The past life of things

Greg and I have a bad way of falling for old things. Anyone who has experienced the basement of our Halifax home knows it to be a reliquary of mismatched chairs, vintage scales, chrome barware, a 1977 Bally Eight Ball pinball machine (that works about half the time) and odds and sods to which one or the other of us has formed an attachment.

Shortly after we bought our first house, Greg spied a cool old pharmacy cabinet among an auction lot from a former military base hospital. His $150 bid scored us the white metal cabinet along with a pallet-load of gear that included an outmoded EKG machine, a blood gas analyser and an ophthalmologist’s chair.

The new property may well be the ultimate extension of many years spent rescuing dubious treasures from junk shops and flea markets. Or perhaps it is simply a place to keep them.

When we first saw the blue house it was sad and empty, the only signs of life a few groceries left behind in the pantry. The home’s previous contents were piled high in the barn, awaiting an auction that must have been terribly difficult for the former owner who had collected in staggering quantities.

The scale of her efforts aside, she was probably not so unlike us, imaging the possibilities of a different life in a little seaside house surrounded by totemic pieces of the past.

In the three months before we took possession of the place, Greg and I devoted an inordinate amount of time to searching out the items that would fill the house up again. Our criteria were twofold: character-rich and budget-friendly.

Among the first finds was a fat, round wooden gear cast, once used to shape foundry molds for molten metal. Greg had no sooner pictured it on the wall of the new living room than it was in the back of his pick-up. An oar with a leather-wrapped handle also met our loose criteria, as did a two-pronged fish fork of the sort Greg’s grandfather once used to unload cod from a Newfoundland fishing boat.

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A horseshoe for luck

Last weekend Greg’s parents, Anne and Gray, stopped by the blue house and red barn to check on progress and deliver lunch. They are pretty taken with the old place though perhaps a little concerned with the scale of their son’s undertaking. So, it’s gratifying to know they see progress where they once saw problems.

Walls have been demolished so sunlight plays throughout the main floor all day; the worst of the crumbling, mildewed plaster is now gone, along with every scrap of carpet and linoleum – thanks in large measure to the able efforts of our friend Gregor and his teenage son Finn.

messy room
Evidence of good friends and hard work

 

Greg’s careful installation of new basement beams has eased the sag of the kitchen floor. Masking tape and figures scrawled on lath boards with carpenter’s pencil show the location of new bathroom fixtures, bigger kitchen windows and patio doors to the water. Read More

Running rum and renovating

In the spring of 1930, past owners of our old house readied to install boldly-patterned lino in large square sheets over the bedroom floorboards. In preparation, they laid down splayed pages of The Halifax Herald, Nova Scotia’s newspaper of record.

The Grey Lady of Argyle Street, as the Halifax Herald was known, was a true broadsheet – its tiny font typeset in dark ink to produce a paper densely packed with the goings on in Nova Scotia and further afield. By April 1930, the paper was already able to boast of its “Fifty-five years in the public service” –   the successful merger of the The Morning Herald and its competitor, The Chronicle.

April 7, 1930 was a big news day. A world away from Halifax, in Dandi, India Mahatma Gandhi had narrowly avoided arrest along with his followers in a protest over India’s salt manufacturing monopoly.

Closer to home, Captain Gerald Lewis blamed the U.S. Coastguard patrol ship Frederick Lee for the sinking of his Lunenburg-based schooner the Aramay. Laden with more than 700 crates of “choice liquors”, the Aramay was either deliberately sunk during seizure or sprung a leak while under Coast Guard tow outside of Boston. Captain Lewis, an unabashed rum-runner, demanded an inquiry and payment for his ship and its lost cargo.

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