This is the time of year that I start to think about the lake. I try not to throughout the icy depths of winter (and am usually too busy to anyway), but, come March, it becomes impossible to avoid. I’m ready for summer now, and it’s the few weekends in summer when my family and I go up to the cottage at Hillside Beach that I’m ready for most of all.
Hillside Beach is a little over an hour from Winnipeg. On the east side of Lake Winnipeg, it’s past Grand Beach, but not quite at Victoria. The family cottage there isn’t really a cottage, but a mobile home that my grandfather moved there in the early ’70s. Still, with a screened-in verandah added in 1990, it looks like it’s been there forever. It sits about 300 feet from the beach, and directly across the lane (named Belfast Avenue) from where the first cabin at Hillside Beach once stood.
Sometime around 1919 or ’20, my great-great-grandfather stepped off the Canadian National train a couple of miles before the Victoria Beach terminal. He walked deep into the wood to the site where he would build that first cabin. Constructed with logs, and with a square hipped-roof structure, it was not unlike many early cottages found in the older resort areas of Manitoba. This one never had painted clapboard siding, and its log and plaster walls would always remain exposed.
I was shown around inside by a distant uncle once when I was a seven. By that time, it was mainly used for storage. I remember the tiny root cellar below the kitchen, and the portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth II that hung in the living room.
The old cabin was torn down years ago, and the land is no longer in the family, but the lilac bushes my great-great-grandmother Hattie planted around the yard some 90 years ago are still growing.
I’m ready for cooking breakfast lunch and dinner on the barbecue. For all the kitschy kitchenware: the yellow “Chicago is more in ’84” coffee mug, the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics glasses, the ancient popcorn-making machine that gets louder each year. For the book of early cartoons of the New Yorker. For Grandma’s old editions of McCall’s in the magazine rack, and Grandpa’s old work clothes in the guest room closet.
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I’m ready to get drunk off sun and rum all afternoon. For the heat from sitting on the beach that compels you to run into the water and dive in. For coming up and floating while looking out to the west, feeling like there’s nothing in the world but you and the great lake that extends off into eternity.
For the gentle sting from putting on a t-shirt in the evening after a day in the sun. For sitting in my bathing suit and watching the Bomber game on the old TV in the corner. For getting up early and letting the kids take turns steering the car to and from the corner store.
The lake is the only place I smoke cigars. Romeo y Julieta no. 3s. It takes all day for me to finish one. At night, long after the kids are in bed and Erin has fallen asleep in the verandah reading Vanity Fair, I’ll walk down to the beach with what’s left of the cigar and wine. On the fourth of July, the fireworks let off for the Americans at Victoria Beach can be seen across the water.
We go up to Victoria Beach a couple of times a year; to swim at Clubhouse beach and stop in at the sweltering Einfeld’s Bakery. There’s family history at V.B., too, but the Galstons and the Crosses were only renters here. So now we just sometimes pay for the daily parking pass and pretend we’re locals.
Most of all, I’m ready for watching Sadie and Henry run down Belfast Avenue toward the beach. They are the fourth generation of children from my family to do this. It was me once. My father and grandfather before that. At the end of the day, in the golden hour, I’ll watch them run back up the lane and into the yard, where they rinse the sand off their feet at the garden hose.
They stand above the grass and dirt on a large rock sunk into the yard, a remnant of Lake Agassiz. That’s what it is about this place: there’s a permanence and memory here that continues to live and carry on through time.
The kids run eagerly from the rock by the hose, to the stairs and into the cottage; we must have bribed them with ice cream to get them to leave the beach.
Robert Galston likes to write about Winnipeg, urbanism, and other very, very exciting topics. Follow him on Twitter @riseandsprawl
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