Fireside Reading: Cottage Rates Chapter in Book

December 16, 2015

For a decade, I worked on a part-time basis with older people interested in writing their life stories. I did workshops with them in which I suggested outlines and topics that encouraged them to write what often became full length books.

The following is an article I wrote about one of my regular participants. It is about the summer cottage that she, her husband and children spent time at each year.

For those of you who do not know, the idea of going away to a cottage or cabin in the summer in Canadian, especially in the Prairie Provinces, is a long tradition and is every bit as popular as  going away to lay in the sun somewhere in the winter.

In fact, when people get restless for summer in, say ,February, in the extremely cold winter parts of Canada, this is called ‘cabin fever’.

Here is the piece I wrote about the Sigurdsons’ cottage on the west side of Lake Winnipeg:

The Cottager

Summer 1995

Fireside Reading: Cottage Rates Chapter in Book

by Tanya Lester

If you are one of the many who browse through Tergeson’s General Store during a visit to Gimli, chances are you have run across Helen Sigurdson’s book called I Wanted You to Know. You also may have noticed the next to final chapter dedicated to her family’s cottage.

But who is Helen Sigurdson and why is she writing about her cottage?

A retired teacher, Helen is one of a growing number of seniors who has decided to write her life story for her children, grandchildren, friends and anyone else interested in history and reminiscing. The book covers Sigurdson’s French Canadian ancestry, childhood memories, school days, marriage, travel and even examines migraine headaches which have plagued her throughout her life.

But why the chapter on her cottage? Located in Glen Bay development 18 km north of Gimli, Sigurdson said it is an important part of her life story because its purchase was a reward to her husband Frank, a retired school principal, and herself for working so hard for many years.

They bought it to be a place where they could casually host visits with their four adult children, extended family and friends who have come from as far away as England, Germany and China. Sigurdson finds she relaxes with her guests more easily at the cottage where “the china doesn’t have to match”, the grandchildren can run free and they all go swimming or for walks along Lake Winnipeg’s southwestern shores.

In her chapter about the cottage, Sigurdson documents slices of life familiar to many cottagers. “At least once each summer we drive to Arborg which is about twenty miles away,” she wrote. “To get there we take a side road that goes through a wildlife preserve and often we see deer along the way. They stand and look at us as if to ask what we are doing here. Then we drive ten miles north of Arborg to a farming community called Vidir, where Frank’s father homesteaded and Frank was born.”

And, of course, “We have a pet chipmunk, called Chippy, who likes to beg for food. He is getting more and more aggressive and will climb up to our shoulders…Once when I was sitting on the deck eating green grapes, Chippy appeared, sat up on his haunches and begged so I gave him some grapes. I had our camera handy and got a picture of him carefully peeling the grape before he stuffed it into his cheek.”

But life at the lake is not without crisis. Readers are reminded of this when Sigurdson documents the summer night her husband had a heart attack. Then, neither is it without humour as she relates how she hit a skunk while driving Frank to the Gimili hospital, where he recovered.

It was at her cottage, away from the interruptions of city living, that Sigurdson did much of the writing for I Wanted You to Know. After her morning walk, she would work on the manuscript for an hour or two each day. Her writing was done by hand and then transferred onto computer by her husband.

Sigurdson encourages anyone interested in writing his or her memoirs to read her book, take a life story writing course and to talk to other family members who have stories that will “twig a memory.”

She believes it would be too overwhelming for anyone (not of a literary background) to begin such a project with the pressure of actually self-publishing  and selling the story in bound book form as a goal. Sigurdson’s initial intent was to write her story for her family alone. But one thing led to another and now the 300 copies she produced are almost sold out with some even on sale in Iceland. In Winnipeg, she jokes about her book rubbing covers with Booker Prize nominee and Pulitzer Prize winner Carol Shileds’ Stone Diaries at McNally Robinson Books’ Osborne Village location.

Sigurdson had copies of her book produced after shopping around. She went with the printer she found compatible, and cautions people to avoid those in the business with a patronizing attitude.

In response to a question as to whether she thinks her book is good cottage reading, Sigurdson said “I think so. It’s easy reading. Some cottage neighbours bought three because they were expecting company from Germany. Their guests liked it because it gave them an idea as to what it’s like growing up in Canada.”

Sigurdson still likes to write at the cottage. Shew is working on a manuscript about her ancestors and does copious letter writing to her children and grandchildren. Producing a book in her retirement years has been most enjoyable because, she says, it has made her many new friends — something cottage living is all about ….


To read more of Tanya Lester’s posts on this blog go to or

Tanya Lester is also a tea leaf reader, tarot reader who included psychic channelling and intuitive counselling in her readings. For more on this and on her housesitting, and being reiki master go to  Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google or contact her directly at or 250-538-0086

Tanya has four published books: Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader (that can be purchased from the author or from, Friends I Never Knew, Dreams and Tricksters and Women Rights/Writes. 



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