What a way to make a difference!

At least 50 times a year we drive up or down Highway 93 (Penetanguishene Rd) from Barrie through Craighurst or return.

Each time we drive past a derelict house and shop a bit north of the Garretts location and on the opposite side of the road. Number 951.

It makes me sad. For years these two building have sunk into disrepair, vacant, sad-looking, former shells of themselves. I wonder who used to work in that shop, or laugh on the little stooop at the front of the house. What a shame that buildings that used to hold families and work effort slide away.

And that’s really where my story begins.

Late last fall, things started to change in front of the shop building. It was a shell of a building, really. Loads of earth were piled up, and then siding went on, a roof went on, huge loading-dock type doors went in. White colour. Driveway. It looked like activity in behind it.

This spring, when our Highway 93 treks began again, the change in the shop was absolutely remarkable. It had a person-entrance door as well as the huge garage doors. There were vehicles there… a sure sign of some kind of busy-ness.

And, lo! the house was changing. Devoid of windows, rundown inside and out, derelict now… this house was changing before our eyes. Now it’s got a yard, flowers, and chairs on the new front porch. Transformed!

Curiosity got the better of me, and this week I stopped in. Richard Kennedy answered the call and shared the remarkable transformation that he and his wife, Michelle, have effected on this five acre property.

Richard initially was attracted to the property for his business, Cottage Country All Flats Roofing. He needs a location for his work vehicles and this location on Highway 93 seemed to fit the bill. The fact that there was a house on the property was almost incidental. When Richard discovered that tearing down the house would mean he couldn’t build another one because of the commercial zoning, he and Michelle decided to do the impossible and completely re-build it.

They rolled up their sleeves and started in on this project. Richard emphasizes that they did this work in between his contracting projects which earned the money to pour into their five-acre reno activities. He remembers the shop building as a former fruit and vegetable stand, then vacant, and at one point people lived in the shop building. It had been completely vacant for more than a year when he sought the owner through the registry office and bought the property.

The house had been vacant for over 20 years… windows gone, walls weak, foundations and roof in sad disrepair. The furnace was rusted out.

They did such a good job that they’ve sold their house in Midhurst and are now living on site. “This is now our principal residence,” says Richard. He and Michelle have the uncanny ability to see beyond the obvious. “It’s a turn-of-the-century house (1900, he means) with standing timber almost 3 inches thick by 12 inches wide, pegged together. Despite the bad roof, the lack of an entrance, and no windows, the house was strong, definitely worth restoring.

With Michelle as the visionary, the couple started at the foundation and worked up. “We put it back to the way it was… we used tongue and groove pine, lots of tile and really nice design on the ceilings, new drywall. In a second story we added 3 bedrooms and a bathroom, adding to a main floor bathroom.

“It’s a charming looking house today,” muses Richard as he looks back on hundreds and hundreds of hours of plumbing, electrical, drywall, roofing, landscaping, porch building. Now, it’s an 1800 square foot home with a two-car garage and a great shop.

What a gift to give to the world, and themselves in the process! The Kennedy’s, as it turns out, are no strangers to restoration. They scour countrysides looking for derelict buildings they can bring back to life. They’ve done two such properties on Rama Rd. One had been vacant for a quarter-century and sold in three days with a two-week closing three months after they began the work.

They’ve done at least six properties like this… one in Innisfil, one in Big Bay Point, two on Rama Rd. Recognizing the effort and stress of each project, Richard says he and Michelle vascillate between loving their projects and dreading the work-up.

“Michelle does all the painting. She picks all the colours, plans out the rooms and traffic flow. She makes up a plan and we follow it through to completion,” says Richard. He says the neighbours have expressed surprise that he and Michelle been able to make such substantial improvements to the property.

Now, you’d think a couple putting this much sweat equity into a project would want to put their feet up and enjoy the fruits of their labour. Not so. They’ve bought another property and are likely sitting at the drawing board as we speak.

So, thanks Richard. Thanks, Michelle. Your tenacity, skill and vision have made vast improvements at #951 Highway 93. What a gift!