'Preserving a memory': What happens to great old houses when they become too big?
People across New Brunswick are repurposing old homes into apartments, businesses and office space
One of New Brunswick's finest features are the old, elegant houses at the centre of many towns and cities.
But what happens when those charming houses become too difficult to maintain or too expensive to keep up?
For Sara Sparks, selling has become the only viable option, and it wasn't an easy decision.
"Once it's gone, it's gone," she said.
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Sparks is a descendent of Arthur Hill Gillmor, a politician who served as an MP and senator. In 1846, he built a 17-room house for his wife in St. George, about 75 kilometres southwest of Saint John.
In March, Sparks will put the house on the market because it's too difficult to care for, with most of her great-great grandfather's descendents living in Western Canada.
"To maintain a house of this size from the other side of the country is too much," she said.
The owners haven't settled on an asking price, but Sparks said it would probably be around $300,000.
She's hoping the house will go to someone with imagination.
She would like to see it turned into a restaurant or coffee shop, or have its bedrooms used for craft craft stores.
The ambience of the home would also make for a great mini-mall, which would also boost local economy, she said.
"These are one of a kind," she said of New Brunswick's old houses. "They're not making any more of them."
Old homes in Fredericton
About once a year, Karen Syroid of Gardiner Realty Royal LePage sees an historic home go on the market in Fredericton.
They can be hard to sell because of cost, upkeep and today's smaller families.
While some buyers might live in the old homes, others turn them into apartments, bed and breakfasts, or office buildings.
"It's kind of a marriage of wanting to operate a business in the downtown core, while preserving the congruent look and feel of the historic downtown," she said.
Last year, Syroid was able to tour the home of her grandmother Barbara Likely at 736 King St., also known as Edgecombe house.
The house has been repurposed and is now the Office of the Integrity Commissioner.
"I could picture what a life was like for my grandmother growing up," she said.
Syroid said this type of repurposing makes sense in a city like Fredericton because it's "preserving a memory."
"If the alternative is that that's torn down and an apartment building is put up, as someone whose family has lived here for generations, that would be hard to let go of that piece of history."
Old home 'a jewel'
Gallery 78, also known as the Crocket house, in Fredericton isn't your typical art gallery.
A house was built on the Queen Street property in 1898 and changed hands over the years.
Dr. Ashburnham Pierce Crocket bought the property in 1921 and lived there with his wife Alma Mary (Gibson) Crocket for 40 years. She was the granddaughter of Alexander Gibson, who was also the founder of Marysville.
Between 1962 and 1964, the building was bought by the province and turned into offices for the New Brunswick Travel Bureau.
"People will come in and visit and say, 'Oh, I had an office on the third floor,'" said Germaine Pataki-Thériault, managing director of Gallery 78.
"We also have people come in and say they knew the house when the Cockets lived here."
In 1989, the building was renovated and became the new home of Gallery 78.
"You can imagine what a piece of art would look like in your home based on what it looks like here," Pataki-Thériault said.
Many people who walk into the heritage building marvel that it's not a commercial gallery with white walls and more of an "industrial setting." She describes the house as an inviting space, particularly with the old wooden staircase in the entryway.
"It is a jewel outside and it is a jewel inside," she said.
A mark of history
Fredericton isn't the only area with a passion for old houses.
In the summer of 2017, Brittney Toner decided to buy a historic home in Woodstock to build her event-planning business, Panoramic Events Inc.
She eventually settled on the old Bennett house, formerly known as the Bennett House Bed & Breakfast. It's a two-storey classic revival home that sits on the corner of Main and Cross streets downtown.
The house, also designated as a local historic place, was built in 1878 as an Anglican rectory. It was rebuilt in 1882 after a fire that destroyed downtown Woodstock in 1881.
Woodstock is New Brunswick's first town and we pride ourselves in the history and the heritage.- Brittney Toner, business owner
"It's a historic mark in our community and it's been kept up," Toner said.
While there are many old homes in the New Brunswick town, this one caught her eye.
"When I first walked into the building I felt like I got a hug," she said.
Toner's favourite part is the entryway, with an original tin ceiling, and the mahogany china cabinet that sits down the hall.
She uses part of the home as storage and inventory for weddings and the other half to host events birthdays, bridal showers and other events. The house is also used as her own private office space.
She's also updated the old house by winterizing the windows and she replaced the boiler in January.
Toner hopes to turn the space into a bed and breakfast eventually or into a clothing boutique.
"Woodstock is New Brunswick's first town and we pride ourselves in the history and the heritage," she said.