Cottage Simplicity: Keeping it easy, making it attainable

We talk often here on PlaceShakers about cottage living, as well as drilling down into how to make that happen at home, with conversations like Small Y’all: A Cottage Solution to the Housing Problem and “Pocket Neighborhoods”: Scale Matters.

This weekend, strolling through Victoria Beach — an insightful cottage community in Manitoba, Canada — I was struck by many of the lessons learned through all the conversations we’ve had together here. And one of the biggest is to keep it simple. And in many cases, that means inexpensive. Victoria Beach does it with a dirt street grid and very simple architecture on the town square, which is really more of an oversized town ramble. Most of the lots on these dirt streets are not cleared keeping the costs lower and privacy higher.

Of course, it wasn’t always easy to keep things simple, as conversations with the owner of the cottage we are fortunate enough to rent pointed out. When his grandfather completed the cottage in 1916 — one of the original twelve in the settlement — they waited until the 258 mile-long Lake Winnipeg froze, and brought the logs across from the west side, pulled over the ice by horses. Then in the summertime, they’d take boats up the Red River from their home in Winnipeg, to the river’s mouth on Lake Winnipeg, and camp on the beach in tents while they built their cottage.

Had they waited until the railway arrived in 1916, they’d have had it much easier. This should provide a long pause for us urban planning types, since the past of this historic Rural Municipality offered three modes of transportation — rail, car, and boat — while our present offers only car. What else can we learn from the patterns and practices we’ve left behind?

So the architecture of the town’s commercial buildings is nothing like anyone in my firm — or probably any of you — would design. And yet this place is so beloved that it is no longer affordable enough for me to want to buy here. Is it because of that dirt street grid that is restricted to pedestrians and cyclists? Cars are left in a large parking lot at the front entrance, with goods transferred by taxi vans. Or those uncleared lots? Or the simple conviviality that comes with being connected? Or the satisfyingly good plan, even when experienced on foot and pedal amid trees? I’m not really sure, but I’d like to hear your thoughts.













You may be hearing more from me out of Victoria Beach as I relocate my office here for August, but until then, I’d like to hear how you’re making things nimble and frugal in your neck of the woods. And, no, I’m not commenting here on early 20th century racial profiling that occurred, which no one today should tolerate, but only the subsequent satisfying urbanism.

Hazel Borys

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  1. Hazel, So ? What’s your point ? The general feeling that there’s so much freely available learning lying about this island paradise, so freely available that you’re asking your readers to tell you what it is…”I’m not really sure, but I’d like to hear your thoughts”.

    The pictures provided are nice but what should we learn from them? Green bordered tracks, holiday buildings, clapboard homes..all redolent of vacation, of summer’s dispensation, of time-out. All great. But what’s the message ? Go on holiday. Sure.

    Keep it simple ? What sort of simple ?

    Just being argumentitive for fun – enjoy your time-out.

    tom 🙂

  2. Yeah, yeah, funny man, Tom. On this continent, time out means punishment! And Victoria Beach is definitely not that.

    Seriously, though, have you ever seen a plan that elegant with a gravel street network? Sometimes, we over think it.

    Bob Gibbs said it well once here, encouraging us that walkable urbanism “got this tag that it was more expensive to build than conventional retail. So most developers think that good urbanism is twice as expensive. Terry Shook, for example, is really good at building town centers that are the same price or less than conventional: $60/SF for office buildings that are really beautiful, while others were paying $120/SF for the shell. All four sides of the building don’t have to be brick, and it doesn’t have to have a slate roof.”

  3. Thanks for the links.

    For my own part, I’d say your countryman Jeb Brugmann has set out the issues of urbanism most clearly of all commentators I’ve read. The idea that appropriate urbanism might be innocent of the complexities taken for granted in malls or apartment developments or other standard components of real estate development is right.

    Two colossal themes await exploration, so far as I am concerned. One is the liberty or condition of individual potential that seems to me to be traced out in the “organic urbanisms” of many towns in the UK pre-WWII, and presumably elsewhere (Czechoslovakia is another example I’m aware of).

    The stunning web resource – – has lots of images of these places in the UK, as well as the encroachment of new suburban layouts and rationalised industrial complexes. It’s a fantastic store of aerial photograpy taken in the 20s and 30s. Some of the lost urbanisms are enough to make you weep.

    The other theme is privacy, or the degree to which at least my idea of a healthy urbanism arises from space beyond the continuum of the State’s supervision. I am not sure one can have a healthy urbanism if one accepts the all-seeing supervision of the State as inevitable: the State dissolves urbanism. Its eye destroys the necessary involution of rich urbanism.



  1. […] simplicity. Hazel Borys of PlaceMakers, examines the idea of keeping it simple as she spends time at Victoria Beach, a cottage community in Manitoba, […]

  2. […] street grid of dirt roads that are tremendously kid-friendly. I’ve been blogging about the plan here and here, although am really just beginning to scratch the […]

  3. Avwos Blog says:

    Keep It Simple And Elegant…

    […] in many cases, that means inexpensive. Victoria Beach does it with a dirt stree […]…

  4. […] last week when I wrote about the elegant plan of Victoria Beach that was executed as dirt streets, I wasn’t suggesting that we return our new streets to dirt. […]

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