Ultimate DIY: “I wanted to have a home.” Canadian couple take 28 years to build a self-sufficient floating homestead
Artists Catherine King and Wayne Adams have spent 28 years building the first floating homestead off the coast of Vancouver Island. They call the home a 3D art installation, going self-sufficient long before green living became so popular. The couple feed on the home-grown veggies use solar energy, and every part of their house is constructed from recycled materials.
RTD explored what drove these two open, friendly people to such an extravagant choice of home. We look at how they manage to merge their varied creative activities with laborious daily routines. At the same time, they peacefully coexist with bears and cougars and discover if their secluded homestead is the perfect housing solution for the post-COVID era.
Where the idea came from
Catherine: I had always wanted to live out in nature. And when we started to explore how to do it, we took a big trip around North America, for about nine months, before we picked the location where we wanted to do this. So we explored all the options. And by the time we'd finished our trip, we came back to Vancouver Island where we started.
Wayne: We, Catherine and I, we have a story together and have a story as individuals why we wanted to build this island. I did my boyhood in Australia and was taught by Australian Aboriginals how to read nature. This whole project has also to do with my inspiration by birds and how birds live. It also comes from knowledge and travel and meeting people.
As artists, we took the opportunity to do something that's never been done here before. I did it with Catherine at the age of 43. It didn't come easy. It was a conscious choice to be here in the middle of the temperate rainforest and build our own floating island. I'm a craftsman. I have two trades and a profession. So I've done my homework before we stepped out into nature.
W: We started with the studio and a small space, and then the garden and everything grew, as did the opportunity. I've been a model maker my whole life, too. So I had a model of that. As we spent time, the model changed, and it grew as we grew with it. And it became obvious after a while that we were up to something pretty special.
C: When we started, I used to dance professionally, so I knew that I needed space to move. The studio came, and then we had my dance floor. And I knew that I wanted to grow my own vegetables. So as my garden expanded, everything expanded to accommodate it. And we're working with recycled materials, and have all the way through. So when we gather a pile of materials through beachcombing and other sources; see what we have, work with it to expand the island, make it grow and change.
We have moments when we were wondering why we're doing this. Do we want to keep doing it? But ultimately, we always come around to "Yes, we do." We love how we live. And we both know we would like to live here to the end of our days.
W: I do really well with my neighbours here. We respect each other, and we're all hard working. I do a lot of trading. Sixty percent of my life is trade and barter with my neighbours. But what you see in the pictures that I built all by myself. And that was a challenge — 28 years at it, and we are still doing it.
W: We both have daily chores, just like living on a homestead, we have things we must do. But we do have very powerful weather here. You know, sometimes I can't do what I want, I have to fix things. For example, dismantling a building could take several weeks. It's a process.
C: We do the things where our strengths are. I'm the gardener. Wayne will help me with some garden things. He's the builder, and I will help him with some building things. In the winter, we have powerful storms, and we will get some form of storm damage every winter.
So this year, for example, a building that we had to cover our system for purifying water completely collapsed in the storm. So Wayne is in the process right now. He had to dismantle that building and dismantle another building to create the new building he's taking to protect our water purification system. We've had other winters where my dance floor area, which doubles as a docking area for boats when they come, has been demolished in storms. And we've had to take down other buildings to rebuild that. So we're always repurposing and rebuilding - recycling. My greenhouses need repair every year. So we've already replaced different parts of the greenhouses. And at this time of year, we're in full-on growing season. So my whole day revolves around the garden.
W: We can live totally independently. But we never did that not to be able to network with other people. We need to trade and share with our neighbours so we can have other things. We really want to be part of a community.
C: The cove is the most protected spot in the area. We still have to deal with storm damage. But we did pick this cove to be as protected as possible. So we do feel very good about that.
C: We had our first to seven years before anyone came around to tell us we had to get registered. After seven years, it was the municipal government that told us we needed to pay a tax. And then about seven years ago, it was the provincial government. They said we also had to pay a tax for that. Before that, they didn't even have anything organised. That's why people who are floating couldn't pay them anything.
W: The bottom line for me here in Freedom Cove is that I wanted to have a home. This is where people here live. They're not here to go elsewhere. They're here to have a home. So home is the bottom line and focus. Many people understand that. It was a wonderful way of getting ourselves started again by building our own homes. And we're the first in this country to build a floating island. Well, we are not regular folks. We're not normal people. We're not. We know that.
C: We have both lived in cities and in many different places. Besides, the rent was going up in Tofino, which motivated us to make our decision even more quickly than we were planning. From the moment we met, in 1987, our first conversation we shared with each other was that we did want to live out in nature. In 1991, we were given the opportunity to stay in a friend's cabin while he stayed at our place in Tofino. That is how we found the Cove. And then a storm blew in all the wood. We took the wood to this fellow; we thought it belonged to, and he said, "You gathered it up, it's yours". So we thought this universe was supporting us and saying we're in the right direction. Go for it. So we did.
