A weekend at the cottage is a welcomed reward after a week of toil. It’s how so many Canadians enjoy our great outdoors and recharge their batteries. So it stands to reason that more than a weekend – like, say, full-time – would be even better. Or is it?
For just over a year, writer Leanne Hibbert Fournier, 55, and her husband, Mike, a 57-year-old sales professional, have been doing just that. After 35 years as Winnipeg residents, the couple moved permanently to their cottage on the Winnipeg River, about 15 kilometres north of Kenora, Ont.
“Mike says he still has to walk around the place every day and pinch himself because he’s so grateful to be here,” says Leanne. “We both love being outside and it’s here for us in all its natural glory every day. Even on busy workdays, absolute escape is only a look out the bay or a short walk, paddle or boat ride away. I now look up more often and take those breaks, even if it’s just a few minutes.”
The couple first began tossing around the idea of selling their home of 23 years in Winnipeg and moving to the lake in late 2016.
“We moved primarily for financial reasons,” explains Leanne. “Winnipeg wasn’t supporting us financially any longer and the nature of our work made it possible for us to consider other options, which included working from the lake.”
The hardest part of the decision was considering what impact the move might have on the Fournier’s two children, Angela, now 23 and Rene, 20. Angela was already living in Halifax attending university there. But Rene was just 19 when the ‘for sale’ sign went up.
“It was the most disruptive for him. He hadn’t been planning to move out on his own anytime soon. He was invited to move with us to Kenora, he chose to stay in Winnipeg. We did our best to prepare and support him and he’s done remarkably well,” she said.
“You have to enjoy managing and living within the limits of your resources – understand what’s available and work with it.”
A year into the new location, Leanne says the magic of the cottage has not lost it allure now that it’s the family’s only home. Because the cottage is somewhat off the grid, there’s plenty of physical work to be done including hauling in drinking water and propane as well as stocking firewood.
“You have to enjoy managing and living within the limits of your resources – understand what’s available and work with it,” she says.
The most challenging transition came as no surprise – dealing with the isolation. The cottage is 15 kilometres from the nearest commercial centre and a two-hour drive from Winnipeg.
“Isolation can be both good and challenging. In Winnipeg, I was a short walk to McNally Robinson bookstore, which was my go to place whenever I needed to go out and interact with others socially,” notes Leanne. To address that, she’s joined a gym, a writers’ group and a breakfast club – and is part of several volunteer boards in the area.
“Mike has been volunteering with the local Habitat for Humanity Build as well as a few other projects. We are ‘all in’ and I think that’s addressing the isolation we may feel occasionally.”
Because the couple is in good health, access to healthcare and travel time to medical appointments isn’t an issue. They were also lucky to find a local doctor.
So what’s the best thing about living at the cottage?
“It’s the option of being able to work here and feel like we could do this for the rest of our lives. We aren’t worrying about retirement. We feel free to live and work the way we want for as long as we want.”