The Ontario couple keep the remote Nova Scotia cabin as a “land of dreams”

Tracey Erin Smith (Tracey Erin Smith) once woke up from a vivid dream. She was a “simple” 65-year-old. She shared the beauty of her home in the wilderness with the guests who rented the cottage. Each cottage has a unique view of the pristine lake.

She had a feeling of love for her future self, and she wrote this dream on a loose-leaf book, but she forgot it as the years passed.

Twenty years after she described this vision in red ink, Smith and her partner Sarah Garton Stanley made an offer to purchase 23.4 hectares of secluded lakeside in rural Nova Scotia.

It is called Birchdale and is the property of a local conspiracy loved by many in the area.

“There is no doubt that this is a dream place,” Stanley said. “I’m sure many people have dreamed of it, but we are the ones who really thought about it,’Let’s do it.'”

On January 4, 2000, Tracey Erin Smith (Tracey Erin Smith) wrote a dream of her in a notebook. Nearly 20 years later, when she was standing near Birchdale Lake, she thought of the property again, and suddenly felt that it was very familiar. The framed entrance hangs in one of the cabins. (Robert Short/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

The transition of their lives from the split between their Toronto apartment and their home in Kingston, Ontario to an off-grid cabin without telephone service was never expected. They are all very busy working in theaters in Ontario.

Smith has never even been to Nova Scotia. Her mother once said that she should live in a hotel because she doesn’t like cooking and housework.

But Stanley—her partner said she has always been better at repairing things—when she stumbled upon the listing of Birchdale, she had been paying close attention to rural real estate, which is a family outside Kemptville, New Hampshire. The former hunting and fishing lodge has a legendary history.

In 1911, the last man hanged for murder in Yarmouth County built this lakeside resort. For decades, it has been loved by families and frequented by celebrities. It is sought after by sports hunters because of its remoteness. . Later, it became the home of a group of Carmelite brothers.

The hotel has been in business since 1911. The staff will cut down the trees on the house to ensure that there are logs to keep the fire in the main large fireplace all day long. (

Stanley first listed Smith at a coffee shop.

“I have never seen anything like this in my life,” Smith said. “In terms of nature, time travel, huts, and the most unique and independent small villages I have ever seen, this is truly amazing.”

However, becoming a new owner is not as easy as making a financial bid. The most recent owner of Birchdale, an American named Helen Matthews, has a special vision for its future.

In the fall of 2019, she told CBC News that Birchdale “should belong to a Canadian, should belong to people who care about it and its history, and will remain open” to communities that cherish it.

Helen Matthews has owned Birchdale for 18 years and spent the past half of the time there and the other half in New York. After realizing that she could no longer maintain it, she decided to sell it. (Robert Short/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

After watching Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s story Regarding her unusual search — and the huge response it received on social media — Stanley and Smith realized that their hidden gems would not always be like this. In November of that year, they booked a ticket and spent 24 hours in Nova Scotia, visiting the property with a real estate agent and Stanley’s brother and sister-in-law who lived an hour away.

It was during that visit that Smith realized that the pine needle path scattered among the 15 country cottages felt familiar. For the first time in many years, she remembered the dream she had told many years ago.

Suddenly, she felt a sense of belonging. For the first time she could imagine life there.

Determined to be a “good housekeeper”

After returning to Toronto, Stanley searched Smith’s files until she found the notebook page that mentioned the dream. In the next few months, they thought deeply.

On January 4, 2020, synchronized with the admission time, when Stanley held a show in Toronto the night they were sitting in a Loblaws parking lot and submitted an offer. Just as the pandemic broke out, sales of $890,000 were made in March.

The cabins in Birchdale are scattered on the shore of South Carrying Lake. (Robert Short/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

Although Matthews claimed to be the gatekeeper of Birchdale, Smith and Stanley had a slightly different view of their new home, and they planned to live there for at least six months each year.

“We feel that we are housekeepers, and we hope we can be good housekeepers of this place,” Stanley said. “We are eager to realize her hope and let us follow in her footsteps as owners.”

Working party

Smith and Stanley did not spend their first summer in Birchdale with Matthews, understanding the nuances of aging log buildings and the maintenance required, but found themselves in self-isolation alone with little practical experience . Due to the border closure, Matthews is still trapped in the United States.

