Article By: Dr. Christopher Cooper | Director of Education The Edifice Atelier
Photography By: Dr. Christopher Cooper & Ryan Scranton
Opportunity knocks but a few times in your life. Well, it really didn’t knock, it was more a result of my wife’s searches on realtor.ca for houses in Nova Scotia in 2007 and 2008 that opportunity (be it either good or bad) fell straight into our laps! You see we have this connection to the East Coast, an affection you could say, or even an infection because we are totally smitten and bitten by the East Coast bug not realizing at the time that my wife’s family originally emigrated to the Lunenburg area in the 18th century from Germany.
We had found two places of interest, one on the South Shore not far from one of our favourite places, Shelburne, and another on the Fundy Shore in the area where Canada was conceived, Annapolis Royal. The South Shore property had an early (c. 1790) Georgian house (a true salt-box), which was in miserable condition with a breached roof; however, it sat on five lovely wooded acres with an ocean view and a price tag of $15,000. The Fundy Shore property was a disheveled little overly-modernized (that’s plasticized to you and me with ugly aluminum windows) humble vernacular Greek Revival house c. 1878 on just over three-quarters of an acre with a price tag of $11,900.
We were most interested in the property with the five acres, breached roof and all – heck I can restore just about anything, with my motto “There is no such thing as a house that can’t be brought back from the brink!”. And it had an ocean view! It sold before we had a chance to make an offer so we thought that it would be just as interesting to put back together a house that has been overly tortured by unsympathetic modernization. We decided to put in an offer to buy the house located on the Fundy Shore in a little hamlet called Centrelea (phonetically, centre-lee… finding out much later the area was called Beau Pré by the Acadians, but that’s for another chapter). Her bones looked good from the bitty pixelated pictures on the realtor.ca site and we had gotten wind that the house was repossessed by the bank and had an earlier offer, which was accepted for $5,000 (which subsequently went sour). Hmm.
So skeptically, in went the offer, with no real hope it would be accepted. Moreover, we thought we may just tick them off a little and they would tell us to go get stuffed! After a couple of days of anxious nail biting, we received an email from the estate agent that the offer had been accepted. $6,300 later, (including the house, legal and boundary search fees) and sight unseen, we were the very proud owners of a little piece of Nova Scotia.
We bought the place sight unseen, where is, as is! A few things came out during the closing, such as the floor is sinking, an understatement of the century. After all, I am a Restoration Architect, Structural Engineer as well as a British trained plumber and electrician, how bad could it be? The whole place is just one great big question mark. We really didn’t know what we had gotten ourselves into until we actually arrived to see it in person in July of 2008.
Our good friend Ryan, agreed to go to the site to take some pictures for us and change the locks so the house would be secure until our arrival. As the one hundred plus pictures came in via email the place started to look better and better. The structural issue did not appear to be as big a deal as I first thought but I did have suspicions that water on the north side yard was allowing the house to steadily gravitate to the south brook side.
The interior was almost in move-in condition (almost!!!), although the only way to describe the bathroom was icky (hey, this word is actually in the dictionary!). The wide plank red spruce floors in many areas had been covered with quarter inch wafer board (OSB) and painted (icky again).
The house reminded me of a terrific Canadian television show in the 1980’s called “The Campbell’s”. On the pilot episode the family arrives at the new homestead they purchased sight unseen. While on the trail, Pa Campbell describes the place according to the paperwork he received back in York. “It has a sturdy log barn and a handsome log home.” The Campbell family finally arrives, tired and beaten at the new homestead. The youngest exclaims, as he casts his eyes over the run down mess of the place, “which one’s the barn”!
I had the feeling we would have the same initial question when we arrived. However, this was the adventure of the place – we were akin to the Campbell family, whereas we arrived and tried to make do with what resources (if any) we had until we could get the place in livable condition.
Join Dr. Christopher Cooper on Saturday October 1st, 2022 in Paradise, Nova Scotia for an educational journey of how he has restored the Abandoned House Project at Beau Pré, Nova Scotia. Limited space left!
Introducing the Nova Scotia Homeowner’s Series 2022
LIVE and In-Person – Paradise, Nova Scotia
The First Year Plan:
The first year plan was to make the interior livable (cosmetic, hey needs to look pretty when it falls over into the brook) and to rebuild the infrastructure. Items, such as: making sure the roofing and all flashings were in good condition, making sure all eavestroughs and downspouts were in good order, getting the drilled well working (new in 2001), making sure the electrical system was in safe condition and that it was adequate and to code, replacing most of the plumbing (copper and grey sanitary), making sure the electric water heater (new in 2003) wasn’t burnt out, making sure the grey water dry well was in good order, installing a UV Water Disinfection System, making decisions on a heating system (heat pump, wood stoves), and removal of an oil tank and old beat-up oil furnace.
This all seems like a lot of work, and it is. Nonetheless, this is what we do, and our hopes were to show that even in the worst conditions old houses can be brought back to their former glory.
I will set the scene: July 2008, I get a text whilst enroute from good friend Rick (the camera man, who flew in and had arrived an hour or two ahead of us). “Welcome to Paradise”!!! I replied: “The House or the Town”??? Rick Replied: “Oh geeze… definitely the town”!!!
In Chapter Two we will bring to you what we did with the bathroom in a little house that had an outhouse up until the 1990s… Stay tuned!
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