This Is Not a Fence

The signs of my dereliction of duty to this blog are mounting. Folks are writing to ask if I’m well or if the house has collapsed or if the urban bears that terrorize Point St. Charles have eaten me. Here it is early August and the visual theme of my last entry is snow. Yesterday, while nosing around at Canadian Tire looking for a way to put our new canoe on the ceiling, I saw that hockey equipment had pretty much pushed camping supplies off the shelves. P.K. Suban has just signed an 8-year deal with the Canadiens and the sports reporter on the CBC says he “just can’t wait for hockey to begin.” The snow is surely on its way, but not yet, for God’s sake!

Forgive me if I wander from the Point for a minute. This summer has been a full one even though the blog has been dormant, and I have to bring myself up to date to make sense of it all. In May, we drove to the east end of Algonquin Park and bought a used, 16.5 foot Kevlar and epoxy canoe (42 lbs.) which is currently airborne above our kitchen-to-be.

DSC_4341 At around the same time, we steeled ourselves for the necessity of reclaiming a 42-inch strip of asphalt-covered property beside the house that the previous owners had, in effect,


ceded to the neighbours. Then there was the matter of designing the room on the first floor at the back of the house. This narrow little extension had previously held an enclosed stairwell from the second floor, a shower room (the toilet was elsewhere), and a kitchen. Patricia re-designed the space as a gloriously-lit, hanging-out area beside a deck. But wait! There was a ramshackle, two-storey side porch where the deck was supposed to be! And where was the glorious light to come from? Well, the porch had to be demolished and a window and sliding door had to be chosen, purchased and installed. Whoops. Forgot to say. Holes first had to be cut in two back walls to hold those windows and doors.



DSC_4324 And the deck? It has to be integrated with a fence on that side of the property . . . but there is no fence.

All of which returns me to a familiar theme. Houses are like ecologies, with each nail and joist, it seems, related to and dependent on every other nail and joist. That’s why in-residence renovation is so damn hard. That why a young couple we know from rue de Liverpool is talking about moving out, knocking it all down, and starting from scratch.

Facing this great lot of work and the first intimations of winter, we decided to take out a loan based on our equity in the property. Damn the financial consequences and hire someone to help get it done! It turned out that we were safe from our financial exuberance, though. A visit to my bank loan officer revealed that we don’t have any equity because the evaluation of the house was lowered when the inspector saw that one floor was no longer rentable (much less liveable). In other words, the mortgage is worth more than the house, even after almost three years of making mortgage payments. The value of the house is a dream of the future, not a current reality.

OK, so that left us, not for the first time, having to make do. I started building a tall fence

_1010149 on the border of our reclaimed 42 inches, then we left for a week or so to pursue a photography project in the States, and then we came back to finish the fence. But that was just a start on this summer’s goals.

I’m of two minds about the part of the blog devoted to construction. I want to pour out everything I’ve learned about fence construction, but I don’t want people to feel like they’re reading a recipe book written in Old English. Following my long piece about levelling floors and sistering joists, a couple of otherwise engaged and discerning readers complained that they hadn’t understood a word of it. I also don’t want to write a piece of the sort I recently did for Reader’s Digest. My editor there asked for instructions on “how to build a gazebo in 250 words and five steps.” There it is, in the June 2014 issue, if you really need to know.


So I’ll compartmentalize. I’ll write a follow-up that’s dedicated entirely to fencing know-how and you can skip or read as you wish. And for relief from how-to, a blood and guts entry about attempted murder in the old Point will follow. Got to make amends!

About Terence Byrnes

Terence Byrnes is a writer and photographer who teaches at Concordia University in Montreal. Visit to see his photography.
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One Response to This Is Not a Fence

  1. Bonnie-Carol Cooke says:

    I feel your pain Terry I really, really do. We are 5 years into it now on our reno and the 2nd floor is still not livable but my taxes keep going up and up. I can’t believe they lowered your evaluation, they keep increasing mine every time I request a permit.
    There are some very mean spirited people working for the city. It’s the luck of the draw with city inspectors.
    You should switch to the Royal Bank, they approved a line of credit based on my own evaluation site unseen… no inspection necessary. Send me your email address and I’ll send you some photos of our progress. We started with the outside and have worked our way in. We are so close but so far… keep running into roadblocks every time we try and do something. Getting discouraged but not giving up yet!!

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