“Webster’s defines ‘cottage’ as a small, humble abode,” says Robbie Goulden. “And the Bat Shack is precisely that.” The shack in reference is his beloved Georgian Bay cottage.
“The location is to die for,” says Goulden, owner of the Toronto-based design firm Zeppelin Comunications & Design, who bought the two-acre property in 1989 when all that stood on it was a dilapidated shack filled with bats.
“It was just an old beat up cabin,” he explains. “There were broken windows, one of the doors was hanging by its hinge and the chimney was about to come down.” But its view over Georgian Bay from high atop the cliff sold him.
During the two decades that he’s been coming to his cottage every weekend from April to November, Goulden has transformed the property into a private sanctuary. While others might have torn down the bat-infested shack, Goulden put his innate creativity to use and restored it, adding whimsy and warmth throughout with nik naks and trinkets found in flea markets and antique stores. The result: “vintage cottage decor.”
“People walk into The Bat Shack and their jaws drop because it’s actually quite cluttered,” he says. Aside from the main shack, which houses a kitchen, bathroom and living and dining rooms, Goulden has built two other structures for sleeping — The Love Shack and the Samurai Shack — on other parts of the property. He designed the Sumurai Shack like a Japanese tea house; three walls are sliding doors offering panoramic views of the twinkling stars.
“When I first came, I thought I’d build a big mega-cottage one day on the cliff. But after being at The Bat Shack for a few years, it kind of got a hold of me and I will never tear it down,” he says. He’s even put up bat houses along the upper outside of The Bat Shack, where 60 bats still reside. After all, they were there long before he was, he points out.
Because the cottage is only accessible by water — it’s a half-hour boat ride from the local marina through a labyrinth of islands — Goulden believes it is the ultimate escape. His property also backs onto crown land and is therefore protected from future development surrounding him.
In the past few years, he has embraced gardening wholeheartedly, even starting up The Bat Shack Botanical Society with his cottage neighbours. Each spring 12 of them exchange plants, followed by a garden tour of each other’s properties later in the summer.
“We all pile into our boats, head off to one person’s place, eat drink and then hop back into the boats to the next cottage,” he says. After all, Goulden says, life at The Bat Shack is one big dinner party every night.
Ontario Cottage Country
• Not all cottages can be like The Bat Shack, but there are certain regions in Ontario that offer a lot for the cottage goer. Here are some and why they lure the outdoors-person in all of us.
• Muskoka: Located 90-minutes north of Toronto, the region is a playground for the rich and famous, many of whom have luxurious cottages on Lake Rosseau and Lake Joseph amid the area’s pink granite rock, towering pines and numerous lakes and rivers.
• Haliburton: Located two hours north-east of Toronto, it’s home to the famed Algonquin Park as well as the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve. The region also boasts seven golf courses and 100 resorts.
• Kawarthas: Located an hour east and an hour north of Toronto, it’s home to the historic Trent-Severn Waterway, popular with houseboaters, and boasts over 134 lakes.