How a Christmas tree in an abandoned N.S. house is spreading hope

·5 min read

Someone put up a Christmas tree in the crumbling remains of Lori MacKenzie's family home in Earltown, N.S.

The derelict farmhouse, a favourite spot for photographers and locals, is now abandoned and sits atop a hill near a bend on a main road not far from Truro.

"You come around the corner and because there's no power and it's out in the middle of nowhere, you just see kind of this darkness, this shadow of a creepy house and a Christmas tree lit up," said MacKenzie.

One day before Christmas the tree just appeared in the doorway, wrapped in colourful lights.

MacKenzie doesn't know who put it there, and she doesn't really care to know. She said the mystery is more magical.

Mercedes Blair Photography
Mercedes Blair Photography

"When you truly look at it, you see what I describe is that sadness all around, like there's still a bright light in the centre of the house, like the heart of the home," she said.

She sees a message in that image: "[The year] 2020, it's collapsing all around us, but there's still a light at the end of the tunnel."

There hasn't been electricity in the house since the 1990s and MacKenzie expects the tree lights are solar powered.

Her parents moved to the property to start a hobby farm in 1974 when she was three years old, and that's where she lived until she graduated from high school around 1990.

"And then shortly after that my parents divorced and with [my dad] working away with VIA Rail, he just got away from it and life happened. And my sister and I, we weren't farmers so we weren't going back to it," she said.

Decades later, her dad still owns the property but the house has deteriorated.

Mercedes Blair Photography
Mercedes Blair Photography

"I can see directly into my bedroom if I'm standing in the driveway now," MacKenzie said. "The stairs have all fallen in. I don't think there's any floors in the house right now. It's pretty sad, actually."

These days, the house is a popular landmark in the area where people often stop to take photos. Some call it the haunted house.

"We don't look at the house the way it stands … We look at the memories," said MacKenzie.

Most of her childhood memories in the house are happy ones. She remembers sledding down the hills or skating on the pond in the backyard with her sister.

At one time, the family farm had cows, horses, chickens, pigs and one goat. MacKenzie even had a pet raccoon for a little while, she said.

Loved by many

MacKenzie's childhood home is one of the many beloved derelict buildings that have captured people's attention across the province.

Admirers of these forgotten places don't see them as eyesores. Photographer Steve Skafte calls them temporary monuments and said people are often eager to capture them while they can before they topple or are demolished.

Locals come to feel connected to these places, he said.

Lori MacKenzie
Lori MacKenzie

"If an abandoned home lasts long enough, and some of them you'll find they stand for 20, 30, 35 years without anybody in them ... their stories become our stories, sort of thing," said Skafte, who lives in Bridgetown in the Annapolis Valley.

He hasn't visited the Earltown house but has seen many photos of it posted to the Facebook page he oversees, Abandoned Nova Scotia.

"Those sort of houses, I think, capture people's imagination because they are the things they expect to see in children's books or haunted house stories. It seems like it's right out of a movie," he said.

MacKenzie doesn't mind if people take photos of the house from afar, but she said the building isn't safe and the family has had issues with people trespassing in the past.

Lori MacKenzie
Lori MacKenzie

"People comment and say, 'Oh, that's the place I stole the doors from,'" she said. "People just drop their garbage off up behind the house, so there's some disrespect as well. We've tried putting up signs, no trespassing, whatever. The kids just tear it down and go in anyway."

But for the most part, she said people are respectful.

A message of hope

Skafte said he doesn't share the locations of the abandoned buildings he photographs to protect them from being vandalized. He encourages people to pay attention to whether a property is maintained and has signs warning people not to enter.

"I might still take a picture from the road, but I won't approach and I certainly won't go inside anything that has any warnings or if the power meter is still hooked up," he said.

MacKenzie doesn't mind that someone took the time to decorate her former home for the holidays. In fact, she's thankful they did.

"I don't think they knew the reaction they were going to get, of the message they were really sending of that light inside the darkness type of picture," she said.

Sometimes MacKenzie jokes with her sister that they should finally give the old farmhouse a big push and send the whole thing falling.

But for now, nothing seems to be able to topple it.

"It's still standing, like what's going to take it down? I don't know."