Perched on a small hill in Esquimalt on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, with views of the Olympic Mountain range across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, 116 years of history is slowly being dismantled.
Wall by wall, window by window, this two-storey house is slowly being brought back to its foundation by a crew from the Unbuilders. The demolition experts diligently take apart structures across the Lower Mainland and the South Island, reclaiming and recycling everything from windows and doors to fixtures and cabinets.
The most sought-after and important material is the old growth lumber, which may have been hundreds if not thousands of years old when it was finally cut down in the late 1800s. “It is pretty much bomb-proof,” says Brian Vitzmaurice, part of the Unbuilders crew. “Just look at it.” On closer inspection, it’s a unique material. The colour, the tightness of the grain structure, not to mention the length. These beams were originally more than 30 feet long when they were removed from the house. On some you can still see the kerf marks where the 19th-century milling saw, housed just down the street on Victoria Harbour, cut the raw timber down to size.
While rescuing and selling old growth lumber is a nice byproduct of the deconstruction process, keeping demolition waste out of landfill is also one of their main goals, according to Frank Fleming, one of the Unbuilders site leads. “Last year, there were 3,200 homes demolished in Vancouver, we worked on 25 of those. Something like 27 per cent of all landfill waste is from demolition.” With the Hartland Landfill in Victoria looking to expand as it approaches capacity, expected in 2045, and the City of Vancouver shipping waste to facilities in Washington state and Oregon on a contract that ends in 2020, the need to divert, reclaim and recycle some of the the most valuable material will be of growing importance.
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