Five years ago we made a quick decision to sell our house on Salt Spring Island and seek out a more peaceful home in which to raise our two young kids. Both had been born on Salt Spring where we had spent seven years fixing up an old farmhouse near Fulford Harbour while raising kids, ducks, chickens, goats, and dogs. We were living the dream on a small, sunny acreage with good hiking nearby. We had a rental cabin with a great tenant and we had good friends, but it felt like that was only the start of the dream.
We searched all over the Island from Sooke to Ucluelet to Sointula for that elusive dream property. We were looking for privacy, acreage, good water, flat arable land with good neighbours, a welcoming community, and a liveable house with a sunny south-facing exposure. Was that too much to ask?
Our search eventually found us on the south end of Cortes Island, looking at an old homestead that had been sitting vacant for well over 10 years. Blackberry bushes, wild roses, and bamboo filled the deer-fenced garden areas. Scotch broom covered big areas of the dry, rocky bluffs; in the orchard the broom grew as thick as a person’s arm. At least the soil looked fertile! The wetland was so backed up with years of silt run-off from the winter rains that it was difficult to walk out to the old heritage orchard through the tall swamp grass and mud.
True to our nature, once we walked the property, we knew we’d come home. There’s a standing joke between the two of us that we always buy stuff nobody else wants. We could see the potential of the place. It ticked off almost all the things we were looking for, so we just had to look through the long grass and broken-down 100-year-old apple trees to see it.
With some work, the house would be liveable. The artist studio attached to the front of the house and overlooking the orchard was perfect for an office and kids’ homeschool room.
The antique wood cookstove would keep us warm through the winter. There was plenty of firewood on the property—a great mixture of apple, cherry, fir, maple, and alder. We replaced all the plumbing and painted the floors and walls. It’s still a bit drafty and cold when those winter winds blow from the north, but it’s all part of the fun. I’ve learned from years of exploring remote but pristine places that paradise isn’t always comfortable.
With the luxury of a car ferry connecting to our island, but with the remoteness created by having to take two ferries to do our main shopping, we now feel closer to nature than we did on Salt Spring. There are miles of long sandy beaches to walk and explore near our home. The kids learned to swim just down the road in Hague Lake. Nestled between Desolation Sound and the Discovery Islands, we can paddle or sail in any direction. Most days we feel like we live in paradise. The compromise is that it often takes us more than 12 hours for a round trip to the grocery store in Campbell River. Sometimes we don’t get home the same day if a gale blows in while we’re there.
When we moved to Cortes, we decided to be more intentional about all aspects of our life. Our main goal was to live with less money and things, but more time for our passions. We changed from trying to work full-time, managing unreliable childcare, and facing burnout, to being able to support our family on one part-time income. Thankfully, on Cortes it’s normal to shop for a kid’s birthday present or new clothes at the Free Store.
We are grateful to be able to spend so much more time as a family. Our kids are homeschooled with both parents present.
We regularly walk the beaches, searching for beach glass and pieces of old pottery. At home we enjoy gardening and growing food and also enjoy being able to shop from local farms for fresh produce. During the spring and summer we take three or four months off work to go on remote wilderness expeditions. In the fall we press apple juice from our own hand-picked apples and make pie with the kids.
In today’s hectic world, we feel fortunate that our kids can grow up in this way. Yes, they have fewer programs and hands-on opportunities for some things than their city peers, but the Internet gives access to the world of Zoom classes and skill sharing where they can learn and follow passions.
After a typical day that involves farm chores, a time on the tire swing, a beach walk, FaceTime with Grandpa, baking a birthday cake, roasting hotdogs over the campfire, and reading a book before bed, the kids often thank us for such a great day.
Five years in, we are still working on our house, fixing roof leaks and painting the kids’ rooms, and we still have lots to do. We are planting new apple trees in the spaces where some of the old ones have fallen down. The swamp is now a flowing seasonal creek with a pond for the frogs and birds. We will continue to travel and dream up new adventures to teach our kids about the world we live in while enjoying our home on Cortes Island.