My British Columbia Adventure - 2002!

   It’s hard to say exactly when this adventure began. I usually say it began in earnest in late November 2000 when I took the first of three trips to Vancouver Island in order to look at homes for sale with an eye to making a purchase. However, it almost began in the mid 80s when I really wanted to move from Toronto to “somewhere in British Columbia, but not Vancouver.” The problem then was that house prices in Toronto were at a record low, while in British Columbia they were at record highs. So, I decided instead to change houses and stay in Toronto. It was 1986 that I purchased the East York Nesbitt Drive house, and there is an entire separate section on the garden at that house on this site. There are also additional photos of the Nesbitt Drive house interior in the “Home Renovations –Yours and Mine” section of this site. Pictured below is the front of the Nesbitt Drive house when I bought it, and 12 years later in 1998. Also below those are interior shots of the new kitchen and the living room, following the 1987 renovation and addition.

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With that house price situation virtually reversed in 1998 and 1999, I decided if I was going to make a change, then I should get on with it. My first decision was possible locations. I didn’t want to move from one big city with major traffic problems (Toronto) to another (Vancouver) and besides, the amount of rainfall in Vancouver was not particularly inviting. I knew certain areas of Vancouver Island (the east coast, for example) got much less rain and so I decided to obtain from Environment Canada, the statistics on rainfall and sunshine for various areas. In 1999 I checked the east coast of Vancouver Island from Victoria north past Nanaimo to about Deep Bay (two hours + north of Victoria), along with the gulf islands of Salt Spring, Galiano, Saturna, Gabriola and the Penders.

After considerable research on the Internet re the various small Gulf Islands, I decided that a location on the east coast of Vancouver Island came closest to meeting my various criteria.

The first trip in November 2000 was for five days and with the help of Nancy Bolch (on behalf of Richard Goldney) of Royal-Lepage Real Estate in Qualicum Beach, I looked at nearly two dozen houses of various vintages that met my criteria. The criteria were: waterfront property, a major degree of privacy, three bedrooms (so we’d have room for guests from Ontario!) plus space for my office, reasonable garden possibilities and a good view of the Strait of Georgia that divides the mainland from Vancouver Island.

As I left Vancouver Island from the first trip, I had two houses in mind that interested me greatly; one in Deep Bay, and the other just a little further south at Bowser. Both are about 30 minutes north of where we eventually ended up. On the plane returning, I decided that my number one interest, the one in Deep Bay (a 4,200 sq. ft. home plus three or more out buildings), was really too large; that we wanted less house space, not more! A month or two following that trip, the much smaller house in Bowser sold to another buyer. So, it was back to square one!

Shown here on the left is a shot of the Deep Bay house, along with the view of the Ocean from the same spot. On the right are two shots of the smaller Bowser house from the shore of the Ocean (Strait of Georgia) and a little closer, above the natural rock sea wall. That’s the garage at the far left in both shots.

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I made a second trip to Vancouver Island for four days in the third week of April 2001. It being spring, the trip was necessarily short, and I returned from that trip with an interest in two houses near Cobble Hill, which is just south of Duncan, or about 45 minutes north of Victoria. To shorten the story, the Champagne house (on left below) sold before we could act on it, and I hadn’t seen the interior of the Cherry Point house, though I loved the 3½-acre property that surrounded it, and the wonderful garden that had been created by the owner. The view from the deck over to Salt Spring Island is on the right below.

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My interest in the Cherry Point house led to a third trip July 29, returning August 3.

Though the garden was extremely inviting, the need to make significant additions to the home, combined with the price led to a decision not to buy it. The last I checked it is still for sale.

During the July/August trip, I stayed at my friends, John and Barbara Cowperthwaite’s home in Parksville. The first evening she and a neighbour said we should sit outside and watch the cruise ships sailing from Vancouver and Seattle to Alaska passing by. That night, (July 29) there were four, and two seemed to be in a race with the larger one passing the smaller one as we watched. You can check that out in the photos below by looking at the top and bottom ones on the left first, and then the top and bottom ones on the right.

