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THAT WHICH DOES NOT BURN

They lost nearly everything in the fire. But these hardy northern Saskatchewan cottagers found what it took to start over again
Photography Kamil Bialous

PAM AND ERIC

Woodsworth had a ritual. Every time they steered their motorboat around a point of Saskatchewan’s Nemeiben Lake and their cottage came into view, they’d feign surprise and say, “It’s still here.” The exact origins of the ritual are unknown, but it started shortly after they bought the rickety 480 sq. ft. wood cabin in 1995 and would continue through many renovations and a size-doubling addition. The cabin was in the middle of nowhere, 400 km north of Saskatoon, accessible for less than half the year and camouflaged in dense forest with pine siding, so there was genuine delight every time. The Woodsworths would practise this ritual with their two daughters in the boat and, over the years, with their grandchildren. It’s still here.

And then, one day, it wasn’t. The cottage was gone. The aluminum fishing boat, melted. The birch and the jack pines, stripped thin like matchsticks burnt to their ends. The lot, four hours north of their home, was blanketed in thick, greasy ash that spread across thousands of hectares.

The sight was a shock but not a surprise. Two weeks before the Woodsworths arrived to see the devastation, in June 2015, three lightning strikes had ignited tinder-like grass 20 km northwest of the lake. High winds and record-setting heat propelled the fire southeast, swallowing up timber until it slammed into the lakeside. The Woodsworths had been following the fire’s progress online via NASA satellite photos. They thought their cabin might be safe, but embers blew across the lake and ignited new fires wherever they landed.

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Start fresh for a new cottage season with the May issue of Cottage Life! The dos and don’ts of natural shorelines How to love your old boat instead of listing it, and how much upgrades and fixes will cost A DIY project to update the sign on your cottage road Pro tips on building a bunkie The inspiring story of cottagers who rebuilt after a forest fire destroyed their cabin Why flood plain maps are essential—and outdated Design ideas from a redone super-cute trailer How innovations in car design and technology can put us on the road to a greener, faster, easier weekend commute Plus, recipes for grilling impressive (yet surprisingly easy) large cuts of meat, such as prime rib, pork shoulder, a whole chicken, and a leg of lamb—yes, please! Pick up the May 2018 issue of Cottage Life for everything you need to get your cottage in shape for summer.