Every summer cottage has a story and for every story there is a little magic. It’s the same magic that makes the light in the firefly flicker and glows white in the hottest flame of the campfire. It’s the magic that is in the air on that first long weekend in May and in little faces when they become bewitched with tales of Ghost Ships and graveyards. It’s the magic in the light of the moon as you tuck your sandy feet into bed at night and you know that summer is just beginning.
For over fifty years Doris Young and her family have been charmed by the simple magic of their own seaside retreat not far from where the Pictou Harbour meets the Northumberland Strait. Her cottage, built almost a century ago is nestled in the birch trees in an area known as Seacrest. It was once the trendy spot for summering, with families from Pictou, Truro and Halifax returning to the shore every year. Today it is not the summer hot spot that it used to be when dozens of children were beating down the paths between the cottages. Many of the cottages are gone or replaced with newer structures and the children that once traipsed up and down the bank to the beach are grandparents now who look forward to a few days in July or August when they can share their summer legacy with the next generation.
The Young cottage remains much the same as it was almost one hundred years ago when the Fullerton family built it. For a while it was owned by the Fergusons who owned the Pictou Shipyards before Doris, now in her ninety-fourth year and her husband Clarence, purchased the property in the early 60s. The couple was living in Sydney where Clarence was practicing Internal Medicine when they bought the cottage on the urgency of Clarence’s brother Fraser, who owned a property a little further down the shore. A year or two after purchasing the cottage Doris, Clarence and their three children Gordon, Robert and Joan moved back to their hometown of Pictou, where Clarence continued with his medical practice.
“Fraser just seemed to really want us to have this cottage,” remembers Doris as she shuffles through a small stack of cottage snaps. “We had rented a cottage in Caribou for a few summers and when he heard that this one was for sale he made sure that we bought it.”
The cottage is not grand by today’s standards but it is very typical of the cottage design of the era. By the early 1900s cottages started to gain popularity in different parts of the province. The railway made it easier to travel and as vehicles became more accessible and affordable holidays and cottage life was quickly becoming part of the summer experience. By the 1960s when the Young’s bought their property in Pictou, cottaging was part of the Canadian culture.
The cottage was built as a single story with a verandah that wrapped around the four sides. Doris said that she was told that the original builder, Mr. Fullerton wanted a place to get out of the sun as it moved through the sky. “I think there was also an outdoor kitchen and the Fergusons would have moved the kitchen inside along with the plumbing.”
In the centre of the cottage the original fireplace made from beach stones still stands as the backbone of the dwelling. There is a gentle sway in the floor from the weight of the fireplace and which calls for the occasional hoist on a jack to level things out.
A deck and screen porch replaced the aging verandah and when Doris and Clarence replaced the windows in their house in town they installed them at Seacrest. Small panes of glass and old brass latches under thick layers of white paint are adorned with sun catchers and trinkets held by tiny suction cups that almost appear like they are holding everything together.
In the window beside a croquet board as old as the cottage itself is an overstuffed rocker once belonging to Doris’s father Vernon MacKay. “That was Dad’s chair. When he passed my mother said Ok Doris that is your chair now. We took it to the cottage but it was never my chair after that because Clarence took a liking too it,” she says with a little grin and a twinkle in her eye making you think that there is even more to the story.
The view from her cottage window has changed a little over the years. A few hungry storms gobbled up some of the bank and swallowed the tree line but in doing so cleared the sightlines towards Pictou Island. And as beaches do, the sandbar where Clarence and the kids once practiced their golf swing driving balls into the ocean shifted further down the shore into the harbour.
“I swear there was one terrific storm that came in years ago that picked up all of our sand and moved it down towards Lowdens Beach. I remember walking down to Nonie Murrays and saying, ‘you have all of our sand’ and there was a big sand dune in front of their cottage!”
Just as the beach changes with each ebb and flow of the tide so did Doris’ family. Her children who were in elementary school when they bought in Seacrest grew up, went off to school and began their own families and her husband Clarence passed away.
Where she once packed up and moved her gang to the cottage when school let out for the summer she now only visits the cottage during the day. Her daughter Joan who lives on the other side of the harbour keeps up with most of the maintenance and grandchildren and great grandchildren come and go when they need a little escape to the shore.
It’s a cool day and the sun is just starting to warm up the little panes of the window, it is still a few weeks before the cottage will come back to life. She looks around her space and points out a few paintings. “This is one that Joan did, she didn’t want anything thing in the painting but the cottage.” There are a couple of small pieces completed by her son Robert and one of the Blue Nose sailing into the harbour that she painted a number of years ago. She admires an embroidered tablecloth that her son in law took home from a trip to Poland and she makes note of a name carved into the frame of another old family rocking chair by a mischievous little boy many years ago. They are the priceless accumulations of four generations.
“You know you never really know what your children are thinking and I didn’t really know how much this old place meant to the kids until they were grown up,’’ says Doris. “We always had so much fun here and you know there were things that the kids did that I never knew until years later. When I hear them tell stories about sneaking out at night to meet up with their friends I just laugh and they are still all friends. That’s what makes it so special.”
The sun catches the dust that is hanging in the air. It sparkles a little and there might have even been a little flicker of magic.