Visiting Jake Chisholm’s home is at first a step back in time. Candle glow leads inside, where gleaming hardwood and ornate archways herald the melding of three worlds: past, present and a hint of our community’s future. Hospitalities warmly dispensed, Jake perches on his vintage couch, a paradox amid it all. At age 21 he is a Generation Y yet has a career
track, aspirations, and wisdom suggesting a person much older and more imposing.
Then the conversation begins, and within minutes the concepts of age, size, and curriculum vitae become minor players in the grand adventure of Jake’s life: a series of discoveries and actions from which our community is the beneficiary. In three years Jake has become an active member of Pictou County’s economic, artistic and social scenes. He has developed a reality show with local people as the stars, worked on local film productions, been a vocal supporter of Pictou County 20/20, all the while holding down occupations in vintage retail, food service, landlording, and youth recreation, and exploring the region’s natural beauty and entertainment scene in his ‘spare time.’
How does he do it, and why here?
“From the time I was little I wanted two things: to go to St. FX, and to live in Nova Scotia,” he answers with a clarity of vision rarely seen at any age. His life began in Hamilton, Ontario. Both of his parents were born and raised in Ontario, too. But his story began in northern Nova Scotia; it seems a mere two generations were not enough to quell the call of the sea, and Jake as a child spent summers with family in Antigonish. At 17, high school diploma in hand, “I decided university wasn’t for me,” but Nova Scotia still beckoned. He settled on a business program at NSCC Pictou Campus, and while searching websites for accommodations happened upon another opportunity: a stately Victorian home for sale just a few doors away from the school. It was love at first sight, internet-style. “I bought it sight unseen.” At the end of the summer, he packed for a one-way road trip, trading everyone and everything he knew for life in a small town where he knew exactly no one. But he wasn’t alone. His mother made the trip from Ontario with him, and stayed a few weeks to help with the settling in. His father helped financially with the purchase of the house and the renovations that would soon follow, both for his living area on the first floor and the second floor flat to rent. “I loved the house the minute I set foot in it. This felt like home,” he is quick to clarify, “but the blue shag carpets, they just had to go.” So did the original windows, despite his efforts to clean and repair them. “It is so much cleaner and cozier with (the new windows), I have to say,” he glances toward the living room bay windows, then to the mantle on the opposite wall. “But I saved this one. I wanted to save them all. It broke my heart to get rid of them, but oh, well …”
The original wooden frame he has displayed on his mantle is a vintage touch of whimsy in front of the room’s centerpiece: a modern sultry portrait of Shania Twain. “I met her onstage in Vegas,” he enthuses, recounting the tale of writing her a letter, trying to slip it to her husband, and ending up in front of a sold-out crowd at Caesar’s Palace singing not one, but three tunes with the superstar herself. As he tells the story, modern jazz purrs in the background while a compact electric fireplace glows on the ancient hearth.
His zest for life knows no bounds, which makes him a fast friend, a fierce competitor, a creative genius and a tireless campaigner for new and better in his community. It just didn’t serve him well as a student. “I can be stubborn, and if something doesn’t grab me, I’m pretty quick to move on,” he admits, not proudly, not sheepishly, but just how it is. As a result, the college program that brought him to Stellarton lost its attraction after one year. Yet he still loves Pictou County wholeheartedly. “It’s just so beautiful! I was a Scout for years, and I love camping and the outdoors. It’s got everything here,” including the occasional abandoned farmhouse or building that he finds so inspiring on backroad trips. He’s also smitten with the variety of artisans, restaurants, and creative talent at work here. The flow has led him into several new careers, one of which started literally at his dining room table.
“My friend Brittany (Lowe) and I were chatting about how we were in the same place, and how so many people we knew were trying to finish school or start careers or figure out life, and by the end of the night we had it.”
