I met Robin Burgoyne, the owner of Caerwent House Stories, as she sat at a table in the shade of a tree on a Cabbagetown sidewalk during the annual outdoor art festival. Ranged modestly on the table was a selection of the beautiful hardcover books she had produced, and as soon as I saw the watercolours of Toronto’s houses on their covers, painted by Peter Liu, I was hooked.
Robin tells the story of your house and all who have lived in it. Beginning with work at the local and provincial archives, libraries, land registry offices, city building permits departments, and the web, Robin uncovers the mysteries and the details of your home’s history, from its building to the present day, and she brings that telling alive with interviews with former owners and photographs from archival sources.
I knew as soon as I saw her books that one would make the perfect gift for my husband. I was able to tailor our house story to include the history of the neighbourhood and I was also able to participate in the writing and editing of the book. The whole process felt so personal, and the final product was a history to treasure.
I once hosted a baby shower in this house for my brother-in-law, and one of his guests wandered through the house for a bit before saying, “Yes, I think I used to live here.” In one of its former incarnations, my house was an experiment in communal living. It was owned by Therafields, and it was one of several houses owned and operated as a psychoanalytic commune whose residents lived, worked, and underwent intensive group psychoanalysis together. Amongst other exercises, the residents practiced “scream therapy,” using intense vocalizations to align the unconscious with the voice. And that is how, in these houses, Canadian sound poetry was born. The guest in question was one of those poets. It just so happens that my brother-in-law is also a poet, as well as a professor of Canadian literature, and it was a wonderful moment of happenstance to be able to gather to welcome his baby in a house with auspicious poetic heritage. As a proud auntie, I can say that the baby was born with the gift of very precocious verbal abilities. Robin incorporated my brother-in-law’s research into that era of Canadian literature in our house story, and the anecdote of that coincidence is one of my favourite stories about our house.
Family history is so often bound up with place, and the work that Robin does with her house stories is a wonderful way to add to your family archive.