Ohio resident Amy Weirick spent a lifetime saving up for a cottage on Canada’s Pelee Island. Just when her wish came true, the global pandemic closed the doors on American homeowners. Now, she is picking up the pieces of her broken dreams and making up for two years of lost time.
A lakeside cottage is an enchanting place where time stands still and nostalgia mingles seamlessly with memories yet to be made. For many, it symbolizes a dream come true.
Amy Weirick longed for a summer cottage of her own on Pelee Island after years of visiting the Canadian island with her bestie’s family.
“I remember that first visit as a teenager so distinctly,” she says. “I fell in love with their place, even though their cottage had no plumbing. We’d go out in the lake with a bottle of shampoo and ivory soap to scrub up. It seemed so adventurous to me. Our family didn’t do that kind of stuff.”
As time went on, she felt she was making guest appearances in someone else’s dream. She wanted that Pelee Island lifestyle for herself, and later for her family of four — her husband, Dave, and sons, Mike and Jake. She spent most of her adult life saving to make it happen.
“Pelee Island has a weird pull on me,” she says.”It’s like a crush on a boy. It’s that kind of feeling.”
After searching for a place for more than two decades, in 2019 she finally found the “one” — an old fishing cottage on the east shore. It had good bones, but it needed a lot of work.
“We were so busy that first season,” says Weirick. “The place was dark and dingy, and it was full of stuff we had to get out of there. It had become a repository for things people didn’t want anymore, such as 10 chicken fryers. It even came with an old Chevy Astro that hadn’t been driven in a decade judging from the flat tires and bulging battery. The Pelee lifestyle has one important rule: Do not throw anything away because there is no Home Depot. You never know when someone might need that rusty old bolt or chicken fryer.”
There were some things the Weiricks couldn’t tackle before the end of the season. Before she boarded the last ferry off of Pelee Island in November 2019, she handed the keys over to a handyman to repair some rotten floorboards, replace flashing on the roof and remove a concrete base from a wood-burning stove she had removed.
“He said, ‘How do you feel about me living there while I’m doing the work?’” says Weirick. “I was a little reluctant naturally, but I agreed since there were so many things to get done, and he discounted the cost of the work.”
Throughout the winter, the handyman would text photos of his progress to the Weiricks back in Columbus, Ohio. The messages tapered off as the work concluded.
Pretty soon, there were other worries to consider. As the surge of COVID-19 cases spread around the world in early 2020, hope of getting back to the island dissipated for the many Americans with properties on the Canadian territory. The border was closed to foreign passport holders. While she felt empathy toward the millions of cross-border families and loved ones being divided indefinitely, Weirick struggled with the forced separation from her beloved island and treasured cottage.
“Losing business and not being able to go out to dinner didn’t bother me as much as not being able to get to Pelee Island,” says Weirick. “Part of it was that I had finally gotten my dream, and it was extra unfair that it was snatched away.”
The pain became even more acute when a Canadian neighbor on the island called her to say there were people — a man, woman and two kids — staying in her cottage. Weirick knew it must be the handyman. As angry as she felt, she handled the situation with grace.
“I was not confrontational,” she explains. “I just told him friends from Toronto were coming to stay and asked him to remove any of the tools that might still be in the house. He freaked out a little bit — after all, they had all of their stuff there — but I knew it would be resolved.”
It would take almost two long years for Weirick to set foot in her island home again.
“I would lay in bed watching the news, hoping to finally get word that the border would open again,” she remembers. “We joked about getting a submarine or stealth plane.”
The Sun Finally Rises
Finally, the Canada Border Services Agency issued a statement announcing the border opening for vaccinated U.S. citizens would take place starting at 12:01 a.m. on Aug. 9, 2021. Weirick was one of the many people in line at the border just after midnight that day.
“There were a ton of people waiting to cross into Canada,” Weirick says. “I waited almost two hours, but if I had waited until morning, the line would have been even worse.”
She got a hotel in Windsor and spent the rest of the night there before heading to the ferry terminal for a 10 a.m. sailing in the morning. When she walked into her island treasure, she broke down in tears from a mixture of joy and sadness and twinge of anger.
“I opened the door, and the place was a mess,” she says. “It was dirty and dusty from the work — and living — the handyman had been doing while we were away. I felt violated, but I didn’t want it to consume me. Besides, I had a lot to do.”
Weirick spent the rest of the 2021 season cleaning up the place, tackling new tasks that popped up and catching up with people she had not seen for what seemed like ages.
“I really missed how Pelee Island feels like a four-month-long family reunion,” she says.
This season, there was still a lot of work that needed to happen before the cottage could match what Weirick envisions for her getaway, but she still found time to kick-back and enjoy island time.
“My plan was to work my tail off in April and May, then relax starting in June,” she says. “My favorite thing to do is to float in the lake on a raft tethered to a pile of cinder blocks. I apply a million layers of sunscreen, pop on a big floppy hat and float all day, sipping on a big glass of ice water or iced tea with lemon.”
As much as she likes her alone time, being together with her family in the place she’s loved since childhood gives her the most joy.
“All the trappings of the world don’t come in here,” she says. “There’s no WiFi, so we just hang out together, play euchre and tell ghost stories. It’s very old fashioned, but it’s nice to let go of all of the distractions in life and just enjoy one another.”
The cottage has worked its magic.