This continues our series called The Splurge, where we take a look at how entrepreneurs have spent their money on indulgences -- purchases that may be interesting, fun, satisfying or enjoyable, but not necessary!
For much of his adult life, franchise industry veteran Edward Loyst has spent his free time carving and building with stones.
His hobby has cost him upwards of $65,000 since he discovered an abandoned rock quarry tucked away in a farmer's field near his northern Ontario cottage.
The find inspired Mr. Loyst to design and build three groups of megalithic structures with his own hands – projects that involved years of careful planning and which Mr. Loyst hopes will intrigue visitors for centuries to come.
"Nobody is going to rush up and say, 'Here is another Rodin or Henry Moore. But it's interesting to build something that people will wonder in 1,000 years, 'What was that and who built it?'" says Mr. Loyst, the chairman and chief executive officer of Franchise Bancorp Inc., of the installations, one at his northern Ontario cottage and two at a reptile zoo outside Peterborough, Ont., that is operated by his son, Bry.
These Stonehenge-inspired groupings are among about a dozen installations of rocks and stones that Mr. Loyst has created at both his cottage and the zoo.
Mr. Loyst has always been interested in art and stone-carving. He started to pursue his interest early in his business career by taking Wednesday afternoons off to learn to hand-carve stone. Since then, he has studied Japanese sculpture and learned to carve soft stone, such as limestone.
His stonework includes a series of primitive carved heads and masks and the family cottage, which he built over 30 years entirely from fieldstone he found in the area.
Mr. Loyst's business has grown steadily since he opened his first Living Lighting Inc. store in 1968. Franchise Bancorp now oversees franchises for 32 Living Lighting Inc. outlets, 150 Global Pet Food Stores Inc. outlets, and 12 Panhandler and Rafters Home Store outlets, operated by Liv Canada Gift Group Inc.
But it was a business failure more than two decades ago that led Mr. Loyst to the abandoned quarry he immediately recognized as a stone-lover's gold mine.
In October, 1987, Mr. Loyst had hoped to make a public offering for his Panhandler shops, but failed when the stock market crashed and his broker went bankrupt. He says he took the following summer off to "lick my wounds" at his cottage on Chandos Lake, a two-hour drive northeast of Toronto.
He and his wife were driving on a dirt road about 20 kilometres from their cottage when they noticed a huge pile of pink granite rocks just beyond a growth of white birch trees.
"My reaction was just "Wow!" Mr. Loyst recalls. "It was a pile of rocks that no one would be interested in but, to me, it was a pile of artwork. I just knew I wanted these gigantic rocks on my property so I could do something with them."
The farmer who owned the land told him that stones from the quarry had been used to build the front steps to the Ontario Legislature building in Toronto, but the quarry had been abandoned in 1929. At the time, most granite was used to make tombstones, and Mr. Loyst speculates that stone masons found this granite, marred by a series of grey quartz fissures, too rough for their needs.
But Mr. Loyst said the fissures "enhanced the stones' ancient quality," making them even more valuable to him.
"For me, it just makes a more interesting stone," he says. "It has a more ancient character."
He paid the bemused and delighted owner $7,000 for about 50 stones that had already been cut and left lying on the surface. It cost another $10,000 for a work crew and equipment to build a rough road to the site and to haul out his treasure, which made up about a dozen 10-ton truckloads, and about $6,000 to set the stones in place.
He used the stones to build several installations on his 50-acre cottage property with the help of a heavy-equipment operator to place the rocks.
The installations include a Stonehenge-inspired stone circle made up of six standing stones, weighing from 900 kilograms to 1,800 kilograms, erected in a half circle surrounding a 2,700-kilogram bench rock in the middle of a fire pit.
Other stone installations include a 2.4-metre-high, lintel-form "magic arch" placed at the edge of forest, which leads nowhere. He tells visiting kids that if they pass under it, they will find a "wonderland that only children can see."
Another of Mr. Loyst's favourites is a pair of two-metre-high rocks he calls "mom and pop," which resemble a man and a woman leaning against each other and talking.
Mr. Loyst is fascinated by archaeology and ancient megalithic sights, and has visited some of the world's most magnificent stone structures over the years, including those at Stonehenge in England and on Easter Island. He says he wanted to replicate the sense of "peace and tranquility" he felt there.
Although the rocks are enormous – ranging from one to 3.6 metres high and weighing as much as 6,400 kg. each – creating the installations was a delicate task.
He started by making clay maquettes of each stone and, over about four years, experimented with different combinations and positions.
"If you take a big stone and sit it out there, it looks like a big stone sitting there. If you arrange them carefully, they become works of art," he says.
To position the stones, he worked with heavy-equipment operators ("I chose the ones who didn't laugh when I explained the project," he says) who were willing to spend hours dangling individual rocks from a front-end loader shovel while Mr. Loyst carefully manoeuvred them into place, sometimes adjusting them by centimetres before they were lowered to the ground.
Mr. Loyst has since completed two other megalithic installations, both of them on the grounds of the Indian River Reptile Zoo near Peterborough. The pink granite for those projects came from the now-closed Belmont Rose Granite Quarry in nearby Stoney Lake and cost $20,000.
Mr. Loyst spent $22,000 more to haul them to the zoo and to arrange them into a series of arches and standing stone structures as well as mega rock circles placed on the zoo grounds, each of which contain 18 to 20 stones that stand from 1.2 metres to 3.6 metres tall.
To build those structures, Mr. Loyst followed the same technique he had used at his cottage, first using clay maquettes and then working with heavy-equipment operators to help him lower the stones into place.
The stone circle at the cottage took three years to create. One he started at the zoo in 2000 and placed the final rocks just last year; the other was done over one month last year.
But that doesn't mean Mr. Loyst has finished working with large stones. He says he is always searching for new ones to add to his cottage and his megalithic installations.
"I will continue adding large pieces until I drop off this great planet to roll rocks in the sky," he says.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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