Historic Acadian home becomes picture-perfect for the holidays
When Guy Surette’s grandfather built the family homestead in 1900, it had the warm atmosphere
of a comfortable, Acadian home. Today, it has that same feel, but with fun, retro décor (and modern amenities). The house is uniquely special at Christmastime, when Guy and his wife Patsy turn the home into a picture-perfect holiday card.
Located on Surette’s Island, near Yarmouth, N.S., the home — now known as Le Logis des Abbes — has been in the family for generations. The story begins in 1802 when colonial officials granted brothers Frederic and Joseph Surette a plot on the island.
“The island itself is named after Guy’s distant ancestors,” says Patsy, noting the home was passed down from Guy’s grandparents to his parents to him.
“I have fond memories of my grandparents living with all of us as a family,” says Guy, who grew up in the house. “There was a boat shop on the property that my grandfather built in 1920 where we spent countless hours playing with the many neighbourhood kids and my siblings.”
Guy grew up in a family of 11 children but is the only family member still living on the island.
He and Patsy married in 1976 and built their own home next to the old homestead. When they became owners, they decided to use the house as a vacation rental.
Although much of the old country charm still exists, the five-bedroom house needed several upgrades. In 2009, they started renovations, which involved adding a full bathroom upstairs, a small roof-covered deck and porch to the side entrance and upgrading the floors with rugs and vinyl flooring. This year, they removed the old chimney in the kitchen and reshingled the roof.
But for Patsy, it’s all about the décor. She says the response from guests when they walk in is always one of awe, followed by a smile.
“They say, ‘Where did you find the décor?’ or ‘This reminds me of my grandmother’s house,’ or ‘We had
a kitchen table like this one when we were growing up.’ Many point out how unique the style of the house is,” says Patsy.
Patsy has always had a passion for vintage and retro fashion and furnishings.
“One summer back in 2015, I was browsing in an antique store on the Yarmouth waterfront when I came across this 1950s red kitchen table,” says Patsy. “It reminded me of the kitchen table we had in my home in Wedgeport growing up, and also the one I remembered seeing in old photos of the homestead. I bought it for $120.”
She says she wasn’t concerned there were no matching chairs, as she already had four of a similar style
in their shed, passed down to her from her grandmother.
“The chairs were in really good condition, except they needed to be upholstered. I purchased some red vinyl fabric and had them refinished. They looked great and matched the table perfectly. From then on, I started to add whatever retro or vintage items I could find to make the kitchen have a 1950s style to it.”
What’s in a name?
When it came time to find a name for their vacation rental, Guy wanted something that offered commercial appeal, but was also personal. Because the house has a lot of history, and it being a third-generation home, they came up with the name Le Logis des Abbes.
“In our village of Surette’s Island, whenever you mentioned a person’s name, you relate it to their father,” says Patsy. “For example, ‘Guy a Abbe’ is ‘Guy, son of Abbe.’ The homestead was owned by Abbe and his wife Jacqueline, therefore the 11 children are all children of Abbe.”
“Le Logis” is Acadian for home and “des Abbe” means children of Abbe. In English, it means “the homestead of Abbe’s children.”
An Acadian Christmas
Christmas is a special time on the island.
“I have always loved decorating for Christmas,” says Patsy. “I know it makes our guests’ Christmas extra special when the house is decorated with holiday cheer. It also makes Guy and I reminisce of the simpler days of Christmas past, when the house would be filled with the Surette family.”
The couple also has their own usual holiday rituals, like going to mass on Christmas Eve at the little Church of St. Joseph, followed by eating rappie pie (a local Acadian dish made with grated potatoes).
“It’s such a delight and another one of our Acadian Christmas traditions,” says Patsy.
Surette’s Island is about 350 hectares. It was originally connected to mainland Nova Scotia by an iron bridge built in 1909 (which was replaced in 2014 with a new two-lane steel gird bridge). The island is a 25-minute drive to Yarmouth. Today, approximately 165 people live there, most of whom speak French.
A water view is never far away. From the home’s veranda, you can see the Tusket River across the road. There is also water not far from the back of the house, but it isn’t visible through the many trees that have grown up over the years. A seven-minute drive away is the island’s wharf, where you can see the lobster fishing boats coming and going.
The Surette family, like many others on the island, still celebrate their Acadian heritage whenever they can. National Acadian Day on Aug. 15 is a community celebration.
“In our area, we have a mass at one of the seven catholic churches in our municipality, followed by an evening of music and food,” says Patsy. “We also award an Acadian couple volunteer of the year. There are many Acadian flags, decorations and residents wear Acadian costumes. It’s a lot of fun.”