Today I continue posting memoirs (see here for more), little tidbits of my life experience.
Chaffeys Locks is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Ontario. Perched between two small lakes that are part of the Rideau Lakes system, it is a historic town founded by William Chaffey in 1816. He established a milling business there, at the swift-flowing rapids that separated Indian Lake from Opinicon Lake. Sadly, in 1827 he died of malaria, leaving behind a thriving business. His wife sold the land and businesses to Colonel John By, the man tasked with building the Rideau Canal that would connect Kingston, on the edge of Lake Ontario, with Ottawa, far inland, and beyond that to Montreal. This would avoid the perilous St. Lawrence River route that was constantly patrolled by American ships. In 1831 work was completed on a lock that raises boast almost 11 feet as they pass from one lake to the next.
By the turn of the century, with the canal no longer integral to Canada’s national defense, the lakes became attractive to tourists from local cities. Around mid-century, a man with the last name Challies purchased the better part of an acre of land along the shores of Indian Lake. A short ways away from the existing house he built a log cabin. Family lore has long insisted that the logs for this cabin were pillaged from Ontario’s stocks of telephone poles. Because of the long, beautiful vista looking west over the lake, he called it Sunset Lodge.
I spend my first summer at our cottage at Chaffeys Locks the summer before I am born. Because mom has lost two babies between my older brother and me, she lies on the sofa every afternoon and will not budge until she feels her baby move. The 1976 summer Olympics are on. Someone has brought a television to the cottage and somehow it picks up the CBC broadcast. She lies and watches the broadcast until I oblige and race around her stomach, doing twists and backflips and somersaults. Mom never has long to wait.
I spend every summer of my young life at the cottage. Sometimes we are there for only a week or two and other times we are there for weeks at a stretch. While my family moves with fair frequency and we live in house after house, the cottage remains a constant. Nothing ever changes there. The furniture inside is the furniture that has been there since the day I was born. The neighbors are the neighbors that have lived there for generations. It is always the same.
There is only one summer that I do not want to be there. I have fallen in love with a pretty brown-haired girl. We may not yet have formalized our relationship as boyfriend and girlfriend, but already I can’t imagine being away from her for two weeks. My parents, wanting to have Aileen and I keep a little bit of distance and knowing that we will not have too many more vacations together as a family, demand that I come with them. After two days at the cottage I take matters into my own hands. It is a move of desperation, I suppose. I go looking for things I’m allergic to—dust, pollen and whatever else I can find. I inhale whatever I can and rub it in my eyes. Soon I’m gasping for breath with tears pouring down my cheeks. I explain to my parents that my allergies are just too bad. They agree that I should catch a Greyhound bus back home and I do just that.
In 2005, with the cottage’s three owners (my father, his brother and his sister) scattering to the four winds and no longer able to visit often enough to justify the expenses of maintenance, they decide to sell it. I spend my last summer in Chaffeys Lock, enjoying the beautiful location with my wife and my children, the fifth generation of Challies’ to vacation there. And then I bid a fond farewell to that spot on earth I have come to love more than any other. I leave the property whispering a quiet prayer that when the new earth comes, maybe, just maybe, God would be so gracious as to grant me that same little strip of lakefront property on the shores of Indian Lake.