Now we’re real Canadians. As of June 11th, Lauren and I own a cottage on Keats Island (Wikipedia, map, keatsisland.net). The consequences include a sudden interest in remote-area Internet options.

For context on the neighborhood, Canadian cottage culture, and pretty pix, check out Howe Sound day, which documents a trip we took mostly to look at the property. That was almost six months ago; time moves slower in cottage country. The two pictures in that piece identified as being from the north shore of Keats are taken from the cottage. Here’s another.

View from the north shore of Keats Island

Why? · When we looked at the place we liked the view, we liked the general setup, we liked the accessibility from Vancouver, the price seemed OK, and there was nothing obviously wrong.

While we were over there some of the party had a nap and I went for a walk in the woods with our son, now eight.

You have to understand that Keats is not a very big island, that the cottages are lined up along the oceanfront and that behind them the ground rises steeply into really rough bush. There were some rough paths through the bush behind the cottages so I said to the boy “let’s check ’em out.” We got maybe a hundred yards down the trail and he was saying “Dad, should we be here? Is it safe? Will we get lost? I think we should go back.” I realized that we were raising a 100% city boy who had probably never been in the woods, out of sight of human habitation, in his life. Suddenly the purchase seemed more attractive.

Details · It’s pretty near the northernmost point of the island. It has an address—several of them in fact—but the streets named are purely hypothetical entries on some decades-old plan and were never built. If you zoom in close enough in Google maps you can actually see the place.

Cottage on Keats Island

It’s got electricity and phone, and a very decent well shared with the other cottagers on that bit of shoreline. It has 150 feet of Pacific-ocean waterfront with a “foreshore lease” and a floating dock in the summer months, which is good because you can’t really drive to it. The house is probably 75 vertical feet above the water on a rocky cliff, so erosion worry is minimized and the view is good. There’s a weekend ferry that will drop you off at your own dock. There are two bedrooms and reasonably modern appliances. Plumbing is a problem.

Internet!?!? · Well, there’d be dial-up access if that were any use. In the summer, I look forward to the occasional weekend completely off the grid, but that’s not very realistic if we wanted to, now and then, spend a week or more. Suffice it to say that the telco is not interested in extending DSL facilities to anywhere this remote.

Hmm... there are two companies competing to offer satellite Internet, but the data rates are pretty ordinary and it’s hundreds and hundreds of dollars to get installed and set up. Also, we’re at the north end of the island and there’s a small mountain in the middle, so I bet we can’t see the satellite.

We have direct line-of-sight to the “Hope Point Repeater” of the Gambier Radio Internet Project and its principal responds to email, so that might work.

We also have line-of-sight to most of Gibsons which means that if we could find someone there with broadband and an open mind, we could set up a long-distance WiFi repeater. Does anyone reading this live in Gibsons?

Why Again · We tell ourselves that it’s a decent investment in times of financial turmoil, and that it’s for the kids, and those things are mostly true, but having a place where you can get up early and walk to say good morning to the ocean before you say anything to anyone else, that’s why really.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: gt (Jun 11 2008, at 02:00)

In Europe, we normally solve this kind of problem with 3G or GPRS cellular network. Bluetooth tethering with notebook and you're on (and you coud pay flat or by use). This one is not an option in Canada?

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From: Colin Marquardt (Jun 11 2008, at 03:32)

Cool, unexplored area for http://www.openstreetmap.org! :)

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From: David Magda (Jun 11 2008, at 04:39)

I know people in many countries like the outdoors and "nature", but does anyone know of a "cottage culture" in other countries? (And I'm not talking about villas in Italy and Spain here.)

Perhaps it's partly due to the amount of less-than-tamed land we have in Canada?

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From: Bob Aman (Jun 11 2008, at 05:06)

I have had some experience with using a setup similar to GRIP while I was in Tanzania. I didn't set it up or anything, so I can't speak to that, but we were able to get anywhere between 20-40Kb/s most of the time, which was good enough for our purposes.

Personally, I think I'd opt for GRIP over trying to set up a long-distance WiFi connection with someone, simply because the GRIP people obviously have more experience dealing with the issues involved in providing this kind of connectivity. Long distance WiFi might be more fun as a personal project, but after the initial set-up-related fun, I suspect the radio link will treat you better.

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From: Jon Ellis (Jun 11 2008, at 05:12)

I really didn't know cottaging was a big thing in Canada... <attempts to keep straight face>

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From: len (Jun 11 2008, at 06:58)

"Go placidly amidst the noise and waste, and remember what comfort there may be in owning a piece thereof."

You are exactly right about your son. Anything that can't be said or done on dial-up is worth waiting for until you get to the office. He won't wait.

Congratulations on owning a piece of Canada!

