Nova Scotia reno embraces and preserves local history
When you walk in the front door of Kara Gourley’s renovated, two-unit lodge in Malagash, N.S., you’re met with yet another door. This one was once a ticket booth with a small peep hole at its centre.
“It was used to screen people before they entered,” says Gourley. “They wanted to make sure the people trying to get in were actually members, and they were also probably checking to make sure they hadn’t been drinking.”
Built in 1929, the Lodge, as Gourley calls it, was once home to the Malagash chapter of Odd Fellows. The group is one of the world’s oldest international fraternities, dating back to the 1730s in London. It was also where the local group of Rebekahs (a worldwide service-oriented organization for women) gathered.
Without knowing anything about its interesting past, Gourley was drawn to the property.
“I own a cottage nearby and would drive by it almost daily for years,” she recalls. “I was always curious. I never saw anyone going in or out.”
She even went as far as to search the address on a real estate website and found old interior photos. “I was like, ‘Wow.’ I saw the 12-foot ceilings and all the original Douglas fir mouldings, trim and doors. It was obviously a very nice building at one point in time.”
Then one day in October 2016, she noticed a for sale sign on the front yard.
“I called the realtor immediately and I went in the next morning and made an offer.”
The former owner was an American painter who visited only occasionally, which was why it looked vacant. (The Odd Fellows and Rebekhas had moved to a new location in nearby Tatamagouche back in the 1980s). The place was a blank canvas when Gourley took possession.
She had a vision to turn it into two living spaces, one up and one down, and thought it would make a great Airbnb rental, given its proximity to Jost Vineyards, Tatamagouche Brewing Co., golf courses and local beaches.
Having never tackled a renovation project like this before, she began buying repurposed items at thrift stores and on Kijiji, including a large kitchen island for the upstairs space, which she calls the Loft.
“It all came together over the course of two years,” she says. “I was always picking up stuff here and there and I painted everything.”
Throughout the process of turning the lodge into a modern living space, Gourley was cautious to maintain the original character. There was a little stage upstairs, which she kept, but partitioned it off into a bedroom. There was also a narrow stage running around the perimeter of the large room. Although she removed some of it, she used older repurposed flooring to match the age of the building.
“I didn’t stain it to look exactly like the existing floor,” says Gourley. “I left it a different tone of wood so you could see exactly where the old stage would have been.”
She also kept all 3,000 square feet of baseboards, which she painted white to brighten the place up. All the original Douglas fir double doors and window mouldings were left as is, as well as most of the lights. There are other unique details, such as the high hooks the Odd Fellows used to hang their long elaborate robes.
“The hooks are still in the closets, in what would have been their office (now a bedroom),” says Gourley.
The only major changes she made were adding an 11-foot wall and a propane fireplace to the middle of the Loft space. For the wall, she used wood she found in the basement.
“It looks like it belongs there,” says Gourley. “It can be hard to decorate an older place because you want it to look interesting, but you don’t want it to look like it doesn’t have significance.”
For her, the real fun of the project was the decorating. She says people have described the style of the lodge as “beachy vintage,” which she thinks is fitting. It has a colour scheme of white and blue tones. She chose historical colours from Benjamin Moore, as she didn’t want colours that were not around in the 1900s.
“I wanted something that looked authentic,” says Gourley.
Interesting finds & symbols
The Rebekahs have several symbols to represent their organization. One of these is the honeybee hive. Gourley says this symbol represents one of her strangest discoveries at the house.
“At the lodge, the men would meet downstairs and the women, the Rebekahs, met upstairs. When I bought the place, I didn’t know it at the time, but the back wall of the building was full of honeybees and the nest was on the top floor, not on the bottom.
“Unfortunately, the bees died off last year,” she adds, noting it happened naturally. “It was just neat that there were all these interesting coincidences.”
Another coincidence happened six months before she bought the lodge. Gourley was thrift-shopping and picked up a little sugar bowl. She liked the symbol on it, and it was fine china, so she took it home and added it to her cupboard.
“I thought it was cute,” she says. “Then, after I bought the lodge, I started doing research and it dawned on me that the Rebekahs had their own china pattern. So, I picked up the sugar bowl, flipped it over and sure enough, it said ‘Rebekah.’” She has since also found a teacup in the same pattern.
While doing renovations in the basement, she came across a few old grave markers with a similar symbol. “I found out they belonged to the Rebekahs. If you were a member, you would be buried with one of these metal markers near the headstone.”
The markers have a Rebekahs symbol at the top: a dove, the letter R, and a lily intertwined; the flower’s stem forms three rings that represent friendship, love and truth. One also has a moon and seven stars.
Initially, Gourley had a lot of plans for the exterior of the building as well, but due to multiple other renovation projects she has on the go, that’s on hold for the time being. After her successful lodge renovation, she realized her passion for this type of work.
“I’m from a family of people who love to decorate, and we do it on a shoestring and love being creative,” she says. “My one wish now is that I learned more practical skills in high school, like plumbing and electrical, so I didn’t have to outsource it all.”
Gourley and her business partner recently finished fixing up an old lobster pound near the Wallace Wharf, which they’re calling the Lobster Trap. They also purchased a 100-plus-year-old farmhouse with a loft above the garage that they’re renovating.
“There needs to be more people in Nova Scotia preserving older places and turning them into something interesting.”