Back in the 1950s, the people living on Sound Island in Placentia Bay knew their way of life was coming to an end. The preacher and the lone merchant had already left town for good and residents were leaving the island for work. Gradually, the communities emptied as people brought everything with them – even their houses – to their new home. Some of those houses ended up in Swift Current. This house, the one this story is about, is one of those houses. It’s now owned by Bill and Gloria Scott, who use it as a cabin after doing extensive restoration and renovation work.
Sitting at their kitchen table, which Bill made, they are telling the story of where this house came from.
“If you look out, see that first point, and the land goes in that way?” says Bill, “That’s actually a long arm that continues on down. The land beyond is Sound Island. This house came from out around that long point. Just around the back of that.”
When they bought the place, Bill took it apart from the inside, rebuilding the cabin over the course of years. He left the exterior walls up, but nearly everything else was reworked. He removed layers and layers of wallpaper, then a hardboard liner, then newspaper, before finally getting to the large pine boards that made up the walls. Some of the boards are a foot or more across, far larger than any pine tree found in Newfoundland these days – but these trees didn’t come from around here, says Bill. Back in the day, ships would sail up from the Carolinas, down in the southern United States, loaded with pine boards used as ballast. They would load up on fish in Placentia Bay and sell the boards to people living in places like Sound Island, where the large boards would be turned into houses.
This was back in the late 1800s, around when Bill and Gloria figure the house was built. They don’t have printed records of the house but during the renovation they kept track of the dates on the newspapers glued to the boards. The earliest date they found, says Bill, was 1898, a date corroborated by stories from George Eddy, who grew up in the house.
Bill, being a practical man, decided he wanted his newly acquired house to be insulated, since he planned on using it in the colder months. He also wanted it to last for many more years, without having to worry about things like rot or mould. He added insulation to the walls, which he had stripped back to the studs. Over that he attached plywood, then decorative beadboard on some walls. In the living room, which has a classic, cozy cabin feel, they put the original pine boards back up and kept the original floors. The upstairs received the same treatment.
Overhead, the ceiling has been refinished. The look of the open rafters has been kept, but each one has been reinforced with a combination of metal rods and wood beams. It was a necessary fix, since the joists had been cut many years ago – scalloped, really – in an effort to provide more headroom. That misguided renovation weakened the second-storey floor, and Bill had concerns over the structural integrity of the ceiling.
They made an effort to keep the original character of the house, while also updating it for their own needs. Aside from the aforementioned renovations, they also added a wood stove and put in a new kitchen. They did much of the work themselves, including building the kitchen cabinets.
It’s in the floors that you can really see the history of the house. Upstairs, there are pairs of drilled holes in the floor, each about a half-inch in diameter. Some are plugged, and others have been left open. They’re a remnant of the trip the house made across the water back in the 1950s. The house was well built, but it wasn’t built like a boat – it needed some buoyant help for its trip. Before being lifted off its foundation and dumped in the saltwater, barrels were strapped to the main floor ceiling, using rope slung through the second storey floorboards. These barrels allowed the house to float.
Once in Swift Current, the house was hauled high up the bank and jammed up against some rocks where it still sits. Bill reinforced the foundation and added a deck that stretches out over the water. In times of heavy weather, the ocean washes over the lower deck.
Gloria and Bill have made themselves a comfortable and cozy seaside retreat modified for their own modern living needs while retaining the charm and character of an outport house that is a piece of the province’s history of resettlement.