As you may have deduced, my presence on the site has been lacking recently. One of the reasons is that my long term man friend and I bought a house in the fall of 2015. She’s an older lady, built in 1897 which makes her 120 years old this year!
We had decided to try to find a house after renting a beautiful 2 bedroom Edwardian apartment for many years. However, finding a place in our price range that was in ok shape and more importantly close to downtown (where we both work most of the time) was a bit of a challenge. There really aren’t that many non-rental properties around the central zone that are not condos. We are not condo people. We wanted a place that we could fix up ourselves, paint any colour we want, and not share walls with anyone else.
After seeing a few places in a different neighbourhood, our relator (who we have known for years and has worked in the arts) found this house in a little known residential area very close to downtown and the theatre district. For some reason we saw the potential despite initial appearances. I look back at photos and it’s almost unrecognizable. We kind of knew that the best scenario is to buy a house no one else wants and make it yours. We had lived in the heart of downtown Winnipeg for 10 years, so the ‘rough’ neighbourhood status didn’t scare us. I think that my years as a theatre professional and general proficiency at solving logistical problems helped me to imagine what it could be. Leif wasn’t afraid to do most of the work himself and research areas of knowledge he was lacking.
Before we had even secured the purchase, Leif went digging in the archives to research the home and area. Centennial is actually a very old neighbourhood. There are houses and buildings dating to the 1880s! Our house on Pacific Avenue faced a rail line and ‘Fruit Row’ where warehouses stored and shipped out produce to the city and province. The tracks are long gone, but the building across the street is a former fruit warehouse and had a vintage sign on the side until very recently. The wide area where the rail yard was has been filled in with c. 1980s duplexes and town house style residential properties that are mostly low income housing.
Since the house had been on the market for so long and it looked like the seller just wanted to offload it, we bid below the listed price and they look it right away (which made us wonder if we should have offered less!). Taking the advice of our realtor, we enlisted the services of a mortgage broker. They will find the best mortgage for you and they are paid by the lender so there is no cost to you. Unfortunately our first experience with this was stressful. We were apparently approved by a satellite company from out of town, but it fell through at the last minute (before a long weekend). We had to scramble to get an extension on our deadline and get a mortgage from someone else. Luckily we got in at our own credit union and were able to save our deposit and buy the house!
Finally, we had to see a lawyer and sign a giant stack of paperwork. The gentleman we dealt with was great and explained each document before we signed them. He also told us that our property description was the most complicated he’d seen for a house. It seems that our modestly sized house and smallish yard are actually on 3 tiny lots. We have looked into it further but hit dead ends since the original records were destroyed in a fire long ago. We did discover that we have rights to use the bizarre L shaped ‘alley’ and driveway behind the property to access the back of the house. There is no through alleyway behind the other houses on the block and it’s too bad we can’t look up the history of this area because there are very odd divisions of land.
Leif also discovered some of the former tenants of the house. The most notable was Charlotte McRae (b.1855, d.1914), daughter of Duncan McRae (a Scottish architect responsible for the building of Upper and Lower Fort Garry as well as other buildings in the region). Charlotte and her husband George Rolf lived in the house with their 5 children. George was born in Quebec in 1848 and came to Manitoba in 1870 as a member of the Red River Expeditionary Force. It looks like it was a rooming house or rental property after that, with a rotating cast of mostly single men.
The longest serving tenant was a man named Nick who lived here for over 50 years with 3 consecutive wives and their children. He passed away in 2003. Between him and us it was taken over by a slumlord who ripped out most of the remaining original character, slapped cosmetic fixes on things and rented it out to a number of people over the next 12 years. Over this period, the house was sadly neglected/disrespected. We are fairly certain it would have been a tear-down job if things continued along that road.
Next time: NewOldHouse gets some long overdue TLC (or Heather and Leif have their work cut out for them).