Adventures in Trespassing – Guest Post by Allyson Scott

Today I bring you something a little bit different.

Last fall, friend and photographer Allyson Scott shared a beautiful photo essay touching on real estate and gentrification with an incredible human element. I loved the post so much I asked if I could share it here with you. This post originally appeared on her blog.

You may already recognize Allyson’s name, Ali is the photographer behind the beautiful shots of Odin as a puppy. Allyson lives with her wife, real estate agent extraordinaire Jody, and a family full of beautiful animals in the neighbourhood of Leaside in Toronto.

You can check out more of Allyson’s photographs on her website , license her images for commercial use here, and follow her blog here.

Enjoy! – Kristen

Adventures in Trespassing

by Allyson Scott

House under construction in Leaside (c) Allyson Scott
House under construction in Leaside (c) Allyson Scott

Out for a dog walk one October afternoon, I came upon this house in the process of being demolished. We (sadly) pass a multitude of construction sites in our neighbourhood on any given day, but this one was unusual because the bungalow facade still stood. My sentimental brain began creating a narrative for this place – how many families were raised within those walls, how many kids played on that front lawn, and how many hands opened that gorgeous front door that now stood sentry over nothing. I felt the need to record the loss of yet another original Leaside bungalow, and hustled home to grab my camera.

The left side of the house had a high wooden fence separating it from a strip mall parking lot, and the front of the site was tightly surrounded by tall metal fencing through which my camera lens barely fit. The best view was from the parking lot, and I was happy to discover a few plastic chairs (like the one above) available for borrowing. It was a challenge, however, to balance the chair on the hilly ground and then try to balance myself on top of it. The view was worth risking a broken limb, however:

Partially demolished bungalow in Leaside
Partially demolished bungalow in Leaside

I was too excited by the array of photo ops to care about the fact that I was about to sidestep a law or two getting closer. It’s a busy street, with people passing on foot and workers milling about on another construction site across the street, plus I feared the neighbour may see me and call the police. Little did I know that less than 24 hours later I’d be inside that neighbour’s home, enjoying a tour and full verbal history of this house and our community!

House under construction
House under construction

The visual possibilities taunted me from my wobbly vantage point, but I caught sight of one very small, shorter section of fence at the back of the house which looked potentially scalable. I hopped down and walked back around the front, hoping no one was watching me. It goes against my nature to not get permission before shooting, but in this case there was no one to ask. I just tried to look nonchalant with my big camera, lens bag, and a few furtive glances over my shoulder.

From the neighbour’s driveway I checked out the low fence, and realized that any attempt to leap the chain link would likely result in ripped pants, skin, or both. Thinking that the plastic chair I’d just stood on could be the solution, I did another circuit of the house to go back and grab it…..and watched a woman with dogs pass me on the sidewalk, turn up the driveway, and knock on the door of the house I had hoped not to disturb. One minute later and I would have been standing in the middle of their driveway holding a chair, my intentions only too obvious. I have a real knack for getting caught when I attempt to do things I know I’m not supposed to. I rarely got away with anything as a kid.

Back in front of the house again, disappointed, I noticed the bicycle lock looping around the gate didn’t look properly secured. The two ends were sitting loosely in the lock chamber, but were not fastened. I dared to pull on them, and voila–I was in!

House being demolished
House being demolished
Salvage materials at construction site (c) Allyson Scott
Salvage materials at construction site (c) Allyson Scott
House partially demolished
House partially demolished

The bones of this house would be very similar to ours, which is also a pre-war bungalow. I think we are the last people in Leaside to have purchased one to live in as-is, appreciating the charm and beauty of what is already there. We fell in love with the leaded-glass windows, the gumwood trim, the variety of rooms with endless possible applications, the wood-burning fireplaces, and the huge blank slate of a back yard with 100-year old trees towering above. What is it with my generation wanting everything bigger, (subjectively) better, and newer? Sometimes houses are so neglected that starting over is the only option, it’s true, but we’ve seen lovely homes torn down and gutted even when renovations have recently been done. Worst of all, it seems as though next to nothing is ever salvaged – it’s all just destroyed and carted off to a landfill.

As the bungalows disappear, so does the opportunity to find a “starter home” in the neighbourhood for less than a million dollars. Every smaller home seems to be sold to professional builders, who stand to make hundreds of thousands of dollars on each flip like this:

Leaside flip
Leaside flip
Leaside flip
Leaside flip

I poked around the construction site as much as I dared, afraid to tread too far across the partially demolished floors. The light was fading quickly and clouds were rolling in, so I had to call it a day. On my way out, I looked in a plastic tray filled with an assortment of mildewed mail, and took note of the names. Perhaps I could figure out more of the story.

