In November 1972 my husband Bart Weller and I flew our V-tail Beechcraft Bonanza from Danbury, Connecticut to Sydney, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada. Needless to say that late November, American Thanksgiving, is hardly the ideal time to visit one of the most beautiful and rugged islands of North America… Sydney had a controlled airport at that time and we obtained customs clearance, rented a car and checked into a hotel. Everything looked dismal… the next morning we embarked on our journey of discovery heading towards the English Town Ferry, on to Ingonish and left the Cabot Trail towards Bay St. Lawrence. At Capstick two slaughtered hogs were hung outside one of the farm houses – I felt I had come “home” to Ingmar Bergman’s “Virgin Spring”….. At Meat Cove we reached the end of the road – the ocean vistas were extraordinary.
It was a time when the Canadian Dollar had a higher value than the US Dollar and foreigners were allowed to invest in Canadian real estate, hence a perfect moment to try and find a nice piece of land in Atlantic Canada. An added advantage was that the four hour flight from Danbury, CT to Sydney, NS did not require refuelling our plane.
On our next trip to Cape Breton we met the caretaker of the Alexander Graham Bell Museum in Baddeck who connected us with Alex McRae of Boularderie Island. Alex McRae was passionate about harness racing for which he raised horses. He had also just begun selling off land of which he owned hundreds of acres. We were able to acquire 25 price acres of farm land on the South shore of the Bras d’Or Lake. This land came with a gutted wooden hut used to store turnips. We found out that once upon a time this hut had been a four bedroom house in which the mother of actress Shirley McLaine was born. The McLaines had arrived from Scotland in the eighteen hundreds and a large rock near the shore bears testimony of the various entities landing in Cape Breton Island.
In the ensuing years we made this hut a bit more comfortable, installing a gravity fed water system, an ultra simple “bathroom” with a gas fired toilet, a camper stove on which I cooked many meals and baked many blueberry pies. I fetched water in a 25 gallon milk can from the McRae barn, which were pumped into a 30 gallon water tank. I forgot to mention that we did install electricity – during those early years I knew where every drop of water went.
Each spring we returned for a few days to check whether our cabin had survived the previous winter, made improvements and come September, we boarded it up for the next winter. During summer months I picked strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, chanterelle mushrooms which were plentiful in our immediate surroundings and enjoyed the simple joys of Cape Breton, reminiscent of the summers I had enjoyed with my grandparents in Bavaria….
In 1988 my husband divested himself of his company VITRAMON Inc., headquartered in Monroe, Connecticut with its subsidiaries and with this newfound freedom we decided on building a somewhat less rustic house which could welcome our friends less eager to “rough it” than we had been.
We found a talented local architect, Ron LeLievre, who, after many late night sessions during which we discussed our anticipated use of this new vacation home – created an enticing 3-dimensional model and the project was ready to be launched.
ARKANDOR is the name I decided to christen this 8500 square foot timber frame house, created by BENSONWOOD, Keene, NH