A well-travelled man and a dog named Big, surrounded by friends

CUSHING, Que. — The dog’s name is Big.

He is black and white with a head the size of a five-pound bag of potatoes. We aren’t out of the car before he’s come over to greet us, his enormous nose at my elbow. Big and I are fast friends.

Big’s owner, the proprietor of this Airbnb near the banks of the Outaouais River, is steps behind. He fits the dog: he is at least six feet tall and his shoulders are wide as a doorway; he has a long grey and black beard. They are equally gentle.

The door to the stone carriage house is open and The Proprietor is eager to show us inside. We cross the threshold into 1950.

The Proprietor has travelled extensively, especially in Latin America, and he has an affection for old things. At the entrance is a plate of iron keys; in the front room there is an old-fashioned tricycle next to one of many dark-wood bookcases. There are masks, and a globe mobile, and a giant whale bone. In the kitchen, more dark wood, and a rounded Philco fridge opposite a grand woodstove. There is a green mid-century high chair in front of the windows.

We are pointing and naming all the things to each other and The Proprietor is standing at the bottom of the staircase. “I’ll show you upstairs,” he says, knowing it only gets better from here.

One half is a sitting area with a fireplace and a nook with a small sleeping area. The other is dominated by a great iron bed that is flush against an arched window. The light, which is filtered through old trees, is starting to fade.

And books. There are books in most of the places antiques aren’t. One of The Proprietor’s broad hands rests on a glass-doored cabinet at the foot of the bed. “These are the heritage books,” he tells us. “I’ll keep these when all the others are sold.”

My eyebrow lifts and that’s the invitation he’s been waiting for. “I used to have a bookstore. Come. I’ll show you.”

We cross the small path to St. Giles Church. It was built in 1830, one hundred years before the carriage house where we are staying. Now, it is the The Proprietor’s home.

When the Methodists left, for a time this was a theatre. The stage under the peaked cathedral ceiling is luxurious dark wood. It is a sitting area — The Proprietor’s living room, and the rest — the rest is books as far as we can see.

“Oh. The smell of books,” I sigh.

His smile is wide and true. “Surrounded by old friends.”

Before becoming a bookstore owner, he was a translator, woodworker, and innkeeper. He’s getting out of the book business, but he’s nowhere near retirement. His farmhouse in Panama is nearing completion and he’s experimenting with various crops. The house “just needs electricity and plumbing.”

“I’d go for plumbing first.”

“That’s what my wife says.” He tells us a little about his wife as we walk through the maze of books and antiques that have been there forever and some that he just picked up at auction.

“She is a dentist. Her father was a dentist. Her grandfather was a dentist. So was her great-grandfather.” His theatrical timing is exquisite, as we turn a corner and he says, “Here is his equipment.”

There’s an ancient dentist’s chair, an X-ray machine and various tools in impeccable condition. “We’re fixing everything,” he tells us. “Everything here will work perfectly when we’re done. Just to restore it, and because we can.”

“My god,” I say, “you must never get bored.”

He looks at me quizzically. “Of course I get bored. Of course I do.”

And he leads us out of the church and into his lush backyard, and he builds us a campfire. Big sits beside my chair and periodically nudges my elbow, because he gets bored, too, when he isn’t been petted.


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