Home Sweet Home

The Amherst News - - FRONT PAGE - By Aaron Beswick

It wasn’t an easy de­ci­sion, but David Marshall, his wife Allison and son Dy­lan are happy to be in their new (old) home on East Vic­to­ria Street, Amherst, af­ter mov­ing from Oakville, Ont.

David Marshall lay in bed star­ing into the dark.

It was Jan­uary and his wife and son were still in On­tario.

The an­cient oil fur­nace in the base­ment of the cen­tury-old sand­stone home they’d pur­chased was drink­ing it­self silly in the base­ment — $400 a week worth of fuel oil to keep the lead pipes from freez­ing.

He’d just been told by the trades­men that there were a few hun­dred pounds of rot­ten in­su­la­tion and bat poop in the at­tic above him that would have to go.

The knob and tube wiring would have to all be re­placed.

Rot­ten win­dows, floors in rough shape, a base­ment to gut . . .

“I’m not go­ing to kid you, there were a few nights that we won­dered, ‘What have we done?’” Marshall said Wed­nes­day.

“But when one of us gets down, the other one picks us up.”

What David, Allison and their 10-year-old son did was sell their home in Oakville, Ont., and buy one of the stately man­sions from Amherst’s in­dus­trial golden age.

On pa­per it made sense — the house’s list­ing had gone down from more than $1 mil­lion to $350,000.

They could sell their house in Oakville with the mas­sive mort­gage, buy the Amherst home and still have $200,000 to put into ren­o­va­tions.

“In the end, it’s look­ing like it’ll be nearer $350,000 for ren­o­va­tions, but even then it leaves us more fi­nan­cially se­cure,” said Marshall.

“Our sit­u­a­tion isn’t un­com­mon. In the area around Toronto most peo­ple are house poor. They have good-pay­ing jobs, but all their in­come is tied up.”

Though no one likes to be called one, the Mar­shalls are a statis­tic.

Ac­cord­ing to re­cent fig­ures from Sta­tis­tics Canada, the past two years have seen the re­ver­sal of a long-run­ning trend of em­i­gra­tion out of Nova Sco­tia.

A lit­tle more than 15,600 peo­ple moved to Nova Sco­tia from other prov­inces in the year lead­ing up to July. That’s about 600 more than left.

The ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple who moved here were from On­tario.

“Peo­ple are just de­cid­ing to just stop pay­ing a mil­lion dol­lars for a house,” said Peter Bar­rett, who, along with his wife Pa­tri­cia De­jong, pur­chased a huge 115-yearold home on Vic­to­ria Street in May.

“You can move here, pay a frac­tion of the price, put a lit­tle money into it and walk ev­ery­where. This town is a gem that, once peo­ple re­al­ize what’s here, they’ll be kick­ing the doors down.”

The av­er­age price for a de­tached home in Toronto is $1.6 mil­lion ac­cord­ing to the city’s real es­tate board. That’s for a used bun­ga­low in a nice neigh­bour­hood.

The Cana­dian Real Es­tate As­so­ci­a­tion pegs the av­er­age price for a house in north­ern Nova Sco­tia at $133,313 — on par with the Yar­mouth and Cape Bre­ton re­gions but well be­low the rest of the prov­ince.

Bar­rett and De­jong made three trips to Nova Sco­tia from Vic­to­ria, B.C., look­ing for a house. They wanted some­thing stately that would also be a project for them in their semi-re­tir­ment — hav­ing spent much of the last decade trav­el­ling to work for oil com­pa­nies in the Mid­dle East. Af­ter giv­ing up on Wolfville, Truro and Hal­i­fax, they tried Amherst.

“If you could find a house like this around Vic­to­ria (B.C.), with this sort of prop­erty around it, it would prob­a­bly be in the Oak Bay area and run $10 mil­lion-$12 mil­lion,” said Bar­rett.

Amherst has long been at least par­tially de­fined by its tow­er­ing elms and ar­chi­tec­ture from the turn of the last cen­tury, when struc­tures were made from lo­cally quar­ried sand­stone and peo­ple built wood churches, store­fronts, fac­to­ries and homes.

Those elms have fallen vic­tim over re­cent years to dis­ease. Mean­while, af­ter chil­dren have fled the nest of the for­mer homes of in­dus­trial barons on Vic­to­ria Street, the re­tired par­ents who oc­cu­pied them have been down­siz­ing to houses with less main­te­nance.

The move­ment of cou­ples from out­side the prov­ince who want to in­vest in Amherst’s his­toric ar­chi­tec­ture and be part of its so­cial fab­ric has been wel­come, said Real­tor Cathy LeBlanc.

“Twenty to 30 per cent of my busi­ness is peo­ple mov­ing back to the area,” said LeBlanc.

“It’s a dif­fer­ence between where in Cal­gary or Van­cou­ver they might have to work un­til they are 65, but if they move here they can re­tire at 55 and have a bet­ter qual­ity of life.”

None of the cou­ples The Chron­i­cle Her­ald spoke to are look­ing to fully re­tire just yet.

For Marshall, an IT spe­cial­ist who works from home and trav­els, Amherst was also a good fit be­cause it has faster broad­band in­ter­net than in Oakville.

“For us it was more about life­style — just get­ting out of the rat race,” said Jim Fur­long.

In May he and his wife Glo­ria bought a four-storey Re­gent Street home built in 1921 by the own­ers of the Amherst Boot and Shoe Fac­tory. He grew up across the street and his wife is from Springhill.

Af­ter a life work­ing as a min­ing ex­ec­u­tive around North Amer­ica, he and his wife wanted a house with room for chil­dren and grand­chil­dren to come visit.

“We just wanted to come home,” said Fur­long.

Dave Mathieson – Amherst News

Allison, David and Dy­lan Marshall stand in front of their Amherst home with their dog, Bai­ley.

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