Is cohousing like summer at the cottage?

Updated: Oct 12, 2019

Our family has had the good fortune and the responsibility of owning a cottage for over thirty years. The initial purchase was made possible by an inheritance left to my husband by an uncle. The upkeep and pleasure has been all ours.

When we made the decision to purchase our 600 square foot summer home, Jim was working nine to five with three weeks of annual holiday time, and I was a stay at home mum to our four children, ages one, four, six and nine. Of course, the household included a dog and a cat. We took possession May 15, 1988, and thus began our love affair with Victoria Beach and cottage life.

Our cottage is on Sixth Avenue, or in other words, six blocks from the beach. It is not winterized, and the municipal water system is only operational from the May long weekend until Thanksgiving. The temptation to begin cottage season early in the spring or to extend it late into the fall quickly reminds us of the value of running water.

Victoria Beach is unique in that vehicle traffic in the restricted area is limited to essential services during July and August. Personal vehicles are parked in a lot outside the gate. Residents walk or bike wherever they are going. The result? Life slows down. You meet your neighbours often. You run into people you know on the beach and at the store, bakery, and community centre. Among other things, this 1930's vintage frame building hosts yoga classes, arts and crafts activities, twice weekly movie nights for kids, and the annual flea market and book sale. The village green is a relaxing spot to enjoy an ice cream cone from the Moonlight Inn, or a fresh baked cinnamon bun from Einfeld’s Bakery while inevitably catching up with someone you just happened to run into. Kids discover the amazing freedom of being sent alone to the store on their bikes.

Cottage lots are treed and private, but you get to know your neighbours in many different ways. If you start to hammer or saw, a curious neighbour is soon on the scene to offer help with projects from repairing steps to building a bike rack. Everyone has a story about the best and worst ways of getting rid of a wasp nest. It's easy to forget food items or other essentials when commuting. This fall, I swapped baking powder for Worcestershire sauce with the family next door – resulting in two successful recipes. A dental emergency can result in an unplanned trip to the city. It's no problem, as the girl across the street will look after the dog and cat. An overdue library book needs to be returned. A neighbour has to meet a guest at the airport, so he'll drop it off. My friend next door had a nasty fall this summer, cracking her front teeth and cutting her hand badly. Her calls for help were heard instantly, and help was on the way within minutes. A storm blew down a tree which blocked the entrance to a neighbour's cottage. We hadn't met, but no matter. Out came the chainsaws, the entrance was cleared, and a new acquaintance was made.

Shared meals are common, usually potluck, and often spontaneous. “I've got fish and leftover rice pudding.” “I've got veggies including new potatoes.” Yum! Another feast with friends comes together almost effortlessly. As always, some of the best times are those spent breaking bread with others. Wonderful community fish fries are held twice each summer, where fresh pickerel is cooked only a few hours after being caught. One year, we pushed two tables together in our small kitchen to create an L-shaped table for Thanksgiving dinner. Space was so tight that kids crawled under the table to get to the bathroom, while adults had to go out the front door and come in through the back. For twenty-three years now, we've wrapped up the summer with an annual Progressive Dinner, ambling from cottage to cottage to enjoy the multiple courses of a fall feast.

What are some of our most treasured times? The neighbourhood children playing happily from morning till night– in and out of cottages, making up games, building forts, designing homemade costumes for the annual masquerade, taking long bike rides and staying up late to watch meteorite showers. Did I mention? Forty years ago, no one had a TV. We still don't.

So many memories come to mind: sharing countless meals, becoming best friends with neighbours, sharing the joys and pains of family changes, enjoying quiet evenings in front of a fire with a good book, getting together for a rousing card game of Wizard, watching neighbourhood kids grow up from toddlers to teens, and participating in community events like sports days, dog shows, slow bicycle races, and beach events.

In short, Victoria Beach is a community where friendships blossom, neighbours support neighbours, and volunteers each play their small part and thus create huge benefits for everyone. Isn't community the essence of cohousing? Wouldn’t cohousing in Winnipeg be very similar to the Victoria Beach community? You could be alone as much as you want, you could do whatever you want, but you'll never have to be lonely. It could mean working and playing together. It could also offer individuals a way of remaining independent most of the time, with the possibility of being interdependent at other times. People in general are social creatures. Community and cohousing provide opportunities to build the new friendships we want, and to sustain the old ones which we value.

We never want to return to city life at the end of cottage season. Once Prairie Rivers Cohousing is built, we hope to enjoy the essence of cottage life, but in an urban setting and with running water all year round!

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Winnipeg, Manitoba

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