Toronto, where I live, is a modern, cosmopolitan metropolis and Canada’s largest city. I suspect living in such a vibrant city has led me to become mostly a photographer of street scenes and architecture, with an occasional cityscape thrown in. But because of this predilection, the year of Covid made it very difficult for me to photograph the usual subjects, and my output dropped to almost zero. I suspect it is a symptom experienced by many enthusiastic photographers.
Canada is a vast country, however, and only a tiny fraction of it resembles Toronto. Canadians can hike in alpine meadows in the Rocky Mountains, go whale watching off either coast or spend days driving in a straight line across the prairies without seeing a single hill. All very well, of course, but travel restrictions during the past year limited the opportunity to visit these remote areas.
Fortunately, like many cities in Canada, Toronto is gifted because of its proximity to rural areas with a charm all of its own. One such area is locally called Cottage country, a term that needs a bit of explanation, especially for British readers. The term “cottage” conjures images of quaint villages with single-story houses with nary a straight wall between them. Cottage country near Toronto is something quite different.
Cottage country is a popular name for destinations in the province of Ontario (and some other regions in Canada) that people head to for a weekend or longer trip. Ontario’s cottage country is full of vacation homes close to lakes, nature and small towns where visitors can unwind, find good food and drink, and discover Ontario’s beautiful outdoors. Muskoka, the Kawarthas, and Haliburton are favourites to get away from it all, but there are many other up and coming vacation spots in the region.
Cottage country lies some 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Toronto. If you look at satellite views in Google Maps, you will notice that the colour of the terrain changes from the mottled light green of farmland around Toronto into something much darker. The dense forest accounts for the difference. That same forest extends for another 1000 km north, almost to Hudson’s Bay, and over 2500 km from Newfoundland to Manitoba.
Much of the country is untouched wilderness, but the area just north of Toronto is one of Canada’s playgrounds. Besides forest, the area is dotted with hundreds of lakes, most a few hundred meters in diameter, but dozens are kilometres wide and ten or more. The main pastimes in such an area are, of course, boating, fishing, and swimming, but for me, it’s photography.
The combination of landscape views and the forest details provide an endless set of opportunities for photography. With the choice of being stuck in our city home or wandering through the forest, I eventually decided to make the most of what nature provided.
What nature provides
During the year of Covid, I spent some five weeks in total in Cottage Country, taking photos when conditions permitted. Being Canada, we experience a wide range of weather and temperatures, from minus 20C in the winter to the low 30s in summer.
The area provides a variety of landscapes for photographers. In 2020, I also started to explore different image formats, trying very wide shots and experimenting with a square format. Initially found composing in square quite challenging, but once I got it right, it turned out to be surprisingly rewarding.
We sometimes forget how blessed we are in Canada with the abundance of lake and forest. But in 2020, I think many people realised that life would have been much harder without the opportunity to escape into the countryside with little risk of infection. I was certainly delighted to have the opportunity to explore and add something different to my collection of photographs.
Should you ever have the chance to visit Toronto, do not miss the opportunity to drive north and see what much of Canada looks like. I promise you will not be disappointed with Cottage country.
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