The Cedar Log Cabin
The Story of Living In & Restoring a Settler's Log Cabin
Moving In & Starting
I was no expert, but had done enough house renovating in my time before the cabin, that I knew I was in for a long haul. I was not anticipating living in a place under construction, especially one that was in such a bad state of repair. However, my enthusiasm was there for the chance to live in the country in a log cabin.
My cat Cornelius and I moved in on October 14, while Pamela and our other cat Felemur stayed at the cottage we were renting for a little longer, while I got the place up to camping standards.
The nights were getting cold, and it did not stop raining up there as soon as I moved in.
There was no electricity in the cabin. The power lines to the cabin were not even hooked up, and though there was a very old two fuse 30 amp box on the wall in the main room, there was only one wire going nowhere from the box. As soon as I got there, I set up a generator outside and ran extension cords into the cabin for light and heat.
The generator was a small one. Although it did fine for lighting, if I turned the heater on higher than the 1000 watt setting, the breaker would trigger on the generator. It didn't really matter though, there were so many holes and air leaks, that any heat just blew away. The heater was only of any use when you where right beside it.
The cabin did come with a wood stove, but it was not hooked up. When I inspected how the chimney went through the wood roof, there was no way I was going to hook it up. It was a cabin fire waiting to happen.
It could have been like a fun camping trip, but it was windy, cold and raining constantly. There were mice and snakes coming into the cabin. Not little Garter snakes, but four to five foot long milk snakes. I discovered quite a while latter, that they had been living between the logs of the walls and the outer cement walls where there was a gap between one and four inches.
There were also ants. I know, almost everyone has ants. This was different. Every so often, most of the west log wall of the cabin was literally solid black with hundreds of thousands of ants. It was chilling. It took me close to a year to finally end the ant problem.
The generator, while a great help, had to be filled up with gas right before I went to sleep at around 9pm, then needed refilling at about 4am. It was no fun outside in the pouring rain, cold and wind filling the generator. Worst of all, it was pitch black outside. All I had for light was a flashlight. When I got back in, I was wet and shivering cold. Cornelius and I would get in the sleeping bag, I would put the heater at the top blowing in, and we would live in the bag like a tent until morning. I have to say that Cornelius took it all in stride. In his usual way, he seemed to take to this new adventure as fun and interesting.
After I would get up in the morning and put on layers of clothes, I would set the heater up to blow on Cornelius for the day while I got on with working on the place.
One big surprise, was that it was almost impossible to get anything done that time of year in the area. It was an area where hunting in the fall is the main focus of attention. I had assumed that at that time of year, after the summer tourists had gone back to their cities, there would be no shortage of people willing to take on jobs. When I tried to find an electrician to put in a breaker panel, they all said yes, but only after hunting season was over. Even when going around to the local businesses that sold and installed wood stoves, we were told the same story: you will have to wait until hunting season is over.
First day at the cabin. You can see Cornelius on the black sleeping bag if you look carefully (right under my jeans).
Because of hunting season, it wasn't until December that we got the wood stove or the breaker panel installed. Even after the panel was in, it took two more weeks before Ontario Hydro came around to hook it up to the pole.
So, for the last two weeks of October and all of November, it was very cold with the constant drone of the generator out back.
Firewood was an issue after we got the wood stove installed. That time of year, places that sold firewood were out. Locals bought their firewood in the summer. Our neighbours across the road gave us the name of a local Mennonite family that might have some wood. I went over, and they were kind enough to sell us some of theirs, enough to get us through the winter. The only problem was it was wet. It had been cut down that spring, and it had been uncovered in the pouring rain for the last few weeks.
Instead of piling the wood outside where it would not have dried at all, I decided to pile it up in the back add-on room, hoping it would dry there.
It did dry somewhat, but not enough and worse yet, all the bugs that had settled in for the winter in the wood thought it was spring in the heated cabin. One type of bug I do remember clearly is the ladybugs. There were so many of them, they coated the ceiling in the main room. Hundreds upon hundreds of ladybugs.
Speaking of the ceiling, there was nothing but the rafters and the boards that the well rotted shingles were on. On sunny days you could see dozens of little points of light coming through the ceiling. When it rained, it dripped inside.
When the temperature went below minus 10 Celsius outside, the moisture in the air inside would frost onto the ceiling boards. When the sun came around in the day, the frost would melt and it would rain down on you. You could put pots and pans around, but the drips kept moving around.
Our first priority was to clean the place and plug up the many air leaks. Some holes were huge, which were fairly easy to deal with. It was the dozens of little holes and gaps that kept me searching. I knew they were there however, as the dozens of mice coming in each night was the proof.
Pamela moved from the cottage on Aylen Lake to the cabin near the end of October. While she was there, I made trips back to London, picked up our belongings at at self storage place, brought them back to Bancroft, and put them in a storage place near by. A couple of these trips were harrowing as the roads could ice up this time of year in the area, or there could be a sudden snow storm.
Right at the same time, we both had a painful shock. On October 31, Halloween, the government of Canada made an announcement that changed our lives. After we had sold our homes, we had invested the money to live off of. Part of the money was put into what are known as "Income Trusts" or "Master Limited Parnerships" in the US. They paid good dividends, and the government that was in power had said previously they would not change them. Well, the government basically eliminated them, and their values plummeted, wiping out a sizeable chunk of the money from our homes. We were left in a very bad position. Not only did the future of our monthly income change, but our principal was down significantly. It felt like we were suddenly trapped in the cabin without the source of income we had counted on. At this point we had owned the cabin for two weeks, didn't have work, our future income was now an unknown, and we didn't know the area or anyone in it. Things didn't seem to be starting out very well. In retrospect, it was a pivotal moment in our lives that affected every aspect.
When we moved up there we each had a vehicle. I had the truck, and Pamela had a late 90's Ford Escort. One day in the early spring of 2007, after coming back from town getting supplies, about 2 kilometers from the cabin, the engine in the Ford Escort made a single, loud bang, then the sound of metal grinding together. The engine had completely blown up. The engine was internally shredded and not repairable. It was just another ominous event. Now, if something went wrong with my truck, there would be no way to go to town to get the parts to repair it. It felt like the thread we were hanging from was getting thinner.
Also, in the spring of 2007, Pamela started looking for work in town. She was a medical secretary and had good references from previous hospital employment, so we were both confident she could get some kind of work while I made the cabin liveable. It didn't work out that way. After months of unsuccessfully trying to find work, she made the decision to move to Toronto and find work there. By July 2007, she was gone. After dropping her off at the train station in Belleville to take the train to Toronto, I knew our lives together would never be the same. It was a sad drive back to the cabin. The stress of loosing a good chunk of our money in the fall, her not finding work, and living in a cabin that was under renovation, had strained our relationship a good deal.
Pamela did return a few weekends each year after getting work and buying a car, but otherwise I was alone in the cabin with two cats, no job, no running water, and a lot of work and learning about life in front of me. It was not what I had envisioned when thinking about the idyllic life in the country less than a year before.
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