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From: Derek K. Miller (Jun 11 2008, at 09:27)

I have a soft spot for the hard granite beaches of Georgia Straight, including those on Keats Island, where the family of a childhood friend of mine had a cottage. (He now lives in New York City.) I recall our gibbering excitement in that place when we discovered (by reading the paper) that there would be a sequel to "Star Wars."

Given the weather around here, you could find that a line-of-sight Wi-Fi connection across the water might be subject to quite a bit of interference when it rains heavily. So the other options might be more worth investigating.

Finally, this reminds me to make sure that my daughters and I get out in the woods and down to the water this summer.

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From: Carl R. (Jun 11 2008, at 11:21)

If you have cellular coverage, you probably will probably be able to get some form of 3G internet.

We live out of range of anything wired in the BC interior, and use Telus EVDO with a Sierra Wireless data card for our internet connection. Rogers offers a similar service through their HSDPA network. In either case, expect to pay from $65 to $100 per month for 1 to 5 gigs of data.

Speed is quite good, although there is a noticeable latency when comparing to DSL or cable. As the data card we are using can easily be made to work with a Mac and with Linux, sharing the connection throughout the house is no problem. As an added bonus, you can use it with your laptop for high speed internet pretty much anywhere on the road.

If cellular access in not possible there, your only real option that is left is internet over two-way satellite. Xplornet (www.xplornet.com) are really the only guys that sell this in Canada. I've heard mixed reviews about their service (speed, price, and customer service!), so I'd recommend trying the cellular route first.

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From: Matthew Laird (Jun 11 2008, at 16:14)

The Straight is also very well covered by amateur packet radio with repeaters on almost every high point around there. If you felt like becoming a ham, there's another option (or backup option) for your internet needs.

I have a friend on Saltspring who uses packet radio as his primary internet access method. A little slow, but it gets the job done.

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From: Ryan Cousineau (Jun 11 2008, at 20:17)

Congratulations!

Hm. I had assumed Rogers WiMAX (aka "Portable Internet") would reach that far, but their coverage tool says no. Might want to check to see if that's still true.

As for satellite, you might be surprised. The elevation angle is about 30 degrees facing not quite due south (159 and 164 degrees) for the two providers. That's actually fairly high in the sky. Break out the sextant!

Nonetheless, I think you'll be able to do it most cost-effectively using LOS to Gibsons or with a GRIP subscription.

BTW, I think this is a great thing and you'll enjoy it immensely, but I'm a bit surprised your kid was so wilderness-deprived. Vancouver is famously a city with easy access to some pretty wild terrain, and by your description, the child in question could hardly have experienced Pacific Spirit Park, much less any of the even wilder environs available pretty much in the back yards of North and West Vancouver. I can get that lost in the green space between Coquitlam and Port Moody.

I apologize if I'm misreading the fragment or seem to be impugning your parenting skills. I'm not. I just thought the woods were pretty easy to get to even from Yaletown.

Speaking personally, my parents purchasing a cabin at Cultus Lake during my early teen years marked the start of some joyous days, and we pretty much used it year-round, and my parents still do. It's a different sort of cottaging than Keats Island, but I trust you will experience many of the same joys, not least of which may be the appreciating real estate values!

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From: Doug Winter (Jun 11 2008, at 23:16)

Just in case you didn't realise (not that it matters I guess), anyone in the UK (like Jon Ellis above) will have difficulty keeping a straight face reading this. "Cottaging" has a very different meaning over here.

I won't tell you what it is, since this is a family Internet, but I'm sure you can find out easily enough ;)

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From: JohnO (Jun 12 2008, at 15:22)

If you have EVDO cell coverage, one of these might do the trick:

http://www.cradlepoint.com/mbr1000/mbr1000.php

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From: Ross Reedstrom (Jun 16 2008, at 10:30)

Re: Other "cottage" cultures

I grew up in Minnesota, in 'the Cities'

(St. Paul & Minneapolis, contrast w/ 'Outstate') where may people would go 'up to the lake'. This phenomena crossed economic demographics, although the size and scale of 'the lake place' varied.

I understand that northern New England has a similar phenomena. Hmm, all those places are adjacent to Canada.

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From: David Comay (Jun 16 2008, at 18:57)

Congratulations! We spent some of last summer at Salt Spring Island and really enjoyed our time there. Having a cottage would be really nice...

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From: Seth W. Klein (Jun 26 2008, at 23:28)

@Ross: Yes, Maine at least has a similar culture although they call it "going up to camp". Of course, the people from Boston are paying an easy half million for those camps these days, which is way out of reach of what you can do on a local career, so it's mostly the old-timers who have them because they bought/inherited them back before Boston was buying.

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June 11, 2008
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