As I rounded the side of the house, I realized the visitor was still talking to the neighbour on the porch. Seriously? Someone arrives at the exact moment I’m trying to find a way in, and is still standing in full view of my only exit?! I waited a few minutes, hiding out of sight behind the port-a-potty, but it became clear the conversation was not going to end anytime soon. I finally decided to just march out with confidence, and wrapped the bicycle lock up the way I’d found it.

That night, I was able to discover the former owner of this property was Dr. Gordon Nikiforuk, a successful dentist who had been the Dean of the dental school at U of T in the 1970s. I also had the name of the new property owner, but it meant nothing to me until I returned the next day. In the bright light of morning, I hoped I could still gain entry via the gate, and it was exciting to find the lock just as I’d left it. I quickly opened the gate, and explored the area again in new light, with everything wet from the night’s rain:

Partially demolished bungalow
Partially demolished bungalow
Partially demolished bungalow
Partially demolished bungalow
Fireplace in partially demolished home
Fireplace in partially demolished home

I was so focused on what I was doing that the noise didn’t register for some time. I gradually became aware of the rumble of machinery and unmistakable sound of destruction on a grand scale. While I was photographing this quiet site, demolition had begun on the bungalow across the street.

Standing on the sidewalk with my mouth hanging open, I was soon joined by the elderly neighbour I’d been trying to avoid the day before. His name is Peter, and it turns out he couldn’t have cared less about my picture-taking. He’s an incredibly friendly character who shares a lot of my feelings about the changes in our neighbourhood, and struck up a long conversation with me.

Peter watching house demolition
Peter watching house demolition

We talked about the loss of bungalows in the area, and how sad some of the changes were. Peter told me Dr. Nikiforuk and his wife had lived next door since the 1950s but had moved to a seniors’ residence two years ago. The builder working on the demolition of their house approached Peter one day and said, “We’re going to need to knock down your garage, but don’t worry–we’ll build you a nice new one.” Peter replied in no uncertain terms, “I don’t think so. I’m perfectly happy with the one I’ve got, and we’ve put a lot of money into it.”

In another conversation, the builder told Peter (note “told”, not “asked”) that they would need to use his hydro for some of the work they would be doing. They wanted to review his hydro bills for the last year, and then offered to pay whatever the difference was between that total and the total in the coming year. “Seems to me that the decent thing to do would be to just pay the whole bill, don’t you think? And they say they’ll need to use my driveway as well.” It makes me want to make a few extra passes by the area in the next few months to ensure no one is taking advantage of Peter and Trudy, although Peter seems pretty capable of standing up for himself.

“Want to see my garage?”

Peter talking outside his garage
Peter talking outside his garage

I could see why he doesn’t want it torn down; his lovely little garage, decorated on the outside with large butterflies, is a tidy space with designated spots for all his tools, and enough room to park his SUV. That’s more than I can say about mine.

This led to a tour of his garden, some advice on how to add the best deck for the least amount of money, a recommendation for a same-day shed builder, and the name of a woman who weeds gardens for an hourly fee. I imagine Peter could help with pretty much any question you could throw his way! He was also anxious to point out to me the posts that showed how big the new house will be: 65 feet long by his estimate. It just so happens that the new owner is a member of the Lea family, as in Leaside itself. A great-great-grandson (or thereabouts) of the founder, who also happens to be a lawyer. I’m doubly glad no workers showed up on site while I was in there.

“Why don’t you come on in?”

Peter's workshop
Peter’s workshop
Peter's pantry
Peter’s pantry

He showed me his basement workshop, which would make my wife drool with envy. Everything he needs to make everything he wants is right there, and his practical handiwork is visible everywhere you turn. His renovated pantry is insulated with styrofoam, and his handmade shelving is well-stocked with enough food to “keep us going a coupla weeks”, so I know where I’m headed if a blackout ever strands us.

Upstairs, I finally met Peter’s wife Trudy.

Trudy in the kitchen
Trudy in the kitchen

“Of course you can take my picture,” Trudy told me, “I’m very proud of my kitchen.”

Peter toured me through the rest of the rooms of his cozy house, and then proudly showed me the new access door and folding staircase they built to reach their attic. “I’ve got 900 square feet of storage up there!” he announced, hopping up those steep stairs like a man half his age. I gingerly followed and snapped a few photos, encouraged that this could be a viable solution to the minor hoarding problem I am developing at home.

