News & Happenings
Posted Saturday, 27 May, 2017 17:00
All around me on the island there are sounds. The air is alive. Somewhere close by I can hear loons calling to each other in their haunting low wail. A song sparrow lifts its voice melodically over and over close to me in the honeysuckle bush. A kingfisher is sweeping low in between Fancy Free island in the channel, and as it flies it makes its chattering call. There’s a phoebe nesting out under the rafters of the boathouse. Its call is so insistent, Phoebe Phoebe.
A pair of robins have decided to build their nest right on our front porch, weaving bits of grass in and out around a three-pronged hook that we usually hang our hats on. We found the first egg this afternoon. This has created a problem. Now we can’t go out onto our front porch lest we frighten the robins off the nest. We can’t use the door that we normally use to get into the cottage and have spent the afternoon sneaking in and out by side doors and back doors.
I am struck by the idea that we humans on Fancy Free Island really only borrow this place for a few days of the year from the animals that live here all year round .
The lake is very peaceful now, very still, only a few ripples on the surface. The trees that fringe the island are silhouetted in the slanting sunlight. The water was golden only a few minutes ago and now it’s turned pink and orange as the sun slips beneath the horizon.
This must be what it’s like living inside a poem.
Posted Monday, 20 March, 2017 17:00
Posted Saturday, 12 September, 2015 22:00
Whatever it is, Fancy Free does seem to create the condition for a sort of supreme tranquility that creates happiness and contentment, a feeling of being in the moment.
Is it the proximity to the water, sparkling from every window continually in the summer, lapping at the shoreline, swishing and booming on the island's rock wall as strong waves from across the lake reach it on a windy day, accompanied by the cries of osprey, seagulls and terns as they fly across the channel? Is it the heightened sensation of the wind, so necessary to develop on an island when a boat is only means of egress? Is it the drenching sunshine and heat of a summer's day that calls you to jump in the water and swim, or enjoy a quiet read on the hammock because it's just too hot to do anything much?
Is it the quiet of the deep, dark nights, the sweep of brilliant stars and constellations across the sky so vividly clear you want to do nothing more than just lie on a dock on watch them move over the hours? The call of the loons across the lake or the owls in the mainland forest, the sounds that travel for miles because it's just so quiet? The frogs and crickets that make their music near the docks after twilight has fallen? The fireflies twinkling in the bushes at the water's edge in the dark?
Perhaps the cottage itself has been steeped in summertime vacation happiness so long that it's somewhere in the walls, intangible but felt by all who enter.
Whatever it may be, we invite all Fancy Free-ers to make their own comments, in the guest book or to us directly, to describe their experiences and what it was that made their Fancy Free visit memorable.
Posted Monday, 19 January, 2015 22:00
shelter Although Fancy Free is in a snowy slumber for the next few months, we are gearing up for another perfect cottage summer. We have received permission from all authorities to repair and slightly expand the Fancy Free boathouse. It took longer than expected to say the least but our perseverance and persistence has been rewarded with a successful application for a building permit. Many thanks to Kathy Sonnenburg of Parks Canada’s Smith’s Falls office for her advice and guidance.
The newly repaired Fancy Free boathouse will add extra storage for boats and equipment. Materials and design will be in keeping with the original heritage architecture of Fancy Free cottage. Our goal is to increase the aesthetic charm of Fancy Free island’s built environment, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fancy Free is the oldest cottage on Big Rideau Lake and we are pleased that the boathouse on the island will shortly be as pretty as the cottage, as well as being stronger and more able to shelter our boats from the storms that occasionally blow across the lake.
The construction period will be timed to avoid any inconvenience to guests and to comply with restrictions on building on the water during fish spawning season. Stay tuned for more developments and photos of the newly repaired boathouse.
