Tag Archives: Parks Canada

If I were a kid at Jane’s Walk Burritt’s Rapids…

If I were a kid at Jane’s Walk Burritt’s Rapids, this is what I would do:

1.  Attend the family-friendly Jane’s Walk ‘n Talk called: Disappearing Habitat: Killing the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg.  John McKenzie has a natural history museum in his workshop and there’s lots to see and touch (Sunday)

2.  Take a paddle up the Rideau Canal in a 16-passenger Voyageur Canoe complete with costumed guides (Saturday/Sunday)

3.  Pack a lunch and picnic by the river (Saturday) or picnic/potluck (Sunday)

4.  Hunt around the village to find the ten objects on the scavenger list and claim my prize at the Community Hall (Saturday/Sunday) 

Click here for the Scavenger Hunt page

5.  Hike to the Stoney Steps (Nope! I won’t spoil the surprise) (anytime)

6.  Check out David Watson’s European sportscar collection, which is way nicer than my family van (Saturday)

7.  Walk to Other David’s Open Lab and see what cool science projects are happening (Sunday) – appropriate for older kids

8.  Explore the Tip-to-Tip Trail (I’m on an island!) (anytime)

9.  Say ‘hi’ to the horses at Lone Wolf Farm (anytime)

10.  See how many species of birds and animals I can spot; see if I can find Turtle Rock on the way to the Lock Station (anytime)

11.  Take a reading break in the library at the old Lockmaster’s House (Saturday)

12.  Go to church with my family (Sunday)

13.  Play in the park behind the hall, on the swings down by the beach, and goof around with my new friends (anytime)

If I were a kid I’d be playing to my heart’s content!

Kid at Jane's Walk
If I were a kid….

Jane’s Walk Burritt’s Rapids May 2 & 3, 2015

Click here for the complete schedule of events & activities

Please note the change: The car collection will only be in the village on Saturday


The title and tagline of our press release reads:

Rural Burritt’s Rapids Joins Jane’s Walk Ottawa
     ~ Why should urbanites have all the fun?

I point this out not because the lines are clever but because they’re true.

Burritt’s Rapids is one of 26 villages in the amalgamated City of Ottawa. Half of us live on the north side of the Rideau River (the Ottawa side) and the other half on the south, within the Township of North Grenville. Politically, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher. But for people-purposes, we are one community.

Rural life has evolved since Burritt’s was founded in 1793. It has been a frontier outpost, an ague-filled death-trap for canal workers, a vital manufacturing, trading, and agricultural hub, in decline when the railroad passed by, and now, a bedroom community for Ottawa. Technology – and the 416 Highway – has brought us closer to the fold; many of us live with one foot in the city and one in the country. Economic and lifestyle changes have made us less village-rooted and interdependent on our neighbours.

Jane Jacobs may have preached the mantra of getting out and walking urban neighbourhoods, but the same goes for rural life. Here in a village of a few hundred souls it’s possible not to see other residents from one season to the next. Interests, technology, economics, kids, work, schedule, health and age pull us in a variety of directions with no guarantee of crossing paths. In our fantasies we happen upon our neighbours, stop to chat, offer g&t’s on the front lawn, or spontaneously pull together a barbecue. In reality, we have to make a point of getting together, preferably with no agenda other than having fun.

So this is what we’re doing when we launch the Burritt’s Rapids edition of Jane’s Walk next weekend: We’re getting together as a village through organized and informal walks, talks, exhibitions, and related activities – including the ubiquitous potluck – and inviting others to join in the fun.

I think Jane would have been proud.

Jane's Walk Burritt's Rapids Community Hall

Looking for the Press Release? Click here

See also: www.janeswalkottawa.ca for complete listings of the walk ‘n talks.

Please click here for general event information:
About Jane’s Walk Burritt’s Rapids
Getting Here & Services

Jane’s Walk Burritt’s Rapids has been organized in partnership with the Burritt’s Rapids Community Association, Inc. (BRCA)

Saturday, May 2nd

Jane’s Run with the Locals
Prefer your exploration at a quicker pace? Join the locals for a 10k run around the picturesque countryside. Route length is negotiable according to the needs of the group.
Leaders: Andrew Vignuzzi & Graham Ross
Location: Meet in front of  the Burritt’s Rapids Community Hall
Click for Jane’s Walk Ottawa event listing

10:00am – 11:30am
Frontier Fraternalism: The Rideau Masonic Lodge #25 Collection at the Canadian Museum of History
This presentation will recount the fascinating story of these artifacts and their role in community-building in Burritt’s Rapids two centuries ago. It features an interactive discussion with local Masonic members.
Presenters: Forrest Pass (Historian, Canadian Museum of History) & Bob Parnell (Local Masons)
Location: The Burritt’s Rapids Community Hall
Click for Jane’s Walk Ottawa event listing

