Daily walk during pandemic leads to big plans for historic home

By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
October 14 2020

CANSO – In a grand two-story house located across from the Sailor’s Rest Park in Canso, a new business venture is taking shape -- thanks in part to COVID-19.

The house, built in 1902 by D. A. MacLaine, a superintendent for Western Union, has passed through several hands including the boy next door, Harry Whitman, who married MacLaine’s daughter; the Lumsden family; and more recently Elizabeth Measures, who ran a B&B in the six-bedroom house into the 2000s. But as of September 25, 2020, the house belongs to friends and business partners Lori Ann Rhynold and Jennifer Roberts. The story of their interest in the house -- and what they intend to do with it now that they’ve turned the key -- was told to The Journal last week by Rhynold, on location as renovations were underway.

“Jen and I had decided during COVID, we were going to walk every day just to give us some mental health breaks from our children,” said Rhynold. “We would walk to Dover Road and back and every time we would pass this building, this house, we thought, ‘such a shame that people from away are buying the houses, the historical homes in the community and they're being left to deteriorate to the point where they have to be torn down by the municipality. Both Jen and I have a love for history and the community; anything that goes on, Jen and I are usually involved. When we saw this house we thought, ‘Can we buy it and what can we do with the property?’”

What they can do, it turns out, is a lot. Rhynold told The Journal that they have a long list and schedule of things they would like to see happen at the house, including short-term rentals, Christmas parties, meetings, yoga nights, retreats, movie nights and more. “We want to do everything that we can and whatever the community wants; facilitate it here…We want this to be a hub in the community and not only to make money from the business, but we want to facilitate not-for-profit events. Jennifer and I are very much for community,” said Rhynold, noting youth events and outreach services like a coat exchange could be run at the house.

For some people, going into a business partnership is a daunting prospect but Rhynold and Roberts have been close friends for years and already have a working relationship of a kind. They both have spouses that work away and between them have eight children; Rhynold has five and Roberts has three. “We decided we would host family dinners together…that way we could combine our forces and look after this pile of kids,” laughed Rhynold.

“We just clicked. We’re very easy-going people. We laugh a lot. We’re great friends and we are very excited to do this together. We had the option that between the two of us we could combine our resources and purchase this property whereas if we were in the city, you’d be paying more than $400,000 for a big house like this,” she said.

While COVID-19 gave them the idea to start the business, it has also stymied some of their efforts; construction materials have not been easy to come by in some instances. “The biggest obstacle we have come up against has been waiting. We were waiting for everything. For example, we just went to purchase furniture to fill this house and we can’t get the furniture until the middle of December. It’s quite a long wait. The same with the construction materials,” said Rhynold.

Everyone in the community has been extremely supportive of the Union House endeavour, she said. One day an elderly lady from the community approached Rhynold’s husband as he was working outside and thanked them for taking the project on.

And the realtor who sold the house to Rhynold and Roberts has not let her interest in the pair or the house wane after the sale was complete. Beverly Carter and her husband Rob, a local businessman, have donated supplies, artwork and advice to the newly minted entrepreneurs.

Rhynold hopes Union House will be up and running by January. But if everything falls into place, they would like to hold a Christmas Open House and a New Year’s house concert, “Depending on COVID, of course,” she said.