Posted Sunday, 21 October, 2012 00:00
The summer of 2013 will go down in the annals of Fancy Free as the Year of the Dishwasher. That’s right... a super-efficient whisper-quiet Bosch dishwasher is now cleverly installed in the kitchen, next to the double sink. We have always prided ourselves on the Victorian authenticity of Fancy Free, and wondered how we could ever manage to put a dishwasher into the kitchen without (a) taking up far too much space or (b) having it look out of place and ultra-modern. Well, we found a way and you would never know there was a dishwasher there... but there is, hidden behind an original cupboard door. Dinners for eight are now a snap to clear up, and the dishwasher is so quiet that you can barely tell when it’s on. Island living has become much easier all of a sudden.
We continue to work on plans to very slightly enlarge the boathouse, while being careful to stay within all guidelines of Parks Canada and the municipality. We plan to increase the amount of storage for boats and to create a slip that will shelter the motorboat from the weather. This will be the next big project and we can’t wait to get started. Meanwhile, the leaves are beginning to fall and Fancy Free is starting to fall asleep for the winter. We will open it again in the spring, ready for another year of fun. Our office is, of course, open all winter long and we look forward to hearing from all friends of Fancy Free over the next few months, as we embark on another season of cottaging on the Rideau. Have a good winter and see you next year!
Posted Saturday, 26 May, 2012 00:00
“Methinks an island would be the most desirable of landed property, for it seems like a little world by itself; and the water may answer for the atmosphere that surrounds planets.”
Here is our update as of May, 2012: Spring has been exceptionally warm this year, and the summer is predicted to be a hot one. We opened Fancy Free early this year since the season has been so advanced. The swimming season has already started, and although the water is still a bit cold, it will warm up quickly over the next few weeks. The female hummingbird has returned to Fancy Free’s porch and is sipping nectar from the beautiful flower baskets hanging there. Swallows have returned, and warblers, as well as the loons and ducks. The island is a cacophony of birdsong and lush growth, and the water is as inviting as always. The new swimming raft is sure to provide hours of fun on the water.
Annual repairs and grounds-keeping are taking place, and Fancy Free is once again “open for summer”! The anticipation of five months of island life on the Big Rideau is a delicious sensation.
Attention, naturalists, photographers, and history buffs: the Rideau Roundtable is preparing some wonderful excursions in the Rideau area to celebrate Environment Week. Max Finklestein, a legendary canoeist and friend of Fancy Free, is a featured interpreter:
CELEBRATE ENVIRONMENT WEEK with TREASURES OF THE RIDEAU – the perfect voyageur canoe interpretive tour to experience the Rideau’s cultural and natural highlights.
The Rideau Roundtable is pleased to present Treasures of the Rideau tours in collaboration with the Rideau Canal Visitor Information Centre to celebrate Environment Week in Smiths Falls, Saturday June 2 and Saturday June 9, 2012.
Starting at 10 am at the auditorium of the Rideau Canal Visitor and Information Centre with an overview presentation of Ontario’s UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, The Rideau Canal, this will be followed by instruction in paddling the 34 foot replica Voyageur Canoe. Visitors will experience the passage through the Detached lock, into the Swale, a provincially significant wetland. They will learn about the heritage and natural history of the area from our regular costumed Voyageur interpreters - wildlife biologist Stew Hamill, historian and teacher Jim Penistan and actor and natural history educator Andrea Howard as well as guest interpreters.
Saturday, June 2, we welcome canoeist icon, biologist, author and environmentalist, Max Finkelstein, as our guest interpreter. Max is the retired Communication Officer for the Canadian Heritage Rivers System, Canada's national program for river conservation. Max Finkelstein’s canoe explorations of Canada are modern legends. His expeditions demand ingenuity and courage. His book, Canoeing a Continent: On the Trail of Alexander Mackenzie, retraces explorer Alexander Mackenzie’s historic paddle some two hundred years ago across North America. Paddling the Boreal Forest: Rediscovering A.P. Low is another work that he co-authored with paddling partner Jim Stone. They traced the routes of the 19th century “iron-man” in the Quebec-Labrador border.
