Tiny homes, big dreams: How an Ontario family found freedom in the forests of N.B.

·4 min read
Tasha Robitaille, left, and Cory Belcourt 'took a big leap' and moved from Ontario to the Kingston Peninsula with their daughters, Rockie, 4, and Nova, 2, in June. (Submitted by Tasha Robitaille - image credit)
Tasha Robitaille, left, and Cory Belcourt 'took a big leap' and moved from Ontario to the Kingston Peninsula with their daughters, Rockie, 4, and Nova, 2, in June. (Submitted by Tasha Robitaille - image credit)

Six months ago, Tasha Robitaille and Cory Belcourt left their Ontario home, bought 40 acres of heavily forested land on New Brunswick's Kingston Peninsula and turned their lives upside-down.

And somehow, Robitaille says, nothing has ever felt more right.

For some time, Robitaille and Belcourt had been feeling the pull of nature. They both had steady jobs, Belcourt as a plant manager and Robitaille as a business owner and doula, but they longed to spend more time outdoors.

The births of their two daughters deepened that longing.

Then the pandemic hit, with its lockdowns and isolating restrictions, and suddenly, Robitaille said, they just knew it was time.

"Things were just getting really difficult, I was home with both girls ... and Cory was working a lot of hours. The pandemic definitely got to us so we needed to make a big change, to feel like our family was healthier and closer together."

They had a specific lifestyle in mind. They wanted to live simply, sustainably, on a sprawling plot of land and in a close-knit community.

"New Brunswick just kept popping up as an answer to all of these things," Robitaille said.

Photo by Our Atlantic Life
Photo by Our Atlantic Life

They found a 40-acre plot of forested land on the Kingston Peninsula, near Kingston Corner and backing onto Mount Misery, and immediately knew they'd found what they were looking for.

"We made some big decisions really fast," Robitaille said. "We sold and bought a house within a span of a week, and arrived just in time to plant our garden."

They bought chickens and ducks, they hiked the trails that snaked through their property, they picked apples, they had bonfires and barbecues and spent their days outdoors with their daughters, two-year-old Nova and four-year-old Rockie.

It was like a dream, Robitaille said.

But the dream was just beginning.

Submitted by Tasha Robitaille
Submitted by Tasha Robitaille

Tiny-home project takes root

For years, Robitaille and Belcourt had talked about building a sustainable guest house on their property.

"It's always been a passion of mine to have something off-grid, or a tiny home, a low-footprint cabin," Robitaille said.

Now, with 40 sprawling acres of land, much of it with spectacular views of the peninsula or Mount Misery, they realized they could expand their "tiny" plan.

They discussed building a handful of cabins to rent out to people who wanted to experience homesteading and a completely off-grid lifestyle in the woods.

At that point, Robitaille said, they committed to going all in.

Their trail hikes took on a new purpose: scouting out the perfect tiny-cabin sites.

Submitted by Tasha Robitaille
Submitted by Tasha Robitaille

"We followed our instincts," Robitaille said.

"We did a lot of walking and we just tried to instinctively find a ... really safe, cozy and beautiful spot in the forest. And then we went to work and created off-trails to those five cabins that are all private from each other."

Construction begins

Belcourt began clearing the sites, and they ordered five European pine cabin kits, each cabin measuring 108 square feet with a seven-foot loft bedroom.

In October, construction began. By late December, all five cabins were completed and the project was christened: La Belle Cabane, a reflection of the fact that the couple are francophones. Three of the cabins are now available for rent at labellecabane.com.

The cabins are heated with woodstoves, the lights are solar-powered, the cooking is done on a fire grill. The bathroom is an outhouse, and a community herb and vegetable garden and free-range chickens provide a daily supply of fresh produce and eggs.

To Robitaille, it felt right in her bones.

Shannon Park Photography
Shannon Park Photography

Robitaille said she and Belcourt, both of whom are Métis from Ontario, grew up listening to the stories of their fur-trading forebears, people who lived off-grid before there was a word for it.

"We've heard a lot of stories of our ancestors that lived in these little cabins," she said.

"Everyone would be close-knit, sharing each other's hobbies and cooking together and all of that good stuff."

The cabins seemed like they'd have been right at home in those adventures, Robitaille said.

Photo by Our Atlantic Life
Photo by Our Atlantic Life

Homage to Indigenous roots

The couple's Métis roots have been woven into many layers of the La Belle Cabane project.

"That's really important to us," Robitaille said.

"So we provide medicines in the cabins, the cabins are named very intentionally in line with our medicine wheel."

As well, each of the cabins – the Eagle, the Coyote, the Bear, the Elk and the Turtle – feature local Indigenous art and decor.

The goal is to blend the interior, the exterior, the setting, and above all, the experience, in a way that opens visitors' eyes to the possibilities Robitaille and Belcourt found in their new home.

"We wanted to find freedom in the forest," Robitaille said.

"That's one of the main reasons we moved to New Brunswick, was to have more freedom with our family and our lives and our kids. And that's what we hope other people will find here as well."

Shannon Park Photography
Shannon Park Photography
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