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Having made that decision not to buy on the second day of the third trip, I realized there simply weren’t any other houses for sale that at all matched our criteria. So, what to do? I decided to look at building lots. My real estate agent, Ron Limer, checked availabilities of lots anywhere on the east coast of Vancouver Island from Victoria up to Qualicum Beach, just north of Parksville. There were 24 that matched my basic criteria. I examined those on paper one evening, and selected 13 of them that I thought were worthy of viewing. The next day and a half, just before departing for Toronto I did that, and was able to get the list down to just two lots, both of which were in the Fairwinds sub-division at Nanoose, just south of Parksville.

Once home and after looking at the photos I took, I decided to put in an offer on one lot. All of the lots were about the same size, 1/3 of an acre, and the two that interested me were right on the Strait of Georgia. However, the predominant feature of land in most of Fairwinds is that it is solid rock. The lot of greatest interest was up about 8-9 metres (25 ft.) from the water. A stairway could be built down, but it was nothing but loose rock at water level.

The two upper photos below show the lot from the street, and the lower four show the view to the Strait of Georgia, and some of the many Dog-toothed violets (Erythronium sp.) that inhabit the rocky site.

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In September 2001 I did put a deposit down on the Fairwinds lot, and it closed in January 2002. It was a very interesting building site and not only offered a challenge in designing a house that would suit the lot, but also in what type of garden I could create on the solid rock. I did begin to plan such a garden.

We first met with a Toronto real estate agent about putting the Toronto house on the market on the infamous September 11, 2001. The house sold in late October, with possession offered in late March 2002 at the wish of the purchaser.

At the end of January 2002, my partner Yves Geolier and I decided to take another trip to Vancouver Island so he could see the Fairwinds lot and we could search out an apartment in which to live while we built a house on the lot. He had not been able to travel with me on the three previous trips due to Winston, our 16-year-old MinPin. Winston (see separate section of this site) passed away on my birthday in January 2002, while I was on a Caribbean cruise. He was 17½!

That visit got us thinking that once we were out to the Island for good in March, we might start looking at other houses. The reason: the lot at Fairview did not have direct access to the water. It was gorgeous even in January with snow coving most of it. The snow fell the night before we arrived in Parksville from Victoria! What a welcome.

Now to March of 2002. On the 21st I took delivery of my new truck, a Cadillac Escalade EXT, which I thought was about the size we needed in order to carry all the various items that we were not having the moving company transport. Examples were all the computer equipment, some clothes and quite a few large and very large plants!

We began our western trek on Monday morning, March 25. We departed from Belleville because I was the speaker at the Quinte Home Show that weekend. The first night, Sault Ste. Marie was our goal, and we made the 807 km by early evening. We stopped for lunch in Parry Sound and I was particularly interested that I could receive AM740 (the Toronto station on which my programme runs) in the town and most of the way to it.

The roads were clear but there was much snow at the sides from earlier storms. The shots below were taken at a rest stop en route to The Sault.

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It was forecast to be very cold that night, so I chose a downtown hotel that had a covered parking area, and we warmed up the truck interior just before we went to bed. The next morning the plants looked as if they had survived.

The second day’s goal was Thunder Bay and we were in the old Prince Arthur Hotel, after driving the 711 km, before 6 PM. We went out looking for a restaurant and happened upon the Prospector Steak House, only a half block from the hotel at 27 S. Cumberland Street. One of their unusual items is prime rib bones--just the bones. You get from three to five of them, depending on their size. And, of course, if you cannot eat all the meat on them, you can take the rest home.

It was cold in Thunder Bay, but not quite as bad as the night before--thank goodness--as I could not find any indoor parking near the hotel.

When we departed Thunder Bay Wednesday morning we weren’t sure what would be our destination, but we decided we would bypass the city of Winnipeg. The sun was just beginning to get low in the sky as we took the bypass. We went on another 200 km to Brandon, home of one of Canada’s largest seed companies--McFayden/McKenzie. That was a total of 918 km.

The Thursday destination ended up being “The Hat” or Medicine Hat Alberta--832 km. Though I had been in both Calgary and Edmonton many times in other winters, the size of the ‘grit’ used on the highways and roads (and sidewalks) caught my attention there!