Max will be leading the "Capital to Capitol" Voyageur Canoe expedition from Ottawa to Washington in September. This goal of this 1800 km, 5-week long expedition is to draw attention to the need for collective efforts to restore our rivers and waters
The cost of these 4-hour Treasures of the Rideau, on Saturday June 2, including a morning on the water, lunch and discussion with Max Finkelstein, is $65.
The following Saturday, June 9, the guest interpreter will be naturalist/photographer, Simon Lunn. Simon has spent most of his life exploring and learning about the natural environment. With his considerable photographic, interpretive and presentation skills, he generously shares his experiences with others. A graduate of Acadia University, Nova Scotia in biology and wildlife conservation, Simon enjoyed a career spanning several decades with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Canadian Wildlife Service, and, for the past 30 years of his work career, Parks Canada. During that time, he worked and lived in park sites and other natural areas across Canada; worked eighteen years with the Rideau Canal as the Visitor Services Officer and prior to his retirement in 2004, as Ecosystem Scientist. Simon continues to contribute citizen science through various wildlife surveys, research, and also volunteers with the Rideau Waterway Land Trust.
Simon will provide our participants with insights into the natural history and secrets of the Swale, a very important marsh that will be full of life and photographic opportunities at this time of year.
Following lunch in a private dining room, Simon will share with the audience a slide show of the four seasons of the Swale, after which he will lead a hands-on photography workshop from 2 pm - 4:00 pm. This will involve an easy stroll to different spots along the canal between Smiths Falls Detached and Smiths Falls Combined Lockstation, and will provide participants with practical tips and suggestions on how to photograph what makes the Rideau Waterway so special. It should be an active, fun and memorable day that will include a search for the "falls" referred to in the town's name!"
The cost of the whole day is $85, including lunch, the morning paddle and the afternoon photography workshop.
Please visit: www.rideauroundtable.ca or call 613-269-3415 for reservations or more information about Treasures of the Rideau.
Posted Sunday, 25 September, 2011 00:00
The garden grew to lush perfection and attracted ruby-throated hummingbirds, butterflies and bumblebees galore (the bees at Fancy Free seem to be of a laid-back, non-stinging sort that concentrate on pollen transfer and pick-up exclusively and leave humans alone).
It was the sort of summer that flew by quickly since the weather was perfect for all the water activities that Fancy Free is famous for. Once you are on the water at Big Rideau Lake... well, nothing else is quite so much fun. Time loses its hold and hours flit by.
We love this passage from Kenneth Grahame's book The Wind in the Willows, one of Fancy Free's favourite library books. The subterranean character of Mole meets the Water Rat, who lives on the banks of the River. Ratty loves to row about in his punt boat, and when he finds that Mole has never been in a boat before, says:
“Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING--absolute nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,' he went on dreamily: `messing--about--in--boats; messing----'
`Look ahead, Rat!' cried the Mole suddenly.
It was too late. The boat struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air.
`--about in boats--or WITH boats,' the Rat went on composedly, picking himself up with a pleasant laugh. `In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you're always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you've done it there's always something else to do, and you can do it if you like, but you'd much better not.”
We are pleased to announce some stunning new additions to amenities this year. The newly renovated bathroom now has a beautiful alcove soaking tub/shower, with glass tiles. We also installed a new heritage-style vanity with a marble counter and set-in porcelain sink. The vanity is flanked by light sconces on either side of the Victorian mirror for a bright and clean look. The floor is tiled in luxurious porcelain. It is now more vintage New York City than Big Rideau Lake!
We have also bought a spacious and buoyant 8x8' swim raft, moored with an anchor, and fitted out with a ladder for easy ascent from the water. It adds to the fun of swimming in the protected channel that separates the island from the mainland. You can swim from the front dock to the raft, climb on the raft, dive off it, and swim back to the dock in just a matter of minutes.
