Historic Grimsby Beach – A Canadian Chatauqua

As a departure from the regular krousehouse update,  I wanted to share a post highlighting a special home tour that belongs to a really awesome family here in Grimsby.

Bob and Michelle Friesen happened upon their cottage home purely by accident after taking a wrong turn on the way to a friend’s place. When you see the narrow streets of this tucked away little neighbourhood known as “Historic Grimsby Beach” you know right away that serendipity had to be at work. They had no idea that this  enclave of cottages even existed or that it would become the home in which they would settle and start their family so many years ago .

Historically,  the Grimsby Beach  was known as The Chautauqua of Canada. Chautauqua’s were popular in the late 1800’s as a way of spreading academics, knowledge and religion through music, culture and lectures. It seems like perfect karma that Bob and Michelle would be drawn here given their love of music and community and their ability to bring together friends and neighbours who share that passion.

Their  spontaneity is what led them to buy the little 1880’s era cottage by the lake after finding it by chance. The deal was sealed once they took the path leading  to the backyard and found stunning views of Lake Ontario,   a generously sized property and access to the beach below. Clearly not ones to shy away from adventure, they put an offer on the place almost immediately.

Their purchase was like many old cottages; a warren of  tiny dark rooms. Renovation started with opening up the main floor living space. Layers of wallpaper were stripped to find particle board instead of plaster or drywall and virtually no insulation.  The kitchen was moved from one side of the cottage to the other and updated to accommodate family life and the kind of large-scale entertaining only the Friesen’s can do.

Respecting the history of the Beach while making the cottage  their own has been fuelled by Michelle’s incredible energy and Bob’s skill as a handyman.   Their love of community has  fostered many lifelong friendships here . “These aren’t places to grow old in…there are no bathrooms on the main floor, there are lots of stairs and lots of maintenance.” That being said, it is the home that the Friesen family has grown in to and the friends and neighbours they have found here make it the kind of place they can’t ever imagine leaving.  I hope you enjoy a peek into this truly special place.


The “Cottage by the Lake” set in Historic Grimsby Beach.  Built in the 1880’s, as part of a Methodist religious camp,  this snug neighbourhood saw a welcomed resurgence in the 1990’s. Many of the cottages are painted in playful colour combinations, making it feel like you’ve stepped into the page of a of fairy tale.
Original windows and floors were maintained throughout Bob and Michelle’s renovations. Thrifted  pieces are found throughout their home.  Many have been collected while travelling and working in the far North of Canada as well as abroad in Turkey and Indonesia.
The brass door knob, original to the cottage circa 1880. Incredible beauty and detail worth holding on to.
Walls were removed and the space vaulted and opened up to accommodate a large kitchen and living space.    Bob, an accomplished musician,  says that although he loved the kitchen when it was done,  the best part about it are the great acoustics. The couple regularly host House Concerts in the cottage with  more than 60 guests in attendance. As you can imagine, the party usually ends up in the kitchen.
The stone fireplace is not original to the cottage.  It was built in 1941 by a previous owner and his son, using stone that was found and brought up to the cottage from the beach below. Ornate wood carvings also adorn the mantle. The rug in front of the hearth is one of many the couple brought back from their time spent travelling and working  in Turkey.
The Friesen’s art collection consists of pieces done almost entirely by family and friends and as such they are all meaningful in some way.  A grouping of sketches depicting  monuments of The Grimsby Beach, done by Bob and Michelle’s son Ben,  hangs over the mantle. The Pine Cone Sculpture by  local artist Floyd Elzinga, also adorns the mantle. A number of Elzinga’s pieces are displayed throughout the home and reflect the family’s love of the outdoors.
The main floor reno means that the cottage can regularly accommodate friends, neighbours and artists, which the couple do often. They are regular hosts for house concerts at the cottage. Solo artists or small groups of musicians are the usual acts. Occasionally,  a veteran of the Canadian music scene who has heard of their incredible hospitality or who is intrigued by the offer to play in a very intimate setting,  will drop by for a couple sets of music and cheer. They have hosted nearly 40 concerts in their open plan livingroom / kitchen.   Intermission between sets often spills out onto the deck with stunning views of Lake Ontario and the Toronto Skyline in the distance.
Bob and their daughter Jodi are the musicians in the family. The piano that once belonged to Bob’s mom holds great sentimental value and is his favourite piece of furniture in the house. Photos of performers from each of the Friesen’s house concerts are displayed on and above the piano.
For both Bob and Michelle, their design philosophy is different….the open plan space has great acoustics according to Bob and can easily hold the sixty plus music lovers they regularly accommodate on concert nights. Michelle is a little more pragmatic. She jokingly says that all of her furniture and design decisions come down to two things – how easy is it to lift, and can we get it down the basement stairs to make way for 60 folding chairs?
Michelle remembers that she expected the area would have this great sense of community…but that feeling developed organically. The Beach had its heyday from 1880-1930’s as a spectacular vacation spot for both Canadians and Americans alike. Group of Seven painter, Lauren Harris,  captured “Summer Houses” (Grimsby park 1926) with its then pristine waters and Carolinian forests. The beautiful natural surroundings of this unique enclave of cottages can’t be found anywhere else in Southern Ontario. The couple say what they love most about their home is “the ever-changing views and the feeling of community.”
Jodi, Michelle, Bob and Ben Friesen at the Cottage by the Lake.