CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Every house has a story

“You get into the rhythm of this place and leaving becomes hard to fathom,” my American neighbour says one afternoon as we’re standing on her lawn and watching the ocean for whales. She tells me that she’s extended her stay by a week, sensing that she wouldn’t be ready to go when the time came.

I know what she means. Today I am repacking the detritus of my life, my animals, and my husband and driving back to town. I am slowly and reluctantly shaking off that rhythm along the way.

What I’ll take with me are the stories I heard — the human narratives behind the realty signs that dot this landscape.

Two weeks ago, a handmade ‘for sale’ sign went up on a house here in the Cove. The price tag was $15,000. My visiting parents and in-laws from Ontario excitedly ran down the hill to check it out, but the sign had already been removed.

1. Realtor Sign in Bonavista.JPGMany buildings are advertised through realtors based in St. John’s, like this house in Bonavista that recently sold for about $30,000

Later, I learn that the sign was a prank pulled by the owner’s (clearly very sophisticated) six-year-old grandson. However, the house really did sell — to Jenn Brown, 24, the owner’s daughter. (Like the grandson, I can only speculate on the price-tag.)

Jenn is young, and employed in the arts, but by working with a local bank and counting every penny she was able to purchase her father’s family home where she was raised. The house sits at the foot of Brown’s Road, which is not indicated on any sign post, but locally named for the Browns that populated this hill for over a century. It’s a historical lineage that persists with this recent real estate transaction.

Then there’s the seemingly abandoned yellow house on the other side of the Cove. It has a rather dramatic tilt. One neighbour tells me that you have to tie the kettle to the stove when making tea. Still, it has a lovely steep roof and saltbox shape with two structurally sound outbuildings. We’ve inquired, and, it’s not for sale.

2. The other side.JPGThe community is small, but it takes months to meet all the residents in Upper Amherst Cove

I think of the artist I met from Ontario who’d left a note tacked to the door of a different falling-down yellow house expressing her interest in purchasing the place. It was a whim she quickly forgot until the phone call came a year later: If you want it, it’s yours. Now it doubles as her summer home and studio.

Remembering the artist’s story, I sit down and write a note: Dear Yellow House Owner: If you ever decide to sell your home, please contact us. We spent the spring and summer of 2010 here in Upper Amherst Cove and we were married on the flat rocks by the shoreline. We are very interested in purchasing this house.

3. Handwritten For Sale Sign.JPG A handwritten ‘for sale’ note posted at the King’s Cove Liquor Express

I haven’t seen any sign of life at the yellow house, and the owners might not visit for another ten years. But a lot can change in that time — the market could tank, inflate or level off, and by then we’ll have paid off our student loans and be in a position to buy property.

Or maybe this is the end of the yellow house’s story, and over the years it will continue to sink into the ground until the floor finally cracks and you can no longer open the door.

4. Yellow house.JPGThis yellow house is not for sale although several people have inquired

A different kind of spontaneous commitment

August 9, 2010

While peering into the lives of summer home owners, I can’t help but entertain a few real estate fantasies of my own. In the past a PhD salary might cover a little saltbox by the sea, but these days it won’t even get you a rubber dinghy. So, the Arctic Scientist and I choose to make a different kind of spontaneous commitment here in the Cove: we decide to get married.

The first step is to track down Wesley Shirran, 89, who has been doling out local wedding licenses since 1976. Mr. Shirran lives in a baby blue trailer off Bonavista’s main street. A hand-stenciled sign that reads ‘Justice of the Peace’ is nailed to his white picket fence and all business transactions take place in his rose-coloured back office.

1. Justice of the Peace.JPG A hand-stenciled ‘Justice of the Peace’ sign is posted outside Wesley Shirran’s home in Bonavista..

That the Arctic Scientist happens to be in absentia for this legal transaction is no matter for Mr. Shirran. It’s just another day as his wife cooks a cod’s head dinner while I fill out government forms and forge my future husband’s signature.

When the Arctic Scientist returns we meet our officiator, Chester Stone of Munroe ship building lineage, at the Clarenville Inn to sign forms and discuss wedding day plans. We mention the rigorous trail the procession will follow to reach our chosen point of betrothal. Mr. Stone is game, but his wife is leery. Even behind her Blublocker sunglasses I see her eyes fill with apprehension. This is because Mr. Stone, a retired judge of unknown vintage, needs a new knee. I’m filled with similar concern when I watch him limp off to his car after we’ve handed over our important documents.

Upper Amherst Cove.JPGA field book sketch of Upper Amherst Cove as seen from across Blackhead Bay.

With just a few days left until W-day, we visit Harry Wareham, unofficial mayor of Upper Amherst Cove, to ask if we might borrow his three-wheeled ATV.

“I don’t mean to discourage you two,” Harry says. “But, I don’t think you’ll get a retired judge on the back of a one-person trike. It’s not likely that he’ll agree to participate in an illegal activity.”

rentalhouse.JPGA field book entry listing the details of the summer rental home.

He goes on to point out the dangerous nature of the trail, detailing his own gruesome trike accident this winter from which he’s still recovering. Harry lifts himself from his sofa and with the aid of a walker shuffles over to the front window.

“You could try that trail over there,” he points to a wooded area that tumbles out into a rocky outcrop. “It’s shorter and flatter and you won’t need a trike.”

The trailhead happens to cross the land of the newest home buyers in the Cove - a couple from Ontario. After securing the right-of-way, I hit them up for a post-wedding interview.

When the big day arrives, summer home owners and year-round residents wave from their porches as our tiny procession (two sets of parents, bride and groom) passes below.

trinitydaisies.JPGDaisies in Trinity, a summer home enclave and nice place to visit on your honeymoon.

After the ceremony we pose proprietorially outside the rented summer home that we’ll never own before driving off to Port Rexton — now officially Mr. and Mrs. Arctic Scientist — for a one night honeymoon.

Within a day the news trickles down the Coves and we’re met with congratulations from acquaintances and strangers alike. We won’t stake a property claim here in Bonavista Bay, but at least we’ll leave our story behind.