As we left The Hat on Friday morning, there was word of snow for Calgary but it sounded as if we might just miss it, and we did. We even got through the famous Rogers Pass without encountering any new snow. The roads were great. We only went 700 km on Friday, stopping at the little town of Revelstoke on the Columbia River. We drove around on the snow-bound streets and saw most of the pretty town.

On Saturday, obviously our destination was Vancouver, only 496 km, but that was using the (in)famous Coquihalla Highway. I had travelled it before, back in 1988 I think. It has dramatic views and fantastic scenery, but I’d never been on it in the winter. Well, now I have! Getting towards the summit, the snow was really coming down, but it hadn’t begun to lay on the highway. The salt trucks were managing to keep it wet. The second half of the Coquihalla, from Kamloops to Hope was the worst around the summit (1,244 m) near Boston Bar. But we sailed through, luckily. Just a day later it was closed, and earlier that same week it had been closed for a day.

On arrival in Vancouver, we were going to stay at a hotel for a few days before going to the Island, as the furniture was not due to arrive until later the next week. However, when I called friend Bill Granger (formerly parks-man/arborist in the City of North York and chairman of the Toronto Region Conservation Authority, now arborist with the City of Surrey, B.C.) he invited us to go right to Horseshoe Bay and take the 20-minute ferry to Bowen Island. He has a house there and we were invited to stay for Easter weekend. That was particularly nice after a long drive and every Noon and evening in restaurants! Shown below are a unique floral display on Bowen’s main street, and part of Snug Harbour where the ferry from Horseshoe Bay comes in once per hour.

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We arrived on Vancouver Island on Tuesday afternoon, and went to the apartment and unloaded the plants. You could hear them breath a sigh of relief! We lost one, and parts of a couple of others. One of my old lantana standards suffered the loss of its top but we are retraining a side shoot up and should have it back at the same height in a year or two. The other lantana came through fine. They are several decades old.

We stayed in a hotel for two nights until the furniture came on Thursday. It took almost all day to unload and put it in the apartment. Talk about crowded, but it all worked as planned. One bedroom was solid boxes, bed, washer, etc.!

When my partner Yves saw the Fairwinds lot again in early April, at least the snow was gone, and the Gary oak (Quercus garriana) was about to leaf out. But we followed up on our idea, and had Richard Goldney of Royal-LePage search out waterfront houses that had come on the market most recently. We even ended up looking at a couple that I had viewed during previous visits and that were still on the market. But most interestingly there was a house in Parksville that had a tentative offer on it that hadn’t been followed up on. I told Richard, the agent, that if I put in a firm offer, all I would likely do would be to get the tentative offer people to firm up theirs. And, that was exactly what happened.

But, there was one other that was just a few houses away from the famous Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park (known for its sand beaches--the best on the island), and in the other direction, just a short walk from old friends John and Barbara Cowperthwaite. It was an old house that had been added to and modified several times. Once a bed and breakfast, it has a fantastic view, and great large windows looking out on the sea. It also has a new seawall to protect it from winter storms on the Strait of Georgia. The house’s Great Room windows, and the view of the Strait from them are shown below.

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"One previous owner was the late Jeff Howard, a Métis who gave art lessons in the little studio beside the garage. Two views of the studio are below: on the left as it was when we bought, and on the right, two months later when Wilf had just installed the frames for the new window on the west side."

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It’s the studio that I have converted into my office.

Folks who knew Jeff Howard, particularly a couple of neighbours, and my old friend broadcaster John Dolan (who knew Jeff well and had been in the house when Jeff owned it!) have told me of his incredible love of and connection with Nature, particularly the many eagles that call this part of the Island home. He could call them close to him and feed them fish within just a few metres.

Having found a house, which, although it needed significant renovation, it was now necessary to sell the building lot in the Fairwinds subdivision. Fortunately that all took less than a week!