11:30am – 12:45pm
Architectural Walk with the Village Doyennes
Burritt’s Rapids was founded by United Empire Loyalists in 1793 and it remains remarkably well-preserved, not to mention charming. The history of the village will be discussed through the lens of its architecture.
Leaders: Olivia Mills & Renee Smith
Location: Meet in front of the Burritt’s Rapids Community Hall
Click for Jane’s Walk Ottawa event listing

1:00pm to 2:15pm
Burritt’s Rapids: 15,000 BP to 1832
Let’s look back….waaaay back. A visual presentation using period maps and images looking at Burritts Rapids from the ice age to the landscape changes brought about by the building of the Rideau Canal. Loosely based on Ken’s book “The Rideau Route – Exploring the Pre-Canal Waterway.”
Presenter: Ken Watson, author/local historian www.http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/
Location: The Burritt’s Rapids Community Hall
Click for Jane’s Walk Ottawa event listing

2:30pm to 4:00pm
Burritt’s Rapids “Living Library” Story Swap
Wherever there are people, there are stories. This will be an informal, moderated discussion with past and present community members who have deep roots in the village. It is a first opportunity to hear (and record) stories that are critical to our oral history. All are encouraged to attend. Bring photos and other artifacts if you like.
Moderator: Andrea Cordonier
Contact: andrea@habicurious.com  or (613) 269-4585
Location: The Burritt’s Rapids Community Hall
Click for Jane’s Walk Ottawa event listing

Sunday, May 3rd

9:00am – 10:15am
Jane’s Yoga with the Locals
What finer way to wake up on a sleepy Sunday morning? If the weather is happy, we’ll be outside in Swing Bridge park; if the weather is sad, we’ll be at the Community Hall
Leader: Susan Foley, decorative artist & Kundalini yoga practitioner
Location: Meet in front of the Burritt’s Rapids Community Hall; bring your own mat
Click for Jane’s Walk Ottawa event listing

9:00am – 10:00am
Jane’s Worship with the Locals
Christ Church is a lovely Gothic Revival-style building completed in 1832. It is a critical village landmark. Like many rural parishes with shrinking congregations, it would benefit from the lively joy of a full house. Come worship and take a peek around. Listen for the ringing of the 9:00am bell.
Minister: Reverend Carolyn Pollock
Location: Christ Church Anglican, 4419 Donnelly Dr.
Click for more information

9:00am – 10:15am
Disappearing Habitat: Killing the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg
In this family-friendly, hands-on workshop, John McKenzie will discuss the importance of wildlife habitat and Matt Alkerton will dispel the myths of modern trapping practices. Please see the event listing for additional information.
Presenters/Leaders: John McKenzie & Matt Alkerton
Location: Tall Pines: 720 River Rd South, Burritt’s Rapids
Click for Jane’s Walk Ottawa event listing

10:30am – 11:45am
Shrubs: Diversity & Drama in the Garden
Dave Dunn, one of Canada’s gardening superstars, will discuss how shrubs can be used in the design of a garden to play the role of “bones” and backdrop, as well as add interest, colour and texture. Coping with tight spaces and urban garden scale will also be discussed.
Presenter: Dave Dunn, co-owner of Rideau Woodland Ramble
Location: The Burritt’s Rapids Community Hall
Click for Jane’s Walk Ottawa event listing

12:00pm – 1:30pm
Jane’s Potluck with the Locals
Nothing says ‘community’ like a potluck! Please click on the event listing for important details.
Coordinators: Joanne & Paul Harrison
Action: Please call (613) 859-9116 to register your dish
Location: The Burritt’s Rapids Community Hall
Click for Jane’s Walk Ottawa event listing

1:30pm – 4:30pm
Snap, Crackle & Pop! Open Lab with David Weston
Engineer. Luthier. Pyrotechnics expert. Forty years experience generating and measuring electromagnetic fields. 

Here’s the deal: Fireworks contain metal particles such as aluminum, magnesium, magnalium, iron grit etc to produce sparkling effects and colour. The concern is: If these particles are exposed to high levels of magnetic and electric fields, such as close proximity to hydro power lines, will the particles heat up or spark between the particles and thus cause detonation?
The experiment on view is to  expose inert material loaded with the metal particles to electric and magnetic fields and monitor for breakdown and heating. On display are the test jigs and generators as well as his ornate 14 course 22 string baroque lute.
Presenter: David A. Weston, EMC Consulting Inc., (613) 269-4247
Location: 325 County Rd. 23, Burritt’s Rapids (Merrickville)

