects gave her name to the long weekend in May. Was it her birthday in May? I don’t remember. We have a gorgeous little holiday camp, place, home, cottage, cabin in a place called Victoria Beach on the eastern edge of southern Lake Winnipeg. Vic Beach. It is chance that led us to the cottage.

Tom had taken toddler Nicole for a walk in her stroller, around a little bay called Scott Drive, when we spent a month in the summer of 1999 at his friend Rick's home at Victoria Beach. The boys were 7 months old and I felt very amazingly tied down to these 3 young lives. I did manage to get out of the cottage every day – no more than once or twice. Two babies and Nicole, who didn’t walk until after that summer ended. My sister came for a visit, and would take Nicole to the beach where she (Nicole) crawled around naked. My sister went skinny dipping further down the Pelican Point road, when the morning light woke her too early and I was still struggling to get a few more minutes of sleep.

"There’s a place for sale at the end of the street", he came up the steps into the house. "I want to go and see it." One of Tom’s favourite activities is looking at real estate, houses, property, dreaming. (Soft core real estate...) Sometimes it’s just dreaming, I know that now. Sometimes it’s serious, as it was that day. A real dream, not a pipe dream. Something he’d wanted for years. Years ago, when that area opened up, Rick had tried to talk him into buying a lot, but as a single guy, he didn’t think it was a fit for him. Those lots went for 4 or 6 – thousand. Now there are lots selling in the 40s and 60s… thousands. And more if you want one on the lake. It was a real dream, not like the soft core house ads and pics he likes to cruise for more dreams and thoughts. Called the agent who was selling the place. Went to see it. Made an offer. Accepted. Bang, like that. By September everything was done. I did not walk into the cottage until after it was ours.& Did it matter?

At first we thought it was a money pit – had to level out the cottage. Fortunately the guy who quoted us a price on the process didn’t realize something, or it would have cost more. Had to install a gray water pit. The guy who built the place hadn’t quite finished the little bits, and he was just a guy who built a cottage, not an official cottage building company. The deck at the back had no railings – Nicole sailed off the edge early on. The area under the cottage hadn’t been filled, so Tom spent 2 summers shoveling gravel – 10 yards at a time (that’s a lot of gravel) – to the edge of the cottage, then crawling under with a rake and pushing it in. We added a screened porch, which received its finishing touches over the last 2 summers – Tom insulated and dry walled the porch. Last summer, when we were on the other side of the planet, Mike finished the ceiling. It’s now a gorgeous room. And we keep dreaming... another bedroom. An outdoor shower. Tom built a little shed a few summers ago, so I know he's handy!

There are only 2 bedrooms, so the sleeping quarters are a bit crowded. And now we’ve added a dog, who has to sleep between the two bedrooms in her kennel – kept the night yipping and howling down to nothing. I only had to say ssshhhhh twice, and things were a lot calmer than when we first took her out. Over-excited the first few times. Just like the kids when we first took them there. Run on the beach. Run on the gravel roads. Now it’s bike on the gravel roads.

The place looks a lot smaller than before we left. Is that my own weird perspective, or is it real? Since we bought the place, most of the empty lots on the little bay have filled in, and not with little cabins, but with huge, architecturally designed and crafted, company-built, second homes. Perhaps bigger than the first homes, located somewhere in the city. Pelican Point Road has filled up, and several indignities now glare at you when you walk or ride by. A gigantic two storey gray plastic sided monstrosity, replicated in a smaller version of itself in a bunk house, perched at the front. This particular individual tried to block the path to the lake beside his “land” – the lake front is public, but he thought that if he blocked the path no one would notice. Guess what buddy? Then there’s another gigantic item at the end of the curve of the road – the hundreds of thousands they must have spent to build up the lot with fill boggles the mind. It has a garage on the front, imagine that. A garage with a door opener -- the first thing you see is that garage. Not the bush, not the lake, not the marsh, to the east of the road. Pelican Point is a sand bar, which curves to a small channel separating Vic Beach from Hillside Beach. Some years, like the year I met Richard Gere strolling down the beach, when the lake is very low, you can easily cross the channel, and walk on a lot of undisturbed beach to the south of the channel. That’s when the power boats get stuck in the sand …

Who is letting all this development happen? The RM, I guess. More money, more taxes, more development. You can definitely see the difference – there are fewer pelicans hanging around that beach and the channel area. The number of song birds that used to flit through the bush and nest near our cottage has gone down. Every other year or so, when lake levels are high, the huge expensive buildings along that road are threatened, not only by the NW winds piling water up on that shoreline (it’s 40 km to the other side), but by the marsh rising up to the east. And wonder of wonders, it’s the old garbage dump for the area, so walks along that shore line still produce a lot of unearthed treasure – old blue Noxema jars which now make great candle holders, a small metal car, lost by some kid on the beach years ago, bits of old tires, carpet, junk. Old medicine bottles. Shards of pottery, dishes from the lives of the people who were there. We have quite the collection of bits of pottery and are quite adept at seeing the blue, the violet, the light sea green that hides amongst the chunks of regular brown (beer bottles), clear (jam jars), or dark green (wine bottles). The cool colours come home with us. I tried a craft project with the kids a few years ago, making mosaic plates. We put them out in front of the cottage. After several freezing cold Manitoba winters, some of the glass has fallen off again. Back to ground.

The main indignity, this last Victoria Day weekend, as we rounded the corner heading to Pelican Point, was a vision of survey stakes. So the RM is still happy to sell pristine bush and marsh land for more money, and someone else’s dream of a lake front cottage will be fulfilled at untold hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What people from another climate don’t realize is the seasonal aspect of these holiday homes. Granted, the big new ones are all insulated, have wells sunk into the aquifer, or have huge water tanks sunk under their cottage, which they then heat throughout the winter so the pipes don’t freeze and burst. We turn off the water at the season’s end (usually Thanksgiving weekend), put a bit of antifreeze in the S bend of the plumbing pipes, and shut things down. No running water in the winter months. We’ve started going out more often in the winter, and will do it more this coming winter, now that there are a few baseboard heaters installed in the cottage. We have to bring the water we need with us. Until a few years ago, there was a freely running pipe of gushing artesian well water just a few kilometers away, but an unwise user slipped on the ice one winter and sued the owner – now it’s capped.

So it’s changing, yes it is. It feels smaller, which could be due to the many thousands of kilometers of Australian outback we saw last year. Or it could be because those babies of ours are now 11 and 12, taller and faster, able to traverse the roads on their own bikes. No cars in the summer, that’s one of Vic Beach’s many pleasures. Cars are banned to a parking lot, where they wait. It's a wonderful relic of the days when people first went to Victoria Beach in the early 1900s... first there was just a track for the local farmers and fishers to move their products to Winnipeg, then a train track was built, and until the 40s some time there wasn't a road. People use their legs to get around the gravel roads of Victoria Beach.

It’s my happy place, said a friend who dropped by on Sunday. She doesn’t complain about house work, about keeping the place up. She promised she wouldn't complain if she ever got a cottage here. It’s a dream for many. This is what it is. It's good to us, it makes us happy, it means we're out on our bikes, or walking, or running, or watching the wildlife. An eagle has been soaring over the cottage, and it is silent and graceful. Maybe the ospreys will return this year. Ospreys built their nests on hydro and telephone poles around the area and return to their early nesting grounds.


  1. What a great personal reflection. Seems like writing runs in your family. Keep it up, I certainly enjoy it.

  2. And I hope we'll see you there this summer.