Trudy watching us in the attic
Trudy watching us in the attic

After my tour, we just stood and chatted for a while. Trudy moved into this Leaside home with her family at the age of 4. Her father purchased the house in cash, and it has never been mortgaged since. Trudy recalled sitting on her grandmother’s lap on the back porch, watching people dig out the basements of the houses behind them one by one using a horse. “It was so hot one summer that the horse just went belly up and died,” she said, shaking her head. She feels the neighbourhood hasn’t been the same since they started paving Moore Avenue in the ’50s. Wow.

Trudy met Peter when she was just 16 years old, and married him in her 20s. They moved to another house in Leaside as a young married couple, but returned to the home she’d grown up in when her parents passed away. They’ve been married for 56 years, and raised three children in this house. I hope my wife and I will be as fortunate.

Peter & Trudy
Peter & Trudy

They told me I was welcome to stop by for a visit anytime, and I promised that I would. They have a beautiful yellow lab named Lucy, and I’m sure we’ve seen her on our countless walks past their house. Now we will know who is there, and can say hello.

It was the most extraordinary sequence of events, and none of it would have been possible were I still working at an office job. I was able to drop what I was doing and follow a photo story when I saw one, and then stay as long as it took to see it through. The freedom is worth the financial woes, and is like breathing pure oxygen for the first time in almost two decades.

Less than a week later, we were passing by on a dog walk and Peter was outside to greet us. I was happy to introduce him to Jody, and have a brief chat about the progress across the street, as well as next door to him. It seems the equipment returned the day after I left.

Even the front door is gone now, and that fence is locked up tight.

Peter, with Lucy at the door
Peter, with Lucy at the door
Bungalow Demolition

I hope you enjoyed this guest post! Make sure to check out Allyson’s website and have a great weekend! – Kristen

Tool Wish List

If I asked most of my female friends what is on their birthday or Christmas wish list, most would say clothes, jewelry, shoes, books etc. You know, normal girl things. Don’t get me wrong, my most prized possession is my wedding Louboutin’s, but my wish list is full of things such as a table saw, Kreg jig and paint gun. Yes that’s right, if anyone was to knock at my door right now with a paint gun wrapped with a bow, I would jump up and down like a kid who got a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas.

When did my priorities change? When did I start spending my spare money on lumber instead of clothes? I guess it’s just that I love doing projects around the house. I have tremendous pride in myself when I have completed a project. I even said to El Granto the other day, that wouldn’t it be awesome if I had a job that was just doing DIY’s!? Figuring out problems, sourcing materials, and building. I would be in heaven. (but then probably nothing would get done around my own house!)

So here’s my wish list, whats on yours?

DeWALT 12″ Double Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw
California Air Tools Gravity Fed Paint Gun
DeWALT Portable Table Saw
Kreg Pocket Hole Jig
Milwaukee BodyGrip Router

DIY Pallet Crates

If you have been being a good boy or girl, you will have read my Project Office post and you will know I have a lot to do! One of the items on the To Do list was crates for built in bookshelves. Bookscase DIY tutorial will come soon (I promise) but until then here is a sneak peak on how we made the crates to go ON the bookcase.

I was planning on sourcing some framing grade lumber and roughing it up a bit to get a worn look for my crates. Odin & I happened to be walking through an industrial area in our neighbourhood on Friday when we spied a pile of shipping pallets on the side of the road.

Stack of Pallets

I thought to myself, “self, there some rough wood, and its CHEAP rough wood”. You see, cheap is one of my favorite words. I like it so much that people often use it to describe me. So Saturday morning Odin and I took off to steal grab ourselves one of these pallets. I picked one that looked good, didn’t appear to have hobo pee or bugs on it, so I carried it home. By carried it home, I mean I walked 100 feet, rested, walked 100 more feet and had another rest all the way home. It was also a Saturday morning, and I had to walk past a hipster brunch spot in the neighbourhood looking like a crazy person. The dog happily trotted behind me wondering what on earth I was up to.

Stopping to take a break and admiring my “found” pallet

After lugging this darn thing home, swearing a few times, wishing I owned a car, and wondering what I was so damn crazy, I finally got down to work. I thought bringing it home was hard, I hadn’t yet met hard. Hard is not owning a crow bar, and trying to take out massive nails with a hammer and Mjölnir to pry and bash them apart.