1:30pm – 2:45pm
Architectural Walk with the Doyennes
Burritt’s Rapids was founded by United Empire Loyalists in 1793 and it remains remarkably well-preserved, not to mention charming. The history of the village will be discussed through the lens of its architecture.
Leaders: Olivia Mills & Renee Smith
Location: Meet in front of the Burritt’s Rapids Community Hall
Click for Jane’s Walk Ottawa event listing

3:00pm – 4:15pm
Ethnic Subterfuge: A Personal Walk Through the Rideau Corridor Social History 1830 – 1930
Presenter: Glenn J Lockwood
Location: Christ Church Anglican
Click for Jane’s Walk Ottawa event listing

All Day and/or Associated Activities

Saturday 10:00am – 4:00pm
European Classic Car Collection
Owner: David Watson/Arnprior Fire Trucks (613) 623-3434
Location: The main street of Burritt’s Rapids (Grenville St.)
Notes: The display may be weather-dependent

Saturday & Sunday 9:30am – 4:00pm
Voyageur Canoe Tours on the Rideau Canal 
Guides: Rideau Roundtable – Stew Hamill, (613) 269-3415
Sponsors: Tallman Truck Centre Ltd. & Ann Martin
Location: Meet in the gravel parking lot, south side of the village, adjacent to the swing bridge
Notes: Free interpretive paddling tours will be offered from two 16-person voyageur canoes throughout the day; safety equipment & an intro to paddling will be provided; tours will run rain or shine although high winds and/or high water would be a safety consideration; offered on a first-come, first-served basis; accessibility is at the discretion of the organizers and the activity may not be suitable for everyone. www.rideaurountable.ca

Saturday & Sunday 9:00am – 5:00pm
Ramble the Gardens of Rideau Woodland Ramble (RWR)
What: Self-guided tours of this popular, award-winning garden centre and public gardens
Location: Rideau Woodland Ramble (RWR) 7210 Burritt’s Rapids Rd. Burritt’s Rapids (Merrickville)
Contact: info@rideauwoodlandramble.com  www.rideauwoodlandramble.com
Click for Jane’s Walk Ottawa event listing

Exhibiting Artists

Saturday & Sunday 10:00am – 4:30pm
Exhibiting Artist: Joyce Frances Devlin
Contact: Joyce Frances Devlin (613) 269-4458
Location: Main Hall exhibition space, Burritt’s Rapids Community Hall, 23 Grenville Street
Click here for more information

Saturday & Sunday 9:00am – 5:00pm
Exhibiting Artist: Dave Dunn
Contact: info@rideauwoodlandramble.com  (613) 258-3797
Location: Rideau Woodland Ramble, 7210 Burritt’s Rapids Rd., Merrickville (Burritt’s Rapids)
Click here for more information

Saturday & Sunday 10:00am – 4:30pm
Exhibiting Artist: Susan Foley
Contact: (613) 269-4309  www.susanfoleyfloorclothes.com  susanfoley460@gmail.com
Location: Burritt’s Rapids Community Hall
Click here for more information

Sunday 10:00am – 4:30pm
Exhibiting Artist: Debbie Alexander
Contact: dalexander@ripnet.com
Location: Lower Level Studio, Burritt’s Rapids Community Hall
Click here for more information

Saturday & Sunday 10:00am – 4:00pm (closed for lunch)
Exhibiting Artist: Jayne Couch Molony
Contact: jayne.couch@ripnet.com
Location: Old Church, 25 Centre St., Burritt’s Rapids
Click here for more information

Saturday & Sunday 10:00am – 4:00pm
Exhibiting Artist: Tracy Kerr
Contact: www.tracykerr.ca
Location: Lounge, Burritt’s Rapids Community Hall
Click here for more information

Doors Open

Saturday 1:00pm to 3:00pm/Sunday 1:30pm to 3:30pm
Doors Open: Merrickville & District Historical Society Archives 
Contact: Nina Donald, (613) 269-4289
Location: Lower Level, Burritt’s Rapids Community Hall

Saturday & Sunday 10:00am – 4:30pm
Doors Open: Christ Church Anglican
Location: 4419 Donnelly Dr, Burritt’s Rapids

Saturday 10:00am – 1:30pm
Doors Open: Burritt’s Rapids Public Library (formerly the Lockmaster’s House)
Location: 1 Grenville St, Burritt’s Rapids

Saturday, Noon to 3:00pm & Sunday 1:00pm to 4:00pm
Doors Open: Masonic Lodge
Location: 3 Oxford St., Burritt’s Rapids

Self-Guided Tours (Online)

Burritt’s Rapids Walking Tour

Parks Canada – Tip to Tip Walking Trail


Drive-By Shooting, Saskatchewan Style

Saskatchewan is ridiculously beautiful even on the rainiest of days.

I am heart-broken that torrential rain is falling – and scheduled to keep doing so – for the three days we’re meant to camp in Grasslands National Park. I have saved some of the best for last, a coveted new stop before we make the final push home to Ottawa after a summer on the road.

