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'I'm not a bricklayer, I'm not a cement guy, it just happened': P.E.I. man builds village out of bottles

A retired school bus driver on P.E.I. has built a small village in his backyard made of empty bottles and cement — everything from a church and a school to a sports centre.

Gar Gillis built everything from a church, a sports centre and even a Green Gables replica

The bottle village is located at the end of Point Prim Road, not far from the Point Prim lighthouse. It gets about 5,000 visitors a year. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Gar Gillis has gone through thousands and thousands of wine and beer bottles since he opened his bottle village in Point Prim, P.E.I. fifteen years ago.

"I can honestly say I never drank one of them because it's 40 plus years since I drank," said Gillis.

Most of the empties come from his neighbours, and from the nearby Chowder House restaurant.

A P.E.I. man cements thousands of empties into a bottle village 0:53

'Mine's a Volkswagen'

Gillis, a retired school bus driver, got the idea for his bottle village after visiting the original bottle houses in the province's Evangeline region. 

"I consider hers is a Cadillac, mine's a Volkswagen," said Gillis.

The little village in Point Prim has eight buildings, including a tea room, sports centre, school and even a lighthouse — all made of bottles cemented together.

"The first thing you've gotta do is make a good foundation," said Gillis.

 "And then I'll stick a bottle there, put a little more cement, more bottles and that's how it goes."

The Anne of Green Gables House is named after Gillis's sister, Anna Lee. Admission to the bottle village is by donation. So far, Gillis has raised more than $20,000 for IWK. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Gillis said he just learned to build just by doing.

"I'm not a bricklayer, I'm not a cement guy. It just happened," he said.

"If an expert came along, he'd say, 'Oh my God. That looks terrible.' But most people think it's pretty nice."

The first structure Gillis put up back in 2002 was a building he called Noah's church after his grandson.

And then more relatives decided they also wanted buildings named after them. 

A look inside the Anne of Green Gables house. Gar Gillis actually counts every bottle he uses, and so far he's cemented more than 20,000 into his eight buildings. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"Our granddaughter Sydney, she wanted one so I built the Sydney General Store. And then Noah's older brother said, 'Hey, you got one for Noah, one for Sydney, I want one.' So I built the schoolhouse. And then it just kept going," said Gillis.

'You should open this for a business'

At first, visitors could walk through his bottle creations for free. 

"After I had the third one built, tourists would be driving by and they'd come in and say, 'My, you should open this for a business.'" 

Gillis wasn't fussy about that suggestion. "If you open a business, there would be so many regulations, so I didn't want the hassle of that."

Gar Gillis named Norman's lighthouse after his late father. 'It's pretty hard to do the lighthouse, make it a circle and going up and getting smaller as you go up. So the lighthouse if you look closely, it's imperfection." (Pat Martel/CBC)

Instead, he decided to donate the money to the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.  

"So far, it's over $20,000," said Gillis.

'Thankful that I could help somebody'

Knowing he is helping the IWK gives Gillis a good feeling.

"They do wonderful work and I know this young fella just over in Pinette here, a couple of years ago on New Year's Eve, he was diagnosed with cancer," said Gillis.

"But he got over there and they cured him, so just thankful that I could help somebody."

There are 2,214 bottles in Noah's church, including the bottles used to make the cross. The church is named after Gillis's grandson. (Pat Martel/CBC)

As soon as the snow melts in the spring, until the late fall, Gillis is working in his village.  He's not sure how much time he spends on his hobby.

"Oh my God. I never really kept track of the hours, but some mornings in the summertime I'm out here at 5:30 in the morning mixing cement."

Gillis doesn't believe in sitting around the house in his retirement years. 

"You gotta keep doing something or if you're not, you're gonna end up six feet down," he said.

Gar Gillis rings the bell outside the schoolhouse. Gillis went to a one-room school in Point Prim for eight years. The bell was given to him by a former teacher. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Gillis is already working on his next project — a giant Christmas tree. 

"A round Christmas tree 14 feet high. Next year, who knows?" he said. 

'I can keep on building as long as I can'

Gillis hopes to continue building his glass and cement miniatures.

"I've got 17 acres and the Chowder House guy gives me all his bottles. No problem getting bottles, so I can keep on building as long as I can."

'Years ago in the one room school house, it had the windows all on the south side, to let the sun light in and to heat the place up. So I have 5 windows on the south side,' says Gillis. (Pat Martel/CBC)

And Gillis hopes the donations keep coming. 

"When I started first, I set the goal at $10,000," he said.

"But now I'm shooting for $50,000 before I leave this world. And I think I'll hit it."

Gar Gillis just finished his latest creation, a Christmas tree made from bottles. (Submitted by Gar Gillis)

A few years ago, Gillis put in a guest book for people to leave comments.

"One person, they signed it two years ago, and they found it, 'One of P.E.I.'s hidden treasures.'"

About the Author

Pat Martel has worked with CBC P.E.I. for three decades, mostly with Island Morning — from a writer-broadcaster to a producer. This year, Pat joined the web team with an eye to create great video. Pat also runs an adult coed soccer league in Stratford. He always welcomes great story ideas that are visually appealing. pat.martel@cbc.ca