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A gift to the future

How the bequest of a unique home will help preserve the East Coast's natural treasures for future generations.

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How the bequest of a unique home will help preserve the East Coast’s natural treasures for future generations 

Photos by Aleksa Lear

When the late Victor “Ray” Titterington bequeathed his Shelburne County house with its hand-carved woodwork and carousel-style cacti garden to the Nova Scotia Nature Trust, he was giving a gift to the future.

“We did not know Ray. We didn’t know of his interest in the organization,” says Bonnie Sutherland, executive director of the Nova Scotia Nature Trust. “We were notified by the lawyers in the settling of the estate. He left everything in his possession to the Nova Scotia Nature Trust. It is quite amazing and humbling. Somebody believed in our mission.”

The Nova Scotia Nature Trust was formed by a group of dedicated and concerned people in 1994 to preserve wild spaces and native species in the province. Currently, the trust protects over 5,665 hectares of land in Nova Scotia. As a non-profit organization, the Nova Scotia Nature Trust has received other generous gifts, but no one has ever left everything they owned, created, and worked for to protect the lands and waters of Mi’kma’ki. 

Perhaps this is what makes Titterington’s final wish such a generous act for generations to come.

“Clearly, in this case, Ray didn’t have significant wealth in his lifetime. Giving a charity your house is much bigger,” Sutherland says. “These kind of estate gifts are really powerful ways to give in a way they never could in their lifetime and really feel their life impact.”

Titterington lived many years in Port L’Hebert but was born in England in 1928 and moving to Ontario as an infant. He moved to Nova Scotia in 1995, and over the past decades created his own whimsical sanctuary on a 2.8-hectare oceanfront property with a lily pond. 

Imagine this unusual bachelor’s home in the middle of the woods with one bedroom, a single bathroom, a woodshop, plus a large solarium shaped like a circus tent filled with hundreds of cacti and several wooden hand carved jumpers hanging from the ceiling. Yet there is no kitchen stovetop. 

When recently Sutherland spent her summer vacation around Shelbourne County, and took in the region’s beautiful beaches and serenity, she went to visit Titterington’s house, which is currently listed on the market for $295,000. The whimsical, unusual, and solitary nature of the place struck her. 

“You can tell it’s very personal,” she says. “It reflects what really mattered to this person. Ray built it himself. Every single door frame— the brick, the flooring, and the ceiling—was built with care and around what he valued,” she says. “It’s a pretty quirky place if you were going to live there. Definitely a bachelor. The bed is in the middle of the living room. What was important was his craft. A big portion house is the studio. And then the outdoor cactus garden.”

Sutherland never met Titterington but says it would’ve “been so nice to meet him and hear his stories.” She believes he lived a private, quiet life. He never owned a cell phone or television or had access to the Internet. She got to know him a little more by touring his property, and seeing all the attention, care, and love he put into creating this little oasis before he passed at the age of 92 in 2020. 

One of the most striking elements of the house is the outdoor mature cactus garden, with climate temperature controls, which help to moderate an intricate system of various plants that thrive beneath several wooden carousel horses and airplanes. Titterington’s incredible green thumb was on par with his masterful woodshop skills, a retired tool and dye maker turned entrepreneur, he kept an incredible woodshop and left behind thousands of intricate carvings.

While there are no trails around the property, Sutherland gleans that Titterington enjoyed his view of the ocean, taking care of his garden and spending his days creating this massive collection of wooden carousel horses, animals, and boats. Throughout his house there are wood carvings of circus relics, and sculptures from his worldly travels (stone carvings, African wooden masks, and photographs).

“We’ve met some of the neighbours since who said he was pretty solitary. Didn’t seem like he didn’t have a lot of visitors. No family left. He didn’t sell his works in Nova Scotia that we could see,” says Sutherland. “Ray was very humble man. He created this all of his own enjoyment. He seemed very practical by the he wrote his will: all this goes to the advance of nature.”

In a time of global crisis, COVID-19 has left many of us reassessing our values, sifting through the layers of what really matters, and what we want our lives to be about. It’s a time when so many people are connecting or re-connecting with nature. As we strip away the other things and recognize all that matters are our connection to friends, family and nature. Titterington’s legacy illustrates there is an opportunity to make a difference in the world and give back to the wild that made us.

“The house is truly a unique thing,” Sutherland says. “It’s not near the city. It’s in a pretty remote part of the province. It’s a very quirky house. Practically, there are some things. As a place to live, it would take the absolute right person and circumstance. We’re hopeful that the interest is generating, and we find the right person to sell this to.”

With the proceeds from the sale of the property, the Nova Scotia Nature Trust will be able to continue to their mission of protecting nature: buying land, paying for stewardship, and training people to take care of the province’s natural habitat. 

“In case we didn’t find a buy we looked into another home for the cactus,” Sutherland says. “It’s such a mature garden, everything is interconnected, it would never survive the transfer. Best way to preserve the collection is to leave it in place: it’s so beautiful. I can’t imagine someone not wanting it. Ray’s whimsy is hiding amongst the plants, and all throughout aspects of the house.”

Shannon Webb-Campbell

East Coast Living