It may seem like only yesterday, but it was a quarter-century ago when my wife inherited a property called the old Stewart house in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia. It was in such bad shape that her relatives across the road wanted to turn it into a chicken barn. The old, asphalt shingle roof was leaking and the back chimney wanted to fall away from the house. It would have taken the entire back wing with it, a part of the building we now believe is the oldest part of the house.

Stewart house front 1987.jpg

Stewart house back 1987.jpeg.jpg

The heritage experts believe it was once an old, Presbyterian meeting house that used to be up the hill in the Lower Horton Cemetery. The building was probably purchased and moved downhill on logs when a new church was built. People tended to reuse a lot in those days– tools, clothes, furniture and buildings.

Stewart house back wall 4.jpg

After our contractor improvised a concrete flying buttress to prop up the chimney and rebuilt the wall, we had to tackle the roof. We chose cedar shingles because of the durability and the fact that they were appropriate to the vintage of the house.

Stewart house back pour.jpg

Floyd had been in the roofing business for thirty years. He had a lean, stooped body that made him look as if he was walking into the wind. Like most Nova Scotia tradesmen, he was straight-talking. He hadn’t put on many cedar shingles, but he knew how to do roofs. He and his crew started in late Fall and by the time they were finished there was snow on the ground. They had run into a supply problem that is a perennial difficulty in Nova Scotia. In the days of sail, this was the most important province in the country. Now it is on the periphery. There was such a strong demand for BC shingles in Texas and Toronto that several months went by when they were simply not available.

Stewart house front roofing 1987.jpg

Stewart house front winter 1987.jpg

We have been putting off the inevitable new roof for quite some time now, living with the knowledge that the shingles were working on borrowed time. Floyd thought the cedar would last forty years, but twenty-five now seems like a stretch in a Maritime climate. I could see the rot from the ground. Freeze and thaw, day after day, season after season. Rain and wind whip through here like a perverse Canadian version of a winter monsoon. And then there are the hurricanes.




Upcountry Builders arrived four days ago to start shovelling off the old shakes and putting down the foundation for the new ones. Then it started to rain, heavily. It came right through the so-called impermeable fabric and pooled in the attic, dripping down on my wife’s desk. Richard and I put down tarps in the attic; Greg and Aaron tarped the roof. We have had one more very wet day and a long, holiday weekend to put things off.


July 1 was Canada Day. Canadians often take on a cloak of invisibility next to their extroverted neighbours to the South, but they do possess a certain pride of place. Canadians have not gone to the trouble to browbeat the ethnicity out of their immigrants and brainwash them with jingoistic “facts.”

Still, they do seem to spend an awful lot of time thinking about what it means to be a Canadian. The current prime minister is attempting to get Canadians excited about the War of 1812 with an expensive campaign smacking of patriotism usually seen south of the border. 1814 was when the inhabitants of this country actually set fire to the White House. Canadians do relish that fact.


The most inspiring Canada Day story I have come across is about a family that is in the process of paddling across the entire country in a twenty-foot canoe. They began in March, 2007 and they plan to finish sometime this summer. Pam MacDonald of Calgary has given birth to two children during this great adventure. She and Geoff have had many close encounters with bears, porcupines and other critters. They are very appreciative of their hefty guard dog, a seven-year old Alaskan malamute who has shared the entire trip.



They set out each Spring, paddling on from where they left off the previous year. The couple portaged the canoe and all their supplies across the Rocky Mountains! A 47 kilo (105 pound) Canadian canoe. Check out their progress at The Globe and Mail did a nice little video you can see at but you have to put up with the ad first.

Happy Canada Day, eh?