The Simple Life – The Algonquin Log Cabin may not be swish, but it’s plenty sweet
En Route Air Canada Magazine – February 13, 2009
As I’m trying to take photos from the porch, territorial grey jays swoop in just above my head with a menacing flutter that has the subtlety of a Harley Davidson. Fair play: I’m on their turf. The Algonquin Log Cabin is an isolated dot next to Surprise Lake, northwest of Algonquin Park. This area was home to many of the Group of Seven painters, and these woods are certainly reminiscent of Lawren Harris’s Snow or A. Y. Jackson’s A North Country Lake, with bulky coats of snow resting on each surface like a thick outline of vanilla icing. Our keen hosts, Kim and Tyson, have established a fluid rhythm to their duties. When Kim leads the group on a snowshoe hike, Tyson prepares dinner, and so forth. Hosting at the log cabin is a part-time gig for both: Kim is a high school teacher and Tyson is a paramedic. When I tell Kim how much I appreciate everything she and Tyson are doing, she’s embarrassed to admit that this is her idea of a vacation. The log cabin was built in 1998, the labour of love of professional adventurer John Langford. It’s entirely constructed out of red pine, a scent that seeps into every space. For added rustic authenticity, there’s also a gas stove and no electricity. But with palate-pleasing homemade meals and a constant fire heating up the place from the stone hearth, we’re hardly roughing it à la Susanna Moodie. My partner and I are here to escape the city, but more importantly, we want to see the former Upper Canada. And we’re not alone. The cabin sleeps 12, like a small inn, so we’re in the company of a mother and her two 20-something sons from Toronto, two women from New Zealand and one Italian woman. The New Zealanders sign up for every available winter activity: snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, skating, dog sledding, snowmobiling and tobogganing. Canadians often don’t understand the fascination non-Canadians have with our winter. For the New Zealanders, it’s an opportunity to experience it at all, even if they struggle with cross-country skiing. My partner, who’s British, is also excited about playing in the snow. He even helps the two Toronto men build an igloo (one of them actually sleeps in it one night). With no electricity, most methods of entertainment and stimulation are gone. Some of it is quite nice, like the lack of ringing sounds or having the time to read. Being among strangers might seem odd, but in this setting, it works because it has to. Still, it isn’t that hard. When we’re not hiking in the woods or skiing on the lake, we’re engaged in fireside chats, variations of the same card game, and of course, feasting at the table. In fact, the eating is my favourite part. The hearty meals are designed to supplement lots of physical activity, with a touch of wholesome country cuisine. We really enjoyed the sweet potato and butternut squash soup with beer bread, the wild salmon with dill sauce, the warmed brie topped with apricot-almond sauce and served with crackers, and the homemade cheesecake with apples and cranberries. Though Tyson insists it’s healthy, I’m still working off the pancake breakfast served with maple syrup-soaked bacon. When it’s time to leave, a driver takes us to the South River train station. The road is a bit slippery, but he insists winter driving is a sport he rather enjoys. In the short half-hour that we spend with him, we learn that he enjoys photography, that he first parallel-parked by spinning into the spot, and that London, Ontario, to him, is as far “down south” as he cares to go. An Upper Canadian through and through.