Would you leave a very comfortable house in the city – a mansion, even by Toronto standards – to live in a dilapidated 1800’s farmhouse in the middle of nowhere?
I, as you know, have lived in interesting places. But when former model and media manager Wendy Boothman told me what she did 31 years ago, even I was surprised.
In 1986, the Boothman family decided to move to the country. They found a large log house in perfect move-in condition. Wendy’s husband and children loved it.
But Wendy wasn’t sold. Without telling her family, she kept looking. She asked the realtor to show her a place in Kendal, a hamlet northeast of Toronto. They toured the property.
“It was a hot August day and the poor realtor was in his suit and tie. I had no idea what 140 acres meant, so we ended up walking and walking.”
They also toured the house. Wendy said she loved the place.
The shocked realtor replied: “Wendy, it’s so dilapidated! Look at the holes in the floors! You have 5 children and a housekeeper. You can’t live here!”
Husband Nick saw it next. An international fashion photographer and audio-visual director with a Toronto studio, he was stunned.
“Woman!” he said. “You’ve finally flipped. I refuse to set foot in that house!”
Wendy showed him the huge wooden barn with cathedral ceilings. Then she drove him up to the highest point of the property and showed him the view. He was impressed… somewhat.
“We’ll renovate the house to what we want,” she reassured him. “We’ll design the garden to what we want. But most importantly, the children will be part of the designing. They’ll decide on the pool, their rooms, and so on.”
Sounded nice. In theory.
“If you think the children are going to want to leave a Toronto mansion to camp out here while we do all the work required, you have another think coming,” Nick protested.
This was a daunting challenge.
Then Nick relented. “If you can sell the kids on this move,” he told her, “we’ll do it.”
One Sunday in August, Wendy and Nick took the kids on a long drive, turned off a country road and drove up to a hill with an impressive view of the area.
The children asked:
“What are we doing here?”
“We’re having a picnic in the country!” Wendy replied, smiling. “We’re moving to the country, so we may as well get used to it.”
After the picnic, the seven of them trooped through the fields and peered into the forest, excited.
Walking down the other side of the hill, the children spied a house and asked if they could look inside — not knowing their mother had a key.
They saw the tiny rooms, the old kitchen, the holes in the floors… the whole catastrophe.
But when Wendy took them into the barn, they were awestruck.
Wendy seized the moment.
“We can move into the log house… or we can get this place and design it together. Your friends can come on weekends. We’ll have horses – you can ride. Can you imagine if we had a pool on the side of a hill and gardens?”
They returned home to Toronto, and started drawing up plans together.
They moved into the house on Halloween that October. Wendy, who knew nothing about school buses, sent the 2 younger kids to the wrong school the first day.
That winter was full of challenges. For one thing, the house was freezing cold.
Both parents still worked nearly 2 hours away in downtown Toronto — Nick at his studio, Wendy at her media management and design office. Every morning, he drove the 3 older children to school in Toronto. Wendy picked them up every afternoon.
A year later, she decided to move her business to her home, creating one of the first “virtual teams” in Canada.
That eased a few challenges on the home-front. But renovating the house and landscaping the grounds would become a huge, 4-year project.
Photos by Hamlin Grange