The random sight of a real estate sign forever changes the life of a respected architect and his wife.
The chance sighting of a real estate sign hammered into the side of a winding country road outside of Perth, Ont., forever changed the life plans of a respected Ottawa architect and his pharmacist wife.
The sighting is also changing the landscape deep in Eastern Ontario’s cottage country, turning a second-generation forest into a community of 27 custom homes that will sit around a U-shaped access road near Otty Lake.
It was Nikki Pora who spotted the sign on a June morning in 2005, prompting a side trip along the shady lane, which happened to be near a familiar road leading to her family’s cottage on the popular lake.
The lane opened up to a field, revealing the lake and a stone farm house built by Hugh Mckay, a weaver from Glasgow, Scotland, who arrived in Canada with a young wife and several children in 1816.
Within minutes, Pora pulled open a white wooden door to the summer kitchen, slipped off her sandals and walked over the worn stone threshold in her bare feet.
She was immediately sold.
“It was so cool, that feeling. We walked in and time stood still,” says the gregarious pharmacist, who immediately laughs, then adds: “It was not part of our life plan.”
Nearby, Stephan Katz, a principal in the architectural firm KWC Architects, also vividly remembers that first sighting and the heavy stone threshold, worn down by thousands of footsteps. “I didn’t have to look any further.”
The two negotiated a deal with the owners for all of the furnishings in the two-storey testimony to the past and 54 hectares of largely wooded land.
Now they own a restored piece of rural Ontario history and are ready to tweak the property that started out as a thick forest before being cleared by Mckay in the 1800s for crops.
The Mckay farmhouse and successive generations of the family have a colourful reputation among the cottagers and fulltime residents on Otty Lake.
“There is a mystery to this house,” says Pora, who harbours a wild theory that Mckay must have had a connection to Thomas Mckay, the architect and builder behind 24 Sussex Drive and other notable Ottawa buildings.
George Mckay was the last family member to own the house, selling off waterfront lots to maintain the farm.
Finally, after Mckay died in 1960, his widow, Isobel, sold his beloved farm to Ottawa business- man William Canter, who used it first as a cottage, then rented it out to families. Canter also rented the fields to farmers as grazing land.
The home slowly deteriorated until it was bought in 1985 by an Ottawa couple, who lovingly restored the old house and added a back sunroom with views of the water.
Pora, Katz and business partner Richard Hofer are now selling 0.8-and two-hectare lots on wooded land between the farmhouse and Elmgrove Road, which snakes around the edge of Otty Lake.
It’s to be a “sensible green community” that comes with strict design guidelines prohibiting vinyl siding, promoting passive and solar sensibilities and including a communal access to the lake.
Newcomers will not be allowed to use motorboats, but kayaks and canoes will be welcome at a pine gazebo and swimming dock.
Prices for the lots start at $125,000. Called Otty Woods ( otty
woods.com), the community has the full support of both local reeve Aubrey Churchill (partly because it means progress and new revenues for the municipality) and many members of the Otty Lake Association.
Katz and Hofer have made concessions, reducing the number of lots from 32 to 27, setting aside a large chunk of low land as a nature preserve and designing a communal waterfront area with storage for kayaks and canoes, a gazebo and patio and barbecue area.
They have created walking paths and built a U-shaped access road that will be turned over to the municipality when completed.
The fire department also asked for and got a large underground tank to hold water.
“If I knew this would have taken so much time and so much money, I would have been leery,” says Katz.
He estimates the purchase, land development, hydro and Ontario Municipal Board hearings have cost almost six years and $2.3 million.
“If we come out even, I will be happy because we have done something good for the area.”
He envisions a green commu- nity of homes designed by top architects and expects retired couples will be attracted by the lots and the lifestyle.
Perth and its shops are 12 minutes away.
The lots are covered in either original forests or a secondgeneration forest planted by the former owners in 1985.
Buyers will be obliged to leave 80 per cent of the lots wooded. Each owner will also be required to have a septic system and well.
“I support green design and energy-efficient ideas,” says Katz.
The developers have a list of preferred architects and builders, but buyers can bring in their own teams.