Loss of P.E.I. historic homes 'disheartening,' says heritage carpenter

This church in Wheatley River is an example of a historic building that could be restored to create more housing, says Heather Harris. (Heather Harris/Instagram - image credit)
This church in Wheatley River is an example of a historic building that could be restored to create more housing, says Heather Harris. (Heather Harris/Instagram - image credit)

Fixing heritage homes in disrepair could help with the housing crisis, says a P.E.I. heritage carpenter and old homes enthusiast.

Heather Harris runs an Instagram account called Old Island Homes where she posts photos of heritage houses around the Island as well as, in some cases, where the homes used to be.

"I find it disheartening. I always have," said Harris.

"As I learn more about old buildings it almost feels worse in a way."

Heather Harris/Instagram
Heather Harris/Instagram

The loss is wasteful in two ways, she said. Firstly, many of these buildings could, with a bit of work, become homes for people who desperately need them.

"Unfortunately P.E.I. is in a bit of a housing crisis, so it's disheartening in that sense that there's one fewer house out there," she said.

"[I'm] not saying that, like, saving all these abandoned houses is going to fix all of our housing issues, but it's still tough to see."

Heather Harris/Instagram
Heather Harris/Instagram

There is also the loss of the craftsmanship that went into building the home, and the materials themselves. Many contain wood from old growth forests, the kind of trees that simply don't grow on the Island anymore.

"It's just a shame to see something going to waste like that," said Harris.

"That's just going to end up in the landfill."

A growing interest

While she has always had an interest in older homes, that interest recently took a more professional turn.

During the pandemic she began to follow Instagram accounts of people fixing up older homes, which piqued her interest so much she enrolled in the heritage carpentry program at Holland College. She recently graduated, and is working on the restoration of Province House.

Heather Harris/Instagram
Heather Harris/Instagram

Harris's own Instagram account started with a plan to document houses featured in the Meacham Atlas of 1880. The atlas features more than 100 sketches and engravings of prominent properties on P.E.I.

"There's a surprising number that are still there. You might not recognize them initially as historic houses. Maybe they've had a lot of upgrades so they look different than they originally did," said Harris.

Heather Harris/Instagram
Heather Harris/Instagram

"There's a number as well that, when I do the research and I find where the house was located it ends up just being, like, an agricultural field now. There hasn't been a house there in years."

In some cases, she is just posting pictures of what has replaced the building that was there in the 19th century.