I make the mental calculation and already know the outcome: Four kids, two adults, two potentially drenched tents and a wet camera, a fully-loaded van with four inches (max) of clearance and zero off-road capability. Sigh. We will have to keep this part of Saskatchewan for another day. Thank goodness we had time in the Great Sand Hills and Manitou Beach and some excellent back-of-beyond wandering on the way through, as well as the memories of a previous trip that included the Cypress Hills, Qu’Appelle Valley, and the tunnels at Moose Jaw. Never enough time to do everything on my list.

I relinquish driving duties to Husband and crawl up into the passenger seat to sulk. But how can I sulk when I see THIS through the rain-streaked window glass?

SaskatchewanDriveByShootingScenery-12 SaskatchewanDriveByShootingScenery-11 SaskatchewanDriveByShootingScenery-10 SaskatchewanDriveByShootingScenery-9 SaskatchewanDriveByShootingScenery-4 SaskatchewanDriveByShootingScenery-3 SaskatchewanDriveByShootingScenery-2

In the House With Sir John A.

John Macdonald12
Sir John A. Macdonald

Did some macro- to micro-Habicurious time travel this weekend in celebration of Canada Day.  Spent July 1st (the launch of confederation) in Kingston (the first capital city of the united Canadas), touring the house of Sir John A. Macdonald, the country’s first Prime Minister and a Father of Confederation.

Bellevue House, Kingston
Bellevue House, Kingston, ON

Bellevue House was built in the early 1840s for Charles Hales, a successful Kingston grocer.  “Asymmetrical in shape, with decorative balconies and a three-storey central tower,” its Italianate design contrasted with the conservative Georgian architecture of other local homes. To Macdonald it was “the most fantastic concern imaginable.” Others nicknamed it Tea Caddy Castle, Molasses Hall, and Pekoe Pagoda after Mr. Hales’ merchant roots.

A mile away from the noise and dirt of downtown Kingston, Bellevue sat on nine lush acres (since reduced to two). The property was filled with mature trees, ornamental gardens, an apple orchard, a generous kitchen garden, and offered lake views. However, Macdonald’s first concern was not for aesthetics, but for the health of his chronically-ill young wife.







This room is very somber.  The Victorians believed that the darker the room, the calmer the child.  The family cradle is of Medieval/Gothic style and is exemplary of the Gothic Revival movement in art and design.  Industrialization and urbanization meant that many people looked back to the middle ages as a golden time of simple living, strong religion, good morals and quality hand-made goods. – Interpretative sign, 3rd floor



What a view! John A. Macdonald would have had the best view of the lake from his Master Bedroom.  This room was also nice and toasty because of the piping around the four poster bed and the large stove.  As the head of the family, the father was the first to enjoy all the best luxuries and comforts.  He was then followed by his wife, his children, then finally his servants. – Interpretive sign, 3rd floor



Sadly, home life did not go according to plan for the couple.  Isabella’s health never improved and she spent much of her time bedridden. Their infant son died, unexpectedly, just a month after moving into Bellevue. Macdonald carried heavy expenses, providing for his mother and sister in Kingston as well as his immediate family. In September, 1849, they vacated the house for smaller, less expensive quarters in downtown Kingston. Isabella was pregnant with their second child.

References: Parks Canada – Bellevue House National Historic Site of Canada

Note: There is a tower up a steep flight of stairs, just off Sir John’s study.  It’s closed to the general public due to fire regulations.  But if you love towers, go during a quiet period and you may have some luck in getting a special peek.

Adaptive Reuse (and Reuse and Reuse) at the Grey Nuns’ Convent

Not all those who wander are lost. – J.R.R. Tolkien

Choosing a mini-adventure over a late afternoon nap, I laced on the mocs and headed across Esplanade Riel to Le Musée de Saint-Boniface.

While the museum is filled with fascinating objects, including the half-burnt coffin of Louis Riel, the principal artifact is the building itself.

It was constructed as a convent for The Sisters of Charity of Montreal (“Grey Nuns”) who arrived in 1844 to provide social services/missionary work to the Red River Colony. It is of Red River Frame construction, the oldest building in the City of Winnipeg, and the largest oak log structure in North America.

Jill Wade, in her paper Red River Architecture 1812-1870, details this form of construction:

It is made of log construction common to Manitoba and given a variety of names: Manitoba frame, Red River frame, piece sur piece, poteaux sur sole, poteaux et piece coulissante, and the Hudson’s Bay style. As some of these names suggest, the building type grew from strong French influences, but actually originated in Denmark and Scandinavia…

The style was introduced to North America by the settlers of New France and brought west with the fur trade. Eventually, it was adopted by the employees of the HBC. It was used to build Fort Douglas, the Selkirk settlers’ first fort, and remained popular for homes, churches, stores and outbuildings throughout the area until the 1870s. An increased availability of manufactured materials late in the century made elaborate homes possible and common homes easier to build, log buildings lost their popularity.

