Thursday, November 5, 2009


Part Five: The Great Cottage Renewal

So I have the building permit in the window, the contractor and I have agreed to a price of around $50,000, and both of us have a clutch of drawings. The ship is launched for the new addition. But watch out for the reefs.
As noisy proof that my new great room will rise soon in front of the old tired cottage, up the lane rumbles the equipment of Darrell Brunton, a local who can peel a hardboiled egg with his power shovel while giving the history of Nappan Island just across the Trent River.
By the end of the day, many shrubs and a tree have been skinned from the cottage and transplanted or mangled. And I wonder, sadly, where the humming birds are going to nest now after undisturbed decades. I rather liked all the greenery in which the cottage roosted, but there was no way anything could be built if the leafy walls remained.
Unfortunately all this created the illusion that the finish line, after so much stalling, was just months away. The reality turned out to be a year before the addition was finished, corrections were made, and we had finished all the other improvements as the renewal kept snowballing. We tackled every problem, even the listing main permanent dock.
Maybe we did the other stuff to kill time when the carpenters disappeared or we waited for deliveries or even new excuses. For example, I remember the night when the electrician missed his long-promised appointment and when we phoned, said he had other work and never even apologized. So Steve Buchanan, the main contractor, did the work, thanks to his rich apprenticeship.
It truly is extraordinary. No matter how much we yarn or joke about it, getting a plumber or a painter to come two days in a row seems an impossible task. They're not even embarrassed. And when they do show, they can arrive late, take a long lunch and leave early, explaining they have to take the boy to ball.And some times the hiccups in their work becomes truly baffling. We had a deck in front of the cottage for weeks without stairs. So Mary wrenched an Achilles' tendon jumping down, meaning she limped through a Russia tour while we wondered if there was any work being done back home.
The problem is obvious. Trades people take on several projects at the same time - because they fear the lean periods - and then fib to everyone that they have no other work. It's standard operation. You call and they lie about coming next week.
You can try being philosophical, saying the best workers always will be the busiest. And there can be good too. They can win you back with careful craftsmanship. In my case, a sensible roof over the door (not in the plans) a pleasant wooden counter for a pass-through between the old and new cottage, and the mantel around the propane fireplace that they created from a picture. (We added it after we got the permit.) Nice work! Then they suggested an additional window, which has worked. They merged a pump house into the new building. And ruling over everything was Buchanan, a talented adviser on colour, walls and flooring.
We had to replace wallboard that rippled because there wasn't a solid base. Their fault . And minor repairs were needed too, but in the end we had a graceful room with an archway into the old cottage and a lovely pine ceiling that is 27' wide and 17' deep. It reaches out to the river with a front wall of six windows, two sliding doors and a deck. When fishing at night on the point, I look back and the great room seems to float in light.
Burnt Point has been transformed. From comfortable dishevelment, with blistered siding and homemade windows, to a main roomy cottage and a bunkie which also has new siding, windows and doors (Ostaco in Markham.) Some environmentalists will grumble that I bought vinyl siding but I saved the old cottage, bunkie and boat house. No waste there. We didn't scrap anything that could be saved, so the old half of the cottage looks like it did when I bought it. And I put a composting toilet in a new small room in the bunkie, and hired Darrell Brunton to come back and give me a new septic field ($2,339) after I got another damned permit ($350) from the conservation authority.
Of course I had to do another site sketch. Thank heavens, my son Brett, armed with his U of T degree in computer science and a couple of decades of tricky programming, kept churning out whatever was the latest sketch or plan needed as we had to complete nine major sets of forms. Occasionally we had to guess at the demand for slope degrees etc. Brett also produced various configurations on his computer, so we could get an idea how things would look and work. I wonder how cottagers without such resources manage to cope. It certainly would add to the cost of construction. As it was, Brett and another son Mark and I did several weeks of work plugging the gaps.Dave Rogers, the building boss, made the last of his three inspections in mid-2008. We were finished, officially. Yet it is only now in 2009 that I feel it's all over. The lot scars have healed and there are flower beds around the new building. There's a wildflower meadow over the septic field, edged by rescued cedar posts and rocks unearthed from the excavation. Even the boat house doesn't lean so much thanks to new studs and beams and a lighter roof. (About $1,000 and a lot of cold work in October.) And its overflow goes to a new tool shed.
Brett even built a treehouse for the grandkids. And they built a chipmunk temple in the Mayan style. More importantly, for t
he women, our only bathroom is new and
looks great. The old one was an embarrassment when we moved in. Even the outhouse looked better.By the time we were done replacing and repairing beyond the new big room, we had spent another $25,000. But the point is now a lovely mix of pleasant old and nice new, which is the way a cottage should be. We built on our past to enjoy our future. And in a few decades our children will do another renewal, and another phoenix will flutter above the point.
One of the nicest tribute came from
the fishermen who love to anchor off my point for the fish who hang just off the main curr
ent. They observed in silence as the trucks came and went. And then came the friendly shouts that they really liked what we had done to the old place. So do the Downings. In the foul fall weather, Mary and I sat in the heat of the fireplace and stared at the waves pounding the point.
We could have been in the mid-Atlantic. There was no thought of going home because now our retreat is one for all seasons. And we no longer
have to procrastinate.

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