It’s a few weeks before Christmas and all through the house the windows are still open and there might be a mouse. The insulation is waiting and the cold winds do blow but the Parsons-Heighton family is working hard to tighten things up before the snow. Welcome to Part II of our series of a special timber frame build at Melmerby Beach, Pictou County.
Shauna steps around the scaffolding and into the space that will soon find its form and function as a kitchen. Above her, daughters Ella and Severn get uncomfortably close to the unfinished open end of the loft that peers out under the massive hammer beam carrying the load of the roof and typifies the beauty and structure of the timber frame design. It’s the weekend and the forecast is calling for high winds and heavy rain. It’s been an incredible fall for construction but the season is turning over quickly and the prevalence and frequency of the north east wind makes Andrew determined to get the house “weather-tight” so damage from the elements will be minimal.
While the push is on to finish the roof insulation and the strapping, the next big step will be the installation of the windows. A few windows have been relocated from where they were incorporated in the original design. As the walls and rooms take shape, Andrew and Shauna have gained a new perspective and have been careful to ensure that their vista is uncompromised but their privacy is considered.
The Parsons-Heighton family are now six months in to the construction of their home at Melmerby Beach. Andrew only moved back to Scotsburn from the trailer at the build site last week and has worked tirelessly since the first wooden peg secured the first beam. Andrew is beginning to wear a little of the demands of doing almost all of the building and the entirety of the project management. Lean by nature he has had to tighten his work belt a few times but his energy and excitement for the project has never lost steam.
“I am often asked about how Andrew and I are managing under the stress of living in two places, managing the girls schedules and dreams, financial decisions and all of the rest. I almost feel silly that we are great, that this has been nothing but positive for us so far. I don’t think that people believe we are enjoying the process so much, that we are growing in our mutual respect for each other’s abilities and short-comings. Working together on this dream has been amazing. We are very lucky,” says Shauna from the Scotsburn homestead.
As the dream house becomes more of a reality, Shauna says their girls are having the usual mix of emotions that comes along with any big change. “I have been searching for a change for a few years and this is giving me that feeling of a new adventure for us as a family. Both girls love their current home. This is the only home they have known and I am trying to be sensitive to this as we plan to pack up and move on.”
The build has been a journey of discovery and learning on many levels. Andrew’s thirst for knowing about everything and anything has been one of the most important aspects of the process while Shauna’s own sensibilities about being grounded but with the desire to constantly explore brings a different type of energy to the house build. The discovery has extended far beyond the trusses as Andrew and Shauna have developed a true appreciation for the breadth of skilled tradespeople in the region.
“They are so knowledgeable and generous in the process of construction,” says Shauna of the tradespeople involved in their build. “ This began with the Arlington Timber Frames and Forrest Rand who drew up our plans based on our dreams we shared around our kitchen table. He has supported Andrew with lengthy phone calls to answer questions and share his expertise without judgement. All of the trades people have been the same, surprised that Andrew is embarking on this massive project on his own but willing to support him along the way.”
This will be the last Christmas that Andrew, Shauna, Ella and Severn will spend in their heritage home in Scotsburn. It will be a time to reminisce and wrap up their memories of a place they have loved and grown together as a family. But there will also be excited chatter about the space that has already been staked out for their big tree in their new home and the making of new memories in a house that they have built together one beam at a time.
Before tackling the enormous project of building his own timber frame house, Andrew Parsons had the opportunity to cut his teeth with a few smaller construction projects. As an Industrial Arts teacher for the Chignecto Central School Board, Andrew has been teaching the building concepts to his students for several years. He has ventured twice to the United States for specific training and has become a certified framer. In 2015, Andrew and his students collaborated with Industrial Arts programs from two other high schools in the region to design and construct a traditional hiking shelter on the Six Mile Brook Trail in Pictou County. The project was funded by a private donation to the Nova Scotia Trails Association and a concept developed to build a Scottish bothy that would provide respite for weary hikers.
An experiential learner himself, Andrew drew on his accumulating knowledge to create a project that would allow his students to be involved in all aspects of the build.
Preparations for the post and beam construction took place at North Nova Education Centre in New Glasgow, the roof trusses were built by students in Springhill and Amherst.
Building the bothy was a journey of its own for the young students. In an age where kids are more connected to their devices than nature the build provided lessons in history, ecology and the importance of planning and service.
For several of the students the 3 km trek into the woods to the build site was their first introduction to nature. The timbers and components that they honed in class had to be transported the old fashioned way from the trailhead down to the site traversing the brook at several points along the way.
“The bothy build gave the students lots of opportunity for shared learning and understanding natural consequences. If you forgot a tool in the bus then you had to go back for it. I had a few students hike 12 kms one day but they were so happy to be in the woods. I love engaging students in a different way.”
Last spring, the bothy, named for its donors Jack and Doris McLachlan, was officially opened. There was still work to be completed this fall and Andrew trekked back down the trail to put the finishing touches on the building within a few weeks of his students arriving back to his classroom.
Andrew says his students will have the chance to see how the bothy was utilized over the summer and how many passing travellers enjoyed and appreciated their work. “At the end of the day it is all about shared goals and accomplishment.”
Continue on this family’s journey in Part III and the final article in this series.