The main cabin in Birchdale is still a gathering place for tourists, with a large table, fireplace and kitchen area. Smith and Stanley live in another cabin. The main cabin and some cabins have generators that can draw water from the well. (Robert Short/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

From absolute darkness to wild animals—the scream of a red fox was particularly shocking one night—to the logistics of emptying mousetraps and dealing with accidental floods and fallen trees, the women said to adjust The scale of “shocking”.

Stanley said: “For the two of us, it is a really huge learning curve to negotiate what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are.” They survived and said they laughed along the way.

The main cabin, built in 1911, displays souvenirs from tourists and residents for more than a century. (Robert Short/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

Matthews, in his 70s, guided them from a distance, sent 18 pages of handwritten instructions, and provided prompts over the phone line, because these women called from a building that provided sporadic mobile phone services. They said that when one of her techniques worked, she would cheer.

“She is very committed to our success and Birchdale continues to be a great place for people,” Smith said.

There are 15 cabins in Birchdale, all of which are equipped with a wood-burning stove. Because there are wells and water towers for taking water from Nantonglu Lake, eight have tap water. (Robert Short/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

Matthews was not the only one who offered a helping hand. People in the area volunteer their time and skills to participate in “work parties”, where they provide guidance to women and help solve projects — from chopping wood to new roofs and stairs — while sharing stories and preparing food for the team to enjoy.

“We come from a big city, where this is not something you see, and then look at people, you know, drive from a distance with their own equipment and say,’Okay, what do you need?’ Then do it. This It’s really touching,” Smith said.

“They taught us how to get help,” Stanley added.

Plans to open houses

Last summer, in order to meet with the local community under COVID restrictions, the couple held an open day. More than two hundred people visited. Among them was a woman in her 90s who had her honeymoon in Birchdale in 1949.

“She showed us the cabin and the photos. An incredible story,” Smith said.

During this year, they met other people who believed that Birchdale had changed the direction of their lives—including those who had received guidance from Matthews or her previous religious group. When it was still a small house, other people lived in this property as young people.

During the hunting and fishing seasons of spring and autumn, outdoor activists will come to visit. In the quieter summer months, families usually stay. (

“They would point to the building and say,’Oh, I did that, my uncle did that.’ So there is sweat from so many people in this place everywhere,” Smith said.

This summer, we plan to register for “Birchdale Afternoon” on a monthly basis, the next time it will be July 18.

One of their visitors will be Matthews, and they will still only contact him by phone. She plans to return as soon as she can travel.

No plans to become a hotelier

Stanley and Smith bought this property in the hope that it can continue to be a sanctuary, a sanctuary with the potential for sustainable public life. They said it will not be a party destination or a destination for renting out to large groups. First of all, this is their home.

So far, they continue to host groups with long-term relationships with Matthews, including writers’ retreat and organizations from Yarmouth, as well as a group of indigenous youths.

They admit that this is far from a profitable adventure. They welcome guests and visitors through donations. Their work still pays the bills.

Former owner Helen Matthews used to carry weathered ledgers in the winter in the Catskills, New York. It has the names of visitors for five decades. After Smith and Stanley bought the property, she mailed it to them. (Robert Short/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

Smith is the artistic director of Soulo Theatre, which she founded to help people tell their stories on stage.Playwright and performer, she too Drag to heal, A documentary television program that follows people as they develop single-player programs.

Stanley is a theater director, is pursuing a doctorate degree, and is the associate artistic director of British theater at the National Arts Centre.

This summer, they alternated between Zoom calls and rehearsals, and spent time dealing with their lengthy property maintenance to-do list. They are repairing and restoring the hut, one at a time. People helped by milling fallen trees and providing expertise in carpentry and plumbing. Even so, there is always a problem to be solved.

Stanley said: “I think as long as we do our best to keep this place accessible, live, and cared for… then I think people are willing to help us do this.”

Imagine future plans

Smith hopes to continue to hold storytelling workshops and dedicate one of the huts to visiting children. She has been arguing about turning the other hut into a café. From inviting new Canadians to holding retreats for international thinkers, their ideas varied.

In her work area, one of the many views of the lake can be seen, and Smith said that she has been writing non-stop. She wanted to see what happens when others have a chance to get rid of the interference of the power lines, take a break from the Internet, and stop in the beauty of Birchdale.

“It may take a day or two, but it is different. It is very different. Your body will change. I think this is an incredible place of creativity,” Smith said.

Sarah Garton Stanley (left), Tracey Erin Smith and Matzo, their Yorkie Chihuahua Shitzu hybrid, plan to live in Birchdale for at least six months each year and have a home in Yarmouth. (Robert Short/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

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