We bought a 100 year-old French Canadian farmhouse once. It wasn’t a wise thing to do. We knew that right away. But we had two small children, all of our belongings in a van, and no where to live. It was 1967 and Vancouver Island, where my husband had just accepted a job, was suddenly overwhelmed with new residents.
We talked to the owner of the coffee shop, as we were having lunch.
“Happened overnight,” he said, “Hardly anyone living here for years, then suddenly, people all over the place, looking to settle down. Must be the Centennial. Never should have printed all those damned brochures.”
We started out by looking for a house to rent. First we looked in the local paper. In the ‘For Rent’ column. There were no houses there. No apartments either. That couldn’t be, we thought. So we went to the realty office—the only one in town, we were told. The clerk at the desk, who was busy reading, told us that we could add our names to the ‘Houses Wanted’ list, then wait until one came up. We asked her how long that would take—we had two small children, we told her, and were staying in a trailer, so we needed something right away.
“That’s too bad, honey,” she said, and went back to her book.
Our search got us nowhere
So we decided to drive around and find one ourselves. We drove into every driveway. We even took a ferry to a neighboring island and looked around there. We were all tired. My son wanted to stop and play soccer. My daughter wanted to stop and pet all the horses. They started to ask, “Are we there yet?”
Finally, we went back to the realty office. The agent was happy to see us. He had been looking for us, he said. He had a house.
“It’s close to everything,” he explained. “Old French Canadian house. Lots of room. Eleven children grew up there. Needs a bit of work, though. Maybe the guy will rent to you. But he’s in the market to sell. Cheap.”
He offered to lead us there. We followed him carefully down the lane in our low-slung car, going slowly to avoid the potholes. We strained to look past the tall blackberries and the grass on either side. Finally we could see the outline of the roof, and then the house, surrounded by an orchard of very large old apple trees.
Dream home or disaster?
The children wanted to explore the old abandoned yard. I was worried they would fall into a hole, or step on a nail, but after a short inspection, I decided it was safe enough.
“Stay close,” I called, “Remember if you can’t see us, we can’t see you.” I always said that. Sometimes they listened.
We wandered around the yard, looking at the abandoned orchards and the large garden space. We marveled at the size of the place, looking at the roof, and inspecting the window frames. We both liked the veranda that ran along three sides of the house. Inside, we found a bare kitchen, one tiny cupboard supporting a sink, an old oil stove along one wall, and a long wooden table in the center. The front room was very large, with wood floors, a fireplace along one wall, and lots of beautiful old casement windows. Two bedrooms looked over the front yard, and there was a big front hall leading to a wide staircase.
Before we went upstairs, I wanted to see the bathroom. Oh, there it was, wedged between the kitchen and front room. Yes, there was running water, and yes, the toilet worked.
Upstairs we found three large rooms, all with a view of the countryside. The centre room, just under the gables, had two large windows which opened out over the yard. The sunshine poured into every room. Downstairs, we could hear the children coming in, their voices high with excitement.
“We found some chicken houses,” my daughter was saying, “Over there, in the yard.”
“And a big porch behind the house. You can get to it from the kitchen,” said my son, tugging us toward the back of the house. “It’s where we can put a dog,” he said, “A big dog.”
“And I could have some chickens!” my daughter chirped, “And a horse.”
Back out in the yard, my husband and I looked at each other.
“There’s no kitchen,” I said. “And the bathroom doesn’t make any sense. It’s such a big house, and the bathroom is crammed into a tiny space. And I can’t cook on an oil stove.”
“There doesn’t appear to be any way to heat the place,” my husband said.
The deciding factor
We looked at the realtor. He didn’t look very hopeful.
“Well,” he said, “There’s really no other place I can show you.”
We were going to ask the children what they thought about it. But they were gone. More exploring, we knew.
“Let’s find them and go back to the office,” I said, finally. “So we can sign those papers.”