'I'm not a bricklayer, I'm not a cement guy, it just happened': P.E.I. man builds village out of bottles
Gar Gillis built everything from a church, a sports centre and even a Green Gables replica
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.
'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."
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.
"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."
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."
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.
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."
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."
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.'"