Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Outhouse

When it comes to preserving built heritage I really do not want to come off as holier than thou. I have indeed railed against buildings being torn down when other solutions were available. I have complained that the current provincial framework for preserving important heritage buildings is insufficient. I have also vocally mourned the loss of of some of our important local built heritage. In reality, I know that dealing with built heritage can be a difficult endeavour. As with most advocates for preserving built heritage, I fully understand that preservation often takes time, effort and, most of all, money. Preserving or even maintaining old buildings can be a difficult and expensive proposition. My passion built heritage comes from a belief that the legacy of our past is an important thing. While this legacy is not always a positive thing, it is essential that we have reminders of what has come before us. What mixing of cultures and personalities has forged our current lives. Most importantly, what can we do as stewards of our cultural inheritance so that future generations can gain a sense of their own cultural heritage?

Today I am sharing my own built heritage quandary. On my property we have a lovely old outhouse. These humble, utilitarian structures once dotted the landscape with great regularity (ahem). In the days before indoor plumbing outhouses were a necessity. There are certain biological functions which must be attended to and this was the place to do it. When outhouses were rendered obsolete by indoor toilets, most of these structures started to vanish. If you look carefully you can still find a few of these buildings, but most are now gone. Truthfully, when I walk past this building in the dead of winter I am very thankful for indoor plumbing.

Our outhouse is a wood shingled one holer. It was originally painted white, but the paint has mostly flaked away. At some point in its history someone applied a lovely interior covering of wallpaper. This would have been a nice domestic touch for a space like this. A small window, which would have allowed some light and some much needed ventilation, is very rotten. As far as outhouses go, this is an excellent example, but it has some condition problems. My personal problem is what to do with this building. Ideally I would like to spend some money to restore the building. It will need to be lifted and have its sills replaced but it is still salvageable. Obviously, I have no plans to use it for its original purpose. In an bit of adaptive reuse, I think that it would make a good children's playhouse and, after the kids are bigger, a storage shed. What priority do I put on a ostensibly surplus outhouse when we have a 200 year old house that I would like to free from its prison of vinyl siding? Like many owners of heritage properties, I am left wondering where my limited restoration dollars are best spent.

All for now,

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