Just closed your cottage and miss it already? As snow reports start to sneak into weather forecasts across Canada, Cottage Life offers some programming to tide you over until next spring: a look at some Great Canadian Cottages.
The new eight-part series features Scottish design experts Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan, better known to fans as Colin & Justin.
Over the years, the duo have made more design-based TV series than some homeowners have made beds. After establishing themselves on UK television, they moved to Canada a decade ago and, besides frequent appearances on CityLine and Breakfast Television, produced Colin and Justin’s Home Heist for HGTV. In more recent years they’ve thrown open the doors of their own Haliburton retreat in Colin and Justin’s Cabin Pressure (airing on Cottage Life and OutTV).
On Great Canadian Cottages, they take a more documentary approach to their search for summer homes big and small throughout — in Season One anyway — Ontario. (They hope to visit more provinces in future seasons.)
I sat down to lunch with Colin and Justin several weeks ago in Toronto to catch up on the new series. Both have a great gift of the gab; they’re like the ideal dinner guests you always hope you’ll be placed next to.
Colin told me he knew exactly what he wanted to showcase on the new show — and what he was hoping to avoid:
“So many of these programs, they’re about dripping, deluxe elegance, off the charts glamour and money. I love those programs, but we thought, wouldn’t it be great to try and find some houses that are in that category, but are actually houses that have a lot of heart in them? We don’t want to talk about buildings, we want to talk about people and we want to talk about their experiences and how their connections with the great outdoors translates in to a building.”
As someone who is currently renovating a family cottage, one my dad helped build over 70 years ago, I understand completely the lure of the north and the value of having a place to return to each summer. As relative newcomers to Canada, Colin and Justin discovered that this escape from the city is a little Canadian secret.
“Your cottage is like your clinic,” says Colin. “It repairs you and restores you and it gives you hope. When I used to work in an office in Scotland, I had a screen saver of a beach on my computer screen. I would look out the window when it was raining in Scotland and then I would look at my screen saver. Having a cottage to me feels like a screensaver in your back pocket — something that is always with me.”
The duo visit many different kinds of cottages on the series. “One of my favourites,” says Justin, “was owned by a little lady and her husband. Thirty years earlier, they had built a tiny little 12 feet by 1o foot log cabin. They lived in there and loved in there, their lives were fantastic.
“One morning,” he continued, “she scratched a lottery card and won six million dollars. Everybody said, ‘Bulldoze your lovely cottage and build some big mansion.’ She said, ‘Under no circumstances.’ So she retained the cabin, she had it mechanically lifted up and set aside. Then she built a massive barn conversion and had the original cottage lifted back up and placed back down on its foundations. what she’s got was a combination of this incredible modern home with this tiny little log cabin literally in the middle of it. It’s now her living room within this monolith.”
Other cottages on the series are carved out of granite, built into the side of cliffs, or made entirely out of glass. One was constructed out of hay bails that were later plastered over with mud.
“Everyone we meet on the program is totally different,” says Justin, “and every great Canadian cottage is totally different as well. It’s the opposite of a cookie cutter mentality.”
“I think all of the houses demonstrate a connection between the people and the great outdoors, which is so Canadian,” adds Colin. “Cottages are in your blood, as much as maple syrup and hockey.”
The series airs Thursday on Cottage Life Television. Bonus cottage-friendly tips and snapshots are also available now by following this link to cottagelife.com. Fans can also meet Colin & Justin live this weekend at the Fall 2018 Cottage Life Show, taking place this weekend through Sunday at the International Centre in Toronto. Follow this link for more information.