What can a cottager build at the lake? Everything. At least if that cottager is Bill St. Arnaud. Bill, a retired internet engineer, and his wife, Janice Walker, have had their property on Bobs Lake, Ont., since 1989.
“It was always my dream to build a log home,” says Bill. But he sure didn’t take the easy route to achieving that dream. With no road access at the time, there was no way to get heavy equipment to the build site. So Bill dug the foundation by hand, using pickaxes, shovels, and pry bars. He hauled the sand, gravel, and cement across the lake on a pontoon boat. “Every single shovelful had to be moved four or five times,” recalls Bill. Shovelled from the mainland into the boat; off the boat and into a pickup truck; off the truck and into a pile by the cement mixer. When it came time to pour the foundation, Bill had to shovel everything into the cement mixer, then into a wheel barrow, and finally, into the concrete forms.
All this shovelling took a long time. It wasn’t until the summer of 1994 that the foundation was finished. “Thinking back, I must have been insane,” says Bill.
Insane? No. Determined and creative? Yes. In late February of 1995, Bill got the help of a local man with a team of Belgian draft horses to drag the logs across the ice. Then he hoisted each 1,500 lb log into position using steel cables strung between the trees. Next came the roof, rafters, and dormers; the stone steps; and the porch.
“I’ve never been one to sit around,” says Bill. “I love physically working.” Which is why he then built all the cottage’s furniture, and constructed his own towable backhoe after taking a welding course. Sure, the backhoe probably would have been useful earlier, while, say, digging the foundation—but Bill lives and learns. “As Janice says, I was going on a lot of chutzpah even thinking that I could start such an undertaking,” he says. “I got these skills by making mistakes.”
So, is there anything at the cottage that Bill didn’t build? “Well…I didn’t build the fridge or the stove.”
This article was originally published in the October 2020 issue of Cottage Life.