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Ode to a boathouse
Posted on April 30, 2019 @ 10:42 am by

She was the grand old dame of boathouses, built in the 1940s, likely with the idea that she would last forever (or at least a lifetime). Well, boathouses on Canadian lakes struggle to stay intact even that long, let alone almost 80 years. They may be the definitive icon for cottage country, but they are so, so loaded with problems.

Consider what a typical boathouse goes through every year. Boathouses are built in water, and exist over water (think of it this way, there is always water in the basement) . Most buildings are set back from the shore to protect them from wind and waves—boathouses are built to embrace such weather (there’s nothing quite like watching a storm sweep across the lake, all from the protection of a boathouse).

But their biggest challenge is ice damage, caused by freezing and thawing water, both in late fall and early spring. Fall brings about the initial freeze-up, which causes the top of the lake to actually expand. Such expansion shoves wooden cribs around as if they were toothpicks, and can even bend steel structures. Then, at springtime when lake levels drop perhaps by 2-3 feet, tons of ice become locked around the structure with nowhere to go. The resulting force actual pulls at your boathouse, trying to bring it down and away from shore—and eventually succeeds.

(This is the reason that more and more townships aren’t allowing the construction of new boathouses, or if they do, permits have to pass strict construction methods, materials and size.)

We watched the deterioration, year by year, when we’d inspect the damage each spring. knowing that without thousands of dollars, there wasn’t much we could do. We’d repair the broken boards, fix a wall, waterproof the deck (again), notice that the doors no longer closed, but most of the time, if felt like we were trying to patch up the Titanic.

By summer, of course, all was forgotten. In the splendour of a hot, blue sky July weekend, we loved our lovely bunkie perched over the water. It was the getaway for anyone in the family seeking a bit of privacy, a secret get-away for teenagers, or just, well, fun. Several times a summer it was loaded up with camp counsellors on a 24 hour break; it provided the perfect “sleep over” spot for kids and their friends; and it was the best place to sit and watch a sunset, or sing songs late into the evening, probably serenading neighbours trying to get some sleep. And many times after midnight,  we made our way across her little bridge in the dark so we could count shooting stars or watch the northern lights from her roof.

Playing monopoly on a rainy day inside the boathouse
Summer nights by the boathouse

We’ll enjoy a better view of the lake now she’s gone, and it means we definitely won’t spend our winters worrying about what we might find next spring. But thank you, grand old dame. You’ve done well.

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