The Red River frame building started with a frame of hand-squared logs, often oak, resting on the ground or a foundation. This foundation could be built of any readily available material, which on the prairies often meant a mixture of fieldstones and mortar. Sill logs were placed atop the foundation, then vertical members were tenoned at the corners and along the sill. These vertical logs were grooved in order to accept the tapered ends of horizontal logs placed between the uprights.  Doors were often set between two minor uprights, windows similarly established or were simply cut out of the wall, with the rough hewn window frames nailed to the free ends of the logs.

It has, in turn, been a hospital, orphanage, senior citizen’s home, day school, boarding school, and a nursing college for students of St. Boniface General Hospital, which was operated by the Grey Nuns.  In 1956 the Grey Nuns vacated the building and in 1958, the His­toric Sites and Mon­u­ments Board of Canada des­ig­nated the build­ing as a his­toric site, recommending that it be pre­served for pos­si­ble use as a museum, as it soon became.

I met Museum Director Philippe Mailhot on the stoop.  Although I am a management consultant, alas I wasn’t the consultant he was waiting for.  I toured the two floors of the museum alone and then peppered the poor woman at reception with my construction-related questions.  She kindly summoned Georges Lavergne, Maintenance Foreman and part-time builder, and we promptly descended to the basement, always the best place to begin an architectural exploration.

The building is intriguing both for its original construction style as well as for the thorough work undertaken between October 1993 and May of 1995 to restore the historic fabric of the building.*  Seems the walls were pulling apart, as witnessed by the visible tenons on the second floor.  Vertical steel posts have been sunk into the basement floor and run the full height of three floors.  Glulam or steel I-beams have been added to each floor, and all the posts and glulam beams have been clad in spruce to blend with the original structure. Steel cables help to lock the walls in place.  Maybe this work wouldn’t be remarkable on a contemporary structure. However it is a complex undertaking in a building where most of the wood members have deflected over time, some remarkably so. Little is plumb, square or level.  It would have required extraordinary attention to detail and continuous problem-solving to complete this work on time, on budget and according to specs.

I brazenly roped Phil into giving me a tour of the ‘off limits’ third floor.  Walking onto the third floor was like entering a much larger version of my own attic.  We talked construction, funding, history, building science, and about the challenges of maintaining old buildings.  He disappeared for a few moments and returned with a hefty roll of the museum’s architectural drawings.  To my amazement, he presented it to me.

Blueprints are at once treasure troves of knowledge and pieces of art when they are hand-drawn, as these are. I was both surprised and honoured at such a gift.

The moment I set foot out of the museum it began to rain.  I pulled off my fleece and slipped the roll into the arm hole, bundling the rest of the jacket around it for safekeeping.  By the time I reached the hotel I was soaked but the drawings remained dry.

So glad I skipped the nap.

* The project team included heritage architects from the City of Winnipeg, the Province and the Federal Government (Parks Canada) and was supervised by Prairie Architects.
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Does Your House Give You the Creeps?

Google never fails to surprise me.  Seemingly innocuous searches yield the most curious results.  This morning’s internet wanderings produced a YouTube video about paranormal activity in a house not a stone’s throw from mine.

Burritt’s Rapids was founded by United Empire Loyalists in 1793 and is one of the oldest communities on the Rideau Canal system.  Age of a community, the number of generations that have passed through each house,  the harshness of pioneer life, early deaths, and the fact most people died in the comfort of their own homes, up the likelihood that there will be energy left behind. But we are in our paranormal infancy compared to other countries around the world that celebrate a much longer history of human settlement.

My house is not as old as some in the area, having been built as a Anglican Manse in the late 19th century.  We took more than two months to make an offer on the property, as we’d never lived in the country before, never had to deal with well, septic and other rural peculiarities.  We wanted to really understand what we were getting ourselves into.  The irony is that our house actually looked like a haunted/abandoned house for some time.  The septic system was failing and so we let the front yard go to pot, knowing that it would require complete excavation in the not-so-distant future.  As a result, we were spared the intrusive visits of itinerant salesmen and those of a certain religious ilk.  Creepiness has its benefits.

I distinctly remember going through the house with a home inspector.  My first impression remains engraved on my imagination.  The basement, including an old coal room and crawlspaces, was filled with thousands of mummified spiders, coated in white dust and suspended from the ceiling.  While I’m not squeamish by nature, I did let the inspector do the deep digging into the darkest corners.  I also made him check the old stone cistern for dead bodies.  Really, I did.