Posted Monday, 7 February, 2011 00:00
We are thrilled that the Rideau Canal has been given this well deserved recognition.
Posted Sunday, 6 June, 2010 14:30
Posted Sunday, 13 December, 2009 12:00
Why is an island location so eternally popular for a holiday? It’s the water, of course. Sparkling water all around, everywhere you look. The Swiss Family Robinson-like thrill of having a private island to roam, fish and swim in, a place separate from the mainland and just for you, is an indescribable delight.
It’s also the privacy: peace and quiet, with the rush and roar of the city quickly forgotten, to be replaced by birdsong, lapping waves, the splash of paddles in the water, and a thrumming boat engine every now and then. An island is “a place away,” a perfect spot for a retreat with friends and family.
It’s fascinating to live in a cottage, such as Fancy Free, that was built in the 19th century, since the contrast between the way that people lived in times past and the way that we live now in the 21st century is so easy to discern. Fancy Free was built in the late 1870’s and was one of the first cottages on Big Rideau Lake. Historians tell us that it’s the oldest cottage still standing on the lake, and probably the oldest in the area. Aside from the fireplace and chimney, the entire cottage infrastructure is made of wood, as are almost all of the furnishings. This wood was sourced from local trees, cut and planed in Smiths Falls or a nearby community, put together by hand or with simple tools, and brought by barge from Smiths Falls. Even the floors are made of planks that our carpenters tell us were sawn, cut and assembled in a way peculiar to the local district. Is it possible to build so locally or with such a low carbon footprint today?
With global warming being in the forefront of major issues, we thought you would like to hear about the environmental initiatives that we have undertaken at Fancy Free. It’s one of the things that make Fancy Free is so unique.
Fancy Free Island is in Big Rideau Lake, a large, healthy, clear lake. Big Rideau Lake has an abundance of fish, birds, and other forms of animal life because the area is densely forested and the water is clean. On one of the other islands in Big Rideau Lake, we have a resident population of ospreys, which are a very rare kind of hawk that dive for fish. They often soar over the channel that separates Fancy Free from the mainland, and if we are standing on the dock it’s not unusual to see an osprey overhead suddenly close its wings in mid-air, and plunge into the channel to catch a fish. The splash it makes is as loud as a human’s dive would be. It’s always a thrill to see the ospreys flying over the island since they remind us that we are in a pristine area with the kind of unspoiled habitat that enables these rare birds to thrive. It’s not exactly wilderness, since there are towns and villages nearby, but pretty close.
The boats that were so plentiful in the early days of Fancy Free were all canoes, rowboats, or sailboats. Before the gasoline engine was widespread, wind and human muscle-power helped cottagers get about, not fossil fuel. We still continue the tradition of low-impact boating at Fancy Free with our fleet of three canoes, the sailboat and the new kayak. We encourage our guests to go out in the hand-powered boats as much as they feel comfortable with, since they are so much more fun than motorized boats and far quieter and easier on the lake’s nesting loon pairs.
In 2001, we replaced the original septic system, which was built to outdated standards, with a new system especially designed for islands and other areas where space for septic beds is at a minimum. The new system is inspected and maintained regularly to ensure that the lake is not impacted by any waste water seeping off the island.
We also use no fertilizer or pesticides on the island’s lawns and maintain the trees and the littoral area near the water carefully so as to maximize habitat for fish and other wildlife. Fancy Free island is home to many breeding birds as well as to a family of red squirrels, which entertain us as they run about the lawns and chatter in the trees. We often spot great blue herons and kingfishers fishing in the channel between Fancy Free Island and the mainland, and minks and frogs are found at the water’s edge. People ask us how terrestrial animals such as the squirrels came to be on the island. The answer is simple- they swam, just like the minks and frogs. It’s not far from the mainland and with all the oak trees on Fancy Free Island, the squirrels knew paradise when they saw it.
