Sunday, September 20, 2020

Paradise closed: It’s a lost summer for Americans with deep roots in this Ontario cottage country

Paradise closed: It's a lost summer for Americans with deep roots in this Ontario cottage country

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Back in the day, there was a commercial fishery in the area, and lumber was king in the years before the Second World War. Now, cottagers, both Canadian and American, are the industry, and summer 2020 has been rocky.

Paddle around one island and hear the happy cries of Canadian children, splashing about. Paddle around the next and find a cluster of cabins all boarded-up, empty. No kids, boats or flagpoles flying the Canadian and American flags, and no Americans.

Andy Blenkarn, who owns the local Desmasdon’s Boat Works, has certainly noticed, since 30 per cent of his customers are usually American. Indeed, 30 per cent of the local township’s ratepayers are American.

Blenkarn, the type of person who is just as likely to greet longtime customers with a hug as shake their hand, and his team store their boats, haul them out for summer, do maintenance on their motors, sell them gas, fresh coffee and ice cream cones, open and close cottages and watch over their cars, ensuring they don’t get broken into when they are out on the islands.

“This has not been a fun summer,” he said.

What has saved Desmasdon’s from financial disaster are its boat sales and construction division. The American revenue stream has evaporated, sure, but Canadians are spending like mad, investing all their pent-up COVID dollars on new boats, motors, cottage repairs and renovations.

“If I didn’t sell boats and motors or have a construction division, this would not be a pretty picture,” Blenkarn said.

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