Jocelyn Aucoin runs her right hand along exposed wall studs as she casually strolls through a historic home stripped to its shell.
Her company, 1850 House, is dismantling it piece by piece.
Sunbeams shining through now-empty window frames illuminate old boards and beams Aucoin intends to carefully salvage. A warm breeze effortlessly flows from one side of the second storey to the other as she points out hand-hewn beams that are already spoken for.
The antique hemlock and spruce wood, cut in widths and lengths that are hard to come by today, are in demand.
“There is no rot in the house,” a smiling Aucoin happily reports.
She can tell an addition was built at some point in the 1800s, but her best guess on the date of the original construction is that it occurred more than 200 years ago. She’s found examples of builders using pegs and square nails there in years gone by.
“It’s really interesting to see what people did back then and there’s no two houses alike,” she says.
Aucoin is planning to start at the top and work her way down when she’s ready to begin the meticulous process of deconstructing Upper Canard home lining Highway 341 by hand. A job like this typically takes eight to ten weeks, weather permitting.
“I really enjoy the hands-on approach and, by doing it by hand, it does allow us the greatest opportunity to salvage everything that we can,” she says.
Aucoin is somewhat of a modern-day treasure hunter on the job. She enjoys the thrill of peeling back the surface layers of a structure to see what lies hidden in the original framework.
Last summer, Aucoin was part of the 1850 House crew dismantling what remained of the oldest home on Surette’s Island, in the Municipality of the District of Argyle.
“When we did Surette’s Island, we had a lot of neat stuff, from inkwells to the old leather shoes stuck in the walls because it kept the evil spirits away,” she says.
The home they’re working on in Kings County, however, had already been stripped by previous owners during renovations.
“They took the old treasures,” she says.
Both the reclaimed materials from the Surette’s Island project and the Upper Canard house will be used for a new business venture Aucoin is undertaking.
“What we’re initially going to be doing this year is building our first tiny home on a trailer and we will be using the materials to build it,” she says.
The size of the tiny homes will vary according to the client’s selections, but the first will be 8.5 by 24 feet.
Aucoin sees the growing popularity of tiny homes as an opportunity to find another use for the reclaimed material 1850 House is able to salvage by carefully dismantling heritage homes in a manner the significantly reduces the amount of waste bound for a landfill.
“It’s addictive,” she says.
1850 House founder Hugh McGoldrick has spent 40-plus years in the business of deconstructing antique structures and repurposing building materials.
He said the Upper Canard house is located along a stretch of roadway known for its heritage houses. The area, within plain view of the intersection for Middle Dyke Road, is not far from what is occasionally called Jawbone Corner locally.
Canada’s Historic Places, an online database, lists 1,423 Highway 341- the Jonathan Sherman House - as a recognized heritage structure. The website says the “timber-frame, gambrel-roofed residence” was built from 1773 to 1774.
McGoldrick, who is retiring, has visited Aucoin at the nearby 1850 House worksite, 1,373 Highway 341, and marveled at the craftsmanship of the post-and-beam construction at that house.
“The jointery is unbelievable,” he says.
The promise of a football career at Acadia University brought McGoldrick, who is originally from Cape Cod, to the Annapolis Valley in 1970.
“I thought this was Heaven, and I just stayed,” he says.
He got into the business of deconstructing antique structures and reclaiming the materials after struggling to find work. His mother operated an antique business back home, where preserving houses was a popular practice.
“Nobody tears down houses on Cape Cod. They move them. They salvage them,” says McGoldrick.
He says some customers with expensive flooring in their homes have approached him because they want to switch to old barn boards after seeing the reclaimed wood in someone else’s home.
“I made quite a living from it over the years, having a great time.”