We took possession of the house at the end of June, and immediately began to finalize plans for the renovation. I had asked architect Hank Sklarchuk (of Courtenay, slightly further north on the Island), who had begun the plans for the Fairwinds house, to give us working drawings reflecting the many changes he and we agreed upon.

Here are four photos of what the house looked like when we took possession. It was cute, but not suited to what we needed. On the upper left is a view of the main entrance showing the nice glass covered trellis that had been designed by Jeff Howard. Beside that on the right is the central hall and skylight. At lower left is the kitchen with its separate door to the outside, and the other side of the sky-light. On the right is the huge wood cabinet that came with the house. If you think you’ve seen it before, maybe you have. It was an MGM property (marked so on the back) and was in the movie “High Society” (1956) which starred Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm. In the movie, Bing and Grace dance past the cabinet. It was Grace Kelly’s last movie before she became Royalty--Princess Grace of Monaco!

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While the Great Room that looks out on the ocean needed little change, the other half of the house needed major alterations and re-building. We wanted the kitchen moved from the west side of the house to the east side, the master suite just the opposite, and in both cases, we wanted to have doorways or openings onto the Great Room so we would be able to see out to the ocean from those rooms. The one thing we planned not to change is the relatively new natural stone fireplace taking up one entire end wall in the Great Room. The view towards Vancouver and the mainland north of the city, along with the interior of the room itself are shown below.

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We also desired to have two spare bedrooms instead of one. This all meant creating two new bathrooms, a new kitchen and three bedrooms. When removing walls, of course, it’s necessary to be sure there is support both below in the crawl space, and above in the attic. We obviously needed a contractor to do most of the work!

While we ourselves began small projects, including the planting of four dozen evergreens and shrubs, in July, work with our contractor Wilf Hillman of Barwil Builders Ltd. did not actually begin until the middle of August. He came to us highly recommended by friends Barbara and John Cowperthwaite.

We decided to start with the studio so I could get my office operating out of there before we moved into the house. The first thing we did was to remove the old woodstove. We’ve put it outside on the patio near the front door. It’s a bit interesting and decorative! Below are two shots of the interior of the studio as it was when we took possession. The two shots following show this initial work in progress.

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I then began by taking up the floor, installing some extra insulation, flipping the plywood, gluing and renailing it, and then installing new ¾ inch ply over the old existing 3/8 material. It was at that point in mid August that Wilf started by taking out some of the west and north walls, where there were some wood problems, and also in preparation for new thermopane windows I had ordered.

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In the studio, the major project for Wilf was actually the raising of the old flat ceiling to a cathedral-type giving the space a much better appeal. I planned to do the ceiling in v-groove lodgepoole pine boards.

Eventually the windows arrived and Wilf installed them, and made the casings inside. Then it was time for drywall installation that only took two days. Then it was mudding and sanding, the messiest part!

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Painting (a bright yellow with contrasting tan) was next and then time to install the ceiling. You see it here with just the last few boards at the centre to go on, and the fan to be installed.

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Once the drywalling in the studio was complete, Wilf turned to work on the house itself. The first task was removal of most of the old walls in the oldest part (1/2) of the house. The photo above right shows the old kitchen with one small wall gone, the refrigerator moved to one side, and lots more to be done!
In the photo on the left below, we had just started taking off the OSB (particle board) from the back wall in the great room. Where the aluminium stepladder is seen will be the corner of the new kitchen that the new refrigerator will go. In both photos the famous “High Society” cabinet is partially visible.

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Two of the first chores we had to do were to dig a one-metre-plus-deep trench from the Studio to the house in order that the electrician could install a new supply line. Yves dug the channel! Fortunately for him, not only is the surface soil here sand, but all the way down, pure sand. We also had to remove all of the insulation from the attic to allow the installation of new wiring. Here you see the results of those two efforts.

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Finally the kitchen was totally removed revealing several paint colours from previous incarnations! That secondary door from the kitchen will disappear to become a tall window in our smaller of two guest bedrooms. At the right is a shot of de-construction of the old small bedroom (fore-ground) leading through a doorway into the old laundry room/bathroom combination, which also had a door to the outside (visible with two coat hangers on it). That door too will disappear and become a glass block window in the new master bath that will also get a skylight.

