A Chance Meeting

As far as I can tell, it all began with a chance meeting in the park. A big brick house on the corner of Alma and Patrick was being prepared for sale. Word had it the seller was moving into a top-floor, top-notch lemony condominium set among the baleful willows of Sydenham ward and, well, if that was the future he’d lined up (with our help) who could blame him? 

The woman had heard those rumours for days - the news was settling between the trees like a fog - and she wanted that house. She said as much to the seller, who happened to be out traipsing with his dog. And she must have said it very well, because from that modest beginning, that soft hinge, lives have changed, along with the deeds to three properties. 

There were no signs on any lawns, no MLS® listings, no splashy virtual tours, or caravans of would-be buyers circling the inevitable open houses. Just four families working together and moving in concert.

In order to secure that house on the park, the grand one-time B and B with its centre hall plan, another house on Raglan Road had to be sold quickly. But finding a buyer there was not much fuss at all. A young couple working with us just moved their things down the hill from Sydenham Street and took their place on Raglan Road’s old wood floors and leaned together before the big bay window set high above the street. Their own sweet cottage, with its deep verdant gardens and whitewashed charm, was sold to clients moving into the city from Ottawa, and feeling with some justification that they’d won the lottery in these tricky real estate times.

And so it was done. After a few frantic weeks, and some remarkably good-natured back and forths, with paperwork and without, all that was left was to call the moving companies and redirect the mail. 

Cheri and I were in the background for most of it. We advised that in this moment of high demand and low inventory one just never knew what sort of price the open market might provide for any of these properties. They should consider listing their homes, we suggested. But no one was much interested. It was as if these moves were conceived in some mental space completely divorced from profit and loss considerations. We were involved throughout, finding the right clients for each house and providing reassurance on market value, organizing timelines, guiding everyone gently around the pitfalls and dark spots in Agreements of Purchase and Sale. But maybe the main reason I return now and again to this simple set of interactions is that as far as I can tell, they were conducted entirely without rancour, or greed, without any ambition other than the betterment of everyone involved. That’s all the more remarkable considering it’s been more like something out of a Cormac McCarthy novel the last two years in Kingston’s real estate market.

I was asked a couple of weeks ago whether I remembered 108 Raglan Road enough to write about it and if so, would I? And you know, for a guy with a pretty lousy memory it’s remarkable the detail with which I can summon every one of these places. The condominium’s broad balcony and the living room/ballroom beyond. The views north to the 401 highway from the house on the park, a vulture twisting that day over Pine St, its wings spread against a white sky like hands. Its centre hall plan and twin front parlours. And the surprising, low-slung way the house on Sydenham St ranged out towards the back and the garden, the weighted drifts of light in there like so much snow, and the mid-century furnishings mixed potently with the hundred-year history. But sure, I said, I remember 108 best, though I’m not sure why.

It has something to do with the big tree out front, perhaps. The way its roots have heaved the walkway, like some giant shrugging, and now threaten the steps. As if it’s proving a point about permanence and who’s in charge. I like very much that the sellers never seemed to have ever considered calling in the arborist to remove this sky-bound grey beast.

The Fire Insurance Map of 1924, with the properties roughly marked.

The Fire Insurance Map of 1924, with the properties roughly marked.

I really love that bay window mentioned earlier. I am moved even now by its deceptive altitude above the road (which reminds me obscurely of the rows of beachfront houses you find in English seaside towns) and the way the bay’s circumference is just about perfect if what you want is to stand shoulder to shoulder with a loved one and peer out from there at the comings and goings, and the way the rain sometimes pours down the road towards Montreal, and the kids walk past weekday mornings on their way to Central, holding hands and weighed down by their rainbow backpacks.

 I like the modernish addition at the back of the house and the unfinished way you enter into it, nearly ducking even as you climb the two or three splintered steps. And the courtyard beside it, so crammed with brick and limestone, a nineteenth century sort of Tetris, and yet so European a space in its sensibilities, the way it nearly screams for an early espresso as the sun insinuates its way around the corner. I like it all, is what this adds up to.


I walk past all of these houses regularly, by the way, meandering much as I have here, marvelling at the unseen connections, the tangled histories. I could live in any one of them. I can imagine my favourite paintings on their walls and can imagine as well how I would use the rooms, and where I would sit to write more missives a lot like this one, only about other homes, once I haven’t visited yet but which excite me all the same.

Thanks to Sergio, and Craig and Ginna, and Jess and Cade, and Jen and Scott, for the inspiration here. And to Jacoba, for the push.