Taking Apart Pallet While Trying not to Hit My Foot with a Hammer

Break time yet? GAH! This is hard work. You are probably asking right now, where on earth is El Granto? He was having a lovely day learning to drive NASCAR’s with his Dad and Brother. At about this point in time I was cursing him in every language that I know a curse word in. These include, English, French, Spanish and German. My mother would be disappointed that I don’t know any Danish curse words. The worst thing I know is how to say underwear in Danish. This was a hit when I was six…

So… I finally managed to pry apart some boards, and then bashed out the nails.

Striped Apart Pallet

As you can see the wood before sanding is…well kinda gross. It will get better, I promise. Now I put some super rough sandpaper in my palm sander, and set to work.

Getting Ready to Sand

Once I sanded everything, using the dimensions of my bookshelves, I decided on a size for the crates. I wanted them to fit in the bookcase nicely, but have a little room to slide in and out. I drew up a quick diagram on a piece of wood, and started cutting! The finished size for the crates are 29″x10″x11″ and 13″x10″x11″. I cut my front pieces 29″ long for the big ones and 13″ for the small. The sides were 8 1/4″ and each crate was 3 boards high. I cut the boards to length on the miter saw, and used scrap pieces of 1×2’s as corner braces. I attached the front panels to the corner supports using brad nails. I spaced the corner supports 5/8″ in from the edge to allow space for the sides to fit flush.

One Front of Crate Assembled

I assembled both the fronts, then attached them to the sides with more brad nails. I then traced a bottom for the crate onto some extra hardboard we had laying around the garage. I cut out the hardboard with the circular saw, and nailed it to the bottom of the crate.

Voila! Crate!

The wood is all different thickness, and I didn’t worry about having everything match perfectly. It just adds to the distressed look. After I had assembled it, I took the palm sander to it again making sure there were no sharp corners or splinters. There, I was done! It only took me 3 hours to make one crate. Wait, what, I need four more of these? DAMMIT! I better get back to work. I sanded and cut the wood to length for one more crate, but I ran out of brad nails. Uck. So I waited for El Granto to get home from his NASCAR adventure and then headed to Canadian Tire to pick up more nails, and some felt furniture sliders for the bottoms of the crates. We also stopped and pilfered one more crate on our way home, which I made El Granto carry, and he cursed me in the same fashion that I had cursed him earlier. Once I got home, a soft couch and a cold drink sounded better than doing more work, so I gave up, and left it for Sunday.

Sunday morning, we got all ready to start work (this time with El Granto in tow). When we went outside our neighbours were putting up a big glass panel on their amazing deck, and asked for some muscle. El Granto went to help, and I got back to work making more crates. El Granto’s work conveniently consisted of standing holding a piece of glass for an hour, then being rewarded with a plethora of yummy beverages. Of course he preferred doing this to helping me make crates…so once again I was bustin my ass alone. El Granto did stop in to help me take apart the second pallet (it’s much easier to watch him then to do it myself.) I proceeded to make one more big crate, and three little ones.

Small Crate

The little ones are cute. Like a puppy version of a crate. I finally finished all five of my crates, and stood back to appreciate my giant stack-o-crates.


Some of the wood turned out really cool. The ones that look all spotted were really really rough boards, that I sanded and sanded and sanded and they came out all spotty! I also really like the boards with the rough saw marks. I thought I may have to distress the crates more, but I think they look fairly worn. They look like driftwood almost. I was on the fence with staining them, but we like them just the way they are, so we’ll leave them as is for now. They do need some hardware, I am waffling between shiny fancy nickle handles (that I am using elsewhere in the room) or sticking with rustic and using some rope, either as a handle, or making small monkey’s fists and using them as pulls. What do you think?

Sneak Peek of a Crate in the Office

So what do you think? Free crates, were they a pass or a fail?


My idea to use pretty polished handles on my crate was overruled by El Granto, my Mom, our neighbours, my co-workers and the garbage man. So rope handles it is!

We checked Rona, and their rope was too big, Home Depot had even bigger rope and some smaller rope. We went with the small one. In hindsight, I wish it was a bit chunkier. Will be keeping an eye out for some bigger rope. Also, check out the completed bookcase here.


Wood Shipping Pallets : side of the road
1×2’s: Pile-o-wood in my garage
1/8″ hardboard: My garage
Brad Nails: Canadian Tire
Sandpaper: Canadian Tire
Felt Furniture Pads: Canadian Tire
Rope: Home Depot

Tools Used:
Maul, Hammer, Circular Saw, Miter Saw, Measuring Tape, Compressor & Brad Nailer

Difficulty Level (on a scale of 1-5):

Four out of Five

(cause damn those pallets were heavy!)
Total Cost: $7 for the rope & furniture pads