Years later I am familiar with virtually every square inch of living, storage and outdoor space and I found nothing physical or spiritual that raised goosebumps.  Sadly, I’ve also failed to find anything that resembles lost pirate booty, hidden tunnels or other curiosities that adventurous homeowners dream of.  I’ve also had the pleasure of hosting members of the family that owned my house from about 1919 to 1976.  Their energy is positive so I can understand why the overall energy of the house is clear, too.

But I’ve heard others in the village talk about strange creaks, footfalls, and the unexpected movement of their objects.

This all got me thinking about the pros and cons of living in a “haunted” house and the potentially trickiness at re-sale time.  Does paranormal activity stigmatize the house in the eyes of the purchasers?  What are homeowners legally required to disclose when listing a house?  What are the potentially legal ramifications for non-disclosure?  The answer to all of these questions is: it depends on where you live.

Julie Kinnear, a Toronto realtor, offers a general definition for property stigma:

A stigmatized property is a property that buyers or tenants avoid for reasons unrelated to its physical condition or features. These usually include a murder or a suicide that took place inside the property, often accompanied by a belief that the house may be haunted — which is, of course, a very controversial concept.

These stigmas, she says, fall into several categories.

1. Public stigma

  • known to a wide range of the population
  • must always be disclosed in almost all jurisdictions
  • examples: Amityville Horror house, home of the Menendez brothers
  • biggest turn-offs: unwanted attention, bad reputations, psychological effects

2. Criminal stigma:

  • ongoing commission of a crime that took place within the property
  • full disclosure required by most jurisdictions
  • examples: a chop shop, drug den, or brothel
  • Biggest turn-offs: bad reputation, unexpected visits – for example, uninformed drug addicts may come to your house expecting to purchase illegal drugs

3. Murder/suicide stigma

  • murder/suicide took place inside the property
  • realtors required to disclose the information by most jurisdictions
  • biggest turn-offs: psychological effects, fear of possible paranormal phenomena

4. Debt stigma:

  • applies if former homeowners were indebted
  • particularly pronounced if the collection agency uses aggressive tactics
  • biggest turn-offs: danger of being harassed by debt collectors, who are not aware that a debtor has moved out already

5. Phenomena stigma:

  • the house is renowned for hauntings, ghost sightings, etc.
  • very controversial type of stigma
  • disclosure required by many, but not all jurisdictions
  • biggest turn-offs: somehow, people don’t feel good about the presence of a ghost in their house

6. Minimal stigma

  • known to, or taken seriously by, only a small group
  • unlikely to affect the ability to sell the property
  • realtors usually decide to disclose this information on a case-by-case basis

Realtor Scott FladHammer of Fort Wayne, Indiana, understands the flip side of the coin.  He has sold for more than a dozen haunted houses, including one that looked remarkably like the one in Amityville Horror.  There are a group of buyers, like a recent goth client, who are looking for particularly unusual attributes and histories.   He notes there are different laws for different states, so it is incumbent on realtors and owners to understand their local disclosure rules.

But it is equally incumbent on potential purchasers, particular Canadian buyers, to do their homework.  Except in Quebec, there is little specific legislation in Canada around disclosure.   It is caveat emptor.  But it takes relatively little time to conduct a Google search or knock on the doors of potential neighbours.  First-time homeowner Samuel Jacques could have used this advice.

Toronto newspaper The Star reported that:

Jacques was watching the evening news on the anniversary of the unsolved murder of Sonia Varaschin, the 42-year-old Orangeville nurse who was reported missing Aug. 30, 2010 and found dead six days later.

Without knowing anything about the murder, Jacques had just days earlier handed over a $5,000 deposit on Varaschin’s former Spring St. home.

Jacques “eventually got out of the deal and got his full deposit back.”  But he still filed a complaint with the Real Estate Council of Ontario, alleging lack of disclosure.

But if full-disclosure and careful research fail, you can always look for ways to make peace with your personal ghosts of Christmas past.  Plus you’re virtually guaranteed a top spot on the A-List dinner circuit.


Hiking the Legend of Grey Owl

I remember a friend saying that kids are special when they’re little, but that every age holds the promise of something new. My eldest son, D, now twelve years old, and I headed out for a seventeen kilometre roundtrip hike to Grey Owl’s cabin in Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba, something he wasn’t ready for until this year. What a treat to be able to divide up the family and not be dragging unwilling hostages behind for a change.

We set out with a light daypack and plenty of water, not knowing exactly what to expect. I have my bear bell and jangle it constantly, even more constantly when we meet with clumps of fresh berry jam on the trail. “Jing-a-linga-ling!” the bell rings out. It puts me in mind of the Gary Larson cartoon explaining what you say to a dog and what he actually hears (quite a significant discrepancy, in case you haven’t seen it). I feel like the black bear tribe’s personal Good Humour Man: “Jing-a-ling-a-ling! Git your Humansicles here! Jing-a-ling-a-ling! Git your fresh, warm Humansicles here! In the next two hours, two for the price of one! Jing-a-ling-a-ling!”

