Dec. 29, 2015

Not Without Its Challenges / Phase One

In 2003 I think it was, I inquired with the Markham Heritage Board as to whether the house was Heritage Protected.  I was told it was on the List to be Designated, but not Designated yet.  I willfully pursued the Designation and later that year I met the Mayor of Markham and received my plaque, accepting it alone.   Not many individuals would likely want to Designate their home, because it means constrictions on renovations and construction for the future....but I was hellbent on getting it done because preservation is important to me, as is ancestry and our history in general.  I soon learned that the restrictions were not only in place regarding Heritage Buildings, but also, that Bruce's Creek represented Conservation Land.  Another challenge.

Fast forward a few years to 2005, when my marriage fell apart, but by some stroke of bargaining I ended up being able to keep the house.  I know now, that I got the good end of the deal and I will never complain.  But the first six months, when I was a single gal and feeling at rock bottom in my life, I learned really fast that I COULD NOT HANDLE the property, or the maintenance on the house, let alone the bills.  Things slid.  A leaking roof was one little problem.  Poor insulation was another.  A sagging concrete slab in the back that was unsightly and just murder to shovel in winter.   (Thank goodness it was summer!) Chickens and ducks that I loved dearly suddenly became an incredibly onerous task to clean their coop out, never mind the fact that a weasel or something started slowly killing them off.

And then the well dried up.

Enter Aris, a man who would soon come to love the house as much as I did.  Thank goodness for him!  He repaired things, finishing undone projects, helping me paint.   He would fill the fridge when I was traveling so that I'd come home to a stocked pantry, and he would ensure that the (new) wood stove had a roaring fire in it, to welcome me home.  I was traveling widely across the US for my job at AMD, at the time.   

The well went dry as a result of a huge de-watering project that was taking place 3 concessions below, at 16th Avenue.  I was not the only property on the street that was affected, thankfully.  I ended up at a Community Meeting wherein I stood up and demanded reparations, not wanting to accept a HydroGeologist's opinion from anyone that was currently on the Region's Payroll.   I was so very fortunate that they agreed to dig a new well for me. For a while there was a large water tank on the property which I had to pay to have filled. After having free well water for a long time, it was painful to have to pay for water!  Finally, the new well was drilled and I once again had water, from a new acquifer.  The system in the basement looked like something out of Frankenstein's lab, lots of valves and tubes and canisters, including an iron filter, potassium permanganate filter, and a UV light, to get it to potable standards.  The relief was incredible!

Aris helped to get the yard under control, wielding a weed-whacker and restoring the riding lawn mower (it is now over 13 years old and has numerous replacement parts on it but she still goes, and now I know that he has a fetish for lawn mowers).  For another three years, I would remain living at 19th Avenue, and he with his two boys up in Newmarket.  It was not possible for us to live together, so we made it work somehow... not without challenges.

In that first year of us being together, after the paperwork was complete and the house was really mine, I re-financed it to the hilt and pulled a bunch of equity out.  Thus, Phase One was commenced.  And it was no small task.  

Back in 2002, I was convinced that the tin siding on the exterior was not the original cladding that the house would have had, since records had shown it was built in 1865.  I peeled back some of that ugly tin (the kind that came in 20 or 24" interlocking squares, stamped to look like brick) and discovered the 10" wide original boards were still intact and looking in very good shape.  In fact, they even still had a coat of varnish on them.   I promptly attended a Heritage Board meeting and presented my proposal to remove the tin siding, and to restore the wood boards, and add back the missing battens.  They agreed that the original building would have had vertical Board & Batten siding, and approved my request.

The other thing that needed doing was the roof.  There were creatures living inside and the one-way traps really didn't look very aesthetically pleasing!  I was not so thoughtful (or honorable) about the roof, and went right ahead with getting it reshingled, without seeking any approvals.  I put blue shingles on, thinking it would look very quaint and would match the blue trim on the windows beautifully!   The Heritage Board said they would not have approved this, if I had asked permission.   But it was done already so they did not quibble.

And so began the arduous task of removing the old siding.  Our neighbour across the street asked if they could have it, so we had to be careful to keep it in good condition.  I say 'we' when in fact, you can guess who it was who was responsible for this huge job.   Aris spent many days working on getting it removed.   There was a nasty layer of tarpaper underneath it too.  The tin siding that was on the small side of the porch roof was different though, sporting little Maple Leaves, so I decided to leave it there as a special element.

When a house is Designated as Heritage, there are numerous rules, and one of the key ones is that you must use original materials when refurbishing anything.  So all of the new soffit and fascia had to be of wood, and the original 6 over 6 windows could not be changed.  I hired a wonderful guy to do the caulking around these windows and that caulking job has stood the test of time, almost 10 years now.  The glass in these windows is the beautiful, original wavy glass that was prevalent in those days.  

Since I was excited about the project, I contacted the local paper and they ran a story about how I was bringing the John Klein House back to its original look.   It was a proud day indeed, to have my photo in the paper, holding the board with the plaque on it.

A few months and many bucks later, the house had its new wood siding, soffit, fascia, and eaves troughs, a new roof, and a nice big deck out back.    I put it up for sale.   No offers came except one lowball which I promptly rejected!  I was still hopeful so I opted to keep it on the market a little while longer.  That's when a kid that was speeding down the road swerved to avoid a raccoon, and ended up driving through the picket fence, and the front hedge, completely destroying both of them, driving through the side yard and narrowly missing the house, and landing on the other side of the creek.   The For Sale sign was damaged beyond recognition and this was my 'sign' would never be sold.