Doom and gloom seemed to be everywhere this summer. In the preamble to the US elections, the cable networks and major newspapers revealed a society on very shaky ground, an economy whose shock waves were felt by many other countries, disrupting, at the very least, the optimism usually associated with summer.
It was in this milieu that I took my family to Wasaga Beach near the town of Collingwood, Ontario. Maybe I didn’t know what I was looking for until I found it, but Wasaga embodies an optimism without being overwhelming.
Wasaga’s sanguinity seems a contradiction considering it is the largest fresh water beach in the world. In fact, this crescent around Georgian Bay is so large that Canada’s first overseas flight launched from its shores in 1934, needing over a mile of sand to negotiate wind squalls to become air bound. However, the sheer size of Wasaga, six different beaches spread over fourteen kilometers, means you can invite extended family or friends and know that you’ll always get a place on the beach. Want to play football or volleyball—no problem. There’s room enough for everyone to stretch out and own whatever summer activity they find invigorating.
The water is free from seaweed and rocks, or that overpowering fish smell that you may have to endure at other beaches, one that has your kids plugging their noses wishing they could have ended up anywhere else. In case you’re wondering, the kids will love it. The waves are low and relaxed which enticed, for the first time ever, my 5 year old girl to brave the “big waters” on our summer vacation—-hand held tightly, giggling all the way. And since the depth unfolds gradually, I was confident that we were not going to drop out of sight because of an esoteric terrain.
The white warm sands of Ontario’s favorite summer getaway invite you to play, and my two year old toddled throughout a subdivision of endless sandcastles, dipping his toes mischievously into numerous fresh-water moats. Yet with the knowledge of Wasaga’s size, and its fame as a preferred summer getaway for many Canadian residents, I expected to find sweeping hotels, arranged in a claustrophobic wall along the beach front. But what we found, clustered throughout the town, were cottages, innocently painted with bright summer colors, red, yellow, orange, with spry screen doors screeching and slamming as kids darted to their next summer activities. These communal enclaves often unfolded to a beach, or even a park where a family was enjoying a picnic, or a father played catch with a son, or a mother brushed her daughter’s hair which shined a litter lighter after summer’s warm kiss.
It’s a place of bare essentials— family, water, fun—not of a parallel universe, but of one rightly aligned. A spot that could so easily slip into the tacky, but has a committed population of 15,000 who are known for their year round involvement including June’s soap box derby, February’s Torchlight Parade, late summer’s Jazz in the Park, or Kitefest on Father’s Day.
Sometime during the day I paused. With my legs knee-high in calm, cool surf, I looked across the bay at the panoramic mountain-view, aware of time and tide, thinking about how people for over a hundred years have enjoyed a day here like mine. I realized, as my daughter’s hand slipped into mine, that optimism may not be contingent on the flip of a calendar, or a newspaper headline, or a television reporter. It might, indeed, be right in front of your eyes.