Forty years and thousands of bottles later, Cap-Egmont attraction celebrates milestone

The famous Bottle Houses in Cap-Egmont P.E.I., celebrated 40 years on Saturday with a birthday party.

‘I never thought of how long it was going to be here ... hopefully it will be here for a long time yet'

The first bottle house on the property, pictured here, was built in 1980. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

It all started when Rejeanne Arsenault brought photos of bottle houses in British Columbia back to show her father in P.E.I. 

"He's just said  ... 'If they can do it there, I should be able to do it here.'"

Edouard Arsenault went on to build three bottle structures, the first one in 1980, on his property.

They are still standing 40 years later and have become an integral part of the Cap-Egmont community in the Evangeline Region. The owners of the attraction held a birthday party for the structures on Saturday.

"I never thought of how long it was going to be here," said Rejeanne Arsenault, Edouard's daughter. "It was just there. And hopefully it will be here for a long time yet.

"It gives us an occasion to gather and to mingle with other people, and a lot of the community have come out this morning so that's special because they played a role in this project."

Rejeanne Arsenault, the daughter of the man who built the houses, says she tells young people the houses are proof they should follow their dreams. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

The community helped her father collect the bottles, said Arsenault. 

"That's a question I've been asked a couple of times, 'Did your father drink all of that?' And I usually just start smiling … and say if he had I don't think he would have done what he did."

Her father started collecting bottles from the legion, dance halls and dumps in the area starting in the fall of 1979, said Arsenault. Word got around and people from the community started bringing their own bottles to help out. 

"Ever since then … the attraction has grown and has become an icon, in a sense, to the tourism industry on P.E.I. So I feel that we've contributed back to the community," she said.

Edouard Arsenault died in 1984.

Rejeanne Arsenault ran the business from 1988 until three years ago when she decided to retire.

She said her favourite memory was when she was having dinner with a friend in the area. Arsenault had her car parked out front with a sticker promoting the houses on it.  

"All of a sudden there was a knock on the door and it was this couple, they had flown from Alaska … to see the Bottle Houses. They had a private plane, they had landed in Summerside and she was turning 65," said Arsenault.

Thousands of bottles are the walls of each of these structures, held together by concrete. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

"She told me, 'Well, last year my husband was 65 and his wish was to see the Grand Canyon.' Now, to me, that was kind of, 'Wow, she was choosing us while he had chosen the Grand Canyon.'"

Arsenault thought about selling the houses when she retired, but she wanted them to stay in the community. 

When neighbour Angie Cormier called her out of the blue one day to ask if she would consider selling, it caught her off guard. 

Remain in the community

"So I called her one day and said, 'Are you selling the place?' And she was like, 'Where did you hear that?' Because it wasn't public ... and I felt like I had offended her," said Cormier. 

According to Cormier, Arsenault called back the following day.

"And, she said, 'The reason I reacted that way, is I had prayed really, really hard last night to my dad to send me a buyer, someone who would keep the spirit of the place going and the heart of the place. And then you just called me," Cormier said.

Angie Cormier now owns the Bottle Houses. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

"So … we really felt there was a connection there or something important that had happened, and it went from there."

This is Cormier's third year of owning the Bottle Houses. She said she plans to keep the property for as long as possible.

She hopes she can pass it down to her children, or Arsenault's children, keeping it a part of the Cap-Egmont community for years to come. 

For Arsenault, the Bottle Houses are a testament to what can be accomplished if someone puts their mind to something. 

"I usually tell young people if you have a dream or a project in mind don't give up," she said. "Let it go and create it. And that's what my father did. He was 66 and spent four years, the last four years of his life, doing something that lasts."

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