‘It’ was The Next Housewives of Pictou County. Inspired by the Bravo network franchise, the made-for-web show was designed to feature eight local women and men. “We wanted to modernize the definition of housewife. Today’s modern housewife isn’t gender specific nor do they need to be at home to run a happy household.” He recruited friends, did photo and video shoots, set up a Facebook page and launched the teasers. Then he heard from a producer, who offered to become involved, and take the project mainstream. “That means shooting a pilot to try to sell it to a network,” he says. “It’s only 22 minutes of video, but it has to be the sweetest 22 minutes ever, and that means shooting hours and hours of video.” He is also taking some creative time this winter to mull over a rebranding of the show. “I like to go with the flow, but I also like control,” he says.
Another paradox, just like he’s an old soul in a youth’s body, and a person enlivened by people’s stories who loves his quiet time. Not that it’s easy to get quiet time in his house.
“I love to entertain, but not like most people my age,” he leans back. “I’m not one for the wild and crowded house party. I like cocktails, appetizers and conversation, a few social drinks sometimes before we head out to a bar.” He also loves to cook, his favourite meal to serve being breakfast. “Eggs of course. Fried hard, I can’t stand them runny. And sometimes I’ll do steak, too, for the classic steak and eggs. Or ham, sausage, bacon, toast and jam. It’s better with a crowd so you can do the presentation just so.”
Even on his alone days he is kept company by three ghosts, not the Dickens variety, perhaps, but spirits to which he has assigned some form of story. One is evident only by the click-clack of men’s dress shoes as it paces the floors. Another appears as a shadow in his bedroom doorway, there and then gone in the blink of an eye. Research has told him it could be a youth, as their spirits tend to be shadows and they love to play tricks. The third spirit tends to hang out in his kitchen, and may have anger issues which gets taken out on his enamel cookware. A pot went sailing across the room one night as his friend searched for something in the fridge. The invisible roommates don’t phase him a bit. “I’m the one who moved in on them,” he says. “It’s all part of the great history of the house.”
Down time is more like break time between jobs. He has five. He works in a restaurant, and an antique store. He produces Housewives and is becoming more involved in a local film production company. He provides after-school programming for elementary and middle school kids through Active Pictou County, teaching cooking and outdoor recreation, and is a wedding and events decorator.
And his heart breaks at least once a day, as he feels deeply the details and events most others pass by.
“Most of my house is furnished from Spring Cleanup day,” he gestures toward the furniture he has room for. “My garage is stuffed with things I couldn’t use. I couldn’t bear the thought of them just being taken to the dump.” He sighs, a moment of sadness. “Someday
I’ll fix them up and give them to my friends, or hey, maybe even sell them. I am entrepreneurial,” he adds, brightening at yet another opportunity.
His heart also breaks for those who didn’t have what he did through school: supportive family and friends. Growing up as one of three gay students (that he knew of) in a Catholic high school sounds painful and he admits, a thick skin is helpful. But he also remembers feeling loved and safe in being who he is. Moving away from that safety net to Pictou County was difficult at first, and while he soon felt safe and welcomed here, too, he knows not everyone does. In another new endeavour, he hopes to change that. “It’s a drag show!” he announces with flair. Teaming up with local musicians and members of the LGBT community, he hopes at a musical show planned for this coming summer will entertain all ages. “There will be great music, costumes, and just a whole lot of fun,’” he says. The side message, however, will be that everyone deserves to enjoy and share who they are to the fullest, in any community.
Does openness to life have anything to do with acceptance?
“Of course, I try to be a good friend, and to be a positive influence for change,” he says.
What does he want to change? “Our attitudes here,” he replies with no pause. “The can be a lot of negativity, and we just have so much here to enjoy and be proud of. Economically, though, we have to do things differently. We have to make our own opportunities.”
In three years, Jake has evolved from a high school graduate to a landlord, filmmaker, director, actor, youth mentor, visionary, history buff, explorer and sultan of soirées. One could call that making his own opportunities.
“I do love it here,” he repeats. A door slams, but he isn’t worried. It’s just the ghost, and somewhere, another door opens.