Editorial and Photography By: Dr. Christopher Cooper
It is interesting where we sometimes find stories for Old Home Living. My wife, two daughters and I travelled to the east coast of Canada several summers ago before the pandemic. We found ourselves in Prince Edward Island, the birthplace of my wife’s father, it seems we have had to either begin or end our east coast visits in this quiet and serene province because of my wife’s roots in the Poplar Grove area of Prince Edward Island.
Poplar Grove is not the same place my father-in-law left when he was sixteen, so we usually end up in the town of Cavendish that is rich with history and the centre of inspiration for Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne. Whilst on our first trip back some twenty years ago, we found ourselves enjoying a bowl of seafood chowder at a restaurant patio in North Rustico. Architecture, however, was far from my mind at the time because I was more interested in the tastes, smells, and atmosphere of this absolute gem of a town and the surrounding area.
Rustico is one of the oldest communities established in “La Nouvelle Acadie” following the Treaty of Paris in 1763 and is the oldest Acadian settlement in Prince Edward Island.
However, on our latest trip, while driving on the main highway in Rustico, we noticed a woman selling baked goods from her house. Mmm…lemon meringue pie! While in conversation with the lovely proprietor of this home-based enterprise, she asked if I had visited the oldest house in the province, the Doucet House. I was excited – early domestic architecture mixed with pie! It doesn’t get any better than this, well… for me at least.
As we drove to the Doucet house just as the sun was starting to set, another striking early structure, The Farmers’ Bank of Rustico, came into view. This building, that is now a National Historic Site and museum, is constructed out of finely-cut sandstone and operated from 1864 to 1894; it is a precursor to the “Les Caisses Populaires” in Quebec and “Credit Unions” in North America.
The Doucet House sits just to the right of The Farmers’ Bank and, boy, did my jaw drop: an actual log home properly finished with exterior cladding. You see, I have always been bothered by this new (c. 1970’s) idea of exposing log homes to the elements for them to deteriorate; historically, log homes were either clapboarded, brick veneered, weather-boarded (Board and Batten), or lathed and stuccoed to imitate cut stone. As the sun set and the light became soft with approaching storm clouds looming overhead, I took the cover shot of this article. I poked about the place while taking a couple dozen more pictures before it became too dark.
A few days later the sun was right and I visited the house when it was open. A very knowledgeable and obliging gentleman, who was showing the building to some British tourists, told me the story of the place.
The house was originally located just across the bay on Grand-Père Point (Cymbria) and, until 1982, was continually inhabited by decedents of the builder of the house, Jean Doucet. A new owner used the place as a summer residence. The time came that the house was to be replaced with a new home and was slated for demolition if nobody wanted this important piece of Acadian and Prince Edward Island built heritage.
In 1999, The Friends of the Framers’ Bank stepped in to save the house and proceeded to undertake painstaking research into Acadian domestic architectural practices and techniques to restore the house that, according to the science of dendrochronology, dates back to 1772.
After thoroughly documenting the house through the camera lens, I returned home to Ontario and contacted the museum inquiring as to whether they had any images that they could send of the Doucet House before its restoration. It was not until I viewed those pictures that I understood the magnitude of the restoration and how far gone the house was; most would have simply walked away and left it to the landfill or a burn pile. As I have always maintained my entire career, there is no house or building that is not worthy of some sort of restoration or saving either in part or in whole.
The one-and-a-half storey house is a lovely size measuring 28′-6” by 21′-9”. The exterior has been replicated to how it would have originally looked in 1772; underneath are preserved some of the most beautiful dove tail corners I have ever seen. Inside the house is a handsome fireplace rebuilt in its original location of reclaimed sandstone and steep stairs leading up to a half storey. Overall, the interior of the house depicts life as it may have been during Jean Doucet’s time: humble, yet cozy, and very liveable.
The house now sits in the most perfect surrounding of a new finely crafted log barn, outhouse, well bulkhead, and traditional earthen bread oven all enclosed with a pole fence of spruce. Jean Doucet would be proud of the work The Friends of the Farmers’ Bank have bestowed to his legacy. An absolute must see when you are visiting the east coast.
You can find more information about the Doucet House on their website here:
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