Home Feature Articles Canada’s Cottage country provides Covid bolt-hole for city photographers

Canada’s Cottage country provides Covid bolt-hole for city photographers


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.

Dense forest

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.

Read more from Richard Scott

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  1. I found your article really revealling Richard. Thank you. I like the simplicity and content of ‘Rocky outcrop’ very pleasing.

  2. Thanks for this Richard. As my wife is from Montreal your photos remind me of the happy times we have spent in the beautiful Laurentians and Eastern Townships. Hopefully we will be able to return again soon. The photo of the lake with the early morning mist is particularly lovely.

    • Kevin, If you do as much justice to the Laurentians as you did for Plitvice, that will be an article well worth waiting for. Thank you.

  3. The cyans and greens and rust reds together with a very nice composition make a wonderful opening photograph, Richard. A very close and dear friend of mine lives in the Toronto area and we get regular updates when he’s out on the lake kayaking in –10C in “balmy” weather.

    • Farhiz, I have been fascinated and impressed by your articles, so praise means a great deal. I hope to visit India in the next couple of years; I look forward to a great photographic adventure.

  4. Hey very very lovely photos, don’t think I can remember a post, except maybe for comparison , with Fuji and Leica, on MAcfilos before. I’m across the St. Lawrence from you in Central NY, our scenery is almost the same but our growing season is longer. Heard today you folks back under lock down, hang in there we need to hear and see more from you. Thank you!

    • Thank you John. Yes, we are restricted to our homes again. Photography of any kind has been difficult over the last year. We get a bit of freedom and just as I get into the swing of shooting again, it all gets shut down. I will make up for lost time once this is all over.

  5. I really enjoyed your article and pictures.

    I have a little correction to your article. I grew up in western Canada near Winnipeg (also fondly know as Winterpeg). It was often minus 40 degrees. As a matter of interest, minus 40 degrees is the same temperature on the fahrenheit and celcius temperature scales. I remember taking my fiance, who grew up in Montreal, out at Christmas time to get the approval of my parents. We were there for two weeks and it was often 40 below and never got warmer than minus 26F. When we went to drive somewhere, she wondered why the car was bouncing on the squarish frozen tires until they warmed up. Also she could not believe the loud sound of the crunch of the “dry” snow under the tires or when you walked on it. I still cannot remember why I moved Ottawa back then with my poor circulation.

    I currently live on Vancouver Island which is usually a moderate climate but I am going to move back to the Ottawa area in about a year as 16 years of hillbillies is lowering my IQ and table manners.

    My favourite photography is street and urban so I have not done much this year. Even the marinas are only open to owners. I find very few guinness or wine rest spots out in the wilderness. Maybe I need to get a donkey like Ansel Adams had to carry refreshments. But I find it hard to switch from guns to cameras when shooting nature – maybe I can adapt in these challenging times.

    Again, I enjoyed your article and it might have inspired me to go further afield or forest

    • If you really fancy using a donkey check out Carleton Watkins who used a mule team pulling a truck (his darkroom) for photographing Yosemite from great heights on giant glass plates in the 1860s many years before Ansel Adams was born. Abraham Lincoln was so impressed with the photographs made from the plates that he declared the Yosemite area to be world’s first preserved area or National Park. Watkins used a Grubb C lens made in Dublin. I have 3 examples of the C lens in my collection of 7 Grubb lenses. They have a build quality that makes all modern photographic equipment seem puny by comparison and the optical quality is astonishing, considering when the lenses were made.

      When men were men etc.


    • Thank you Brian. I hope you get out to photograph some of the spectacular scenery of Vancouver Island before you leave for the civilization of Ottawa. I spent a couple of years traveling back and forth to Nanaimo, so I am familiar with Vancouver Island. I did manage a few good photos in the area around the Pacific Rim Highway.

    • “..Vancouver Island . . . but I am going to move back to the Ottawa area in about a year as 16 years of hillbillies is lowering my IQ and table manners”.

      B-but Vancouver Island is where the sainted Nitrozac and Snaggy of ‘The Joy of Tech’ hang out, they of geekculture.com ..and they have superb table manners!

  6. Thanks for putting this together. Enjoyed reading it.
    Great composition and tonal range in the last image makes for a special monochrome.
    And the subtle colour in the second last image is special too.

  7. Lovely photos Richard. Fujifilm JPEGs and colours knock the socks off any others. I believe that comes from their experience with film, particularly slide films such as Velvia. You don’t lose the skill set even with a different technology. With my Leica M10 I always shoot in RAW, never in JPEG, but I always find a way to get the results that I want even when Adobe and Apple start messing around with things that were already just fine. Everybody here will know what I mean.

    I have only been to Canada once, on an official visit, and I did not get further than Gatineau Park just outside Ottawa. I am aware of the magnificent wild spaces that you have and which seem to go on forever. Our wild spaces are much smaller, but currently we can see no more than 5kms at a time. We are hoping for some lifting of restrictions in the coming weeks, hopefully before the Summer arrives.


    • Thank you William, your praise is very generous. I do know what you mean by Adobe messing around with things. We have just entered lock-down for the third time, so we are restricted to our homes again for at least a month, excepting essential outings. We will appreciate our freedom all the more when it returns.

  8. A wonderful vignette into Canadian living during these challenge moments. I fully understand the lack of street photography, as someone who gets their kicks from unique steampunk, goth or other worldy events all of which have vanished from our lives.

    I almost envy your ability to be able to travel into a wonderful wonderland of vista’s beyond our thinking in the UK, with the seasons played out on such wide, and wild settings.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

    • Thank you Dave. We are very fortunate in Canada and sometimes we forget that. I truly miss photography in the city, but in cottage country, the odds of meeting someone on a path or road is almost zero. We are blessed in that way.

  9. Thanks Richard for beautiful images of nature, all the more appreciated in “locked down” France where one can’t travel for more than 10 km (6 miles). I truly enjoyed the autumn colours. Image 6 the stream taken with the 35mm summicron yet the Fuji images are quite impressive as well. I wonder if you shot raw or some of their wizardly jpegs presets as the colours are really vibrant.

    • Thank you for you kind words Jean. We have also cycled in and out of lock-down over the last 12 months, so I don’t want to give the impression that we can all just leave for the countryside at leisure. I was fortunate though to have the opportunity to head north when travel did open up. Regarding shooting raw vs JPEG, I shot everything on the Fuji in JPEG only and both JPEG and raw on the M240. As you say, the Fuji does provide remarkably vivid colour.


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