The listing: 533 Route 203, Havelock, Que.
Asking Price: $2,250,000
Taxes: $2,397 (2021)
Lot Size: 140 acres
Agents: Christina Miller, Profusion Realty and Patrick Wiltshire, Re/Max Platine
In the early 2000s, Canadians were gripped by a political scandal.
A federal sponsorship program created to promote Canadian unity was exposed as a scheme that siphoned more than $100-million from government funds and into the coffers of a few well-connected Quebec advertising agencies and other firms.
Justice John Gomery of Quebec’s Superior Court became a well-known figure across Canada when he was appointed to investigate the corrupt dealings. The Gomery Inquiry made daily headlines as it exposed fraudulent invoices, misuse of funds and kickbacks to the Quebec wing of the federal Liberal Party. The judge’s reports provided recommendations on how similar abuses of power could be prevented in the future.
This May, Mr. Gomery died at the age of 88.
Pierrette Rayle, his widow and a retired judge of the Quebec Court of Appeal, says the two had decided to sell the 140-acre farm they purchased 31 years ago as a refuge from their demanding careers.
Ms. Rayle recalls the couple being in a rush to fly overseas for a legal conference when he suggested they squeeze in a visit to a farm that had recently come up for sale. They drove about one hour south-west from Montreal on a cold and rainy September day to the rural township of Havelock and arrived at the farm just north of the Canada-U.S. border to see a stunning view of Covey Hill, one of the northernmost peaks of the Adirondack Mountains.
Despite the weather, they were both drawn to a grove of towering maple trees on the property.
“We went for a walk in the forest,” Ms. Rayle says. “All of the paths were winding through. There is nothing straight there. It was magic.”
As the two headed back to the car, the real estate agent asked, “Don’t you want to see the house?”
Ms. Rayle says the couple had been so entranced by the landscape that they forgot about the circa-1860 farmhouse at the end of the driveway. And after a quick tour through the house, they made up their minds.
“We came out and made an offer,” she says. “We just said, ‘This is what we need.’ We needed to stop that frantic pace and look after our health.”
The house today
The old farmhouse had been modernized by previous owners, but Ms. Rayle and Mr. Gomery wanted to add more space for themselves and their blended family of four children. The couple brought in architect Andrea Wolff of Montreal-based Architem, who spent the next five years overseeing the expansion and renovation.
Ms. Wolff designed a two-storey, L-shaped house with five bedrooms and plenty of places for the family to gather in approximately 3,500 square feet of living space. The objective was to preserve the atmosphere of the farmhouse while adding elegance.
“For people from the city, you want your refuge and your haven to be of the same standard,” Ms. Rayle says. “It’s for professional people who want some comfort.”
The original farmhouse is now the living room, with wide plank floors, built-in bookshelves and a wood-burning stove.
Ms. Rayle says the couple thought at first that they would remove the antique stove and a small staircase to the second floor. But one day, the couple returned from a walk on a chilly day and Mr. Gomery decided to light up the wood stove.
“Within five minutes, we were both convinced we had to keep it,” she says. “The humidity was gone, and we were nice and toasty.”
And while the chef’s kitchen offers an island, lots of counter space and high-end, built-in appliances, the stove became a favourite implement for Mr. Gomery. “He cooked stews on that watching his football games on Saturday afternoons.”
Meanwhile, a sunroom off the living room became the preferred spot for a second cup of coffee in the morning, she says, and a screened porch creates a delightful setting for breakfast. In addition, there’s a family room with a fireplace surrounded by fieldstone, and a library.
The property also comes with an old barn to house the chickens, a sugar shack and a swimming pool.
Ms. Rayle says the couple enjoyed gardening in summer, with many of their friends being weekend hobby farmers. She often makes tomato sauce and preserves from the produce in her garden. When she gets together with friends and family, she brings along a gift and often leaves with a jar of honey or apple jelly from another farm in return.
And in the winter, they would go cross-country skiing.
“The rural life was completely new and it was a true discovery,” Ms. Rayle says. “We needed a place where we would live differently and it worked. Your stress was left behind.”
The couple also moved to the farm for several months when COVID-19 lockdowns went into effect, and they found solace amongst the trees and birds and other wildlife. “It was just wonderful,” she says. “Nature did not know that there was a COVID pandemic.”
These days, it’s the couple’s eight grandchildren and other family members’ turn to fully enjoy the property.
“They jump in the pool and then they climb the trees and the rocks and then they go and pick some blueberries,” she says. “It’s the way we used to live and it’s not available anymore.”
The best feature
Ms. Rayle hopes the next custodians of the property will conserve the land and forest. Some of the trees in the sugarbush have been standing for more than 100 years, according to her.
And every year, a local sugarmaker arrives to tap the trees for sap to turn into maple syrup. She says she always goes down to taste the sap straight from the metal pail.
“We hope it will go to people who say, ‘Let’s protect this extraordinary forest,’” Ms. Rayle says.
“We always called our forest the cathedral,” she adds. “The trees make you feel like you’re not the owner of the forest – you’re the fiduciary.”
Your house is your most valuable asset. We have a weekly Real Estate newsletter to help you stay on top of news on the housing market, mortgages, the latest closings and more. Sign up today.