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Phoebe Maltz Bovy is a contributing columnist for The Globe and Mail.

As the weather in Toronto gets warmer – an odd thing to type, given that this doesn’t preclude the potential for the odd snowstorm – conversations have once again turned to the cottage. In casual chit-chat at playground and pickup, fellow parents refer to this magical-sounding place where they’ve forgotten items, and where they will of course be spending a long weekend.

I first learned about the cottage (never “cottages,” and rarely “a cottage,” which is the more accurate article to use for property that one does not own) when, circa 2015, I went to get my first proper pair of Canada-ready snow boots. A salesperson told me that the ones I liked would be fine for Toronto but not sufficient for the cottage. Given that my life at the time involved going between Queen West and the University of Toronto campus, I went with the urban-only ones, which wound up being, if anything, hardier than necessary.

From then on, the cottage has been inescapable. It’s one of the trappings of Canadianness that eludes even immigrants like me: white, overeducated, from a U.S. state neighbouring Canada, and with a (late) Canadian grandmother. I look and sound like someone who’d be initiated into cottage-going. (I was going to write “cottaging” but then remembered that this has a different meaning.) In other words, I come across as of the cottage-having caste. I’m not someone you meet and think, hmm, I’d better not alienate this pauper by mentioning the cottage. People speak to me about the cottage in tones inviting reciprocation in the form of stories about my own cottage times.

And yet, same as in 2015, I am cottage-less. I am without cottage.

Past a certain wealth point, the cottage would seem to be a given. But it’s a mystery to me where that threshold falls. It doesn’t seem quite like in New York, where a country house – particularly in the Hamptons – suggests upper-echelon wealth. The Baroness Von Sketch skit satirizing cottages – my primary visual for what cottages even are – does not suggest that this is just for Canada’s top 1 per cent. The cottage is too standard a part of middle-class-give-or-take conversation to be a trapping of aristocracy.

And yet, given what it costs to keep one’s head above water in Toronto itself, to be able to afford a second home, however rustic, must signify something. Do all these people saying “the cottage” at every turn find their daycare and mortgage bills less daunting? Are they not, as I am, asking how much the individual cheeses cost, at those shops too classy to put price tags in the display?

As I understand it, some cottages are short-term rentals. And as vacations go, a holiday weekend at a bare-bones thatched hut (remember that I have no idea what cottages are) is probably not as posh as they come. But my sense is that a blithe reference to “the cottage” refers either to a cottage the speaker personally owns, or – and I’m not sure this is any less upscale – one that is simply in the family.

Indeed, a declaration about “the family cottage” suggests a family presence in Toronto since before things got wildly expensive. There was a time when someone could, for a nickel, pick up a detached house in the Annex and a cottage, besides.

And that, I think, is the abstract allure of the cottage. It suggests a rootedness in Canadian life that multigenerational Canadians may take for granted. It hints at the ease of knowing which weather reports mean putting your child into a snowsuit, and which mean grabbing a light jacket. (I always manage to get it wrong, in both directions.)

The cottage represents, for me, a kind of FOMO – a fear of missing out. The way it’s referred to, the cottage, in the singular, with the definite article, gives the impression of there being just one enormous cottage, where everyone is hanging out without me. When you say, “the cottage,” I immediately remember that I spend my own weekends maneuvering a stroller on “the TTC.”

But when I’ve stopped to consider if I would actually enjoy going to a cottage, things start to look rather different. I mean, I’m sure it’s lovely. And if it involves finally seeing a moose, all the better. As the parent of two young Canadians, I owe an eventual moose-sighting to my offspring.

Still, I know myself well enough to realize I’d last five minutes before looking up the quickest way to Yonge-Dundas Square. I like crowds, hate driving and find a trip to High Park sufficient where nature’s concerned. The idea of being stuck at a house with dubious – or maybe overly lavish – plumbing, where the only thing nearby is a lake that I’d be worried about my kids falling into, sounds grim. Maybe I’d feel differently if a cottage had been part of my life all this time. And just to put it out there – if a moose extends an invitation, I wouldn’t say no.

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