Since before we moved in, the corner of our basement's family room, the largest room in our bungalow, has been dominated by an enormous wood-burning stove that doubled as a fireplace.
I'm not going to lie, when I first laid eyes on it, it was the element of the empty house that most made we want to live there, and factored heavily into our purchase of the home back in 2006.
The company that made it, Selkirk Metalbestos (wow, what a name) through a lot of design at this and made something very cool out of nothing but cast iron and brick. We didn't use it a lot, but there is nothing like a wood-burning fire in your basement when the Alberta winter hits -30 degrees Celsius outside without the wind chill to really redefine "cozy."
So I was gutted when two years later we had a chimney cleaner in who also inspected it and told us we could no longer use it safely. It was too close to the walls and there were some other issues as well, so the fireplace has sat dormant ever since. We expected it would be an expensive fix, so never really explored how feasible it might be to get it safely working again.
There is a tiny bit more slack in the budget nowadays, with money being saved on fuel and outings, so we thought it might be a good time to take another look. Besides, the last fellow just gave us a small piece of paper with his hand-written notes on it, maybe he got it wrong? Or perhaps technology or materials have changed in our favour in the ensuing 12 years?
Not so much, it turns out.
A technician came out and did a thorough inspection back in October. Long story short, in order to keep the fireplace, we would need to extend the non-combustible area in the corner by another 18 inches. At that point it would occupy almost a quarter of the room, nevermind the expense (which would not be insignificant). I was bitterly disappointed, and told the very sympathetic technician how the first time I saw the stove, it seemed to tell me "you're home." He understood completely.
And so, sadly, we began looking at getting the beloved wood stove out of our basement.
I took some photos of the stove and its accessories and put together a Kijiji ad, netting 13 responses within five days of posting it. Some of these were undoubtedly tire-kickers, one of whom offered me half of the $500 I was asking for it, but most of whom seemed sincerely interested.
The first people who came over were two nuns who were hoping to use it for heating and cooking in an older building with no electricity. Unfortunately, the cooking area is very limited and the Voyageur is also pretty low for that sort of use, so they had to say no. They were very sweet, Polish-speaking ladies and did offer us their blessings on the way out.
The second visitor, a lady named Arlene, was very interested but was finding it difficult to arrange a time to visit. When she did so later in the week, she loved the stove immediately and produced $500 in cash on the spot.
Her intent was to have it moved to an off-the-grid solar-powered house being built in Saskatchewan where she hopes to hold workshops and healing lodges for indigenous youth. She appreciated both the practicality and styling of the Voyageur, and said buying something comparable now would cost easily over $2000. It was gratifying to know the stove would be going someplace where it would get utilized and appreciated so much!
The next step: how to get an ungainly 450-pound chunk of cast iron out of the basement and up a narrow set of stairs.
Being a lazy person with little upper-body strength and a bad back, I had made removal part of the conditions of sale for the stove, but assured Arlene I would do what I could to facilitate things. Even removing the stovepipe once it had been sold changed the look of the corner in a significant and frankly offputting way.
Arlene's primary concern was safety for both people and property, and she was hoping to figure out some way to get a winch or come-along bar into play, and perhaps pull the stove out up an improvised ramp. The idea of having the stove being attached to something solid should someone slip or lose their grip had a lot of appeal to me - I didn't see any way such an accident could not end up involving a horrific injury or fatality. 450 lbs of cast iron tumbling down a stairway that you are lying at the bottom of is undiluted 100% high-octane nightmare fuel as far as I am concerned.
After a number of false starts, Arlene was able to get the combination of experience, strong backs and equipment in place, including her son with his trailer as well as a quad with a winch. Unfortunately, it would be the day when Audrey and I were coming back from Hudson Bay, SK with Glory, but I let them know Fenya would be on hand to let them in. Her boyfriend Bobby agreed to be on hand that day as well, which was a comfort to me with that many strangers in the house with my firstborn.
Fenya let us know they arrived a little before noon as we were approaching the Alberta border. It turns out the winch was unnecessary, as once her burly lads looked at it, said it made more sense to simply carry it out.
Now, I wasn't here and Fenya was studying most of the time, so I don't know if they removed the doors or removed the brick refractory from inside, which would have decreased the weight significantly (I bet the doors alone are 25 pounds apiece), but still - the Voyageur remains an ungainly and unforgiving mass of cast iron.
Arlene's one son, however, was undaunted, saying "Man, I have been working out for like, six months - I have been preparing for this!"
His wife shrugged and said, "Who needs a quad and a winch when you have this much testosterone on hand, I guess?"
Sure enough, they had it up and out the stairs with no incidents or accidents whatsoever - Arlene and her moving crew were in the house for less than 90 minutes. By the time Audrey and I got home, it was like the stove had never been there at all - except for the decade-and-a-half worth of dust bunnies now exposed in the corner.
We took the vacuum to it the next day, discovering a rust monster miniature for D&D, two petrified marshmallows and a Yaqua blowgun dart as well as a sheet of the colour comics from an April 1981 issue of the Montreal gazette featuring Tarzan, Buck Rogers and Asterix et Obelix. Fenya and Bobby, bless their hearts, dealt with the desiccated bird that was left behind immediately following the stove's removal.
I won't lie - I don't like that corner being empty, and we aren't sure what will eventually go there, although we have some ideas. One of the girls suggested setting up the mic stand and a couple of the guitars from our Rock Band set, and it could be a good place for someone to YouTube a simulated appearance on Evening at the Improv provided you keep the focus tight enough.
Luckily enough, it is Christmas, and the corner is an opportune place to set up the downstairs tree. The upstairs is almost fully deployed, Xmas-wise, and Glory and Audrey decorated the tree Wednesday night.
Tonight Audrey finished setting it up and added the Nativity set and magnetic Advent calendar, as well as some appropriate tchotchkes from her comprehensive collection of Christmas gear.
It's not the same kind of cozy that a crackling wood fire provided, but it is beautiful nonetheless.