A home reuse, relocation and rejuvenation project taking root about 90 minutes from Calgary in the rural town of Stavely has the potential to bring up surrounding property value and lower home owning costs, according to Sandra Holmes of Holmes Building Movers Ltd.

For the past year, John and Sandra Holmes, owners of Holmes Building Movers Ltd., a house moving company, have undertaken a project rehabilitating fourplex homes from Calgary into 650 square foot single home dwellings in Stavely.

“We’ve done that all our lives,” explains John Holmes. “Take some old piece of junk that nobody wants and make it useable.”

The Holmes are calling the renovated tiny rental homes ‘Iron Rail Cottages,’ because they’re built over an old rail bed – land that railroad tracks used to run over.

For the past 34 years, the couple has worked together with their team moving pre-existing homes from areas in Calgary and beyond, sometimes redecorating them and transplanting them again. The four tiny homes that have been moved into Stavely are originally from Bridgeland, on the North side of Memorial Dr. in Calgary.

Stavely housesThese four single detached cottages were just moved into the small town of Stavely. They had a previous life as fourplexes in the Bridgeland neighborhood of Calgary. Photo by Jennifer Dorozio

The Holmes Movers team went in and dug underneath the houses and undid the bolts that connected the houses together. Then, using beams to support the sectioned off homes, they slid them apart.

The next step in the process was to fix up the cottages, which involved putting new shingles on the roofs, and building an eve for each home, in order to make them move-in ready.

Along the street in Stavely where the ‘Iron Rail Cottages’ are located are many other homes the Holmes have moved in previous years. Despite this previous experience in the field, some people in town were nervous the Holmes’ new rental venture wouldn’t turn out to be positive.

“Folks thought it was going be an eyesore or just kind of a slum area,” said John, who explained that when they approached the town council the fourplexes weren’t finished yet which caused some hesitancy.

The town council consequently allowed John to build four of the eight homes he originally had planned to install.

For the most part, however, John said, town councilors have been, “always more than obliging to us, I’ve never had any complaints.”

The town council has even allowed John’s contractors to attach the water and sewage to the houses- a task which would normally be assigned to the town’s contractors.

Clayton Gillespie, chief administrative officer for the town of Stavely, spoke on behalf of the council saying “council is quite impressed with how they’ve turned out.”

“Town’s never done anything like that and when John and Sandra came to the town with the proposal they saw some potential there and are very happy with how it turned out,” said Gillespie. He adds the potential for them to build more is, “definitely a possibility if there was another lot in town.”

Stavely Couple John and Sandra Holmes, co-owners of Holmes Building Movers Ltd., have been repurposing homes from Calgary and area, then transplanting them all over Alberta, for 34 years. Photo by Jennifer Dorozio

Now that the four freshly renovated cottage-esque homes have been built, John said the naysayers, who had expressed concern, have definitely come around. In actuality, the presence of these homes, John said, has “increased the value of their own properties because their houses are older.”

The four new little houses are a vast improvement from the dumping-ground railroad bed the lots were before, said John. “They did a good thing for allowing us to do what we want to do.”

“It’s kind of exciting to be a part of the world’s largest recycling industry,” adds Sandra Holmes, about the volume that some of their larger repurposed houses can get up to.

“We move some houses out of the city that are nice big houses that people say they’re not good enough,” said John. “They should be ashamed to say that, otherwise they would go to landfills.”

Sandra said older homes are sometimes preferable because of the quality structures, framing and woodwork they boast.

“It’s kind of exciting to be a part of the world’s largest recycling industry”                     – Sandra Holmes

For the time being, John and Sandra treat the Iron Rail Cottages as exclusively a rental program, where tenants pay $1,000 a month with utilities and yard work taken care of by the Holmes.

John admits that he’s getting older and will eventually pass on the company to his children so it will be something that he can still work away at, as he self-proclaims to have, “always been a pretty active guy.” John also appreciates the proximity of their latest project, which is minutes from their own home.

John has high hopes for the continuation of projects such as the Iron Rail Cottages, and wants to continue moving homes into Stavely as, “there’s a lot of people that don’t want to live in the city and if you want a little slower pace in life and a little quieter Stavely is a good place to be.”

The Iron Rail Cottages’ first renter, Valerie Kjarsgaard enjoys her new place so far, “Everything is really good and John is super to do business with.” Kjarsgaard adds that because her home is tiny it doesn’t take long to do the housework.

Kjarsgaard moved to Stavely from Vernon, BC to be nearer to her son who lives in Stavely and said she hopes to “stay where I am for what time I have left.”


The editor responsible for this piece is Nora Cruickshank and can be reached at ncruickshank@cjournal.ca

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