Dispatches from cottage country: All is well with the new dock

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The Gazette, Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Greetings from cottage country, where it has been quite an eventful summer at the lake. First we built a new dock, the old one having collapsed into several pieces after two decades of service.

Then there was the earthquake, which knocked down the chimney. Finally, we closed off the cedar sun deck, which had been designed as an open concept, but that was before little Zara's arrival in June of last year.

How to enclose the deck, all 40 by 15 feet of it? Someone suggested chicken wire, which might have served a functional purpose, but wouldn't have won any awards for esthetics. Zara's mom, Tasha, had a better idea. "Why not," she suggested, "close it off with lattice panels?"

"We can do that," said my neighbour Wolf Schwarz, designer of both the deck and the new dock, and off we went to McClelland's in nearby Poltimore, the largest hardware store and lumberyard in the Gatineau.

"How much do you need?" asked Darryl McClelland, who has been looking after cottagers and contractors alike for nearly half a century.

"Six panels of three by six feet," replied Schwarz, who found just what he was looking for in the back of the lumberyard -lattice siding that blended perfectly with the British Columbia cedar on the deck. Problem solved -the open deck was quickly transformed, with two security gates added for the stairs, to a secure play area for Zara.

It was our second stop at McClelland's yard this summer, the first one being to buy lumber and Styrofoam for the new dock, which was quite a production.

Let's put it this way: We spent nearly as much on foam as we did on lumber, which was treated pine wood from Goodfellow, the Montreal softwood producer.

And the foam was not an obvious choice, especially given the propensity of muskrats to take up residence in the space between the floaters and the wood. Molly the Muskrat raised a whole family while living under the old dock, but hasn't been seen yet under the new one.

A dock is a serious statement in cottage country, not just a swimming raft or a landing area for boats. It's a place for a flag, for family photos and for a Muskoka chair from which to watch the sunset. A glass of Chardonnay doesn't get any better than that. I should note that our Muskoka chair is authentic, not one of those awful hardware store plastic knock-offs in baby blue.

Schwarz had an idea of what he wanted to build -- a 10-by-16-foot dock with a three-by-16-foot apron. "Sounds good to me," I said. My job is policy, not operations. The finished product is stunning, so beautiful I've decided not to tie the fishing boat up to it. Why spoil perfection?

Schwarz was putting the dock in the water on the afternoon of June 23, when the earthquake struck.

"The whole place shook," he reported later. It took out half the chimney and cracked the foundations of the house. If we hadn't reinforced it with steel beams a couple of years ago, the living room might have ended up in the basement.

The epicentre of the earthquake, a 5.0 on the Richter scale, was at Echo Lake on the Quebec-Ontario border. It resulted in office buildings being evacuated in Ottawa, and caused damage throughout the Gatineau region.

"You're not covered for earthquakes, only for fire and theft," said the insurance company agent who seemingly took great pleasure in passing on the news. Thanks for that. A contractor came and looked at the cottage, and his suggestion was to tear it down and build a new one. Thanks for that, too.

But with the new dock, and the enclosed deck, we were ready for Zara's first visit to the lake with her mom. It has been nearly 20 years since Gracie was the last little girl on our beach at Lac-St.-Pierre-de-Wakefield.

Gracie's crib, in storage in Montreal all these years, turned out to be in remarkably good shape. And at the back of a closet in the guest room at the cottage, we just happened to find Gracie's stroller, also in great shape, and perfect for morning walks down to the babbling brook.

I was looking for something else in the shed when I came across a box full of Gracie's old beach toys, as well as her farm and Tonka truck. Zara was delighted with all of them.

Most of all, she was thrilled to meet the bullfrog, known as King, on the beach one day. Squealing with delight, and totally fearless, she ran right after him. Sensing danger, King quickly hopped under the new dock.

Later, with the flag snapping in the breeze, Zara posed for her first family photo in the Muskoka chair on the new dock. To be continued, for many summers to come.

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