Charles Haynes was born and raised in the big bungalow up the mountain from the wharf at Victoria Beach. And that’s where he was going to retire with wife Norma until Annapolis County knocked the house down and hauled it away last week.
They also took his garage and a third building that used to be a store. And it wasn’t because the place was an eyesore. Haynes spent countless hours and lots of money over the past 15 years fixing up all the buildings.
No, the county was afraid the place was going to slide down the mountain. Giant baskets of rock Haynes had spent tens of thousands of dollars on to prevent that from happening were no match for a deluge of rain in June that caused the mountain to start to slip. It’s about 25 metres down and there’s another house at the bottom.
“Without question this is a profoundly difficult circumstance,” said Annapolis County Warden Timothy Habinski. “It’s difficult to imagine what it would be like to be a homeowner placed in that circumstance.”
Back in June some of the baskets dropped two or three metres and trees were toppling and sliding down causing power lines to arc at the foot of the hill. But Haynes isn’t sure the house would have gone. He said an engineering report showed the basement being just a few feet above bedrock and the house had sat there for 70 years without moving – right up to the day it was torn down. But that few feet away from the bedrock might as well have been a mile.
Right from the start Haynes had wanted more time to find a solution but when he failed to demolish it within the county’s time frame, the municipality took control in July under provisions of the Municipal Government Act and it was demolished on Aug. 20.
“From the municipality’s perspective we’re required to do certain things in order to protect our residents, and in a circumstance like this particular one unfortunately we didn’t have the luxury of a lot of time,” the warden said. “We recognized there was a clear threat to people’s safety and to property posed by the unstable situation with the bank and the home that was there.”
“The bridgework was always being reconstructed by my dad,” Haynes said. “We had reworked the walls four years ago. We put thousands of dollars into that. We saw that it was failing last fall. I got an engineer down and a contractor and we were all set to go -- and we missed it by three days because of the rain.”
“The property owner had an opportunity to test to see if there might be bedrock beneath the home that might imply that it was more stable than we had feared,” Habinski said. “Unfortunately, the results of the tests didn’t demonstrate that that was the case. In fact, the engineering report suggested the whole hill could come down at any time, particularly because it was susceptible to influence by heavy rain, and we know this has been a year where our weather has been really unpredictable.”
Habinski said the Municipal Government Act not only gives the county the authority to act in such cases, but makes it an obligation to do so. The county would be at fault if something happened and it hadn’t acted.
Haynes, who lives in Dartmouth, inherited the house from his mother when she passed away in 2005.
“It was built by my dad,” he said. “They never had any credit cards or anything like that, so it was all built as they went and the first time they spent any time in it was Christmas Eve. They didn’t have any furniture. They remembered staying in front of the fire place there.”
Haynes is now in the house next door that used to belong to his aunt. It’s his now. After his aunt died it went up for auction and because he didn’t want to see the family lose it, he scraped together enough for a down payment and bought it.
“We were just kind of hanging onto it,” said Haynes. “Now I’m glad I did. It wasn’t because we were rich or anything, that’s for sure.”
They were evicted on June 25. Norma Haynes received a call that Nova Scotia Power was disconnecting their electricity, and then they received a call from the county that they had to be out by 3:30 p.m. that day. That was at noon, but he was given an extra hour and a half when he told the county he had an engineer coming out that day – at 3:30 p.m. But in the end, it didn’t matter.
They had just a few hours to get their belongings out and everything ended up next door, mostly on the lawn, in a frenzied afternoon of moving.
“Then we got a demolition order on the 27th, a Thursday,” he said. They wanted him to demolish it within seven days. “A week later I was supposed to have it done and they took ownership.”
Haynes appealed to no avail. He wanted to slow things down and look at fixing the hill from the bottom as opposed to just taking the house down at the top.
When the equipment arrived on Aug. 20 to knock the buildings down, Haynes didn’t even know it was going to happen. When he saw that excavator bucket go through the roof, Haynes has a hard time describing how he felt. “That was wicked,” he said. “That was just like the death of a family. Just like somebody in the family died. I never felt anything like it.”
“No one takes any pleasure in a process like this,” said Habinski. “My heart absolutely goes out to the families that have been impacted by this. But we have to take steps in order to ensure the safety of our residents.”
It’s not over yet for Charles and Norma Haynes. Work has yet to be done to stabilize the hill. In the end, Charles Haynes expects he’ll be stuck with a bill anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000. And his insurance isn't going to cover it.
“When something like this needs to be done really rapidly, the municipality pays the bill for that remediation and then a lien is placed against the property to reimburse taxpayers for the money that’s laid out,” Habinski said. “In this circumstance I’m not really sure what will happen with the property long term, but that’s the procedure. That’s what we have to do.”
Charles Haynes is in IT and Norma Haynes is a health care professional. They’d sit in the window of the bungalow and look out over what she calls ‘the million dollar view.’ There’s the wharf below, the Digby Gut, and 800 metres across the water is the Fundy Rose ferry terminal and a water rescue station. The ferry actually sailed out through the Digby Gut during the interview.
Almost 415 years ago Samuel de Champlain sailed in through "The Gut" scant metres away to nearby Port Royal, the first permanent European settlement in Canada.
There used to be a big store with an ice cream parlour on the property. That burned in 1947 and Haynes’ grandfather bought the land and later built a smaller store with wood from the old community hall that he’d also purchased when the community was giving it up.
The house where Charles Haynes grew up was built in 1954 and he remembers being seven years old and his mother going to summer school to upgrade her teacher’s licence. Haynes and his sister ended up being babysat at the fish plant where he made fish boxes and his sister worked below cutting up fish. Haynes was paid 5 cents a box. His father was manager.
Charles Haynes stands on the lawn next door to where his house used to be. Where he lives now when he’s not in Dartmouth.
“Roy Casey was given this land by my grandfather to build this house in ’47 and he was the one who started the fish plant down on the wharf,” Charles Haynes said about the property that used to be his aunt’s. “When he was finished with it (the fish plant), Joe (Casey) got the plant and my father ran the plant for Joe. My grandmother was a Casey and she would have been Joe’s aunt.”
Haynes remembers as a kid going out on Joe Casey’s boat with his sister. Joe wasn’t there, but a man named Arthur was at the helm and would chase the ferry. Joe Casey used the boat to pilot bigger vessels up the Annapolis Basin and Haynes remembers it as being very powerful.
Haynes stands by the yellow caution tape between the two properties and he can look almost straight down to the wharf. Haynes said the demolished house was not a cottage as described by other media. He said it was a three-bedroom house with a basement and 10-foot foundation walls and was filled with life growing up.
He’s 59 and has a lot of memories stored up. Between those memories and photographs, that’s all he’s got now.
Norma wonders if there was something more they could have done. Charles asks that too. He’s even asked himself if he did anything to make it worse. But he doesn’t know what that would have been.