When we were in the Gaspé last week, we took a trip farther down the coast to the tip of the peninsula to visit an old house. The question was whether it was a Sleeping Beauty to be woken or a dump to be demolished. Cedar shingles, planks, a crumbling chimney--but when chimneys are that crumbling, they can easily be knocked apart. What a gorgeous piece of land! That's the first from-the-road assessment.
Closer up, the house is thickly entwined by tenacious alders and dogwood. Luckily no thorns. Sometimes life is kinder than fairy tales.
We had to scramble and climb as well as we could through the branches. Some had even tried growing into the house.
R, ever the optimist when it comes to potential, pointed out how straight the walls were.
However, we weren't the first to come exploring the house. Boards had been pulled away, glass broken, plastic ripped.
But an elegant lamp stand as a bemused survivor.
This door, smashed, was on a mudroom. No big deal. But note the grasping branches. I was wondering how hard we might have to fight to establish our presence in the house.
Despite weather and neglect, this door is still upright, straight, and thick. Painted cheerfully once upon a time. It's the once-upon-a-timeness that fascinates me about the look and structure of old houses--all the while I'm asking myself whether we can get modern plumbing and a little more wiring than the two fuses currently in the tiny electrical box.
Inside, it's true, there's a mess because whoever broke the windows was as rough with the boxes and furniture. But again, as R says, look at the tongue and groove walls. Look at the ceiling.
Close up, too, some of the garbage could be seen as treasure too.
There's an open Monopoly game, ready to be played, propped on a retro chair. The chair and the furniture in the house are from the previous, not the original owner. We think the house was built in the 1920s because of the newspaper still pasted to one of the walls upstairs.
Newspaper--and horsehair when available--was typically used for insulation. These papers aren't dated but have ads for flapper hats, including this one of a kimono called a "coolie coat". In silk.
Walls upstairs have been knocked out so that there are only two large bare rooms and we can see the original boards which are frankly gorgeous. Also the darling stairway.
The stairs are a little on the tiny side, treadwise, but people used to be smaller. The stairs aren't as narrow as in the house R has been working on for the last few years. It's still not finished but eventually it will be. We don't get there often because it's a 9-hr drive from Montreal. This new old house is 2 1/2 hrs farther. R is looking ahead to retirement when the distance from Montreal won't be such a hindrance.
Here's a map of the Gaspé peninsula in relation to eastern Canada. West of the Gaspé across the water lies Newfoundland. The name Gaspé comes from the Mi'kmaq Gesgapegiag which means Land's End.
Below that, a closer view. The new old house is the red dot. Purple X marks the old old house.
The distance between the two houses is 150 k but it takes two and half hours to drive because along that stretch are mountains and the road twists and winds with steep climbs and drops onto open water. A real-life rollercoaster ride.
The new old house is on a thin perimeter of land next to Parc Forillon, a national park. Here's the view from an upstairs window and a view from the backyard.
This will be R's third derelict old house. But the previous two have been/are still being made comfortable to our liking. Our liking is simple. We don't need heated floor tiles in the bathroom. A functioning bathroom is sufficient.
With this new old house, we weren't sure whether there was ever plumbing until R was looking at the pics I took and he noticed that my shot of cat prints had a pipe that might lead to a well. ???
This, on the back of the house, would clearly need to be torn away--but again R is optimistic. Look at all that wood!
I also have to admit that I'm not sure about the stability of a house which is propped up on beams and stones. Although the house has been standing in the face of Maritime gales since the time of flapper hats, so...
Some people worry about old houses and ghosts. In the last old house there were Satanic paintings on the dormer ceiling in one of the bedrooms. There can certainly be a sense of unquiet presence in house that's stood empty and neglected for years. In our old house in Montreal, I was convinced there was a dead body under a grave-sized heap of gravel in the dirt cellar and I made R dig to the bottom to assure me there wasn't.
If there are ghosts in this house, I guess they announced themselves to my camera. Looks sort of welcoming, no?
For me, these old houses are writing related, whether as a place to hole up to write or a place to write about. And maybe one day (if we solve the plumbing) other writers will brave the twisting, climbing road through the Chic Choc Mountains and come stay there too.