P.E.I. couple honoured for restoring 200-year-old manse

·4 min read
Tim Archer and Ricky Lee at the manse before restoration, left, and the building in winter 2021, right.
Tim Archer and Ricky Lee at the manse before restoration, left, and the building in winter 2021, right.

(Tim Archer/Sara Fraser/CBC - image credit)

Tim Archer purchased the old manse in Marshfield, P.E.I., in 2016, just a week before it was slated for demolition.

Since then, he and his partner Ricky Lee have been lovingly restoring it in 1830s style.

Next week, the couple will be heading to Lt.-Gov. Antoinette Perry's residence in Charlottetown to receive an award from the P.E.I. Museum and Heritage Foundation for their work restoring the building and making it into a venue for live music and movies.

"Unbelievable! Both of us, we were very surprised," Archer said of opening the mail to read the letter announcing news of their award.

They still don't know who nominated them, but they're thrilled to be recognized for the years of hard work they have done with their own hands.

"It's been definitely a labour of love for both Ricky and I," Archer said.

'A great challenge'

Archer is from Ontario and Lee is from Texas. They both love P.E.I.'s old buildings, and feel too many of them are being left to fall into disrepair.

Sara Fraser/CBC
Sara Fraser/CBC

"There's a lot of history that we're losing daily, and this was our mission, to set out to save another piece, even if it was 'insignificant little Marshfield manse,'" Archer said. "It's been a great challenge."

The house is a manse, meaning it was built for and used by a Presbyterian church minister. The church next door is still in use, but it had been years since the manse was inhabited.

The large house was built in the 1830s and is built in what Archer calls post and peg construction, with wooden pegs driven into logs to secure the pieces. The house sways in the wind due to its unique structure, he said.

One challenge was restoring the building authentically while using modern building materials.

Submitted by Tim Archer
Submitted by Tim Archer
Sara Fraser/CBC
Sara Fraser/CBC

They've tried to recreate the original high, coffered ceilings downstairs. Lee applied hand-painted wallpaper that resembles old tin panels on the ceiling, using three different colours for a three-dimensional look.

"While he was doing that, I was in the same room with a sewing machine set up and making curtains, the original pattern of curtains for the manse," Archer said.

Perfectly imperfect

They didn't replace the original lathe and plaster with drywall — instead, they covered it with fabric. That's what they had found glued to the walls when they were peeling off coverings during the restoration.

Archer sought to replicate the Italianate patterns of the wall covering and curtains and was successful in sourcing very similar new fabrics locally, at a fabric store in Bedeque that was going out of business and generously donated it all.

Music at the Manse/Facebook
Music at the Manse/Facebook

Recently, they restored the wooden floors closer to their original state, he said.

It was important to leave some imperfections that told a story, however. One former lady of the house loved to dance, Archer said, and a gramophone sat in a corner. She wore heel-marks in the floor near the machine as she danced, and the couple had no desire to remove them.

The couple at first merely lived in the home, but both love to perform and entertain (Lee is a southern gospel singer, and Archer sings), so they decided to make the downstairs rooms into a live music venue with a stage. That's Music at the Manse, and a new series called Movies at the Manse has them showing movies on a large projection screen once a week too.

Recently they added a repurposed grain silo next door, creating a jewelry studio for Lee.

'Pretty amazing'

Archer said he is particularly pleased his partner was recognized as being part of the restoration effort.

Sara Fraser/CBC
Sara Fraser/CBC

"He's new to Prince Edward Island, from Texas, and it's pretty amazing for him to meet Antoinette Perry — I understand she's musical as well," he said.

"It's just a real honour. I can't thank Prince Edward Island and the people enough for helping us realize a dream and saving an old building at the same time."

And that orange paint on the outside?

The men say they researched colours, and found orange and yellow bring feelings of happiness.

Sara Fraser/CBC
Sara Fraser/CBC

They added plywood cutouts of musical notes from a favourite hymn, In the Garden (He Walks With Me). Archer researched styles of exterior gingerbread trim from the period, and cut all the trim himself.

The manse had always been painted white with black trim, and the couple at first did hear from locals who thought the colours were too bright. Since then, they say, they are hearing many have come around to enjoying the cheerful landmark.

"I don't think we'll ever be done," Lee said in his soft southern drawl, his eyes twinkling at the prospect of more creative endeavours. A prayer garden and more outdoor seating are next in the plans.

As for the award? They plan to hang it proudly in the manse's front hall.

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