Keeping in touch with the rest of the world
C: But then my parents came out the first summer we were there, and they decided that we weren't crazy at that point. They realised we knew what we were doing and they loved it. And so we got approval.
W: It was hard for Catherine's family to understand how I stole her and moved her out in the wilderness, so they had to come and see for themselves.
W: That's what we tell people. It's a three-dimensional art model. And that's what we're inspired by.
C: Our whole place is a big installation art piece. People who come to film us always ask me to dance, sometimes play musical instruments, and sing. I also paint. And I carve and write. I'm pretty multimedia. They ask Wayne to do the things he does. So we are getting to share with the world that way. But when we're going through our day here, we're doing it all just for ourselves.
W: We always welcome people to come and say hi, but we don't accommodate people. That's not what we do. I share it as a knowledge-based life. People who come here pick up the knowledge, take it away and decide to do something different. We're getting a lot of that.
C: If you were living with us, you would realise how full our days are. We're standing on the water, so we don't have time for classes or retreats with people. Family and friends come and stay with us. And we do have tours. The tours are usually about an hour. There are two friends from town who bring people out in boats. So we welcome people that way.
We also have special things that happen. For example, a friend of mine who's a musician, she did the opening of her album here. So we organised that performance. We've had my mother's 80th birthday here. We've had two family weddings here. So there's special events that happen.
W: On the West Coast, we live in a very special place. We're 10 miles from the nearest town by water, and we got search and rescue. We have a hospital there as well. And it's the only place on the coast with such a location. It's freaky sometimes, but no, I don't feel a problem at all. I don't fear death. I live amongst it all the time. We have bears and cougars, animals and everything. The idea is to be healthy by being active and staying away from those places. Besides, it's a very small community. We know each other. If we need them, they'll come as quick as they can. It's happened.
C: The Coast Guard has very special high-speed boats they can be out here in six minutes.
W: A very big cougar once jumped on my dog on the shore one year. I've met three of them out there. Many, many animals in Canada.
C: The cougar attack Wayne was talking about happened not far away. They are all around us. We've also never had an issue with the bears. At low tide, we can watch the bears walk around and turn the rocks over to look for little crabs under the rocks. They have their cubs with them. And we feel very blessed to be able to watch that and not have any issues.
Perks of living off-the-grid (amid the pandemic)
W: I was alienated very young. I've been to 13 schools. I know what it means to be alone. When I hear people now, they're all quarantined and struggling; it's a bit of a laugh to me. All I can say is "get a good hobby! Life is good." It's not as bad as people are making it out to be.
C: It's the same for me. I was born in northern New Brunswick and lived there, in Montreal, and in Toronto before I came out here. I was raised as a clergyman's daughter. People always isolated me, and I was strange and different because of that. So I learned to entertain myself at a very young age. So both Wayne and I have just continued doing that out here. Before the internet joined our life, which was 2013, when that happened, I wrote letters to everybody.
W: My mom and dad were both soldiers. My mom was an anti-aircraft gunner during the Blitz in England, and my dad was a Canadian boy in the tanks. I was born in
Canada, and I have two brothers. What happened was my dad became very ill after the war. So the doctors told him he has to go to a warm climate or he's going to die. So we had a friend who had married an Aussie girl and wrote to him asking to come down. That's when my life started down there at the age of eight. I remember it like it was yesterday, how I went to Australia by ship. I visited many places: Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand, parts of Australia, America down south. So I got to see things in the 1950s before they were developed. And then on my way back from Australia in 1961, I got to see how everything has changed. I also got a chance to be out in nature by myself, with snakes, and lizards, and birds. Boy Scout troops taught me life skills.
C: I have travelled to mostly European countries as well as all of North America. My father's roots are in Newfoundland in Canada. Wayne and I actually were thinking we might choose to settle there. But in the end, we decided against it, because it is a little less harsh. Newfoundland is even colder and harsher in the winter time. Still, Newfoundland would be my favourite place.
C: What has really been happening with COVID-19 is there has been a surge of people growing their own garden, getting themselves established and set up in their homes. My chiropractor is one of such people. And I have a couple of dear friends living right downtown centre of Toronto who have also decided they are going to grow their own food.
W: A lot of people I know are growing more gardens and being a little more self-sufficient. They want to eat better food and get away from the corporate nightmare that's going on. We Canadians are a tough bunch. Once we see something better, we do it.
C: Our son and our daughter were both born in Victoria on Vancouver Island. Our daughter lives in Sweden. Shane has joined us out here and has created his own place on the water as well. He is in the same cove as we are. He's our doorman.
W: For 12 years, he's been focusing on working hard as a chef and on the fish farm, and had little time to build his dream.
C: So he decided in the last two years that he was going to live from his own economy. It's not looking like our place yet. But give him another five years, and it will look like our dream.