You get the picture.

There’s something ridiculously romantic about Grey Owl’s story, which combines the fantasy of running away from it all with the utter reinvention of oneself. I hold the promise of someday having a yurt of my own, preferably deep in the forest, dear, and so I am beguiled by this curious white man and the desire to see his cabin for myself.

Grey Owl, the man, was actually born Archibald Stansfeld Belaney in Hastings, England in 1888. In 1906 he set sail for Canada in search of adventure.

Belaney emigrated, ostensibly to study agriculture. After a brief time in Toronto, he moved to Temagami (Tema-Augama), Northern Ontario, where he worked as a fur trapper. Fascinated with the Anishinaabe Ojibwe, he set about learning their language and lore. On August 23, 1910, he married Angele Egwuna, an Ojjibwa woman from whom he learned much about the people. They started life together in a tent on Bear Island (Lake Temagami). Soon Angele gave birth to their daughter Agnes. Angele’s uncle called Belaney “Little Owl”, because he watched everything carefully. Belaney claimed he was adopted by the tribe and given a name meaning “Grey Owl”.

Belaney worked as a trapper, wilderness guide, and forest ranger. At first he began to sign his name as “Grey Owl”. Then he created a full-blown Native identity, telling people that he was the child of a Scottish father and Apache mother. He claimed to have emigrated from the U.S. to join the Ojibwa in Canada.1

Although the Historica-Dominion Institute describes Belaney as having “perpetrated one of the 20th century’s most convincing hoaxes”, they acknowledge his sizeable contribution to the ultimate conservation of significant tracts of Canadian wilderness.

Known to the world as “Grey Owl,” he convinced everyone that he was a Canadian-born first nations author. In this persona, he became one of Canada’s most popular and famous personalities. Grey Owl’s British origins came to light shortly after his death and the ensuing public outcry ignored his significant contributions as a conservationist. A generation after his death though, Grey Owl is remembered as an effective public champion of our natural heritage, and his writings still carry an important environmental message for today’s world. Without Grey Owl’s efforts and passion towards the wilderness, Canada may have lost a better part of its natural beauty. He helped create a legacy of awareness and protection for Canada’s forests and wildlife.

The hike itself is rather mundane and I keep waiting for the “ahhhhh” moment when the birches and shrubs part, making way for a salutary view. But that view fails to materialize. We momentarily stop to pick berries and chug water but otherwise keep putting one foot on front of the other. I am simply happy to be out hiking but wonder if I have oversold my son on our adventure.

D. seems happy to arrive and flops down in the shade with a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich. Three baby barn swallows, tucked in their mud nest under the eaves, strain for food while their anxious mother swoops and dives around us. Prehistoric-sized dragonflies hover and land all around and on us. The door is propped open by a rock and the cabin contains a play of bright midday light and deep shadows. A scrapbook is open on the table, containing copies of old photographs, letters and bills of lading recalling Grey Owl’s preparations for living on this site. Some of the logs are defaced with carved initials and proclamations of so-and-so’s youthful visitations, but mostly the cabin at Beaver Lodge Lake looks as it did when Grey Owl, along with two beaver kittens named Rawhide and Jellyroll, moved there in 1931.

The Park staff provided the necessary supplies to insure that both Grey Owl and the beavers were content in their new home. A special chestnut canoe was purchased so Grey Owl could paddle around the lake and watch for beaver activity.

Now that Grey Owl and his beavers were settled Grey Owl began his work with the beavers and the public in earnest. His job was to reestablish beaver colonies in areas where they were exterminated. It was also thought Grey Owl would attract visitors to this new park with his tame beaver and his dynamic personality.



In 1932, citing insufficient water levels both for beaver migrations and for reasonable travel by canoe, he moved on with his beloved Jellyroll, Rawhide and other kits to Ajawaan Lake in Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan. In 1938 he died of pneumonia and was buried there.

I photograph, of course, and join D. for a leisurely lunch. After a time we pack up, refreshed, and head back into the shimmering heat.

Although the views may not have been spectacular, I was grateful to be deep in our Canadian woods on a gorgeous summer day, discover a piece of Canadian history, compliments of Parks Canada, and to enjoy the uninterrupted company of my son. I hope he will deem me a worthy hiking companion again as he quickly grows and finds his own way in the world.

