‘A sturdy house, with a big heart’

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/05/2022 (278 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Crescentwood has been home to writer and creator Debbie Schnitzer for a long time. After living beside 1071 McMillan Ave. for 15 years, she moved into and has lived at that address for the past 22 years.

“I had long admired it, especially the fact that it had a main floor bathroom and an addition that could be used for a bedroom. My husband was chronically ill and required at-home dialysis and this space was perfect for him. We did not have main-floor space in our own house that could accommodate his needs and so when this one went on the market, we were thrilled to be able to purchase it,” Schnitzer explained.

The character home, thought to be about 110 years old, is a two-and-a-half-storey, four-bathroom, three-bedroom house with an open front porch, an enclosed three-season back porch, a kitchen with a gas stove from France and a basement playroom for Schnitzer’s grandchildren, with a laundry room attached.

Debbie Schnitzer’s McMillan Avenue home, thought to be about 110 years old, is colourful and full of character and charm.

“It has such lovely, untouched wood trim, old hardwood floors well worn, teak counters and floor in the kitchen (amazingly designed by the former owners) — it is such a sturdy house, with a big heart, accepting of all the colours I’ve experimented with, playful in its spirit, I think. As an old house (something like me), it can express itself within a range of things that wear out, break, or give way… I am deeply unhandy so I rely on the expertise of strangers to put parts of her back together again as needs be,” Schnitzer added.

Inspired by a folk-art plate she saw in a store window, Schnitzer chose an array of strong colours for the exterior of the house, which is painted a multitude of shades, including curry, eggplant, burgundy, apple red, neon green, orange, turquoise, royal blue and sage.

“It’s bold but cheers me up through the longer, and now seemingly even longer, grey-white-grey winter,” she said.

“I admire its construction — I think there are three cracks in all, even in this drought and long, cold winter, though she shifts, she rebounds — the doors that would not close one week yield to the touch and close a few weeks later. I love the open front porch and the back porch with its windows that surround the space. I like old houses — their character, what many name their charm, sets in from the very beginning of a build, I think. That made her solid — the expertise of the last owner who refurbished parts of it kept faith with its age and character. It has a lively heart and many moods.

“Certainly, the addition gave my husband a great deal of delight and, as his illness progressed, his view out the window toward the front garden satisfied at a deeper level. It has been the most generous house. Though my husband succumbed to his illness and it took me quite some time to figure out how to live on after his death. I wondered if I should downsize — find something smaller, easier to maintain — but this house/home holds such memory, I could not leave it behind.”

The addition has been converted into space for the Living Story Project, which Schnitzer co-directs with her colleague, certified Canadian counselor Kristy Taylor. There are now two living rooms in the main part of the house that will serve as group space for participants. Using myth and story to explore issues that matter — such as wellbeing, identity, creative expression, empowered choice-making, cultural systems, and integral relation, the Living Story Project emphasizes mentoring, connection, and community within shared spaces that are collaborative and welcoming. The two have been offering courses and workshops online throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and look forward to using the space for in-person engagement when safe to do so.

Schnitzer is making her home available as part of the Living Story Project.

“We had always hoped this house would serve as its centre, where we might run small workshops and/or classes, integrating storytelling with a range of other art forms.”

Visit Living Story Project on Facebook and Instagram.

Janine LeGal

Janine LeGal
St. Boniface community correspondent

Janine LeGal is a community correspondent for St. Boniface who also writes the These Old Houses column for our Community Homes section.

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