Nfld. & Labrador

Property of the past has uncertain future in Salvage

The century-old Pickersgill Premises is up for sale in Salvage, and there's no way to ensure it will be preserved.

Lisa Rae and Peter Pickersgill, both in their 70s, say it's time to move on

People heading to the Pickersgill Premises need a life jacket — it's only accessible by boat. (Drone NL)

A beloved heritage property in the tiny Newfoundland town of Salvage is up for sale, throwing its future into uncertainty.

Lisa Rae and Peter Pickersgill have been maintaining the buildings that now make up the Pickersgill Premises in Salvage for 45 years.

But now it's time for the couple to move on.

'I don’t think I'm a hippie, but things were groovy from time to time,' says Lisa Rae Pickersgill, left. Her husband, Peter, is on the right. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

"The turning point was arthritis in my knee," said Lisa Rae Pickersgill. "I could only do half as much in twice the time and it became too difficult to live here."

"We're in our 70s and we need to simplify our lives."

The Pickersgill Premises, a registered heritage structure, is now on the market. It's unclear whether a buyer — who hasn't yet been found — would keep it up or tear it down.

'It’s a time capsule,' says Lisa Rae Pickersgill, of the Pickersgill Premises. (DroneNL)

"We hope we're going to be talking to people and we'll be able to determine what sort of people they are," said Peter Pickersgill.

But ultimately, there are no regulations ensuring the properties wouldn't be torn down or left to fall by their new owner.

'You learn what is necessary and not necessary'

At one time, the six buildings that make up the Pickersgill Premises were the centre of activity in Salvage, a once-thriving fishing town on the Eastport Peninsula.

The buildings are on the tip of a peninsula that curls into Salvage Harbour. The peninsula used to be the site of Salvage's downtown.

But those downtown houses slowly vanished after the collapse of the fishery, endless ice damage to the bridge connecting the peninsula to the mainland, and resettlement in the 1960s. Now, Salvage has a population of just 174, and all that remains on the peninsula are the buildings in the Pickersgill Premises: two two-storey saltbox houses, three outbuildings and a restored outhouse.  

The Pickersgills turned to DroneNL to help sell their historic properties in Salvage. (DroneNL)

And a cemetery, now home to many of downtown Salvage's former residents.

The two houses were built in 1912 and 1914, by James Burden — a boat builder, civil servant and blacksmith — and by fisherman Andrew Dunn, respectively.

In 1972, Peter and Lisa Rae Pickersgill, both from Vancouver, bought the Dunn house. Three years later, they bought the Burden house.

They've been maintaining all six buildings ever since.

"When we walked in it was a real adventure from the get-go," said Pickersgill. "It was very primitive and very plain."

Pickersgill Premises looks across Salvage Bay to the town of Salvage, which has a population of 174. (DroneNL)

They had to take a boat to and from Salvage because the bridge to the peninsula had long ago been damaged by ice. They used kerosene lamps and hauled all of their water. And they learned to live in a small house divided into many, much smaller rooms.

"It was extraordinary to come here and realize that very large numbers of people lived here in these rooms," said Peter Pickersgill. "You learn what really is necessary and what is not necessary."

The Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador made it a registered heritage structure in 1997.

Good only for commemoration

"The Heritage Foundation's designation actually is a commemorative thing only," said Jerry Dick.

A designated heritage property is only protected if the owner has received a grant for restoration. In that case, the owner has to have any changes to the property approved by the Heritage Foundation and is obligated to maintain the property at a certain standard.

Of the 340 buildings across the province designated by the Heritage Foundation, just over half have this protection. The Pickersgill Premises is one of them.

"But for preservation to really work," said Dick, "the Foundation needs to work with municipalities."

Jerry Dick is the executive director of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)

If consequences from towns or municipalities aren't strong enough, sometimes owners will go ahead with work the Heritage Foundation hasn't approved or take action without their consent, said Dick.

"It really helps if the local town council is aware of the designations," he said.

In St. John's, for example, a registered heritage property has to get permission from city council to demolish, he said. But even that doesn't always work to preserve properties.

Dick points to the Pratt House on Waterford Bridge Road, which was torn down without a permit from council.

"If someone is really determined to do that, they can either demolish them or do demolition by neglect," he said.

"Ultimately, we need people who are going to care about these buildings if they are going to survive."

Small communities have opportunity

But with a bit of planning, said Dick, there can be more than just goodwill helping to preserve these buildings.

Communities can get together and look at buildings they'd like to preserve, said Dick, emphasizing that structures like churches, schools, large residential buildings and government buildings are often of most interest to developers.

"A lot depends on municipalities and whether they're willing to control these sorts of things and enforce whatever heritage bylaws they have," said Dick.

'When we walked in it was a real adventure form the get-go,' said Peter Pickersgill. 'It was very primitive and very plain.' (DroneNL)

He said small communities — even Salvage — might even be in a better position than St. John's to do so.

"There is probably less development pressure, for one," he said, "and they also have a very close eye on what's going on in their community."

'It's the whole feeling'

As far as imagining their property being demolished in favour of a resort, the Pickersgills say they "can't psychologically go there."

The property, they said, are now as much a part of them as of Salvage.

"It's not just the number of years that you punch in, it's the whole feeling," said Peter Pickersgill.

Peter and Lisa Rae Pickersgill. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

There are even little parts of the buildings that Lisa Rae Pickersgill says connect her to its past owners, and to its history.

In particular, there's a spot in the Dunn house — which she calls "Lizzie Mary Dunn's house," after its builder's daughter-in-law, the last Dunn to live in the house before the Pickersgills — where Lisa Rae Pickersgill like to knit and sew. If someone comes out the door, she pins up her working thread or yarn on a certain board, so it's ready for her when she starts again.

Lisa Rae Pickersgill is a former teacher and children's author. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

"When I wallpapered for the last time, I pulled the wallpaper off and there are thousands of pinholes, not just from me, but from Lizzie Mary, and from Lizzie Mary's mother-in-law, and from all the daughters that were raised in this house," she said.

"It's the woman's corner, I felt."

With files from Anthony Germain

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