Guests have told us on many occasions how much they enjoyed the feeling of happiness and serenity that they experience at Fancy Free. Some have commented on how they feel that a sense of pervading kindness, love of the outdoors, and enjoyment of the pleasure of being together with loved ones seems to have been passed down from one generation to another. This sixth sense of serenity is one of the intangibles that cast a spell over people that visit. We invite you to come and experience for yourselves the peaceful atmosphere of this very special “place away” amidst the unspoiled beauty of Big Rideau Lake. You will agree with the squirrels: it’s the best of all worlds.
Pamela and Tom Gough
Posted Friday, 10 July, 2009 17:35
Through our newly expanded website, we are now able to offer information on the fascinating history of Fancy Free Island, which as the oldest cottage on Big Rideau Lake is a renowned local landmark. Generations of people have told us how much they appreciate the fact that Fancy Free has been kept with so many of its original architectural features intact, just the way they remembered it from years ago. The people who live on Big Rideau Lake and other communities along the Rideau Canal waterway system in eastern Ontario have long memories!
Significantly, though, it’s not just the local people who appreciate the beauty and history of Big Rideau Lake and the Rideau Canal system- the entire world shares in this appreciation. The Rideau Canal, including Big Rideau Lake, is a world-class cultural destination, recently recognized with designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This puts the Rideau Canal system in the company of some of the most wonderful sights in the world, such as the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Giza , the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, and the Taj Mahal in India. In Canada, other places on the World Heritage List include the historic district of Old Quebec, L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site in Newfoundland, and Old Town Lunenburg in Nova Scotia. All in all, there are 890 properties on the list, selected by an international committee as having outstanding universal value. We invite you to view the World Heritage List to see all the sites that have been given recognition by designation as World Heritage Sites. Click here to see a stunning slideshow of the Rideau Canal from the UNESCO site, photographed by Geoff Stevens of New Zealand.
Posted Saturday, 16 May, 2009 15:02
As the largest lake in the 175-year-old Rideau Canal system, Big Rideau Lake has been recently recognized as a world-class destination of historical significance. On June 28, 2007, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) named the Rideau Canal a World Heritage Site, confirming it as an international cultural treasure:
“It is the only canal dating from the great North Amercan canal-building era of the early 19th century to remain operational along its original line with most of its structures intact.”
As one of the original cottages on the Rideau system, Fancy Free is a significant historical structure. Entering Fancy Free is like stepping back in time. If you look at the old photos on the cottage walls of the Victorians who once enjoyed their summers on the island, you can easily imagine that you are in another era- a time when life unfolded at a slower pace.
Posted Friday, 1 May, 2009 18:11
Recently, when reading a traveler’s guide, I hit upon the phrase that describes perfectly what I look for when I travel: the ’search for lovable authenticity’.
I think that the people who come to stay on Fancy Free Island are, like our family when we travel, looking for a very special sort of place with lovable authenticity: a place off the beaten track, in the midst of stunning natural scenery, with beautiful buildings- a place that is full of character, comfortable and slightly eccentric. A retreat that is a true escape from the hurly-burly of day to day life. A place where dreams can be dreamt in peace.
Fancy Free is just such a place-it is magical. The island is as perfect as an island can get- full of trees, with a low rock wall and a little beach, close to the mainland but far enough away for true privacy. The cottage is an authentic Victorian summer home, with a wraparound porch that is twelve feet deep, overseeing the lake. It is a dignified and charming structure that has been lovingly restored and enjoyed by the same family for over 100 years.
Big Rideau Lake is incredibly beautiful. The lake is clean and deep, full of lake trout and bass, unspoiled, with air so fresh and pure that just breathing is a pleasure.
As a private island getaway, Fancy Free Island combines adventure, stewardship, natural beauty and history. It is totally unique. Every year, we welcome a number of families, some with a tradition of returning year after year, others who have come from as far away as Australia for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We invite you, too, to come and enjoy a week or two of island life.