Dom Joly: A sweet corner of Canada that is forever Scotland

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was an Offshore Bruce last night. This meant that the wind was blowing away from Bruce Beach out on to Lake Huron. More importantly, it also meant that everybody could light the huge bonfires that had been sitting patiently on the beach in front of their cottages like ceremonial pyres.

As we pottered along the shore in the "golden hour" so beloved of photographers, fire after fire was being lit like so many signal beacons. Sweet-smelling pine smoke started to drift out over the flat waters towards Michigan. It mingled with the dying orange rays of sunset to create a curious flickering light. It was a magical sight.

Every cottage that we passed had the whole Canadian family sitting round their fire pit, roasting marshmallows and cupping inviting-looking drinks. It was a throwback to what the Hamptons used to be before the bankers came.

Just as the scene seemed close to perfection, the bagpiper started up. He was about 10 cottages down, standing on a dune and facing the lake. His silhouette was magnificent and the chatter on the beach stopped as the music took us all over. It only lasted about two minutes but felt much longer. When he had finished, he dropped his pipes to the waist and walked smartly back up the dune and into his cottage for some well-earned supper. A slow ripple of applause went down the whole beach as the fires burned on. It was one of those travel moments I'll never forget.

I hope that this is the same for my kids and that it will be a happy memory imprint on their young minds. Sadly, I suspect they were thinking more about hot dogs and marshmallows, but one can always dream.

There is something so special about this place, a little oasis of civilisation on Ontario's West Coast. Originally populated by Scottish clergymen as a holiday community in the late 19th century, the cottages have been handed down the generations and the Saltire still flies on most of the homes.

Only cottagers penetrate the thick wall of trees that separate the outside world from our little community. Children cycle around freely, off to baseball games and tennis lessons. Parents wander from the beach to the little nine-hole golf course that dates back to 1907 complete with the original sand greens.

Every other day, the Sugar Shack is open from midday for a couple of hours. This is a little communal hut that is run by some kids from one of the cottages. They have multifarious boxes of strange candy that kids from all down the beach come and spend their one-dollar ration on. It's like being stuck in some idyllic vision of a 1950s North American summer.

The only odd note is that our friends live in a wonderful cottage that goes by the name of Fubar. This acronym is short for fucked up beyond all recognition, and originated in the US army. It strikes such a curiously discordant note with the apparent idyll around us that I wonder whether the previous owner of this cottage, who "moved to Vancouver to play more golf" knew more about the place than we do.

It does seem too good to be true. Maybe this is actually a secret training camp for right-wing militia waiting to take over Canada? Maybe the fires were a signal to dark forces over the lake in the USA to commence operations? Could this be Dick Cheney's last stand?

I scan the waters for an approaching armada but there is only a lone windsurfer battling against the Offshore Bruce. I grab a coffee, sit out on the sun-bleached wooden deck and start reading Rory Stewart's wonderful travel book The Places In Between. Soon I want to go to Afghanistan. Travel is a powerful drug.