Nfld. & Labrador

Newfoundland couple gets their dream home — by moving it on the water

Daniele Penney had a dream of living in one special house in McIvers, Nfld., and wasn't about to let a kilometre of salt water get in the way of making it happen.

House floated and relocated down north shore of Bay of Islands

Daniele Penney and her boyfriend Kirk Lovell got their dream home by moving it about one kilometre down the north shore of the Bay of Islands — a 'nail-biting' effort, she says, that took eight hours and a half-dozen boats. (Submitted by Keith Goodyear)

A scene out of rural Newfoundland history sprang to life on Thanksgiving Monday as a two-storey house bobbed along the Bay of Islands toward a new life on a new shoreline.

From dry land in McIvers — a tiny community on the west coast of Newfoundland — its homeowner could barely watch.

"It was pretty nail-biting, I got to say. I was pretty nervous," Daniele Penney said of the move, which took eight hours and a half-dozen boats.

The nerve-racking move down a one-kilometre stretch of salt water, along the bay's north shore, sprang from a long-held dream. Growing up in McIvers, Penney had always had her eye on the two-storey house with a gorgeous view of the bay and the Blow Me Down Mountains. 

"It was the little green house on the point that I loved," she said. "I talked about it to my friends, my family. Everybody knew that my heart always belonged to this house."

WATCH | Penney's home floats along the Bay of Islands:

Moving house, the old-fashioned N.L. way

2 months ago
Daniele Penney floated her home across about one kilometre of water in the Bay of Islands, carrying on a traditional way of moving in Newfoundland and Labrador. 1:58

Her heart belonged there, but the deed didn't. That changed in June, when Penney found out its owners were planning to tear it down and rebuild in its place. She and her boyfriend, Kirk Lovell, stepped in, proposing to move the house — of the type known locally as a "biscuit box" — instead to their nearby waterfront land.

An overland trip wouldn't work, with too many power lines and other obstacles in the way, but a haul across the water could, they figured. Houses were once often moved by water in Newfoundland and Labrador coastal communities, when the province's road network was less established, with images of floating homes associated with the era of government-sponsored resettlement in the 1960s and '70s. 

Taking on the haul was a gamble, and Penney says, with a laugh, that her sister tried to talk her out of getting the ocean involved. Lovell's brother had recently moved a shed across the water, she said, and combined with other family expertise, they decided to make a go of it. 

"We just said, 'We'll take it and make the best of it. See if it can withstand the water, and if it's meant to be over there, it's meant to be,'" she said Tuesday.

'I really thought she was gone'

Barrels were placed underneath the house, and the structure tied to a metal frame that itself had an extra buoyancy boost from old tires.

Small motorboats both pushed and pulled it toward its destination, but the trip didn't go off without a hitch. At one point, far from land, a corner of the house slid into the water, nearly up to its second storey windows.

The house tipped into the water at one point, but Penney says holes drilled into its flooring allowed the water to seep out without causing extensive damage. (Submitted by Keith Goodyear)

"I really thought she was gone. I really did, when she started to tip," said Penney.

"And then my boyfriend's dory [boat], it broke down, so he was in another big panic … It all happened at once. I figured that we had lost the house."

The haul attracted quite a crowd, and it didn't take long for help to arrive and stabilize the house.

"All of a sudden, there was dories coming from everywhere. The community definitely stepped up to help us get this house over," said Penney, giving thanks for the huge team effort involved in their entire floating operation.

Making history

Watery dramas aside, the house made it to dry land before suppertime — although the house itself is far from dry, as Penney discovered when they inspected the kitchen.

"There was lots of water... when we were pulling out the cupboards, the water was just pouring out of it," she said.

Lovell, left, Penney and their baby Harper are now the happy owners of their dream house. (Submitted by Daniele Penney)

The house had been stripped nearly to the studs prior to the move, and holes drilled in the floor to let water seep out, Penney said, mitigating long-term water damage. She's hoping the entire structure will soon dry out so the couple can begin renovating it into a family home for them and their six-month-old daughter, Harper.

Harper won't remember the big move, but it was the buzz of the north shore of the Bay of Islands on Thanksgiving Day, said Penney — and had everyone talking about the blast from the past.

"I feel like the whole community got to experience, got to go back and see what it was really like for them moving houses," she said.

Penney and her family are living in a camper on their McIvers property while they dig into home renovations. 

"It probably would've been easier to build a new house," she said, laughing.

But having her dream come true was worth it, she said, even if it's still sinking in.

"I still can't believe it's real and it's over there. And you know, we got to witness something. We got to witness history yesterday."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Lindsay Bird

CBC News

Lindsay Bird is a journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, based in Corner Brook.

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