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Oldest house on Surette’s Island deconstructed this fall

The oldest house on Surette’s Island has stayed in the family for 191 years. PATSY SURETTE PHOTO
The oldest house on Surette’s Island has stayed in the family for 191 years. PATSY SURETTE PHOTO - Contributed

Much of the salvaged wood will be used in new tiny house near Wolfville

SURETTES ISLAND, N.S. —

Some of the building material from the oldest house on Surette’s Island will live on in a new structure after the home is deconstructed.
Prospere Surette, the son of Frederick Surette, one of the two original island settlers (Charles Baromme Surette was the other), registered the home in 1828. 
Gil Surette, co-founder of the Facebook Surette’s Island Group, says the building has stood for nearly 200 years as a testament to the early-returning Acadians’ ability to survive.
“It’s amazing, when you consider it was built just 73 years after the Deportation of the Acadians,” he said. “It was in place 39 years before Canada became a country, and it stood on the hill overlooking the bay 19 years before Longfellow penned his famous Evangeline.” 

Inventory site form for Prospere Surette’s house.
Inventory site form for Prospere Surette’s house.


Surette took photos of the building the night before Dorian hit, thinking it would be gone for sure since it was already weakened by dismantling.
“It stood its last storm like all others it had faced and I was there early next morning shaking my head in disbelief. Bravo Prospere! You built a home that lasted 200 years. The only thing that would last 200 years in our modern houses are the payments,” said Surette.
The house was built with no nails, only wooden pegs. The homestead has a fascinating history.

Margaret Surette with her sister Antoinette Doucette and their mother, the widower Mary Surette, in front of the house. The little boy is Donald Doucette, one of Antoinette's boys, who became a scallop captain in the 1960s. He now resides in Pubnico.
Margaret Surette with her sister Antoinette Doucette and their mother, the widower Mary Surette, in front of the house. The little boy is Donald Doucette, one of Antoinette's boys, who became a scallop captain in the 1960s. He now resides in Pubnico.

HISTORY OF OWNERS

Prospere Surette (1828-1874), a farmer, was married to Monique, who bore him seven children. The home was left to one of his sons, Ambroise, who was married firstly to Catherine, who had nine children, and secondly to Eleanore, who bore him three. Many descendants can trace their heritage back to this family.
William Surette, who owned the home with his wife Mary from 1890 to 1916, went to work in the United States and never returned. He was on the vessel the Jessie Costa that set sailed from Boston to Newfoundland, Dec. 13, 1917, when it went down and he perished. No one was ever found. His children were very small at that time.
Gil Surette remembers visiting the home often with a cousin of the owners. 
“The property always had all these old apple trees, currant and gooseberry bushes and a very nice garden and, of course, a big pile of wood. 
“The family never owned any vehicles and were staunch church goers. They had lived many years in poverty before there was anything like old age pension. They were very down-to-earth people,” he said.
He added that Peter Brett made a video in the 1970s called Island Memories in which he interviews the family. 
“I find it a very touching interview.”
The present owners, brothers Blair and Brian Surette, arranged for the vacant building to be removed this fall by The 1850 House in Canning
“They’re deconstructing it, basically piece-by-piece, for beams, boards, trim, windows, whatever they can save,” said Blair Surette.

History of ownership of Prospere Surette’s house.
History of ownership of Prospere Surette’s house.

 

THE FUTURE

Hugh McGoldrick and Jocelyn Aucoin own The 1850 House, which has been salvaging antique structures for more than 40 years.
McGoldrick says he hates to see old material go to landfills.  When a relative of the family told him the Surette’s Island house needed to be removed because it was becoming a liability, he and Aucoin, who is Acadian, wanted to save as many timbers, beams, doors and windows as possible to incorporate into their new project. 
The couple owns 130 acres on Black River Lake, 25 minutes from downtown Wolfville. They plan on building several tiny houses, incorporating salvaged material, on trailers to put on lakefront lots. These will be listed on Airbnb.
“The way the world is going today, everyone needs to get away and do some de-stressing,” said McGoldrick.
The Surette’s Island homestead will be memorialized in the tiny home that features its wood.
“We’re going to have pictures and a little historical display of the home in the tiny house, saying a lot of the building material came from Surette’s Island,” said McGoldrick.
Gil Surette says many are disappointed the old homestead couldn’t have been repaired and remained as an historic site.
“The community always had ideas of making the house into an Acadian museum, with our school kids showing the place to tourists as a means of summer employment. We all feel something about the place, a sad goodbye perhaps,” he said. 
McGoldrick suggests a rock cairn made from the stone chimney and a plaque from the old beams on its original site would commemorate its past. 
 

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