From the City to the Bush: Our First Summer

We made it through our first year!

It seems like a lifetime now, but a year and a half ago, my late husband and I first decided to move from our home of 16 years in Toronto to a large acreage in Northern Ontario. We talked at length about the transition from the city to the bush. We realized that it would probably take a full calendar year – firsthand experience with each of the four seasons – before we would really have a handle on what we had gotten ourselves into. Without his humour, his love and, frankly, his muscle, the challenges of each season have indeed proven to be more than I expected when I first signed on.

Back in Toronto, in the wake of my husband’s sudden passing and the early days of my grief, I put one foot in front of the other, far too busy with the move and all the paperwork that attends death to think about the work ahead. I only longed to be in nature where I could heal.

My then seven-year-old son and I arrived towards the end of July, shell-shocked and heartbroken, yes, but also gobsmacked by the natural beauty that surrounds us. Our arrival was also a bit of a rude awakening. I scanned the mess on the property left by the previous owners: heaps of garbage, decaying machinery, stacks of old tires, overgrown trails and dead trees. And then there was the unfinished state of the house. I’ll never forget the looks on family and friends’ faces when they saw it for the first time. It wouldn’t have been a big deal with my husband here – he was very handy – but, well…

In the time before school started, I spent my mornings being productive and afternoons noodling around the property and the area with my son. We visited every hardware store, chip truck and ice cream shop within an hours’ drive. We hung out at the beach and even drove two hours for a private, invite-only music festival in Haliburton. We ventured down a gravel road that looked for all the world like a shortcut on the map, only to find that it degraded into a mucky, messy trail through a swamp. (I later learned that my neighbours did the exact same thing when they first arrived eight years ago.)

My son got a tire swing, two puppies and a cat to help smooth the transition to a world that was vastly different from the only home he had ever known. The timing for adding three new animals to the household was less than ideal, but it was a promise that I just couldn’t break given everything my little boy was going through. The parrot we’ve had for 18 years didn’t seem to mind – he was grooving on the amazing view.

I set up my son’s temporary, pre-renovation bedroom:


I worked to get a new roof put on the house:


I had the fallen-down deck removed from the back of the house where it had been left to rot after collapsing under the weight of snow years ago. Not to mention hiring a crane to move the gazebo that stood precariously on broken concrete pillars, held up only by a 2×4, before it could squash my child or the animals.


I consulted contractors about the safety of the house (my son’s bedroom floor was bouncy) and got quotes for renovations.

Seriously, check out these stairs: 20150814_123622

Now, imagine carrying a laundry basket up and down – well…up…picture carrying folded laundry up the stairs. I threw the dirty laundry down.


Amidst our mourning and the work and the worry, we had campfires as often as we could. My boy – so much his father’s son – was skeptical at first, but finally pretty impressed that his mom could start a campfire and carve a marshmallow-roasting stick.


Those first few months were about getting settled into our new life, of course, but also forging a new dynamic with just the two of us. There were arguments and tears, but laughter and smiles and cuddles, too.

Also, banana bread.


The Story So Far

Happy Spring! We are at the beginning of the fourth season in our new home and time seems to be flying by. We’ve come a long way in the nine months since we first arrived and I have a true sense of accomplishment from improvements to the property and the challenges we have met head on.


We first arrived at the end of July to find the property in an absolute mess. The previous owners had not finished cleaning up three decades’ worth of garbage, the roof on the house clearly could not handle another winter, and the collapsed deck in the back was an accident waiting to happen. Also, the inside of the house was…well…let’s just say I didn’t post any interior shots to Facebook because I didn’t want to send friends and family into a panic about our well-being.

Daunting, yes, but I knew there would be challenges when I decided to go ahead with the move. So, I rolled up my sleeves and tackled the issues one by one.

The first handyman I hired did not work out. It didn’t take a genius to realize that I was nothing but a cash cow to him. In a couple of months, the only job he actually completed was replacing a couple of rotten boards on the porch. Whenever I asked him to do something, his response was to “mansplain” why it wasn’t a good idea. He was also great at finding new jobs to start that I hadn’t asked for and wouldn’t shut up about religion.

I didn’t fire him right away because I still needed him to winterize my water (he never did). The final straw came when my roofer, Rob, quietly asked me one day what I was paying that guy for. Apparently, when Rob and I negotiated the price for the roof, my handyman sidled up to him afterwards to ask, “Did you get anything for me?”

Hmm. Taking advantage of a widow with a small boy doesn’t seem very Christian to me.

We got off to a bit of a shaky start, but I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished in the first nine months. With a new, metal roof and a wood delivery, we were ready for winter by mid-November.


The deck got cleaned up and the scrap wood sorted for future projects (tree house!). I leaned on the previous owner until he took away most of the garbage. The interior renovations are about halfway complete, with the second round starting as I write this. I experienced some issues with my water over the winter months and can say that I understand my water system much better now – a summer project will be fixing the idiosyncrasies that led to the problems in the first place.

I also learned how to drive a snowmobile. So much fun.

2016-04-19 12.37.19

And then, there’s this guy.

snow day

A lot of work still needs to be done, and I don’t expect that to change with a large property. But, we’ve settled into a nice rhythm and I’m excited about the future and new projects. First order of business, a garden!