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And here on the left is some more progress, the wall between the old bedroom and the old small bathroom is now almost gone and I’ve got the old fixtures out. On the right, Wilf has cut through the new opening from what will be the new master bedroom into the Great Room. We’ll eventually have some specially-made wood French doors there.

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On the other side of the house, I started removing the fixtures from the old master bath--that space is to become the new kitchen, also opening onto the Great Room. As I got the fixtures out, Wilf got the hole cut in the wall with the rough openings for the kitchen.

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Finally it was drywalling time! It arrived in various sizes, many 4 x 12 ft. (as piled in the centre of the larger hall area below on left. There you also see the thermostat set into the furthest wall in view. The shallow alcove area on the left (where the smaller pieces of lumber are stored temporarily) is where the upper major glass door section of the “High Society” cabinet will go. Just past that is the ‘pocket door’ to the new guest bathroom. Also in that photo you’ll note the roughed-in curves on the arch leading from the Great Room to the large central hall. They were a suggestion from Wilf, and a very good one. So good, we got him to do the same on the two openings to the kitchen!

In the photo on the right below that’s the two openings to/from the kitchen (the larger one will have cabinets at the base, and a glass table connected to them jutting out into the Great Room).

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The drywall installation was quite complicated in the master bathroom as is shown in the shots below. That’s Wilf just completing the special half-wall that separates the somewhat unusual Australian toilet we’re installing (it has two buttons, one for each of two different modes of flushing!).

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The worst part of the renovation we knew would be the mudding and sanding. Here below, left, is the back wall of the Great Room partly mudded, and on the right, with the mudding and sanding complete (thank goodness!).

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Once the drywall was on and sanded, and painting underway, we thought it was time to get our new front door installed. A way back when we started all this we learned of local artist/sculptor François Mongeau who lives nearby in Errington. He does a great deal of carving in wood, and ships much of it to Japan. After a talk with us he came up with a design for a new front door that included a dock carved in cedar, and Canada geese flying overhead sand-blasted in the glass. In the photo at left below François, Wilf Hillman and François’s son Galen are seen installing the door. That’s Galen (an artist in his own right) on the left, François in the middle and Wilf with his back to the camera. Note the receptacles for the mini ceiling pot lights had been put in that day by electrician Rick and his apprentice Chris. At about the same time, my partner Yves was busy vacuuming the remaining dust in what is to become the kitchen.

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While mentioning my friendly, experienced electrician Rick, I must mention a form of renovating and installation of components used by both Wilf and Rick--the common chainsaw! Below you’ll see Rick in action earlier in the process. He is preparing to install the hall switches in the plywood that backs the drywall. Note the bracing for the old walls, and as well, that we are retaining the large (1.8m/6ft.) square skylight in the larger hall area (that also appears in one of the earlier photos). The ladder just inside what will be the master bedroom is a folding one that gives access to our attic. And, the unusual design high up on the right of this photo is a pattern of the top of the “High Society” cabinet where it was against the old wall; behind the scrolled cabinet top the wall did not get painted! In the right photo below is the crew taking a coffee break outside the front door. From left are Wilf, François, Rick and Chris.

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One night after the door was installed (minus the very special handles which I’ll have to show you later) I managed to get a photo from outside just as the sun was going down. The cedar wood beside it is yet to be painted a light colour and at the lower level (about 1/3 the way up from the ground) we’ll have a natural stone installed later in the winter. Another of three projects François took on was the kitchen window. At the right below, you see it soon after it was installed. That’s the moon on the left pane, and a crane (common on the sea shore) on the right pane.

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In late fall, Yves and I had decided that since most everything tended to slow down over Christmas and New Years, and Wilf was going to visit his Mother in Penticton on the mainland, we would go away, likely drive to California for a week or two. We departed on December 21, after doing my Toronto broadcast (and having recorded two shows earlier that week). Just before leaving I took the following four photos of: François standing in front of our (his) front door, the surf roaring in late one December afternoon, and two shots of a rainbow as it appeared from our doors to the water.