A Placemaking Journal

Mont-Tremblant: Cottage living in the Canadian Shield

As the second in a three part pictorial series finding inspiration in Canadian urbanism, I’ve been invigorated again by a short stint of cottage living. Which of us hasn’t felt the delightful lightness that comes with downsizing our primary residence? Some of my most carefree years were spent living in an 800 SF cottage in German Village, Ohio, and last week’s trip to the countryside near Mont-Tremblant, Québec, has reminded me why. Even if this round in the cottage was thanks to the hospitality of a kind friend, and not for keeps.

Wilderness Solitude
We talk a lot on PlaceShakers about densification and how compact, connected urbanism generates places where you can easily walk to most of your daily needs. Within these discussions, we’re often elaborating on how these sorts of livable places are healthier, wealthier, cleaner, and happier. What we talk about less is how compact neighborhoods take up less space, leave more of the hinterland wild, protect fragile ecosystems, and allow earth to more easily regenerate clean air and water supplies.

While these reasons are pivotal, there’s also the issue of human passion, and how much we are recharged after spending a few days submersed in nature.  Last week the small but exquisite Lac Clément reminded me of the great pleasure of the wild and why it’s worth stewarding. Click for larger views.

Cedar flat bottom canoe ready for launch

Lac Clément awhile after sunset

Solitary canoe against backdrop of Crown land

Happy jumping into evening waters

Country road to Lac Clément

Quiet waters

Wildlife in every direction

Cottage Living
My fellow PlaceMaker, Ben Brown, is an advocate of cottage living, often sharing insights on living large in small spaces. Last week reminded me how satisfying a few well designed square feet can be. Steve Mouzon talks of the benefits of houses that tempt people outside, and the financial and environmental benefits that follow living in season. His cottage plan collection provides an abundance of ideas.

No American, however, knows cottage culture quite like Canadians. From June through September here, weekends creep into the week and city life thins out as people make their treks to their second homes, or to visit friends or rental cottages. Not necessarily fancy, these simple structures make for living in the present tense. Canada has a larger land mass than the US but roughly 1/10th the population, so wilderness is easily accessible. One of my favourite cottage towns is Victoria Beach, Manitoba, with a dirt road street grid of relatively compact cottages with lots that have not been cleared. Watch next Monday’s post for a discussion of how Canadians tend to bring their cottage ideas back to the city with them, for charming affordability.

The cottage as a launch pad

Well designed spaces deliver satisfaction within a small square footage.

Slow Food
Our host last week was both an art historian and great foodie, with a penchant for local pottery and food. The bursts of colour and flavour were continuous and satisfying. I’ve talked before about our connection to what sustains us in terms of agrarian urbanism and slow food, and how funds we’ve been investing in ornamental landscape and entertainment pastimes might be reallocated to something more productive and fulfilling.

Food and earthenware from Saint-Jovite

Food and earthenware from Saint-Jovite

Local earthenware, berries, and vegetables

Village Design
The historic villages of Saint-Jovite and old Mont-Tremblant-Village embody much of the character-based town planning that we often discuss. In the village centres, buildings come right up to the sidewalk, with cars parking on-street or out back. An abundance of places to linger in sidewalk cafés and parks make for a sense of community. Horizontal and a bit of vertical mixed-use make for a walkable, bikeable, and drivable environment.

Saint-Jovite town centre buildings come right up to the sidewalk, making an enjoyable walk.

A chamfered corner increases visibility in this corner shop.

Residential over retail puts eyes on the street and increases safety.

An abundance of places to linger includes sidewalk cafés.

Benches, flowers, and shade are gifts to the street.

This repurposed cottage relies on good urbanism and fabulous bread instead of shiny paint.

Old Mont-Tremblant-Village’s picturesque main street near Lac Mercier

Mont-Tremblant Resort
The resort of Mont-Tremblant was legally joined with Saint-Jovite and old Mont-Tremblant-Village as one municipality in 2000, although a 10 to 15 minute drive separates each of the locales. The billion dollar Intrawest development is laid out in pods that include a pedestrian-only environment that leverages resorts, spas, ski hill, boating on lakes and rivers, golf course, race track, casino, shops, restaurants, condos, and stunning vistas in every direction.

While the pedestrian-only area is an interesting experience, it faces the challenges of a monoculture, particularly since it is not surrounded by walkable urbanism on all sides. Clearly successful in the near term, Tremblant performs in many ways like a lifestyle centre and may have hurdles becoming century material. Additional resilience and value could be captured if a cranky Medieval street grid connected the village centre to the surrounding condo developments, making walking and biking viable modes of transportation throughout the plan.

The new Mont-Tremblant development in the distance looks out across Lac Tremblant

Hotels to left, pedestrian area to right

Closer view of pedestrian area with shops, restaurants and condos

Condos to the right of pedestrian area, connected by winding roads

Roundabout for pedestrian drop off

Pedestrian area

Pedestrian area

View from roadway up to mountain lookout

Join me next week — same place, same time — for the final installment of my Canadian urbanism tour.

Until then,
–Hazel Borys

The urban lessons go on and on. In fact, this post is part of a three part series on Canadian urbanism. Read the whole thing:

Montreal: Lessons from great Canadian urbanism
Mont-Tremblant: Cottage Living in the Canadian Shield
Ottawa: Lessons from great Canadian urbanism

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