We could have replaced the dome we lost in a fire with a conventional framed wooden building or maybe a log home; the latter would have been the most practical, we had countless acres of suitable timber, but no, that would have been too easy.
Andrea, who was raised in Montreal and the Laurentians, had fond memories of the traditional iconic stone houses that abounded in the older sections of Quebec and was determined that we replicate one here in Nova Scotia. What she was suggesting would be a veritable fieldstone mini-mansion. I don’t know what I was thinking—maybe I was in a weakened state of mind because of the traumatic loss of our former home, but without seriously considering the magnitude of hard labour the project would demand, I reluctantly agreed. So it was back to my old drafting board and T square (though, not really—that had perished in the fire, but I improvised what I needed and set to work).
After we agreed on the size of the storey-and-a-half structure, 25 wide by 50 feet long, we also agreed that the house should be, long before it became a fad, open concept. It wasn’t a matter of innovative thinking. It allowed us to take our time and decide where we wanted the final rooms and partitions to be. We would be able to walk around in an unfinished shell and place the interior walls wherever we wanted them.
Of course the idea of an open concept home would not be easy to make happen without expensive steel beams or the type of trusses now available but at the time had yet to be invented. I pressed ahead nevertheless, confident that necessity being the mother of invention, I would come up with an affordable solution when the time came to suspend the ceiling above our first floor.
That issue could wait. There were more pressing issues to address. We needed to remove and bury the charred remains of our dome and excavate a place for the basement for the new house. The bulldozer I had hired to deal with that sad event, when finished, just spun on his treads and headed over to the new location and scooped out the trench that would hold our new foundation. We didn’t want to rebuild on the same spot, that would have seemed a sacrilege, and we also wanted to move from the middle of the pasture to the side, making it easier for fencing and road construction and no gates to constantly open and close.
The foundation needed to be built and capped before freeze up if I was going to get an early start on the rest of the construction in early spring. I was also on my own in the woods getting the timber I needed and trucking it to the sawmill. However I didn’t see how I would, by myself, be able to pour the footings and lay the heavy twelve inch cement blocks before the snow flew. I had lost Andrea as my partner-in-construction to the four children we now had, and family life was a full-time job for her.
I was sitting staring, defeated, at the piles of cement blocks that surrounded the building site, about to give up and resign myself to a new schedule that would see us further months in our rented house in town, when Charlie Hutt and his four burly sons arrived.
“I figured you might have bitten off more than you could chew so me and the boys are going to give you a hand,” Charlie said as he slipped down to where I was and did a quick appraisal of the situation. Charlie and his sons had worked for, and with, me on our woodlot during the previous winter. During the rest of the year they plied their trade as masons. They were a busy hardworking family and this day would probably have been the only day off they took during the week.
Despite my protests they pushed me aside and set about an incredibly well-orchestrated assault on my basement—levels, string lines, trowels, shovels, cement troughs, and mortar hoes seemed to appear out of nowhere and I was relegated to a fetch and carry job—something the boys revelled in since I had been their foreman in the woods.
By the time the sun set that same day the walls of the basement had miraculously been completed and the Hutts, refusing to accept any payment beyond the several cases of beer they had sent me to fetch to keep me out of the way, jumped in their trucks and headed home. Only in Nova Scotia!
Photo courtesy of Garry Leeson.