  1.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_Owl 

Parks (By and) For the People

Conventionally, neighbourhood parks or parklike open spaces are considered boons conferred on the deprived populations of cities. Let us turn this thought around, and consider city parks deprived places that need the boon of life and appreciation conferred on them. This is more nearly in accord with reality, for people do confer use on parks and make them successes – or else withhold use and doom parks to rejection and failure.
Jane JacobsThe Death and Life of Great American Cities

While my beloved JJ is writing, in particular, about cities, I think many of her ideas apply equally to small town and rural settings. New Ruralism is as applicable as New Urbanism for creating usable, meaningful public spaces, and associated public life, that suit a variety of purposes for people at varying stages of their life. It is not an ‘and/or’ proposition, but about enrichment for all a place’s inhabitants. Rural towns and villages die out because they lack the economic and social opportunities that cities provide. They decline precisely because they lack vigour and vitality, they age, they become moribund and many lose their context, becoming a mere footnote in history where once they were rooted in the economic and social fabric.

I personally choose life over death.

According to Jacobs, public parks have the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the life of a community or create a resource-sucking dead zone of nothingness. Her principles of creating well-used and consequently, well-loved, community parks not for “mythical uses” set out by city planners or nostalgic public officials or others, but for real citizens with real needs include:

  • Placing the parks in the heart of the community, in plain view not tucked out of sight. “Even the same person comes for different reasons at different times; sometimes to sit tiredly, sometimes to play or to watch a game, sometimes to read or work, sometimes to show off, sometimes to fall in love, sometimes to keep an appointment, sometimes to savour the hustle of the city from a retreat, sometimes in the hope of finding acquaintances, sometimes to get closer to a bit of nature, sometimes to keep a child occupied, sometimes simply to see what offers, and almost always to be entertained by the sight of other people.”
  • Placing them in mixed-use areas where residents of all ages and needs have different schedules and will use the park at different times of the day and week and for different purposes. “…in real life only diverse surroundings have the practical power of inducing a natural, continuing flow of life and use.”;
  • Creating spaces that abet their purposes, either generalized or specialized. This includes design considerations such as “intricacy, centring, sun and enclosure.” What makes spaces interesting and suitable for different people and purposes?;
  • Focusing less on “generalized” park spaces, which may serve no one well, and offer “demand goods,” which offer people specific reasons to use to the park and the appropriate spaces to meet those demands. These might include, for example, a ball diamond or cricket pitch, a pool, a communal fire pit, bocce or tennis courts, community food gardens and all manner of special events like concerts and theatre productions (with or without a bandshell), skating parties, specialty food events and other non-generic events with a strong hook to draw people in in a meaningful, interesting and engaging way, leveraging the uniqueness of the place.

Would it take a significant investment of time and money to make better use of the public park spaces we already have? Some uses would. But like so many things in life, I think the greatest impediment is having a vision and a willingness by community members to shed ingrained beliefs about how communities function. So much is right before our eyes, is doable, and often requires little additional effort beyond our existing expenditures of time or money.

Case in point. Just after 7:00pm on Saturday evening, after shooing out fifty bbq guests, I walked down our front path and turned onto the mainstreet that runs the length of our village. I was taken aback by the number of cars parked up and down the road and, as I came closer to the park, the overflow onto every sidestreet in the village. My heart skipped a beat when I heard the actors’ voices and the roar of applause streaming out of the public park. My guests, a mix of locals and friends from farther afield, had taken up their place in lawnchairs along with about two hundred other attendees for an evening of Shakespearean theatre. The play aside, it what a fantastic opportunity to people watch and provided a rare opportunity to walk to a cultural event instead of being car-bound.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by the number of attendees, but I was. Whenever I plan an event I always have those dreadful butterflies and the sickening feeling of “What happens if nobody shows up?” But people did show up on this gorgeous almost bug-free summer evening to see an outdoor performance of Antony and Cleopatra by Ottawa’s “Company of Fools”. No tickets or RSVP were required (it was pass-the-hat offering), which means that you never know what you’re going to get until you get it. Always a leap of faith.

By all accounts, the evening was a stupendous success.The event cost the community nothing. Not one thin dime. My four kids and our young friend Olivia ushered and handed out programs. I was happy to do the event promotion which amounted to perhaps twelve hours of my time plus the request for permission from Parks Canada. The “Company of Fools” brought their own set and lighting, attendees brought their own chairs, and Paul, our local Lockmaster, ensured the grounds were tidy and the lawns cut. The public gardens at the entrance to the park, conceived and installed a few years ago for the celebration of the 175th anniversary of the Rideau Canal, were immaculately groomed, as they always are throughout the season, by local Greening volunteers.

All the parts were already in place. All it really took was a little vision and one phone call. No committees, no complicated coordinated plan. If Torchlight Shakespeare was possible, what else is possible to leverage our park space and enrich our public life?

Public parks and other community gathering spaces are invaluable for many reasons but, I believe, mainly for this: they are public and therefore owned and usable by anyone. It is a brilliant manifestation of democracy that I hope more individuals will creatively embrace.