The clock has run out on a quirky and ambitious essay-writing contest held by a couple in Aylmer, Ont. The prize was to be their three-bedroom brick home, but the law says there can be no winner.
At least, not this time.
Calvin and Diana Brydges, owners of a thrift store in the small southwestern Ontario town, had invited anyone (family and acquaintances excepted) to write an essay detailing why they would benefit the most from winning the Brydges' house, and submit it along with a $100 entry fee. By the contest deadline, which passed at midnight on Saturday, they had received 2,192 – and read each one. Now they are obliged to send back all the entry fees.
The Brydges, who are looking to move north in their retirement, struggled to sell their home the regular way for nearly two years. Despite boasting a swimming pool and expansive backyard, they couldn't find any takers in a flagging housing market that saw prices fall and fewer homes change hands. Early this year, they dreamed up the contest as a fun way to bypass the real estate downturn.
Had they received 3,000 essays, they would have picked one lucky winner and handed over the house keys, pocketing $300,000 in entry fees, which was their asking price in the first place.
"We're going to take a month's break, and we're going to do the contest again starting October 1," Mr. Brydges said in an interview. "Legally, we can't extend this contest, and we couldn't change any format or rules once it got under way."
Under Ontario gaming law, the Brydges' contest had to be it a game of skill, not chance, and their decision to judge it themselves satisfied that test, according to lawyers contacted by The Globe and Mail. To ensure they would get fair value for their home, the Brydges set a minimum number of submissions that had to reached before the house would be awarded. They also chose a friend to collect the essays and entry fees – certified cheques or money orders deposited in a trust account, creating a paper trail – who will now ask the 2,192 entrants whether they wish to re-enter the second time.
Anyone who has had enough can walk away none the poorer. But the Brydges are confident that now the word is out, they can gather 3,000 submissions by the new deadline of April 30, 2014.
The Brydges are emboldened to try again by the thousands of essays that did arrive. They came by mail from across Canada and the United States, from Japan, Korea and Australia. Some were handwritten, some typed, others were in the voice of a pet writing on their owner's behalf. One told a story entirely in pictures.
"There's been some hilariously funny ones, and there's been some ones that you literally had to put down and come back and re-read they were so sad," Mr. Brydges said. "It has been fun, but pretty taxing."
Mr. Brydges said the contest has also attracted "a lot of negativity." Critics eyed the set-up skeptically, or derided the $300,000 valuation of the house as too high. "People being people, I guess," Mr. Brydges said, adding that he wishes detractors could focus on the contest's central tenet: "It's $100 for a whole house."
"We firmly believe this'll work," Mr. Brydges said, "and we're going to stick to our guns."