Friday, December 22, 2023

New Beginnings: River Rat 101

New Beginnings, here. - Tentative house name: 'The Gate House' ...

Wrapping up 2023 now. It’s been another busy year, another full year of sorting and settling after dear old mum died in February of 2022. During 2023, my siblings and me closed up mum’s (and dad’s remaining) estate. 

The most important item to sort out, pack-up, close down and tune-up was our family farm of 70+ years. We sold it in February. (I described some of that ordeal in my prior blog post.) Then, soon after it closed in early April, on June 1st, I moved from the area of my youth around the Canadian side of Lake Ontario, to the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, in Eastern Ontario.

I had started to look for a place years earlier. In the fall of 2021, I found a lovely century-old stone house on-line. Quirky and quaint, I loved it at first sight. But it was just waaaay too expensive and, at that time, to my mind, too far away, on the St.Lawrence River, near Brockville. I book-marked it and would, after many more hours of searching and seeking, always come back to it …

In spring of 2022, the price dropped, but it was still too expensive for me. I continued to bookmark it and just kept looking elsewhere in my comfortable price range. I looked at Parry Sound, Simcoe County, the village of Dundas, Huntsville, etc. Nothing appealed or enticed enough to pursue. 

The book-marked house came to represent everything I was looking for. Something quaint, with character and close to a small town. My hunt continued

In the fall of 2022, there was another price drop on the stone house. (!?!!) I contacted the realtor and expressed interest. She said to come in with a firm offer. She also said the absent owner was VERY keen to sell … I juggled the numbers again, and knew I still couldn’t do it sensibly. Not yet.

A month later, the property was removed from the market. Saddened, I asked the realtor if it had sold? 

When she said no, I was elated, but, wary too, now what? Maybe they decided not to sell it at all? The realtor said the owner hadn't decided to re-list, but if they did, it would go back on in the late spring.  I let that info simmer for another few weeks ... What if someone else got it? I'd kick myself. 

With the confirmation of the sale of our family farm I knew I could finally make a solid offer. I would be able to purchase it, mortgage free.

Remember, I’d never been to the house, I'd only seen it on-line …

I put in a lower-than-list offer, juggled a bit with the owner and got a provisional ‘yes’. I still needed to confirm a few things from my end, (electrical? plumbing? location?). A friend of mine from Ottawa went down to look at it in the middle of winter. He sent photos and video clips showing the good, bad – and the downright ugly. (Yes, there were a few surprises: the garage was a disaster area … .) 

All and all, though, it had 'good bones' and I went for it. 

I was granted full possession on June 1st, 2023. 

For the intervening five months, from February to June, while still wrapping up our family farm for the new owners, I also knocked down and packed up all my worldly belongings. Two large storage lockers were jam-packed with 'my stuff'. 

The move itself was two-fold, with three separate deliveries. Me, my car and my apartment came down on June 1st. The storage items from the farm came a week later. My art works came in late August (after the loft over the garage had been dry-walled and new steps built.) All told, moving & storage cost $10K over 8 months!! 

The next seven months on site were spent --  (literally!) - pulling it all together. (See BEFORE & AFTER shots at bottom of this post.) 

My first - and last! -  home needed a HUGE amount of TLC !! Immediate improvements included: new plumbing and rebuild of the kitchen-sink, new upstairs bathroom (stripped out the painted jet tub and black walls ...  yuck), tore out old carpets and stripped down 2/3rds of the upstairs flooring, installed a new support beam in the basement. Hired a great crew to re-asphalting half of the washed-out driveway and I redesigned the walkway with packed gravel. Paint racks were installed. New locks were installed. Overgrowth around the 40 foot, turn-of-the-century in-ground pool was cut back HARD. Shrubs and massive overhanging hickory trees were cut down. (In the course, discovered and kept the entangled wisteria and a beautiful bushy ‘mock orange’!) Concrete pool pads were ‘lifted’ 3-5” to get them level. Existing garden beds were pruned HARD too. New beds were established at the front and side of house. Top soil was added as needed everywhere. (I'll likely still need another load in spring 2024.)   

In November, a new back-deck (with a soon-to-be 25 ft clothesline) was built in the private garden area behind the house. When snow hit in early December, jobs were finished-up outside. Inside, the third bedroom was painted and wall-papered, the library and office were painted. 

My books will be moving into the library soon. It’s now December 22nd and I’m ALMOST done for this year!! 

Video of Garage Interior - BEFORE ...

Yes, it’s been very busy. Disorientating and busy. Productive and busy. Discombobulating and busy. 

But now, this lovely little house, steeped in history and ROOTED for centuries to this location, is mine. This charming home on 1.5 acres - with St. Lawrence River access - is perfect for me. It's got plenty of character, charm and quirkiness too. (Hey, who's got a root cellar these days??) There are still a gazillion things to do over the decades ahead. But, lucky for me, this is my retirement ‘place’, my little piece of heaven. (It will likely be, at times, my own little patch of hell too!)

In the meantime, after a very busy year of re-locating my entire life, I am finally settled. 

... Next year, I will be getting my art studio and my new gardens up and running … 

O’JOY!!  REALLY -  O’JOY!!!! 

I cannot wait to start LIVING here now … It really is a MERRY Christmas, for me. A Blessing. 

I hope Christmas is a Blessing for you too. 

Ho!Ho! :)

- Margaret Lindsay Holton


A collection of photos follow that show some of the BEFORE and AFTER. (It's a bit random ,but you'll get the idea.)


Missing some pipes ... !!!

Demo - repair and replace rotten floor, cabinet and pipes ...

Upstairs black bathroom ... yuck.

Painted jet tub removed. Demo to the stone walls

Back kitchen steps

Back garden door, sill, steps and railing - repaired/removed

Living Sun Room. Photo from last winter ... Paint & Res

Front Hall and Empty Front Room - to be my library ...

Side Entrance in rough shape, overgrown, ragged ...

Upstair floors in bad shape - Stripped, refinished 'natural'.

Grass Entrance to Front door plywood steps ...



Kitchen Painted & Steps wallpapered

Energy Audit ... Improvements made!! 

New Siding, Flashing, Soffits and Evestroughing ...

Dysfunctional antenna removed ...

After dry-wall, newly built art storage racks put in studio.

Ist bedroom - colour and wallpaper

Art loft in-progress, mid July

Diningroom painted ... chatreuse green!

MLH paints 'Elizabethan' stencil on marked dining room floor

Start of Back Deck in Walled-in Garden

New and FIRST sofa - assembled by yours truly :)

Cladding complete

Cleared timber used as garden bed 'frame'

Sun Room - overlooking walled garden ...

New drive and walk way PACKED down

Trees had to be trimmed away from garage - and pool.

Second Room  - The Guest Room - DONE!!

New Loft Stairs Built

About to paint the ceiling in 1st bedroom

Just finished wallpapering this stairwell ...

The mighty St.Lawrence River

Kitchen Door stripped and new hardware added ...

Lifting the concrete around the pool

New Garden Gate

My office - painted and functional.

3rd Bedroom ALMOST done ...

MLH Design - Mug Rack in Pine

MLH Stargazer Garden Bench in new side patio area

Garden Beds - reinforced with Stone salvaged from sides

Cladding in action ...

Floors refinished upstairs

NEW and beautiful bathroom!!!

River View from Upstairs - after Cutting & Pruning

Flashing around all windows

Sprite can left on chimney after tuck-pointing .... Removed.

First year Christmas Decor - added to new chandelier in dining!