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At 95, Nestor Kozey still moves whole houses — roof, walls and all

Nestor Kozey, 95, moves as gracefully as a man half his age in safety boots, trudging through mud, climbing in and out of excavators and up and down basement steps as part of a job he's done for 72 years — moving whole houses.

Kozey still runs, plays baseball and gets his hands dirty like a man half his age

'There's nothing wrong with running and dropping dead'

3 months ago
Duration 0:41
Nestor Kozey, 95, said he's never been one to sit around with nothing to do.

Nestor Kozey may be 95, but he's far from frail. 

In a bulky pair of safety boots, Kozey moves as gracefully as a man half his age, trudging through mud, climbing in and out of excavators and up and down basement steps to personally examine the cribs, shims and steel beams he and his team will use to move a house — roof, walls and all. 

"I've known some good friends in my life who retire at 65," Kozey said in an interview in the village of Currie, Ont. "Then it seems to me they start walking slow right after that because they might get a heart attack.

"Well, you might get a heart attack no matter what you do — that's just the way it is," the resident of the village of Princeton, Ont., said.

Kozey started 7-decade career in 1950

With a mindset like that, it's no wonder Kozey hasn't stopped moving. He started in the structural moving business in 1950 and hasn't stopped since — not that he's ever had a shortage of work. 

Nestor Kozey, 95, stands in the basement of an Ontario country home he's been hired to move. Kozey has been a structural mover since 1950. He still plays baseball and when he finally retires, he plans to build a custom motorhome. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"I have never had an ad in the newspaper in my life and I have always had more than I can do," he said. "It's just word of mouth from one person to another." 

Word of mouth is how Susan Start, who owns the Ontario farm where Kozey is working on his latest structural move, first heard about him.

Eleven years ago, Kozey was the talk of town after he moved a historic pre-Confederation Methodist church through the nearby community of Norwich. 

"He was 83 when he was doing that and I thought that was amazing," she said. "He's just remarkable.

"He doesn't look a bit like he was 95. I might guess he was 80 plus, but not 95. It's just an honour to meet him and see him work in close quarters."

That sense of respect, appreciation and awe might partly explain why Kozey is at it, helping people land their dream home, so long as they're willing to move it to the next town.

"You can come back five years later, you meet them on the street or whatever and they're still appreciative. It really makes you feel good." 

'Good homes' no match for bulldozers, bureaucrats

In a province gripped in a housing crisis where the average price of a home topped $1 million in February and there are calls for sweeping reform to rein in unchecked price growth, Kozey doesn't understand why it isn't easier to do his job.

He rescues perfectly good homes that stand in the way of the rapidly expanding suburbs so they can be moved to a place where someone else can use them. 

WATCH | Nestor Kozey, 95, speaks about why more people don't move homes:

'Good homes' are no match for bulldozers and bureaucrats

3 months ago
Duration 0:53
Nestor Kozey, 95, says many 'good homes' are wasted because excessive bureaucracy makes it too difficult for developers to save them.

Kozey said the cost of a structural move ranges from $20,000 to $80,000 and could preserve a home that would otherwise be knocked down, if it weren't for all the paperwork. 

"The first word is 'no' and then you've got to fight your way through it," he said. "They'll say 'give me two weeks' or 'give me three weeks,' and they'll say 'we need a study of this' or 'a study of that,' and it goes on and on and on." 

Even though the 95-year-old has 72 years of on-the-job experience, he has to wait, sometimes longer than a month, for an engineer's report to confirm what he already knows.

"It doesn't matter. It means nothing anymore. It's just a pattern of bureaucracy you have to go through."

Attempts to retire never took

So what has made him stick with it for so long? Most people retire at 65. Kozey is now 30 years past that and still has at least two more contracts before he finally retires. 

Kozey, left, with his crew in front of a loader as they work to move a house in the village of Currie, Ont., to the next village over. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"I've tried several times to retire," he said. "I can't sit around with nothing to do. I've got to do something." 

Jean, his wife of 65 years, passed away in 2013. Since then, Kozey has kept busy in his personal life, playing cards with the neighbours and regularly volunteering at his hometown history museum in Princeton.

He's also left his mark on the community by advocating for a local social hall and building a community baseball park. 

Kozey said he will eventually give up the house moving business, but only after he's completed the contacts he's already signed. 

"I've already got a contract signed for two more. I have to finish them. I intend to finish them, unless I die."

As for his next project, Kozey said he wants to build a custom motor home. Once it's finished, he'll use it to visit his extended family, who live all over the country from B.C. to Halifax. 

He realizes he probably doesn't have much time left, but that doesn't bother him. 

"I'm 95 you know," he said. "I don't worry about it. I don't have any concern about 'it's a waste of time,' I don't care. I'm going to enjoy doing it." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colin Butler

Reporter

Colin Butler covers the environment, real estate, justice and urban affairs for CBC News in London, Ont. He is a veteran journalist with 20 years' experience in print, radio and television in seven Canadian cities. You can email him at colin.butler@cbc.ca.

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