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Building 1.0

May 21, 2010

My family, along with two other families, share an island just off the north-east shore of Georgian Bay. We…well, my parents…bought it in 1987 on what I can only describe as a whim. You see, my parents moved to Muskoka (with little me) in 1981, where my dad bought a practice from a physician who was more interested in GP psychotherapy than straight family practice. It wasn’t long before they had bought a building lot which was on a lake and 5 minutes from the hospital, built a house that went 100% over budget due to an alcoholic contractor, locked in a mortgage at something like 15% (eek!) and added first my younger sister Rachel (1982) and brother Philip (1986) to the family. In 1987 they had paid off the mortgage by acting as though they were still poor university students and they were finally feeling as though they had found stable ground.

One evening my dad’s cousin David came bursting into the house with marine charts raving about an island that we just HAD to buy. It was owned by a colleague of his, and while David had been there for the weekend it had been revealed that the place was for sale. David couldn’t afford it by himself, and he thought my parents should split it with him. My parents thought this was nuts, since they owned waterfront property in the heart of cottage country, but they agreed to take a look. It was love at first sight. They still couldn’t afford it with just the two couples, so they called one of my dad’s roommates from medical school who had just been saying that he and his wife would love a cottage but that weren’t they kind of people who wanted the responsibility of maintaining one. And so David & Glenna, Joel and Paula and my parents bought Bekanon Island.

It has been 23 years, and Bekanon is now a central character in our family history. We have spent a few weeks there every summer, and it is heaven. It’s a low-tech kind of place: there is no tv, no radio, no electricity (well, there’s a generator for lights at night, but we don’t always turn it on), no dish washer. There has been some technology creep since the introduction of the iPhone, but I refuse to use internet in any form while I’m there. It is a place where you are truly removed from the world, just for a moment, and where you can reflect upon the simple pleasures in life. Family, friends, food, wine, a puzzle on a rainy day, a story read aloud. (We were there for the August blackout a few years back, and when Princess Diana died, and knew of neither incident until we arrived back on the mainland days later.)

Of course, what comes with the simplicity of this life is also the reality of dealing with things “off-the-grid,” as it were. When we first took possession there were two “flushies,” but they were smelly and nasty. Some time ago we installed a composting toilet when such things were in their infancy, and while it has been quite successful, it is hardly elegant. One has to climb atop a large bin with a toilet seat attached to it and this can be more than a little awkward at times.

So this spring we are finally building a new bathroom, with updated composting technology and perhaps even an outdoor shower for days when the lake seems less than inviting. I am particularly excited about this project because it is shaping up to be my first building as an architect. I find this fact rather amusing, since most architects get their first commission by designing a house for their parents, but it seems that my first project is to be, as my sister put it, an outhouse. I can’t wait to take pictures of it to job interviews!

Last weekend we went up there to pour the footings in anticipation of a major work weekend in the middle of June, and so it has officially begun. I’ll post the progress as it occurs. But for now, I’ll leave you with this: the keystone! (In the form of a rather rudimentary sonotube/rebar footing…)

The Key Stone.

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